The BBC documentary is based on some new facts uncovered about ancient Rome. They show the life of Verus, a celebrated gladiator who was initially enslaved by Roman soldiers to break stones all day under the hot sun. He is about to give up on life, when an owner of a gladiator school, visits them and picks out Verus and some other slaves for training. They are taken to Rome, and given nice apartments with bath tubs and good clean water. Their training includes bathing which they considered a very healthy thing for body building.
For a few months, they are trained in strength only; lifting heavy logs, jumping on one leg while looking ferocious, pull-ups, hanging upside down while showing anger etc. Even after all this, they don’t even get to touch weapons. Trainers watch their every move and make corrections. Rich and royal people observe them as they lift heavy weights, chains…Only after they have reached a peak physical condition, are they allowed to touch a wooden sword. Not even a real sword. The idea was that you had to be ready. You had to earn it in the extreme sense. The training with the wooden swords was very detailed and they were tested and could easily be rejected at this important stage. Verus fails the first time, but through determination and focus, masters the wooden sword. Then the real sword, then two swords using both hands, then boxing, kicking, shield defense. He becomes the ultimate killer.
But there was a strange side to this brutal world. They formed a fraternity of gladiators, taking care of each other’s families, even showing respect at a fellow gladiator’s funeral. Not all gladiators were slaves. Some were rich men seeking excitement, others were in debt and seeking money. One victory over an opponent could earn a year of a Roman soldier’s pay. Rome also had a lot of wealthy free women, divorced women liberated from restrictions. These women paid gladiators to spend time with them. The gladiator was also considered a kind of super man but may suddenly be called to a party to entertain rich drunk Romans. Verus is invited one evening to a luxurious villa. He might be thinking ‘okay this is nice, I’m going to eat some great food.’ Guess what? They want him to fight someone right there in the living room with everyone watching. And so he does. It was a weird, brutal and fascinating world. I highly recommend this documentary if you are planning to travel back in time to become a gladiator.