Guest Post: Ally Sherrick
Author of Vita and the Gladiator
The World of the Gladiator
In my new historical adventure, the world of the gladiator into which my hero, Roman magistrate’s daughter, Vita is unexpectedly pitched after the murder of her beloved father, is an alien one to us – barbaric and cruel-seeming. But for Roman society across the Empire, the arena was the place where imperial justice was seen to be served and a sense of order reinforced – a reminder of the power of the Emperor in Rome and the meaning and worth of Roman citizenship.
Though some volunteered to fight in the arena, the majority of gladiators were a mix of criminals sentenced to die by the sword (damnati ad gladium) or condemned to the games (damnati ad ludos), prisoners-of-war, or else slaves sold to the gladiator-school by their masters for being disobedient or unruly. Like actors, dancers and certain other groups in society, gladiators were classed as infames, despised and segregated from ordinary citizens. However, if they fought bravely in the arena and died well (if the games’ organiser had decreed it should be a fight to the death), they were capable of winning admiration and even adulation from the crowd. In my own story, the fearsome Cronos the Skull-Crusher is one such ‘celebrity’ fighter.
Searching For Justice
On a more personal level, in spite of being sold as a slave to a gladiator school by one of her father’s assassins, Vita is determined to bring those responsible to justice. Meanwhile her cell-mate, the fierce beast-hunter and native Briton, Brea is on a quest to be avenged for what the Roman army, or ‘Eagle-men’ as she calls them, have done to her own family.
The pair argue about what justice means for each of them as the story unfolds and they learn more about each other’s pasts. For example:
‘… now my path has crossed with his, I will hunt him down and take his lifeblood from him as surely as he took it from our father.’
Vita shivered and turned her head away.
‘What is wrong? You must want the same thing for your father. Your mother and brother too?’
‘Yes, but … but not like that.’
‘By arresting the one responsible, bringing him to trial and proving him guilty in a court of law. Then, after that is done, he will be sentenced to death and executed.’
The wolf-woman gave a loud snort. ‘The Roman way! … You know the snake’s guilt. We both do. Better to strike quickly and have done with it.’
‘But that wouldn’t be just. Or fair either.’
‘Was it just or fair when he ordered my father’s throat cut and yours butchered?’
(Vita and the Gladiator pp185-186)
Exploring the Theme of Justice in the Classroom
To explore this theme of justice in the classroom, why not encourage students to research gladiatorial games? Then ask them to stage a debate exploring the rights and wrongs of gladiatorial contests and some of the other practices that took place in the arena – for example beast hunts (the venatio) and the execution of those termed ‘criminals’.
Alternatively, or in addition, pairs of students could adopt and explore Vita and Brea’s positions on what justice means to each of them and see if they can shift the other person’s point of view through the power of argument. Then switch characters to gain an insight into things from the other person’s perspective.