‘I’m Spartacus!’: gladiators galore at Nîmes’ Great Roman Games

At one of Europe’s biggest re-enactment spectaculars, this year’s show is Spartacus-themed. So, take a seat in the mighty arena alongside 12,000 spectators (togas optional)

The first gladiator is down, flailing his gladius towards the emperor before being pummelled by a giant hammer (thankfully, into a furrow of sand left by one of the racing chariots). Two “slaves” rush on and drag his body off towards the spoliarium. Suddenly, everyone is up out of their seats: the retiarius (net man) has dropped his trident and the mirmillones (fish men) are closing in.

Nîmes’ Les Grands Jeux Romains (Great Roman Games) is one of the biggest re-enactment spectaculars in Europe. Sitting among 12,000 handkerchief-waving spectators in the city’s first-century Roman amphitheatre last year, I realised it makes for a mesmerising and charmingly-brutal event. Having already featured Hannibal (2015), Cleopatra (2016) and, last year, Boudicca, this year’s games, which take place from 28-30 April, is devoted to Spartacus.

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