Monday, January 30, 2006

Boris Johnson, gladiator

Boris Johnson was on Start the Week this morning to flog his new book, The Dream of Rome. It is a study of how Rome kept the Empire together, militarily, administratively and imaginatively. One of its instruments was the arena. Spectators would watch barbarians decimate each other (We who are about to die salute you!), and sitting in the stands munching their pork scratchings would thank the gods that they were watching, and not performing in this grand structure that only the Romans could build. Quite naturally, Boris points out, they wanted to be on the winning side.

I remember reading in Tom Holland's Rubicon that the weapons and costumes of the gladiators took form during and after the defeat of the other Italian tribes and became their martial after-image, as it were. No-one used these arms and armour any more, but they were a constant reminder to Romans, Samnites, Sabines and Lucani alike of who was boss and who wasn't.

Boris quite innocently points out the inability of modern Europeans to create such unifying rituals.

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