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In The Deadliest Sport, Binyamin tells us how he became a gladiator: “I left Alexandria for Capua ten years ago, when I was sixteen, full of the hopes and dreams of every young man, ready to satisfy the blood lust of the Empire and fight with the desperation that attended my growing up in a family where I was the outsider, where nothing I did was ever right.

“I hoped to prove my worth as a first-rate gladiator, as a primus palus in my familia gladiatoria. That means belonging to the highest of the four gladiatorial ranks based on the number of my bouts and victories, an achievement something like being the senior centurion of a legion if you know anything about the Imperial Roman Army. But most of all, aside from getting away from Papa, who was a tyrant if ever there was one, I dreamed of being awarded the corona. That’s the laurel wreath, the ultimate award for an exceptional bout, which, along with my other accomplishments in the arena, would be engraved on my tombstone. Not that anyone would care.

“Anyway, I loved the challenge, the fear, and the accolades. In the arena, I felt alive for the first time, something none of the women I’ve ever known could do for me.”

But Binyamin didn’t become just any gladiator. First of all, he was a hire, a trained professional, a popular hero in the full glare of publicity. Most were condemned to the arena as slaves, criminals, or prisoners of war, but hires were treated as valuable property and rewarded for their victories.

Second, Binyamin became a retiarius, the kind of gladiator who fights with only a net and trident. Unlike the others, the retiarius had little defensive equipment, namely no shield and no helmet to guard his face. Emperor Claudius especially liked to see a retiarius have his throat cut so he could watch his death agony. And so, the emperor arranged to have a retiarius’s throat coat on the slightest pretext.

But were the gladiatorial games the only deadly sport in Miriam’s third book? You want a hint? Then click here

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