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“Proof that the female action heroine’s appeal is at least a couple of millennia old.”

This intriguing piece of archaeological detective work began with the discovery of an opulent grave in the paupers’ section of a Roman-era cemetery in London. Piecing together the clues, the conclusion was reached that, while it could have been a follower of Isis, this was most likely a gladiator’s grave – which was something of a shock, as the occupant was female…

From here, we head into a discussion of how Roman life centred round the amphitheatre and how the gladiatorial games developed. While there wasn’t a great deal of new information here, it was interesting to see a connection made between the rise of the female participant linked to Boadicea’s revolt, which had taken place a decade or two earlier. This would have no doubt opened the Roman mind to the possibilities of broads with swords. Similarly, in Rome, the absorption of the Amazonian legend (originally a Turkish story) could have led to the introduction of the gladiatrix.

Narrated by – who else? – Lucy Lawless, the documentary is hampered by an over-enthusiastic visual style during the battle recreations. At times, these were so hyperactive as to convince me that I was watching clips from the 2001 version of The Arena. While understanding the need to avoid becoming a sequence of talking heads and shots of ruins, the attempts to jazz the inserts up prove more of a distraction than an enhancement. I’d have welcomed more speculation on the life of the gladiatrix too. Still, great to hear a little about the ancestors of Michelle Yeoh and Pam Grier!

Dir: Jeremy Freeston
Discovery Channel documentary, December 2001

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