Dateline: southern Italy, 73 BC
• Our roving research reporter has tracked down Spartacus,
the world’s most glamorous ex-gladiator and rebel icon, for an exclusive battlefield interview about life, love, and his prospects for short-term survival:
RR: Welcome, Spartacus! We’re streaming live from—
Spartacus: (interrupts) We’re a little busy here…forget streaming, we’re fighting the Roman army. Luckily, they’ve only sent 3,000 rookies and that meathead Glaber against us. Pompey’s away in Spain, and the rest of the legions are getting their hineys whipped by King Mithridates in the east…
RR: Could we step out of arrow-fire range? (winces) Ow! A little further away.
Spartacus: (contemptuous sniff) That arrow barely grazed you!
RR: (using toga to mop up blood flow) You’ve assembled an army of runaway slaves, disenchanted gladiators, and assorted Euro-trash—what’s your game plan?
Spartacus: We’re headed for a terrific hideout, an impregnable base of operations.
RR: And that would be?
Spartacus: (pointing) The top of Mt Vesuvius. Big flat area on top, you know.
RR: Really. Vesuvius? Aren’t you concerned about devastating volcanic activity?
Spartacus: Thing’s been dormant for centuries. Safe as houses. I scoped out a few hot spots on the summit we can even use as barbecue pits.
RR: If you say so… Moving on: regarding your recent gladiatorial career. Any regrets?
Spartacus: Have to admit, I miss the roar of the crowd. And those arena groupies. (chuckles) I was catnip. Talk about no holds barred…
RR: Let’s not go down that eroticism road. How about sharing some professional secrets?
Spartacus: No way.
RR: C’mon. Just one for the folks at home.
Spartacus: Will you quit pestering me then? I’ve got a rebellion to run.
RR: I promise. Now spill!
Spartacus: (impatient sigh) OK. The blood.
RR: You’re saying it’s fake??
Spartacus: No. It’s real, all right. But the blood isn’t ours.
Spartacus: Our gladiatorial union, we told them we’d had it with actual flesh wounds. Makes the match too short. If the crowd gets unhappy– bidda-boom, the tips dry up.
RR: So what’s your secret? Where’s the blood hidden? And whose blood is it, anyway?
Spartacus: Pig blood—nice bright color, doesn’t coagulate too quickly. After some experimentation, we found that pig-testicle patches work best. Easy to hide inside armpits or loincloth. I used to keep a supply stuck to the back of my scutum; plenty of room on a shield. Bit of finesse required, learning how to deploy them, of course. But you get a nice spray of gore. Oops! Gotta go. (Spartacus wanders off to decapitate an enemy soldier coming at him.)
RR: First century BC fans, you heard it here first—gladiatorial savagery morphs into gladiatorial fakery. And that is today’s trend in extreme blood sports.
RR: (sour look) Is that a wrap?
RR: (to cameraman) Thank Apollo, at least pro wrestling hasn’t become tainted.
TIP to reader: this interview is mostly mock—including the dialogue.
Nevertheless, much of it is fact-based and comes in part from my new book, How to Mellify a Corpse. Can you identify the most unusual true statement in this interview? The answer will be in my next blogpost.
Vicki Leon, historical detective