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The Real Gladiator (Hardback)

The True Story of Maximus Decimus Meridius

Ancient History > Rome & the Roman Provinces Military > Biographies > Military Biographies P&S History

By Tony Sullivan
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: The Real...
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399017572
Published: 6th May 2022



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“Are you not entertained?” shouts Russell Crowe, playing the part of General Maximus Decimus Meridius in the Oscar winning 2000 film Gladiator. The crowd, having witnessed Maximus defeating several gladiators, cheer in response. Film goers too were indeed entertained with the film grossing nearly half a billion dollars. This book covers the historical events that film was based on. From the Germanic wars on the northern frontier to the gladiatorial arena in Rome. From the philosopher emperor, Marcus Aurelius to the palace intrigues during the reign of his son. We will discover how Commodus really died and which of the characters actually fought in the arena.

Readers will meet two generals, Pompeianus and Maximianus, who most resemble our hero General Maximus. Also Lucilla, the sister of Commodus, who in reality married her General, but detested him. The book also focuses on warfare, weapons and contemporary battles. It will compare the battle and fight scenes in the film with reality from contemporary sources and modern tests and reenactments.

The reader will discover that fact is not only stranger than fiction, it is often more entertaining. The real history was certainly as much, if not more, treacherous, bloodthirsty, murderous and dramatic than anything the film industry has created. Anyone who answered “yes!” to the question posed by Russell Crowe’s character in the film, will indeed be entertained by this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Sullivan's delving into Roman military history, strategy and tactics, and his explanation of the gladiatorial games. Glimpses of the remarkable personalities of the time come through in this engaging read for the armchair historian.

NetGalley, Sherwood Reviewer

Informative enhanced with the inclusion of maps, tables, figures, and pictures, "The Real Gladiator: The True Story of Maximus Decimus Meridius" is an inherently fascinating read and one that will have special and enduring appeal for readers with an interest in Roman history, politics, gladiatorial combat, and military actions. A unique work of exhaustive scholarship and research, impressively articulate and informative in commentary, organization and presentation, "The Real Gladiator: The True Story of Maximus Decimus Meridius" is an unique and highly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Roman History & Biography collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

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Midwest Book Review

This was a well-written book by the author Tony Sullivan, who I have read before and I find him an excellent writer and to the point on most things. If your into Roman history you should really like this book, it’s not often you get such a good book about an individual soldier.

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The History Fella

Tony Sullivan tells the amazing and fascinating story of the true-life gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius - absolutely riveting.

Books Monthly

If you count the Oscar-winning film "Gladiator" amongst your favourites, like I do, or if you ever wondered what the true story as well as the true history behind it are, then this book is perfect for you.

In this short and very readable book, author Tony Sullivan answers all your questions about Rome and its long history as well as tells you the real life story of the man Russell Crowe incarnated on the big screen: Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the armies of the North, general of the Felix legions, loyal servant of the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius; father to a murdered son, husband of a murdered wife, and . . . a fictional creation?

Without spoilering it for you, the answer is both yes and no. The plot of the film is fictional, but the man on whom it's based was real. Or rather men, because it was more than one. To find out, you'll have to read this book, and I can promise you it's an enlightening read. In just seven chapters, Sullivan will give you a history lesson told in a style with fans of the film and people not very familiar with Roman history in mind, that's easy to grasp and doesn't bog you down with endless names and recitations of facts. It's clear and fluid.

NetGalley, Alya Gonz

As featured in

The Bookseller

The author has taken the unusual route of comparing and contrasting the Hollywood epic ‘Gladiator’ with the many examples of Roman military life and history to deliver an excellent study of the period depicted in the film. It succeeds not because of the connection to the film, but despite it. However, it works well and in doing so corrects the inevitable inaccuracies of the film and uses that as a platform to give a very readable description of the Roman Army, the Emperors, and indeed potential role models for Maximus Decimus Meridius, the eponymous Gladiator. As an introduction to the period, it is excellent and recommended.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Tony Sullivan

Tony Sullivan lives in South East London with his wife and three children. His first book, King Arthur: Man or Myth? was published in 2020. Three further books followed in 2022: The Battles of King Arthur investigating the famous battle list from the Historia Brittonum; The Real Gladiator, looking at the historical reality behind the 2000 film; and The Roman King Arthur?: Lucius Artorius Castus, which dismantles the Artorius-Arthur theory and places this historical Roman officer in the reigns of Severus and Caracalla.

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