Spectacle in the Roman World by Hazel Dodge

Book Review by Medusa

This book is published as part of the “Classical World Series” by Bloomsbury Classic which is – as mentioned on the back cover – “designed specifically for students and teachers of Classical Civilisation at late school and early university level”. Hazel Dodge is a lecturer at Trinity College in Dublin and has already written several articles dealing with the subject of spectacles in Ancient Rome. I personally saw her lecture on “Amphitheatres in the Roman East” at the Amphitheatres & Spectacula Conference in Chester in Feb. 2007.

The present volume deals not with gladiatorial combat and its venues alone, but also covers nearly all other forms of spectacula such as chariot racing, venationes (animal hunts) and naumachiae (aquatic displays) and the different venues where these took place. One chapter is devoted to the spectacula in Late Antiquity which ones continued to be staged and which ones not. The book is rounded off by an appendix with a short overview about the different venue types. She touches only very briefly the executions of noxii (condemned criminals) which were an integral part of a munus (spectacle consisting of venationes in the morning, executions around noon time and gladiator fights in the afternoon) during the Imperial period. Theatrical displays are not covered in this book at all because they were in a different, religious context.

Despite the briefness of the book Dodge finds space to not just scratch the surface but also to eliminate persistent preconceptions such as that gladiators said the greeting “morituri te salutant”. She puts it straight that it was condemned criminals who greeted Emperor Claudius this way. Commendably she describes in more detail subjects such as a gladiatorial relief from 1st century BC and the Pompeiian graffiti of gladiators or the Magerius mosaic of venatores (hunters).

But on the other hand I could unfortunately find some mistakes at least in the chapter where I know most about which is gladiators. She mixed up the gladiator types, not even correctly following the old nomenclature which is still favored e.g. by Dario Battaglia nor the new version as published by Marcus Junkelmann. Also she makes the lanista in one paragraph the trainer of gladiators although he was the manager of a gladiatorial school and the trainer was called either magister or doctor which at another paragraph is named correctly.

Unfortunately she obviously uses the literal translations from the Ancient sources of animal names, e.g. “maneless lions” without explaining that this must have been female lions, or “panther” with no explanation that this is only the black version of a leopard which is listed separately.

The book is written in an easily understandable style, gives quotations to primary sources and also contains 31 b/w photos or drawings which underline the text in a very good way. The intent of this book is to be an introduction to this wide topic but does include a bibliography at its end.

However the bibliography is not totally up-to-date as it mentions the first edition of Junkelmann’s gladiator book only and not the second one from 2008 although she also lists several more recent works. For those who already have a basic knowledge about Roman spectacula it bears nothing new but it is a good introduction for newbies or for those who – like me as an expert on gladiators – want to gain an oversight about the other types of spectacles in the Ancient Roman world.

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