This is the web site of author Steven Saylor.
Click here to visit the Home Page.


This cool animated gif celebrates the vintage poster art of Sword & Sandal movies (plus Tarzan); it’s from the site Bodybuilding Haltérophilie, an amazing online scrapbook of bobybuilding photos and movie memorabilia.


“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”
Peter Graves as Captain Oveur in Airplane!

“If you want something visual that’s not too abysmal,
we could take in an old Steve Reeves movie!”
Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter in
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Sword & Sandal phenomenon of the 1960s began with the success of a single movie, the 1958 Italian production Le Fatiche di Ercole starring American bodybuilder Steve Reeves.

Dubbed into English and retitled Hercules, the movie became a box office sensation in the United States. The Italian film industry proceeded to make scores of sequels, imitations, and spin-offs, exploiting the elements that made Hercules a hit:

• a muscleman in the starring role, performing superhuman feats of strength
• exotic heroines and femme fatales in league with dastardly villains
• sensual costumes and lavish sets
• stories and characters drawn from ancient history and myth
• lurid scenes of bondage and torture
• atrocious dubbing!
• a decidedly Italian sense of style and storytelling

Dubbed “Sword & Sandal” or “gladiator movies” in the U.S., the genre is called peplum in Europe (after a garment worn by women in ancient Greece; it’s a bit like calling them “toga movies”).

The very best of these films were magical recreations of the ancient world. The worst resorted to rubber monsters and styrofoam sets, but often still conveyed a sense of joy and wonder. Some ventured into sheer fantasy, taking the hero far from Greece and Rome into other eras and lands or into realms of dream, dispensing heavy doses of erotic wish-fulfillment and sadomasochism.

The hero is often called Atlas, Hercules, Goliath, or Samson (names from Classical or Hebrew legend); Colossus (after the giant statue of Rhodes); Ursus (from the strongman in Quo Vadis); or Maciste (the strongman hero of the Italian silent epic and precursor of the whole genre, Cabiria).

Want more information about Sword & Sandal movies? Check these links:

• Perhaps the Web’s most amazing collection of Peplum memorabilia is at the facebook page for Manifesti Cinema
• Wrong Side of the Art features a fantastic gallery of peplum poster art
• See another great gallery of peplum poster art at this Web page.
peplumz’s channel at YouTube, which features lots of clips; the same fan blogs here
• coolasscinema’s list of 26 Best Sword & Sandal Adventures, an extraordinary archive of images and data (in French)
• The Hercules pages at Brian’s Drive-In Theater
• The Sword & Sandal entry at wikipedia
• The peplum database at
• An amazing scrapbook of photos and movie memorabilia at Bodybuilding Haltérophilie
• Mondo Esoterica’s Guide to the Peplum (reviews of international DVDs, with widescreen screen-caps)
• For those with a more scholarly interest, a brief article (in German) and an exhaustive bibliography of “Sandalenfilme” literature from Universität Hamburg.
• Hercules, King of All Media: The Mighty Blog of Hercules.

For French or Italian readers, some scholarly texts on the genre are available: I mitici eroi by Gianfranco Casadio; Guida al cinema peplum by Oscar Lapeña Marchena; Le péplum, un mauvais genre and Le péplum: l’Antiquité au cinéma, both by Claude Aziza; and Le péplum by Laurent Aknin.

To read Steven’s thoughts on “The Very Best of the Sword & Sandal Movies,” click here or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Caveat emptor! The quality of prints available on DVD varies greatly, from vibrant widescreen wonders to fuzzy 16mm prints with washed-out color. Also, some films appear on more than one compilation DVD, so collectors should shop carefully to avoid buying duplicates.

MUSCLE MADNESS Retromedia collects its superior widescreen editions in one brawny 3-disk box set: Goliath and the Sins of Babylon with Mark Forest; Giant of Marathon and War of the Trojans with Steve Reeves; and Hercules Against the Moonmen with Alan Steel. Bonus: Colossus and the Amazon Queen with Rod Taylor and Ed Fury.
SWORD & MUSCLEMAN, Vol. 1 5-DVD bundle pack from Alpha Video includes 7 movies: Hercules Unchained with Steve Reeves, Hercules Against the Moon Men and Hercules and the Masked Rider with Alan Steel, Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules with Georges Marchal and Mike Lane, Hercules Against the Mongols with Mark Forest, Colossus and the Amazon Queen with Ed Fury and Rod Taylor, and Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon with Rock Stevens (aka Peter Lupus).

LEGENDARY HEROES OF MYTHOLOGY Packaged in a hardbound, cloth-covered case, this 10-DVD Alpha Video set includes Hercules Unchained and The Giant of Marathon with Steve Reeves, Hercules Against the Moon Men with Alan Steel, Samson with Brad Harris and Alan Steel, Samson & the Seven Miracles of the World with Gordon Scott, Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules with Reg Lewis, Goliath and the Dragon with Mark Forest, Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules with Georges Marchal and Mike Lane, The Giants of Thessaly with Roland Carey, and Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops with Gordon Mitchell.

WAR GODS COLLECTION 4-disk set includes Son of Samson (widescreen) with Mark Forest; Son of Cleopatra with Mark Damon; Hero of Rome (widescreen) with Gordon Scott; Invincible Gladiator with Richard Harrison; War Gods of Babylon (widescreen) with Howard Duff; the Amazon extravaganza War Goddess; the 1953 Russian epic The Magic Voyage of Sinbad; and the 1959 Russian-Finnish fantasy The Day the Earth Froze, based on Finnish mythology.
HERCULES COLLECTION 4-disk set includes Hercules (widescreen) with Steve Reeves; Molemen Against the Son of Hercules with Mark Forest; Hercules the Avenger (widescreen) and Hercules and the Captive Women (widescreen), both with Reg Park; Hercules and the Black Pirate with Alan Steel; Hercules and the Princess of Troy with Gordon Scott; Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops with Gordon Mitchell; and Giants of Rome with Richard Harrison.
GLADIATORS 3 disks with 9 movies: Gladiators Seven (widescreen) and Giants of Rome starring Richard Harrison; Rebel Gladiators starring Dan Vadis, with Alan Steel as Commodus; Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators with Dan Vadis; The Giant of Marathon (widescreen) with Steve Reeves; Giants of Thessaly, about the Argonauts, with Roland Carey as Jason; Duel of the Champions with Alan Ladd and Jacques Sernas; Colossus and the Amazon Queen with Ed Fury and Rod Taylor; and a full-screen print of Last Glory of Troy (aka War of the Trojans) starring Steve Reeves as Aeneas.
ADVENTURES OF HERCULES Nicely packaged 4-disk boxed set includes 7 Sword & Sandal epics: Lion of Thebes and Hercules vs. the Sons of the Sun with Mark Forest; Hercules vs. the Moloch with Gordon Scott; Triumph of Hercules with Dan Vadis; Medusa vs. the Son of Hercules with Richard Harrison as Perseus; Hercules vs. the Hydra (aka Loves of Hercules) starring Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield; and The Trojan Horse starring Steve Reeves as Aeneas.
ADVENTURE 10-PACK 3-disk combo of Sword & Sandal plus jungle adventure: Tarzan & the Green Goddess with Herman Brix; Tarzan’s Revenge with Glenn Morris; Tarzan & the Trappers with Gordon Scott; Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness with Dan Vadis; Devil of the Desert Against the Son of Hercules with Kirk Morris; Hercules Against the Moon Men with Alan Steel; Hercules & the Captive Women starring Reg Park; Colossus & the Amazon Queen with Ed Fury and Rod Taylor; Hercules & the Tyrants of Babylon with Rock Stevens (aka Peter Lupus); and Hercules Unchained with Steve Reeves.
WARRIORS 50 MOVIE COLLECTION 13-disk set features many titles, including Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens, Caesar the Conqueror, Cleopatra’s Daughter, Conqueror of the Orient, Damon and Pythias, Fury of Hercules, Gladiators of Rome, Hercules and the Captive Women, Hercules and the Masked Rider, Herod the Great, Kindar the Invulnerable, Last of the Vikings, Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines, Romulus and the Sabines, Sandokan, Pirate of Malaysia, Thor and the Amazon Women, Triumph of the Son of Hercules, Two Gladiators, Ursus in the Land of Fire, Ursus in the Valley of the Lions, Vengeance of Ursus, Vulcan, Son of Jupiter...and many more!
CLASH OF THE OLYMPIANS 4-disk set features16 movies: Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens, The Avenger, The Giant of Marathon, Giants of Rome, The Giants of Thessaly, Goliath and the Sins of Babylon, Hercules Against the Mongols, Hercules Against the Moon Men, Hercules and the Captive Women, Hercules and the Masked Rider, Hercules and the Princess of Troy, Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon, Hercules Unchained, Herod the Great, Kindar the Invulnerable, Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators.
THE SLAVE aka Son of Spartacus One of Steve Reeves’ finest films, and until now one of the most elusive, available for the first time in the original widescreen aspect ratio! From the Warner Archive Collection. HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES Greek myth meets biblical epic as Samson versus Hercules (the great Kirk Morris). From the Warner Archive Collection.
GOLD FOR THE CAESARS A slave architect (Jeffrey Hunter) is sent on a mission to oversee a gold-mining operation in dangerous Celtic territory. High adventure from the Warner Archive Collection. DAMON AND PYTHIAS The legendary tale of bravery and friendship, sword-and-sandal style! TV legends Guy Hamilton and Don Burnett play the title roles. From the Warner Archive Collection.
COLOSSUS & THE HEADHUNTERS in 3D Kirk Morris as Maciste leads his people to a new world after a volcanic disaster. Widescreen print on DVD-R, in 3D (requires glasses). Also availabe not in 3D. HERCULES UNCHAINED in 3D Steven Reeves stars as the legendary demigod. Widescreen print on DVD-R, in 3D (requires glasses). Also available not in 3D.
COLOSSUS & THE AMAZON QUEEN Rod Taylor (just starting his film career) and Ed Fury star as Greek warriors captured by Amazons. Widescreen print on DVD-R. COLOSSUS & THE AMAZON QUEEN in 3D Rod Taylor (just starting his film career) and Ed Fury star as Greek warriors captured by Amazons. Widescreen print on DVD-R, in 3D (requires glasses).
THE GLADIATOR RETURNS British gladiator Glaucus (Richard Harrison) faces the madness of Caligula and the machinations of Messalina. And kicks ass! GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS Goliath (Brad Harris) faces Amazons, sea monsters, a killer gorilla, and the scheming Fernando Rey. Superior widescreen DVD-R from Sinister Cinema.
RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR From 1971 comes the last hurrah of the genre, a tongue-in-cheek adventure starring a beardless Brad Harris. Widescreen edition. THE OLD TESTAMENT Brad Harris and Alan Steel star in the story of the Maccabees and their struggles for freedom (from the Apocrypha, actually, not the Old Testament).
MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR Mark Forest plays a Dacian prince who gains imperial favor in the arena. Widescreen edition. Plus Revolt of the Barbarians with Roland Carey. SAMSON & THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD Gordon Scott (of Tarzan fame) takes a Sword & Sandal trip to China. Widescreen edition. Plus Ali Baba & the 7 Saracens.
HERCULES / ADVENTURES OF HERCULES Lou Ferrigno was at his muscular peak in these two wildly visual 1980s revivals of the genre. Widescreen editions.
SON OF SAMSON In his stunning screen debut, Mark Forest as Maciste ventures to Egypt, where sultry seductress Chelo Alonso awaits. Widescreen print. Plus Son of Cleopatra with Mark Damon.
STEVE REEVES COLLECTION Widescreen prints of two classics: Giant of Marathon, directed by Jacques Tourneur, and War of the Trojans, with Reeves as Aeneas. THE FILM CREW: THE GIANT OF MARATHON Those Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys reunite for an irreverent take on the Steve Reeves classic.
GOLIATH DOUBLE FEATURE Widescreen prints of Steve Reeves and Chelo Alonso in Goliath Against the Barbarians and Gordon Scott in Goliath and the Vampires. GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON Mark Forest in bondage, Babylonian style! Widescreen edition. Plus Colossus & The Amazon Queen with a very young Rod Taylor.
HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN One of the best of the genre, at last in widescreen; also includes Hercules, Prisoner of Evil. Both star British bodybuilder Reg Park. HERCULES The original epic starring Steve Reeves, at last in widescreen. Plus the bizarre Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules with Mark Forest and black bodybuilder Paul Wynter.
FURY OF HERCULES A double dose of dumbbell demigods with Brad Harris and Alan Steel; plus Vulcan, Son of Jupiter with the rarely-seen Rod Flash (aka Persian heartthrob Iloosh Khoshabe.) INVINCIBLE GLADIATOR Richard Harrison defends a young prince; plus Triumph of the Son of Hercules with Kirk Morris, the Elvis of gladiators, fighting baddies in Memphis (Egypt).
GIANTS OF ROME Richard Harrison leads Roman soldiers on a secret mission in Gaul; plus Kindar the Invulnerable with Mark Forest VENGEANCE OF URSUS Rarely-seen Samson Burke battles entire armies to save a princess; plus Colossus & the Headhunters with Kirk Morris.
SON OF HERCULES IN THE LAND OF DARKNESS Is even superhunk Dan Vadis strong enough to resist being torn apart wishbone-style by two elephants? HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON starring Rock Stevens (aka Peter Lupus), plus Colossus & The Amazon Queen starring Rod Taylor and Ed Fury.
HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD The cult sensation directed by horror legend Mario Bava, starring Reg Park and Christopher Lee, in a deluxe widescreen edition. HERCULES THE AVENGER Widescreen edition with Reg Park as the demigod on a quest to the unknown. Plus the weirdly anachronistic Hercules and the Black Pirate starring Alan Steel.
GOLIATH & THE DRAGON Gorgeous widescreen print of the loopy Mark Forest classic with Broderick Crawford as the villain. Plus Conqueror of Atlantis starring Kirk Morris. URSUS IN THE LAND OF FIRE plus Ursus in the Valley of the Lions, both starring Athletic Model Guild heartthrob Ed Fury.
ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS When a a descendant of the sorceress Circe seeks to destroy Ulysses’ heir, only Maciste (Gordon Mitchell) can save the child. With black bodybuilder Paul Wynter. ULYSSES AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES When Ulysses (Georges Marchal) blinds the Cyclops, the angry gods send Heracles (6-feet, 8-inch Mike Lane) to exact divine justice.
HERCULES & THE PRINCESS OF TROY TV pilot for a Hercules series with Gordon Scott — who isn’t dubbed! Triple-feature includes Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops and Giants of Rome. GIANT OF METROPOLIS Bizarre sci-fi about a muscular hero tormented by the tyrant of a doomed futuristic city. Bonus interview with the late, great Gordon Mitchell.
GLADIATORS 2-disk set includes Gladiators Seven, Giants of Rome, Rebel Gladiators, and Duel of the Champions. Alan Ladd, Dan Vadis, Jacques Sernas, Alan Steel, and Richard Harrison star. GLADIATORS COLLECTOR’S EDITION 2-disk set includes Gladiators Seven (widescreen) Giants of Rome, Rebel Gladiators, and Invincible Gladiator. Dan Vadis, Richard Harrison, and Alan Steel star.
THE WITCH’S CURSE Maciste goes on a mission beyond sorcery and death in one of the strangest and most dreamlike movies of the genre. The chef-d’oeuvre of the magnificent Kirk Morris. HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS starring Mark Forest, plus Hercules and the Masked Rider starring Alan Steel; two adventures that take the hero far from ancient Greece!
SAMSON Brad Harris and Alan Steel are the heroes determined to save their kingdom from a wicked schemer played by French pop star Serge Gainsbourg (“Je t’ non plus”). HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN Whacked-out widescreen wonder with Alan Steel as Hercules. Plus the bizarre The Witch’s Curse starring Kirk Morris.
ULTIMATE HERO Steve Reeves in a decent full-screen print of Hercules Unchained and The Giant of Marathon (widescreen), plus Gordon Scott in Samson & the Seven Miracles of the World. FIRE MONSTERS AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES Maciste goes prehistoric, as played by the rarely seen bodybuilder Reg Lewis.
FURY OF ACHILLES Gordon Mitchell stars as the doomed hero of the Greeks at Troy; plus Ali Baba & the 7 Saracens, with Mitchell as the sadistic villain. ROME AGAINST ROME A Sarmatian wizard (played by John Drew Barrymore, Drew’s father) raises a zombie army to fight the Romans! Over-the-top horror fantasy.
ATLAS Legendary director Roger Corman’s entry in the genre, filmed in Greece, stars Michael Forest (the hunky god Apollo in the classic Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?”). LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) stars Steve Reeves and Fernando Rey. Includes a narrated print of the racy, super-rare 1926 silent version (mislabeled 1913) as a bonus.
HERCULES IN NEW YORK Young Schwartzenegger stars as the demigod dropped into modern New York in this comedy from 1970. Features Arnold’s original audio track.
MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON’S MINES starring Reg Park, plus the time travel comedy Maciste Against Hercules in the Vale of Woe with Kirk Morris and Frank Gordon.
JAIL BAIT At 26, Steve Reeves made his screen debut as a police detective in this 1954 Ed Wood Z-movie classic. Reeves sheds his shirt...and speaks his lines undubbed! SANDOKAN THE GREAT Steve Reeves plays the rebel warlord Sandokan, outwitting the British in the headhunter-infested swamps of the Malay jungle.
A LONG RIDE FROM HELL In his final film, Steve Reeves made a musclebound leap from Sword & Sandal to Spaghetti Western. Widescreen print. WHITE WARRIOR For Steve Reeves fans, a ripped and pumped retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s Russian classic “Hadji Murad.” Widescreen print.
CABIRIA Italian silent precursor of the genre brims with spectacle and includes the first appearance of the strongman Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano), hero of many later Sword & Sandal epics. THE QUEEN OF SHEBA Six years before Hercules, Pietro Francisci directed this b&w gem. Babe and beefcake quotient: very high. Camp quotient: off the scale! Excellent print.
THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO Sword & Sandal stars Gordon Mitchell and Mickey Hargitay shoot it out in this classic Spaghetti Western. Widescreen print. A KID FOR TWO FARTHINGS Before meaty roles in Barabbas, Thor & the Amazon Women and Diamonds Are Forever, Joe Robinson debuted as a bodybuilder turned wrestler in this 1955 beefcake classic.
WITH FIRE & SWORD: Italian Spectacles on American Screens, 1958-1968 ed. by Patrick Lucanio 540-page filmography of over 300 Sword & Sandal movies. See more Ancient Cinema Books here. RETRO STUD: Muscle Movie Posters From Around the World by David Chapman Nifty picture book pays homage to advertising and poster art of the Sword & Sandal epics of the 1960s. See more Ancient Cinema Books here.
OF MUSCLES AND MEN: Essays on the Sword & Sandal Film ed. by Michael G. Cornelius  Wide-ranging essays examine the mystique of the Sword & Sandal genre, from the days of Steve Reeves to Spartacus: Blood & Sand. See more Ancient Cinema Books here. TRANSGRESSIVE MASCULINITIES IN SELECTED SWORD & SANDAL FILMS: Queer Resistance to Hetero-Normativity in the Classical Film Epic by Merle Peirce can be read online or downloaded here.



Of all Trojan War movies, this is the best. Like The Iliad of Homer, THE FURY OF ACHILLES begins toward the end of the war and ends before the episode of the Trojan Horse. The focus is strictly on one man, Achilles, and his fate.

Unlike any other Trojan War film I’ve seen, this one includes Homer’s gods and their divine intervention in human affairs. Achilles’ near-invincibility is a supernatural fact, as demonstrated in a scene when he’s stabbed and the blade is destroyed as if blasted by lightning. Yet the film doesn’t feel like a fantasy; it’s a psychological drama in which the main character is driven by his understanding of his divine destiny. An oracle has revealed that Troy cannot fall until its champion, Hector, dies; Hector cannot die until Achilles slays him; and once that happens, Achilles must die. This is the burden of greatness — and doom — that lies upon Achilles. No wonder he’s full of anger; his victory means his death.

Even dubbed, Gordon Mitchell gives a powerful portrayal of the warrior who is both hero and monster. His physique is statuesque but his features are so rugged as to be ugly (think of Charles Bronson); he is sexually alluring, physically intimidating, and frightening to look at.

The script is surprisingly, sometimes amazingly, literate, verging on the poetic. Especially memorable are Achilles’ explanation of his invulnerability to the captured Briseis, which ironically reveals his vulnerability and wins her pity and affection; Patroclus’ plea to Hector to kill him after he’s been wounded; and Hector’s farewell speech to his wife and the people of Troy before he goes out to battle Achilles. The climactic duel between the two warriors is riveting.

I wonder if the makers of TROY saw this movie? If so, they learned nothing from it. If they had simply remade this film, reproducing its insights into the tragedy of Achilles and Hector, Brad Pitt might now be the proud owner of an Oscar!

(The best print available on DVD seems to be in the boxed set WARRIORS 50 MOVIE COLLECTION; this barely passable full-screen print gives only a hint of what the movie must have looked like in its original widescreen version.)


Steve Reeves, in a brief but remarkable cinematic career, played three of the great heroes of the Ancient World: Hercules, Romulus, and Aeneas. Of the three portrayals, his Aeneas is the most complex, admirable, and ultimately heroic. Together, Reeves’s two Aeneas movies comprise a single epic.

THE TROJAN HORSE (available in the DVD set THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES) begins at the very end of the Trojan War. The focus is on the Trojan noble Aeneas, a man of peace forced by circumstance to become a great warrior. Paris and Helen are portrayed as burned-out, bitter lovers, and the various Greek besiegers (Achilles, Ajax, etc.) are sharply drawn.
The sets are wonderful. The CGI monstrosities of TROY were far too overblown to be historically credible; here we see a much more likely representation of the Bronze Age city, with a low wall, small but exquisite temples, dirt streets, and a populace weary of siege and infighting. The camp of the Greeks is built on an equally convincing scale.

Reeves reprised the role of Aeneas in WAR OF THE TROJANS (available in a widescreen edition along with GIANT OF MARATHON). After his arrival in Italy, the warrior must again take up arms to achieve the peace he desires. The scale of the sets and the rustic costumes evoke a convincing atmosphere of Bronze Age Italy. (Small details like the king’s peculiar-looking crown are based on authentic artifacts). The curious customs of the natives have the ring of historical truth; the bird-shooting contest on horseback is a brilliant bit of cinema.

In both movies, the use of elements from The Iliad of Homer and The Aeneid of Virgil is intelligent and laudable; together, they deliver a memorable vision of the earliest legends of ancient Rome. Anchoring both films is Reeves’ portrayal of Aeneas. Hercules made him world famous, but this is the role he was born to play.


Back to Steven’s Bookshop

Apple iTunes