As a group of armored gladiators entered the ancient arena in Nîmes, toting swords and tridents from another age, a freak snowstorm suddenly seemed to erupt. The reality, if slightly more mundane, was rather different: to show their enthusiasm thousands of foot-stamping spectators had begun waving white handkerchiefs and torn-up pieces of paper in the air.
Now in its third year, the annual Great Roman Games in the southern French city, which time-warps audiences back to 122 A.D. during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, is part of a growing trend for historical re-enactments throughout Europe.
In late April, more than 20,000 visitors a record for the two-day event, some of them decked out in traditional togas rented from a local market stall, thronged Nîmes’s remarkably well-preserved Roman amphitheater, where they were treated to a spectacle that included chariot races, equestrian jousting and gladiatorial combat.
“I suppose the reason why people like to come to these events is because unlike a TV program or a film which you just watch, you can actually interact with a re-enactment. You can talk to people, touch things, smell things, even feel history take shape around you,” says Howard Giles, managing director of EventPlan, an English company specializing in re-enactments. Mr. Giles, who has organized more than 5,000 re-enactments during his 30-year-long career and spearheaded popular multiperiod events such as History in Action, says “there is also something about historical re-enactment which creates a highly successful form of international fellowship.”
This year, mock-ups of the Napoleonic Wars 1803-15 are being staged across Europe as part of bicentenary celebrations. Last Sunday, more than 1,000 re-enactors congregated on the banks of the Neman River in Kaunas, central Lithuania, to restage Napoleon’s 1812 assault on Tsarist Russia. Re-enactors in Spain and Portugal have been busy commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Peninsular War, and in Russia, near Moscow, a re-enactment is being planned for Aug. 30-Sept. 2 to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Borodino.
High on Mr. Giles’s agenda is another Napoleonic campaign—the planned re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, which will take place in June 2015, exactly 200 years after Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of Wellington. Building and clearing work has already begun to transform the battlefield, just south of Brussels, into an exact replica of what it looked like in 1815.
Strange Random Battle Quote:
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” – Buddha (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.)
- VIDEO: Re-enactment focuses on giving whole story of historical period (troyrecord.com)
- Flight of the Royal George: A War of 1812 Naval Re-enactment June 29 – July 1 in Bath & Kingston (rnzngunners.wordpress.com)
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- En Garde! Napoleon’s defeat at Battle of Waterloo replayed 197 years on (dailymail.co.uk)
- 200th anniversary of French invasion of Russia (russianreport.wordpress.com)
- For Young Civil War Re-Enactor, History Is Passion (baltimore.cbslocal.com)
- National Park Guide: Massachusetts’ Minute Man (travel.usatoday.com)