Monday, August 17, 2015

Gladiator Games Fun Facts by Caroline Lawrence

Yesterday I attended the final event (of nine) of the 2015 Gladiator Games held at London's Guildhall and sponsored by the Museum of London. Before the event I visited Londinium's real underground amphitheatre (under the Guildhall Art Gallery) where I chatted with resident archaeologist Andrew and ancient musician John. 

Dan Shadrake AKA Draco was a brilliant announcer
During the event I listened with delight to Dan Shadrake (AKA Draco) who was a brilliant commentator. I also talked to people in the audience including Roman expert Charlie (aged 7). Afterwards I grilled tired but happy members of Britannia, the fabulous group who provided the talent. I even went behind the scenes to visit a potter, carpenter and a family of belt-pouch makers! 

In the course of a hugely enjoyable afternoon, I learned some useful facts that might well appear in my next series, The Roman Quests, which will be set in Roman Britain between the years AD 94-96. (Two of these "facts" are bogus! Can you guess which ones?)

John Warren AKA Vitellius
1. John Wheeler AKA Vitellius told me that fighting a gladiatorial combat in the rain is pretty much the same as fighting in sunshine. (Only instead of the sun getting in your eyes, raindrops keep falling on your head.) Gladiators fight barefoot on sand, which does not get slippery in rain, unlike grass or marble. 

Chris Luck and Jo Bishop
2. Chris Luck AKA Titus told me it had rained on the Friday evening event and there had been thunder and lightning. Idea for future book: Have a gladiator struck by lightning on his metal helmet!

The Emperor Domitian - you never saw him!
3. It is a Little Known Fact that the Emperor Domitian visited Britannia during his reign. But when he sponsored some games at Londinium's amphitheatre, one of the gladiators tried to assassinate him. The emperor was rushed back to Rome. Because of the humiliating attempt on his life, all records of his visit to Britannia were expunged. It must be true: Draco said it!

information board in London's Guildhall Art Gallery
4. Today, Londinium's amphitheatre is underground but its position is marked by an oval of dark grey marble paving stones in the courtyard of London's Guildhall, right where they held yesterday's games!

Draco, Mercury and Charon
5. Mercury is the man in the scary mask who pokes fallen gladiators with a red-hot poker to see if they are really dead or just pretending. 

Charon's belt is scary!

6. Charon is the man dressed all in black in the not so scary mask (but scary belt) who bashes fallen gladiators on the head with his mallet if they twitch at the jab of a red-hot poker. I touched his mallet after: it was really, really heavy and also sticky with blood. Ew. 

The referee at Gladiator games was called the summa rudis
7. We know there were referees at Gladiatorial Games and even what they wore, thanks to several images from antiquity, including a scene of gladiators painted on a glass beaker from the Roman fort at Vindolanda. 

Carpenter Graham and wooden crocodile
8. Carpenter Graham showed me how to use a wooden crocodile instead of a strigil to scrape off dead skin, oil and sweat at the baths. 

Chris Lydamore and carrot amphora
9. Chris Lydamore, re-enactor, potter and curator of the Bishops Stortford Museum, showed me that some amphorae (storage jars) looked like giant carrots!

lemon in water kept wasps away from this lunch
10. A punctured lemon in a bowl of water (sea-sponge optional) keeps wasps away from your Roman lunch of cheese and grapes. Same principle as citronella candles, I guess!

The Gladiators from Capua
Of course I knew most of these facts already: I put them in my 8th Roman Mystery, The Gladiators from Capua. But I did learn a few new things and I had huge fun. More importantly, so did the boys and girls sitting around me. Thank you Britannia and Museum of London!
Caroline (2nd left) with fab Gladiator Games helpers!
P.S. Look out for Escape from Rome, The Archers of Isca and especially Death in the Arena, the first three books in my new Roman Quests series.


P.P.S. For more pictures of this and other Roman re-enactment events, go HERE

P.P.P.S. The two "facts" that are NOT true are numbers 3 and 8! Did you get them?


  1. What a fun way to research!

    Deb Watley

  2. Thanks for sharing these pictures wit us, the gladiators simply looks amazing that are the part of Roman history for so long. In my last Italian trip I was not able to visit these amazing people and sculptures, but this time I would definitely visit these things. I would also remember to keep a detailed road map this time as I forgot to keep that Australia Road Map in my last Australian trip.