Published on September 26, 2011  

Since the movie Gladiator triumphed at the box office more than a decade ago, scarcely a year has passed without entertainment projects to amuse and/or embarrass those with an interest in ancient cultures. Samford's 2011 Roderick J. Davis Lecture will explore the violent games of those cultures and explain why they continue to fascinate us.

On Oct. 13 noted Classics professor and author Garrett G. Fagan will present "Watching the Fighters: Exploring the Roman fascination with Gladiatorial Combat". The free public lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Samford's Wright Center Concert Hall.

Fagan is Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State University. His main research interests lie in the field of Roman history and archaeology, on which he has published two books--Bathing in Public in the Roman World (1999) and The Lure of the Arena (2011)-- and edited or co-authored three other books and numerous scholarly articles and chapters. His many professional honors include the Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of British Columbia and the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Cologne.

Deep Roots 

Samford History professor Jason Wallace invited Fagan to speak and expects the lecture to be especially relevant in the southeastern U.S. "I asked Dr. Fagan to speak on this subject because the topic dramatizes the degree to which western society's fascination with sports has deep roots," Wallace said. "While Fagan's talk will examine why Romans loved the games, the theme resonates with our own culture's love of football." Wallace noted that "coliseums, superstars, money, corruption and deep emotion" are prominent elements in both gladiatorial combat and modern college football.

Samford Classics professor and Roman archaeologist Shannon Flynt welcomes Fagan's new perspective on the Romans. "Some popular television programs make them out to be crazy, amoral, unprincipled, debauched people addicted to orgies and violence, which is not true," she said. "They had, in some ways, a different moral system--certainly, it was not a Christian moral system--but they had a strict code of ethics that most people were expected to follow".

Like Wallace, Flynt clearly sees the ancient/modern connection in football. "I most strongly identify with what would have brought out Romans in the thousands, at any time of year, to watch violent activity, when I go to a football game in [Auburn University's] Jordan-Hare Stadium," she said. "Suddenly, I have the most important thing in common with people I might never associate with on a regular basis and might never want to associate with. I am completely united with them. They are my best friends, whom I'm hugging after a spectacular touchdown and with whom I'm screaming insults at decent people who are wearing the wrong colors".

"That may be what the Romans felt," Flynt said. "When they went into the arena they were united in feeling that the pain and suffering they were about to witness was justified, that justice was being done. Unfortunately, it may just be part of being human".



Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.