Since antiquity, historians have put forth a number of theories to explain the role gladiatorial games played in Roman culture. The games have been seen as sacrifices to the gods or to the souls of the deceased, as a method to inure citizens against the horrors of fighting, and as a substitute for warfare during more peaceful Empire days.
"Emperors and Gladiators" considers these theories, positing that they alone are insufficient in explaining the importance of the games. Wiedemann looks at the role of public ceremonies in the context of competition within the Roman elite, as public demonstrations both of the power of the Roman community as a whole and of the "virtue" of a particular public figure. He shows how emperors, seeking to identify themselves with the civilizing hero Hercules, used the games in the amphitheaters to advertise the legitimacy of their governments.
Wiedemann also considers that to the Romans, the gladiatorial games represented the mythical struggle of order and civilization against the forces of nature, barbarism and criminality. Against the Romans' natural, human and imagined enemies, gladiators symbolized the possessors of the most crucial of Roman virtues: fighting ability. Wiedemann looks at this in the light of the criticisms of the gladiatorial games from both ancient and modern sources, suggesting that the Christian Romans' rejection of games, especially the use of death rituals, stemmed from a fear of their rivalry (and perhaps their similarity) with the Christian doctrine of resurrection.
"Emperors and Gladiators" is fully illustrated, drawing on the latest epigraphical evidence to present an original and comprehensive study of the changing significance of gladiatorial contests to Roman culture. It is of great value to both students and scholars of antiquity.