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.
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.
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.
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