We explore the expansive exhibition Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum at Brisbane’s Queensland Museum

Opening late last month at Brisbane’s Queensland Museum, Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum is an expansive and interactive look at one of Ancient Rome’s best known traditions and one of the Eternal City’s most enduring symbols. Curated in conjunction with some of Rome’s most prominent museums and institutions, Gladiators is a Brisbane exclusive, and I went along to check it out!

Taking over a deceptively large exhibition space in the heart of the Queensland Museum, Gladiators is an in depth look at the men and women who fought to the death in the colosseums of the Roman Empire. Covering their origins, their training, and their specialisations, much is done to remind us that these were real people putting their lives on the line to entertain Roman society – from the plebes in the cheap seats to the Emperor himself.

A major highlight of the exhibition is a series of pieces lifted directly from the most famous colosseum of all, the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD72 and it remains the largest amphitheatre ever built. It’s an odd experience being in the presence of artefacts millennia old (never mind being able to touch them, as in some cases you are!), and odder still when they come from a building so instantly recognisable. Rest assured that these are no Roman version of the Elgin Marbles, however – these pieces were removed from situ only for conservation, study, or to save them before time took its toll. Take some time to explore an interactive display covering the Colosseum – it truly was a spectacular feat of ancient engineering!

There’s also photo opportunities galore, with adults and children alike invited to don helmets and pick up shields and play gladiator (safely!). Do it for the Gram!

But the stars of the show are, well, the stars of the show, and the effect of the final space, where life size model gladiators battle it out, is really quite striking. Covering a typical “show” day in the Colosseum, it’s a fairly stark reminder of the true nature of the colosseums around the world – where violence was both a spectacle and a weapon for the Roman propaganda machine. If your knowledge of gladiators doesn’t stretch much past the worldwide 90s TV sensation or that Russell Crowe movie, you’d be mad to miss this.

Curated by the Colosseum’s Dr Rossella Rea, Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum is exclusive to the Queensland Museum, and will run until January 28th 2018. Once the Brisbane run finishes, the pieces will head back to Italy, so make sure you don’t miss out! Don’t worry – you WILL be entertained! (Sorry, couldn’t help it…)

For tickets or more information, visit the Queensland Museum website.


Frieze with floreal motif from the Colosseum
Marble, First part III Century AD
© Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo -Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il Museo Nazionale Romano e l’Area Archeologica di Roma Colosseo. All rights reserved
Helmet of a Secutor
© Rógvi N. Johansen, Department of photo and medie Moesgaard