Superfit, muscled, macho, the gladiator was hero-worshipped for his skill and courage as he fought to the death, yet despised for his humble status. For over six cruel centuries, ten or thousands died in the bloodsoaked arenas of Rome and its colonies, watched by enthralled crowds, screaming for violence. Drawn from prisoners of war, slaves, convicts and in later centuries, Roman citizens fighting for money and excitement, the gladiators lived inside gladiator schools where they trained in special fighting techniques: the 'retiarius' with net and trident, the 'thraex' with short sword and round shield, the 'secutor' , the 'murmillo', the 'hoplomachus'. Few lived to old age or found freedom again. Fewer still lived to tell their tale. Professor Fik Meijer has ingeniously pieced together their true stories from grave epitaphs, graffiti, mosaic, frescoes and engravings, from artefacts found under the ashes of Pompeii, and quotations from ancient Romans writers, as well as his close study of Greek and Etruscan history. He describes the gladiators' origins, daily life, training, the odds of their survival pitted against the emperors' lust for blood and spectacle. He illustrates the vast, complex organisation and expense incurred in staging the shows. Tracing the origins of the gladiators over 2,500 years, from the initial belief that their blood spilled on a grave wound sustain the death on its journey to the underworld. Yet, as centuries passed and the Roman Empire grew gladiators became part of the vaster, more brutal entertainments, staged by successive emperors eager to manipulate the public with 'bread and circuses' and eager to exhibit their supreme power over men and animals, life and death. As more and more grandiose performances were staged, the Colosseum was built and copied all over the Roman Empire, and the extravagant spectacles became daylong. The morning show began with the 'hunting' of wild animals, sometimes in their thousands, followed by wild animal fights; bear against bull or captured slaves, Christian against crocodiles, lion, tigers, hippopotamuses even, all shipped from Rome's African colonies. At lunchtime came the public executions; death by sword, burning at the stake, crucifixions, and in the afternoon the long awaited, much applaud gladiators fights, the day s may attraction. There were even sea battles where the great arenas were flooded. Professor Meijer brings these events vividly to life, and ends his fascinating book by comparing the real evidence he has uncovered with portrayals in films such as "Spartacus" and "Gladiator" .