It’s approaching 2pm at the Roman Hippodrome in the northern city of Jerash. In the rows of stone seats that line one side of the arena, the spectators languidly wipe sweat from their brows as they wait impatiently for the entertainment to commence.
To the left of the pews, a lone trumpeter stands atop an arch: the fierce early afternoon sun casting him in an ethereal light as he heralds the entry of his fellow legionnaires. Seconds later, the tramp of marching feet and the rattle of swords, shields and armour marks the arrival of the VI Legion Ferrata – a 50-strong group of swarthy warriors who will spend the next 20 minutes or so demonstrating their aptitude for combat
through a range of military manoeuvres and exhortations in Latin.
Their appetite for agro whetted by the thuggish soldiers, the crowd are then presented with a gaggle of wretched gladiators whose fates they decree with a show of thumbs. Up signifies survival, a horizontal digit consigns them to a meeting with their maker.
Its role as judge and virtual executioner complete, the audience is enthused by a lighter form of amusement, vocal chords straining to lend support to the horses and chariots kicking up clouds of sand and dust as they tear up the fringes of the arena. As the winning charioteer is covered with the victor’s laurels, the elderly Swedish gentleman sitting next to me gleams like an excitable toddler presented with his first train set at the vivid approximation of Ben Hur that has just unfolded in front of our eyes.
And well he might. Despite having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for the best part of his life, Stellan Lind’s passion has always lain away from his lucrative day job. And it was an encounter with the Charlton Heston-starring Hollywood-goes-Roman epic that triggered his own all-consuming addiction.