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Gladiator: The Roman Figher's [Unofficial] Manual

By mvisher Oct 28, 2014 3373 Words

Gladiator: The Roman Fighter’s [Unofficial] Manual
By Philip Matyszak
Background: Philip Matyszak
Academic training and employment
Historian, professor, and archeologist, Philip Matyszak has gone to great lengths to thoroughly exhaust the avenues that would gain him the knowledge and understanding he sought. His life and studies have taken him to various places, including England, Italy, parts of Africa, and Canada where he presently resides. Although his time in Africa was spent primarily as a soldier, his time in Leeds and London was spent as a journalist, an occupation that puts an extremely high emphasis on the ability to accurately research a topic, and then express facts clearly, concisely, and accurately. Once Matyszak earned his doctorate at St. John’s College at Oxford, he went on to teach in Milan and later at Cambridge. Although he does not currently live in Great Britain, he continues to teach for Cambridge through their eLearning program at the Institute of Continuing Education. Credentials and other publications

Professor Matyszak has numerous titles accredited to his name. He has either written, or co wrote the following: The Sons of Caesar, The Enemies of Rome, Chronicle of the Roman Republic, Greek and Roman Myths, Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day, Ancient Athens on Five Drachmas a Day, Mithridates the Great, Legionary: the Roman Soldier’s (unofficial) Manual, Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece, Imperial General, Expedition to Disaster, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, and The Gold of Tolosa. Summary and author legitimacy

Not only has Philip spent thousands of hours researching Greek and Roman history, he’s especially well suited to bring this knowledge to readers because it has been his love and his life for over 40 years. This time has been spent reading, teaching, and researching the people, nations, tribes, and cultures of ancient times, so much so that he “often feels uncomfortable in the 21st century” (Matyszak). Writing Gladiator wasn’t just a one-stop option for Matyszak, as evidenced by the fact that he continues to teach and inspire students through the elearning program at Madingley Hall. Not only does that show his continued devotion to the subject matter, but the fact that he also religiously updates his personal website and makes himself easily and readily available to those that have questions only further illustrates the love that he has for ancient history. When you combine that love with the work researching the subject matter that he’s done, one can easily conclude that the information that he has will not only be accurate, but thorough as well. Themes

Contributions to Society
Gladiators had a tremendous affect on the Roman world, influencing even the everyday activities of the way society operated. What attracted many combatants to the life of a gladiator was usually because they were either out of options and a life in much worse conditions was all that awaited them, or out of stupidity or spite they took the gladiatorial oath in a show of defiance. No matter how the individual became a gladiator, and if they were among the precious few that attained the wealth and prestige that would come along with the title, there was almost nothing they could do to shed the title of the scum of society just for being a gladiator. That is what is especially interesting to me. The idea that these warriors, who for the most were revered, almost idolized in a variety of settings could be so looked down on when it came to general interactions with the public. But once these men took one step into the arena and “performed” for the crowd, they were loved and cheered just as someone would at a present day sports event. So here you have men and a very few amount of women that are fighting for the entertainment of others, where everyday might be their last, and these spectators could hardly care less for these people—these gladiators that to some degree take on almost a celebrity status in society so much so that every schoolboy knew the name of the top gladiators in his town (pg. 38). It’s hard to fathom. But that was just part of the effect that gladiators had on society. They were loved, feared, alienated, all at the same time. Behind closed doors and out of the view of prying eyes, things could be very different. For example the entertainment of gladiators wasn’t all too uncommon for the wealthy to request at the end of a dinner party (pg. 107). Almost the equivalent of a dinner and movie or activity for our modern day dates, the wealthy would pay to have gladiators shop up and amuse their guests. This wasn’t the poor doing to close interacting with the gladiators, or the gladiators “peers” wanting to be entertained by those in their same social class, rather these were the highly respected, highly paid members of society that were voluntarily issuing payment to host these degenerates. These same men (and women) would walk the other way or cross the street just to avoid coming in contact with a gladiator (pg. 38) in fear of being somehow “tainted”. Another position that was looked down as much or possibly even more then the gladiator was the manager of the gladiators. The manager was the person that basically oversaw everything that happened to any particular gladiator, and typically had a very big influence on whether one of his warriors lived or died. They negotiated prices for shows, who would be seen when, who would fight who, and made sure their fighters were up to the whatever might be asked of them. It seems like it should be a rarity that someone that that has to take such care to train, maintain, and promote a sport that is so beloved, could at the same time be thought of so poorly—but that was the case here. It was so bad that at times an intermediary was used for the manager to communicate so the wealthy ruler wouldn’t be tainted through interacting with such a lower class citizen. But this interaction that required an intermediary could very well have just been there for the manager to communicate between himself and the owner of a particular gladiator. The way that society viewed this was that it was perfectly acceptable and even an elevated position to own a one or a few gladiators, but almost unforgivable to manage them. In society gladiators had a place, and that place was not confined to just fighting for the enjoyment of others, but actually taking part in specific duties and jobs. The typical job that gladiators would be hired for would be bodyguards, debt collectors, and enforcers. Theses are obviously jobs that were typically somewhat associated with their specialty, but that was because no one was revered as much as a gladiator was when it came to one on one, hand-to-hand combat. In that setting, the gladiator was close to unbeatable (pg. 69). They weren’t the best soldiers, or even good soldiers for that matter, but because of their brutal, exhaustive training in their ludis, they were the premier force, which is also part of what made them so attractive to women. Just a gladiator could be paid to take care of various jobs or make appearances at dinner parties; they could also be “rented” by women for physical needs. It was of course something that had an immense amount of secrecy to it, but an aspect of the job of being a gladiator and being so low on the totem pole of life, meant you had little say over what you got to do or when you did it. You essentially became someone’s property. Whether that someone was a wealthy individual, or Caesar himself, you were ordered about and lost very much of your freedom when you committed to the gladiator life regardless of whether you volunteered, or were taken prisoner and forced into the games. This is part of why the gladiator could be seen in so many different lights, because they were just that. They were a being that had lost their soul, but could entertain and be used for particular specific services or jobs, but were little more then a body used to accomplish tasks. What is most interesting about the way that gladiators specifically influenced the Roman society is the creating of the Flavian Amphitheatre, also known as the Coliseum. We’ve established by now that although the gladiator had many roles in society, their standing as a respected citizen was non-existent—and yet one of, if not the most recognizable construction of the Roman Empire is the Coliseum. The magnitude of this building, the incredible amount of money and manpower that went into its construction, almost as if it were a temple for the gladiators, was in a sense, built for their glory. So here we have one of the most recognizable of feats of men every built, used for the lowest of the low in society. So yes the gladiator was not the most respected of the Roman citizens, but it’s hard to argue that they weren’t the most admired. Men wanted to be them, women wanted to be with them, and kids knew and loved their local gladiators and put them in somewhat of a superhero like view. The effect that the gladiator had on the Roman society was immense, but it didn’t stop there. Politics were greatly influenced as well. Contributions to Politics

Gladiators didn’t have the kind of effect on politics in the sense that were able to run for particular positions in government or be trusted with sensitive information. Actually they were forbidden from running or holding any kind of political office once they retired (if they were one of the extreme few that made it out alive) so naturally as they were actively fighting that was out of the question. But they were seen as a vehicle for accomplishing things that may not have been able to be accomplished otherwise. For example, in 42 b.c. the state actually sponsored some gladiator games to help calm the storm of unruly people as tensions continued to rise after the death of Julius Caesar (pg. 35). There had been terrible omens and unrest that was quietly growing was building to an almost palpable level, and the government turned to the one thing they knew would not only distract the people from the assassination and the omens, but also prevent further anarchy and possible civil war that could easily have erupted if things has continued to progress as they were. This wasn’t the first time that gladiator games were used to gain favor or appease. The very first recorded happenings of gladiator pairs occurred in Rome by Decimus Iunius Brutus as a tribute to his deceased father (pg. 29). With this occasion it was done as a tribute, to commemorate someone, possibly celebrate a life and get the minds of the people to remember Brutus’ father, whereas in the later years it was done to get the minds of the people to focus on something other then the negative omens and assassination of Caesar. Both political actions used gladiators to achieve a specific goal. Another way that gladiators influenced politics, or rather the very empire itself was in its ability to train their soldiers. Since there was no way for their new soldier to experience combat and become desensitized to the happenings of battle, they would bring them to the gladiator games to subject them to the blood and gore that would and did happen on the battle field. For the most part the only way these men would have otherwise been subjected to these images, would have been to actually be in battle, where they’d experience things and see images that they had never before seen, possibly causing a very negative reaction. By going to the games they were able to become much better soldiers and not cringe at the sight of blood. In addition to the desensitizing, since gladiators were widely seen as the premier fighters of this time, the government actually had the trainers from the gladiator training schools come teach their soldiers how to fight. The hand-to-hand combat that the gladiators focused almost every moment of their life devoted to, was an incredible asset to the soldiers. The popularity of gladiators continued to grow under the rule of Caesar, and because of that the army of gladiators that were under his control was seen by several government officials as somewhat of a private army that he could at some point if he wised, use to overthrow the government and take complete control of Rome. Fearful that he would create a dictatorship that would hold the whole country captive to him, specific laws were enacted to prevent that sort of thing from happening (pg. 34). Part of the reason the law was needed is because at this time in Rome there as no standing army, just roughly 640 highly trained fighters all under Caesar’s control, easily enough fighter’s to overthrow the Republic if he chose to. So the laws made it much harder for him or anyone in the future from doing just that by making it illegal to hold gladiator games within two years of running for a public office (to unfairly gain favor with the public) and another law that limited the number of gladiators that could appear at an event at any one time. This way he couldn’t have 600 or more gladiators show up to the games as if they were going to fight, but then instead perform a coup and overthrow an unsuspecting Republic. In this way the gladiators directly influenced laws and the reason that particular laws were put into place. Spartacus had a huge affect on Europe, and what was interesting his that his league of warriors was made up almost exclusively of gladiators. It started out with just him and a “band” of escaped gladiators, but this band grew into a full-blown army that was later able to plunder Italy from top to bottom and then back up again over a two-year span (pg. 31). Since gladiators were very similar to slave labor, this plundering was in a sense demonstration of slave revolt—something that as not all too uncommon to the Romans. The trouble now was that when these “slaves” revolted, they were more than capable fighters and could somewhat easily turn a petty disagreement or confrontation, into a much bigger and colossal predicament then might’ve otherwise have happened before the rise of the gladiator. Although gladiators weren’t able to directly influence politics from a positional standpoint, such as voting or promoting a particular position or reform, they influenced a variety of indirect ways just by being around and posing the both convenience and threat of their company. For example sometimes in the political gatherings or forums, riots could and did erupt, turning bloody and brutal became commonplace. Here the gladiators were in no way responsible for that, but what they were responsible was in helping keep the peace, thus indirectly facilitating a calmer environment for the government officials. Typically it was the wealthy that hired these bodyguards (pg. 34), but the nonetheless they were there affecting the atmosphere of the forum, becoming a part of the political fray. Critique

As I read Gladiator, it became increasingly evident that it was a historic book that wasn’t written so much with the intention of providing a structured or calculated methodology, but rather to “entertaingly” educate. In one specific section of the book (pages 29 through 39) Dr. Matyszak goes through a careful timeline of events that clearly conveys to the reader the slow escalation of the growing prominence of gladiators. This is very nice as it helps one see how gladiators and the games began to grow in popularity, but unfortunately since the book is set as if you are a potential gladiator in the year 180 ad. What I’d assimilate the book style to, would be if someone asked me to write a book about basketball to someone that didn’t know a thing about the sport, but had aspirations of possibly playing in the NBA. I’d give them a brief history of how it came about and some notable dates and players, but my focus would be on what they could expect to experience once they ventured down that path. How the public would see them, what their daily life would consist of, things they may be asked to do by the community leaders, how much they could expect to make, some strategies to use, basketball schools they would be better off attending, how long their career might be if they’re successful, and other specifics involved in the sport to better prepare them for that endeavor. This is a close example to the style with which Gladiator is written. Professional Critique

Russell Whitfield from UNRV History gave a very insightful and complete review of Philip Matyszak’s book Gladiator: The Roman Fighter’s (Unofficial) Manual. After reading Whitfield’s opinion of the book, and taking some time to reflect on his words and how they minced with my own account of the book, it impressed me how closely our experience align. One of the most prominent themes that Whitfield constantly refers to throughout his review, is how detailed and fact heavy the book is, but without coming off that as a “boring, incomprehensible 700 page tome” which is closer to what I expect most history focused books to be. Matyszak is able to go into finite detail on a variety of areas surrounding the gladiator, but does so with a structure and factual support that made the reading very enjoyable. Whitfield refers to the writing style as being “written in a chatty, irreverent style…that illustrates, informs, and entertains” which is a big reason for why I was able to enjoy the book so much. I’m the furthest thing from a history buff, but the limited exposure I’ve had to history, namely gladiatorial times has come primarily from what I’ve seen from the movies “Gladiator” and “Troy.” So the ability that Matyszak has to write down to the peon level that I exist on with regard to history, but still achieve the level of factual information, was especially impressive. I believe that the primary inspiration for the context and format of the Philip Matyszak’s Gladiator book was rooted in the goal of making an informative historical book that was accessible to the casual reader, enjoyable, as well as unique. The context is almost as if he was speaking directly to the reader as someone considering becoming a gladiator, with lines like “if you’re lucky, you’ll get a foot and a half of blade,” to the incredible amount of detail he goes into on the proper net throwing technique that “needs arm and wrist action, a sort of circular movement which sends the net spinning slowly as it flies towards it’s target. The spin transfers centrifugal forces to the edges, thus fully opening the net…helping to tangle everything up nicely.” This unique approach that Matyszak opted for is greatly needed particularly in the historical literature field because I have not seen or been exposed to any historical literature that has taken such an approach. So not only was the book informative, but it was a fresh take on an area of history that is not new by any means, and brought it to life. Taking the “how to” approach works impeccably, causing Whitfield to refer to this book as “by far the best of the lot” of the many studies he’s read regarding gladiators. Although this has been my first gladiatorial read, I’d have to whole-heartedly agree.

Whitfield, Russell. UNRV History, book review of Philip Matyszak, Gladiator: Roman Fighter’s [Unofficial] Manual., 2013 Matyszak, Philip. Books by Philip Matyszak, About the Author., January 05, 2014 Baer, Jeremy. Interview with Dr. Philip Matyszak, United Nations of Roma Victrix,, 2013 Mundow, Anna. Boot Camp in Ancient Rome. The Boston Globe., May 31, 2009

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