The Gladiators

by Arthur Koestler


Reviewed by David Maclaine


Learning that the author of The Gladiators was the same Arthur Koestler whose books I first encountered in college came as a pleasant surprise. Why would the author of Darkness at Noon, a harrowing novel about the famous Stalinist show trials in which the Soviet state devoured assorted leaders of the revolution that had brought it into being, and The Sleepwalkers, a nonfiction account of the mysterious forces at work in the minds of the men who transformed our understanding of the solar system, tackle the subject of the slave revolt led by Spartacus? The answer arrives quickly; Koestler was clearly fascinated by the psychology of revolutions, and The Gladiators shows the great slave revolt from the perspectives of an assortment of characters drawn into it for very different reasons. The novel includes plenty of action, but a great deal more discussion between characters about just what they hope to accomplish. Koestler's interest in the way mass movements escape control of their purported leaders is especially pronounced in his account of the rebels' attempt to build their ideal city, and the forces that doom their efforts.

You will learn nothing new about gladiators from reading this book, because their revolt begins at the beginning of the novel. The Gladiators offers a well-written account of Spartacus' rebellion, but the real focus of the story is the various ways humans who discover their world is on the brink of change respond to that discovery. Why do men and women decide to join or resist a revolution? Do those who take part understand own reasons for acting? Just how much power do the "leaders" have when a mass movement gathers momentum? If you believe ancient revolts can tell us something about ourselves that transcends those distant times, this is a novel you'll want to read. (1939, 398 pages)

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The Gladiators appears on the list of The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History


Other novels about the Spartacan rebellion:

Spartacus by Howard Fast (1951), the basis for Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film. More info

Spartacus: The Gladiator by Ben Kane (2012), about Spartacus and his leadership of the slave revolt against Rome; a sequel, Spartacus: Rebellion continues the story. More info

Arms of Nemesis by Steven Saylor (1992), a mystery about a murder during the Spartacan slave revolt, which stirs tension between Roman slaves and their masters; #2 in the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series. More info


Nonfiction about the Spartacan rebellion:

The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss (2009). More info

Spartacus and the Slave Wars: A Brief History with Documents by Brent D. Shaw (2001). More info

Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World, 140 B.C. - 70 B.C. by Keith R. Bradley (1989). More info


At the Movies:

Spartacus, the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas and directed by Stanley Kubrick.


Online:

Spartacus at Wikipedia


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