Saturday, March 21, 2009


We're in Rome right now. Specifically, we've been learning about the beginning of Rome and their thirst for violence, especially as it relates to the expansion of their empire and the gladiator fights.

As typical, I've already learned more than I ever knew about this time period. Some of the interesting things we have read concerned Julius Caesar. Some of our reading included how he gained power and his involvement in the gladiatorial combats.

Julius Caesar, according to the library book we are reading, used his "genius" at entertaining the people with extravagant gladiatorial displays to buy the affection of the people. In addition to gaining popularity with the general public, he showered his political supporters and legionaries with gold. Basically, he bought his way into power.

Caesar was known for massive entertainment events. In 46 B.C., he staged a show between two armies of 500 men, 30 cavalrymen, and 20 battle elephants each. That must have been some show! If that wasn't big enough, he then had a huge lake dug for the purpose of putting on another show, a naval battle with 1,000 sailors and 2,000 oarsman. Caesar felt that the cost in gold and human lives was worth it.

We also read about where these gladiators came from. Most were prisoners of war, slaves, or criminals. As the Roman Empire grew, the soldiers of defeated armies were taken to Rome where they were sold in slave markets. The biggest and strongest usually found themselves being trained for gladiatorial combat. Criminals also found themselves in gladiator school. At first, it was only those convicted of murder, robbery, arson, or sacrilege that became gladiators. However, as gladiator games became more popular, the need for gladiators grew and someone accused of any crime could find himself in the arena. Finally, slaves were often sent to gladiator schools. In fact, owners could "dispose" of their slave for any, or no, reason whatsoever. Finally, some would just volunteer because they found that regular meals and the possibility of glory was better than what they had in regular life.

Finally, we read about the main types of gladiators. Certain gladiators would be outfitted in specific ways and had a specific job in the arena. For example, the mirmillo (fish man) was chased by the retiarius (net fighter) who was often pitted against the secutor (chaser). While there have been evidence of other types of gladiators, most fit into one of six categories.

The above information was found in the juvenile nonfiction book Gladiator by Richard Watkins. It is a great book loaded with great information about gladiators. It has awesome charcoal and pencil drawings to go with the information. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to learn about this Roman sport. We've only read half of the book so far and have learned so much. I can't wait to finish it with the kids.

To go with our study, we also chose to watch the movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe. It is quite violent and bloody (rated R for intense graphic combat) so it won't be for everyone, but my kids can handle it. Besides the Romans were quite violent and blood-thirsty so it fit quite well. My intention for watching it was to see what a gladiator fight was like. It's one thing to read that it was violent and another thing altogether to see and understand what that means. There's a lot of politics going on in the movie that will go over most kids' heads. We stopped the movie a few times to explain to the kids what was going on so that they would understand it too.

So far, we are finding the history of Rome to be quite interesting.

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