3 Gladiators Were Basically Fat Pro Wrestlers
Turn on Spartacus: Gods of the Arena or watch Gladiator and it's easy to get the impression that ancient gladiators were all either lethal bodybuilders or, at the very least, kinda-doughy-yet-vicious Russell Crowe-types. Of course they were in decent shape -- fighting to the death was their sole job description.
Well, that's what we used to think, anyway. Archaeologists recently dug up a whole pile of gladiator remains, and it seems the famed warriors of the arena would need to do some serious cardio if they ever wanted to grace the cover of Men's Health magazine.
Yes, we're saying it looks like gladiators were total fatties.
"Fuck you; it's water weight."
What we tend to forget about gladiator fighting is that it was ultimately show business. The Colosseum arena was big-time theater more than anything else, and being able to deliver a good show far outweighed sculpted abs. The Roman crowds wanted to see blood and displays of great fighting skill. And what really got the crowd going was when gladiators sustained bloody, spurty wounds, yet continued to fight. Gladiator schools were well aware of this, which is why they deliberately fattened-up their fighters so they could take (and dish out) showy, yet non-fatal flesh wounds.
The Colosseum didn't fall apart. They ate it.
If the crowd was satisfied and felt they'd seen a worthy performance -- meaning some bloodshed and gutsy swordplay -- the gladiators ran a better chance of becoming super popular instead of dying. In fact, unless you were a prisoner being fed to the lions or something, the chance of dying in the arena was only about 10 percent.
Basically, this means that fights between professional gladiators were a slightly more extreme version of modern pro wrestling: scripted fights, choreographed moves, and the occasional deliberate blading to bring on the blood.
But with a better life expectancy.
2 Cavalry Charges Were Surprisingly Ineffective
In medieval times, the cavalry was the equivalent of an army of Navy SEALs, each driving a tank that is somehow also a Navy SEAL. Devastating battles between two armies were fine and all, but everyone knew shit didn't truly get real until the cavalry came in. That's why the very word has come to mean an invincible force that drives the enemy away, and countless films and TV shows still depict horsemen as a game-changer that can plow through hapless foot soldiers like lines of bowling pins.
Hell, all the fancy knights and commanders rode on horseback. Surely they wouldn't have done that if the massive hooved hellbeast they're riding would somehow be a disadvantage?
A warrior who fought on horseback was truly screwed if the enemy knew what they were doing. In fact, English knights were well aware of this and regularly dismounted for battle.
"Luckily, your mothers were good practice for quick dismounts."
Cavalry was actually less of a battering ram and more like a sniping tool: Apart from intimidation tactics and chasing down fleeing enemies, they were best used to exploit the enemies' weaknesses, performing quick "run in, stab, run back sniggering" attacks on various gaps in formation and other tactical openings. But if some confident banner commander decided to try the old cavalry charge against an enemy formation, he was screwed. The second the group of war destriers bore into the enemy, they'd a) lose all momentum, and b) find themselves completely surrounded by a bunch of pissed-off enemies with pikes.
The thing is, horses are actually really, really bad at bulldozing armed soldiers. They're living, moderately smart creatures, so they don't always behave like the well-trained equines in movies: Actual war horses were a lot more likely to object to stuff like running into a group of pikemen that looks a whole lot like a spiked wall -- they'd stop at the moment of first impact, or more likely even before that.
"You want to what? Oh, fuck you and the me you rode in on."
As long as the enemy foot-soldiers held together (which they often did because tactics, shockingly, were a thing even back then) no cavalry charge was going to end with a trip to Trample Town. Instead, a mounted warrior would usually have to pull up before the enemy formation and pathetically flail at the enemy soldiers with his weapons before they stabbed his horse to death. As many a knight found out the hard way, the odds in such a situation are kind of stacked for the guys with lots of spears and their feet firmly on the ground.