Monthly Archives: October 2012

Inspirations for Gladiatrix

Gladiatrix is a novel which came about by accident. During some horseplay on an internet forum, a member ‘sentenced’ me to gladiator school. I wrote a daily bulletin for the fun of it, which meant doing some rather rapid research. I’d watched various TV programmes about the Romans, and we’d visited a Roman fort or two. A few years earlier we’d visited the Amphitheatre at Tarragona, as well as the aqueduct, and we live near Colchester, so I already knew some background.

The Amphitheatre at Tarragona (c) D Priestley

Perhaps the germ of the idea had been sown in Tarragona, because when we’d visited I tried to imagine what it must have been like to enter the arena to fight, perhaps to die, and I still had the leaflet about it. Like many, I’d read “Spartacus” by Howard Fast, I’d watched the film “Gladiator”, and I’ve always had an interest in Roman history since hearing about Hannibal and reading, “The Eagle of the Ninth” by Rosemary Sutcliffe in junior school. During my research I found out just how far film makers sometimes stray from the facts to make a good story.

Stone Pine Trees. These were planted round amphitheatres to offer shade and the pine scent would cover more noxious smells. (C) D Priestley

After about 20,000 words I realised I had the makings of a novel, so I removed my bulletins from the forum and did a lot more research. I had to place my Gladiatrix in a particular era, and early second century AD seemed a good choice, particularly when I read about Trajan’s three months of Munera to celebrate his victory over the Dacians, and establish Hadrian as the heir apparent.

At about the time I started writing this, the news was full of the discovery of the first (and only so far) Circus in Great Britain in Colchester, just down the road from me, and the discovery of the London amphitheatre at the Guildhall, and the intriguing burial of a female with possible gladiatorial accoutrements like incense burners and stone pine cones.

In my mind’s eye I saw the London amphitheatre to be similar to the one at Tarragona, and the Colosseum (or the Flavian Amphitheatre as it was known then), but that was erroneous, as I found out when I did some further research. I was startled to discover that there are a number of amphitheatres in Britain, including a very well preserved and excavated one at Caerleon. This I just had to see, so we stopped off there on a trip to West Wales. I stood in the grassy arena, and tried to imagine the crowds sitting on the seats, and the nobles in the best seating. What struck me most was how small it was in comparison with my imaginings. I thought the construction was very interesting.

While we were there we had a look round the museum, and that was great too, and put the daily life of a legionary into context. I would recommend it.

Caerleon Amphitheatre in the surrounding countryside.

Caerleon Amphitheatre, showing the elliptical shape and some of the eight entrances.

Butresses holding the cavea in place

Main Entrance

Showing drainage gully

Showing Walls and Drainage Gully

In the Arena.

The Possible Shrine to Nemesis


All images are copyright, all rights reserved.



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Gladiatrix Update

I’m pleased to say that a very talented artist is doing a picture of a Retiaria which I will be able to use as a book cover. I’m thrilled because although people have been very helpful with suggestions for images, nothing else has been quite right from a technical point of view.

I can hardly wait, I’m so excited.

I have one or two minor tweaks to do to the manuscript and a final read-through before it’s ready.

On a slightly different note, I have heard via Facebook that Time Team is to end. (  I have always enjoyed this, and will be sad to see it end. One Time Team, the “Seahenge” one was inspiration for a scene at the end of “Death in Flitbury Marshes”.

I found what looks like a core from flint knapping in my garden, as well as some old bottles. When I dig these up, I call them my “Time Team” moments. No pots of Roman coins, though, alas. When I lived in Wantage I was on a walk with someone and we found a bit of what might have been Roman tile. I handed it to my friend, but when I asked where it was about 10 minutes later, she told me she had thrown it away! I could have wept, but to her it was just a chunk of tile.

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Gladiatrix (Gladiator School)

As some of you know, the next novel I wish to publish is Gladiatrix, the first part of which came into existence several years ago on the Police Oracle website. It follows the fortunes of a Trinovante woman condemned to the Games in early Second Century AD.

I have extended it into a full length novel which, now that I have parted from my agent, I can publish on Kindle, and possibly as a POD paperback. I will be very pleased to do this, since so many people enjoyed the first part.

The trouble with publishing on Kindle and POD is that I have to create a cover/placeholder. I have used my own photos for this, but when it comes to Gladiatrix, I have a problem. There are no photographs of female retiarii on the web which are available for use, as far as I can see.

A book is judged by its cover, whether that is just or not. I need a good cover for my book, and it has to be right.

I have been contacting re-enactment groups and websites to see if they can help. A couple of people have been helpful, but the most promising possibility is photos taken during the making of a film which is currently being made with no budget. The relevant threads are here:-

There are only 8 days left (and counting) to raise the funds to finish the filming, so I have decided to publicise their need for “crowd funding” even though the film maker Marc Sanders has not yet been in contact with me after my approach. One of the participants, the Secutor, has been in contact, and it is he who told me that time is running out to raise the funds.

I think it’s good to support educational films like this, and “experimental archaeology” of the re-enactment groups. Hollywood never lets historical fact get in the way of a good story, whereas endeavours like this film aim to be as authentic as possible.

Apparently you can donate via PayPal here.

Even a few £s or Euros will help. Can you please share this, or pass this on somehow.


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