History From Below

Over on the Forbes Blog this week, I explore how the HBO show Westworld sheds light on the history of elite amusement parks. Although we should probably also reflect on the colonial penchant for “fish in a barrel” elephant safaris or perhaps analyze Marie Antoinette’s creation of a “peasant” village for her to visit at Versailles, I focus on the gladiatorial auctorati of the late Roman Republic and early empire. These were usually elite Roman men (and some women) who volunteered to be gladiators in the Roman arena. Some Roman emperors also engaged in gladiatorial combat within the arena, though the use of dulled weapons indicates that there was never any real danger presented to an imperator playing dress up.

What is interesting is the parallel use of Roman slaves as objects to be sexualized, injured, or killed in the name of elite amusement and attainment of a pseudo-heroism. This is…

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