Reanimated History: An Ancient History of Violence

Apr 08 2018

In this episode, Adam journeys back to the ancient world to uncover the truth about gladiators, the woman who took on the Roman Empire and the warriors of Sparta. Here are his sources.


“Nope. In fact, for most of gladiatorial history, intentionally killing your opponent was against the rules. That’s why only one in ten matches ended in a death.”

James Grout. “The Roman Gladiator,” Encyclopaedia Romana. University of Chicago, 2017.

“Yup! As well as umpires to enforce them.”

Sarah Emily Bond. “The Fall of the Roman Umpire: A Short History of Ancient Referees.” History from Below, 15 Oct 2015.

“And these umpires were scrupulously fair. In fact, if your opponent fell by accident, the umpire would stop the match and let him get up.”

John Bingham. “Roman gladiator’s death ‘down to ref’s dodgy decision.’” The Telegraph, 22 Jun 2011.

“But the most important rule: No killing! Gladiators were actually trained to subdue their opponent rather than flat out kill them. “

Fabian Kanz and Karl Grossschmidt. “Head injuries of Roman gladiators.” Forensic Science International 160.2 (2006).

“Because gladiators were expensive. Many were slaves who were fed, clothed, housed, armed, and trained by owners called Lanistae.”

Roger Dunkle. Gladiators: Violence and Spectacle in Ancient Rome. Taylor and Francis, 2011.

“That’s why archaeological evidence 40 suggests gladiators had healthy diets and received quality medical care.”

Kate Ravilious. “Gladiators Played by the Rules, Studies Suggest.” National Geographic, 3 Mar 2006.

"Sorry. While, on occasion an Emperor or sponsor would demand a fight to the death, it was rare and generally frowned upon. In fact, Rome’s first emperor outlawed fights to the death entirely.”

Donald G. Kyle. Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World. Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

“And the most successful fighters even commercially endorsed products.”

Monica Cyrino. Big Screen Rome. Wiley & Sons, 2009.

“Gladiators were even considered sex symbols. Merchants would bottle their sweat to be used as an aphrodisiac.”

Kristi Lee Covington Baker. A History of Sports Marketing and the Media. University of Kansas, 2007.

“Even emperors wanted in on the action. Reportedly, Caligula, Titus, Hadrian and Commodus all staged elaborate bouts just for the chance to feel like a gladiator.”

Tony Wilmott. “Gladiators in Ancient Rome: how did they live and die?” BBC History Magazine, May 2013.

“The Romans continued to subjugate Brittania for a decade, but in 54 AD, Emperor Claudius was mysteriously poisoned…”

Richard Cavendish. “Death of the Emperor Claudius.” History Today, 10 Oct 2004.

“I want you to build a memorial in honor of my uncle Claudius who I did not poison, and I certainly do not feel guilty about.”

James Grout. “Boudica (Boudicca)”. Encyclopaedia Romana. University of Chicago, 2017.

“Boudica was beaten, her daughters were raped, her husband was killed, her estate seized and her lands desecrated. She was left with nothing.”

Margaret Donsbach. “Boudica: Celtic War Queen Who Challenged Rome.” Military History, Apr 2004.

“Boudica managed to unite the warring tribes for the first time in history, eventually amassing an army of over two hundred and thirty thousand Celts.”

Caitlin C. Gillepsie. Boudica: Warrior Woman of Roman Britain. Oxford University Press, 2018.

“Despite the loss, Boudica’s message was heard loud and clear. The Celts would not submit quietly to Roman rule. And so, the Romans put an end to the excessive tribute payments and severe punishments.”

Margaret Donsbach. “Boudica: Celtic War Queen Who Challenged Rome.” Military History, Apr 2004.

“Bringing the total number of Greeks fighting the Persians at Thermopolye to upwards of seven thousand.”

Ludwig Dyck. “Defending the Pass at the Battle of Thermopylae." Warfare History Network, 14 Nov 2015.

“Historians believe that in some cases if a baby was deemed defective, and of no future value to the state, they were literally thrown off a cliff into a pile of discarded baby corpses.”

Tom Holland. Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. Anchor, 2005.

“Nope. If they came back alive, they’d become a concubine and perform sexual services for a former soldier.”

Tom Holland. Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. Anchor, 2005.

“My empire is probably the safest place in history up to this point.”

John Curtis and St. John Simpson. The World of Achaemenid Persia: History, Art and Society in Iran and the Ancient Near East. I.B. Taurus, 2010.

“We’d love for you to join our empire. And unlike those other empires we promise not to murder or rape you. All we ask is that you pay your taxes and pledge loyalty to me. We’ll even let you keep your rulers, maintain your culture, have your own democracy and hey, I’ll even participate in your religion to gain favor with your local gods. It’s a little something I like to call ‘Diplomacy.’”

Robert Guisepi. “Persia.” The International History Project, 2004.

“The Persian Empire was so appealing that some Greek city-states actively rooted for it, or even helped it in battle. At the battle of Thermopylae there were actually a number of Greeks on the Persian side.”

Barry Strauss. “Battle of Thermopylae: Leonidas the Hero." Military History Quarterly, Fall 2004.

“Herodotus is known as the father of history because he’s the first historian to methodically chronicle events and put them into a narrative.”

Raymond Kierstead. “Herodotus and the Invention of History.” Reed Magazine, Sep 2011.

“Actually, of the three hundred only two hundred and ninety-eight died.”

Ludwig Dyck. “Defending the Pass at the Battle of Thermopylae." Warfare History Network, 14 Nov 2015.

“Well before Herodotus, there was no concept of a noble west versus a mysterious, barbaric east. That narrative was introduced by him, and has influenced the world ever since…”

“Thermopylae.” In Our Time, BBC, 5 Feb 2004.

“Next they tried painting on cloth or silk which was difficult and expensive.”

Lianzhi Ma. “Cai Lun, the eunuch who became the father of paper.” GB Times, 27 Sep 2016.

“And so, using tree bark, discarded cloth, hemp waste, old rags, and fish nets, he developed a process to create modern-day paper.”

Martha Teichner. “The Unfolding History of Paper.” CBS News, 21 Aug 2016.

“Wracked with shame over his actions, Cai Lun took a warm bath, dressed himself in his finest elaborate robes, and drank poison.”

“Cai Lun: 2009 Paper Industry International Hall of Fame Inductee.” Paper Discovery Center, 2017.

“…which spread like wildfire, making its way to Korea and then Japan. And by the Middle Ages, paper was in use all throughout Europe and Asia. And its what made our knowledge of him and so much more of history possible today.”

Mark Kurlansky. Paper: Paging Through History. W.W. Norton & Co., 2016.

For More on This Topic

Professor Sarah Emily Bond’s blog History from Below is a delightful resource for accessible, engaging writing on the ancient world.

A new, comprehensive book on Boudicca debuted in early 2018.

Tom Holland’s Persian Fire is the most readable account of the Greco-Persian Wars.