I agree, but I think if I allow a gladiator to simply challenge an emperor AND win. It would be outrageous. To think that an emperor would risk his position and privilege for a duel. So even if there were a means to do so, via a coup, rebellion or whatnot, I will probably not have in this this book. But if all goes well, I am planning for a series and this could be a possible sequel.
Literacy would be extremely useful. In fact, I am actually finding it difficult to make the story cogent for non-latin speaking MCs. Having to put in mandatory translators and whatnot.
Working with alternate history could allow me to tweak the rules and traditions to my liking, which is something I will embark on extremely carefully.
With regard to the servile wars and your proposed alternative, I must say that it is quite an interesting thought to establish a working meritocracy to have the best and brightest serve Rome. Political ramifications would be extremely interesting to note. Imagine recruiting Hannibal Barca as a consul to lead legions in expeditions against Pontus. It would upset the traditional Roman households should there not be a "glass ceiling" for foreigners. In terms of senatorial powers, political office and military positions, I can only imagine that traditionally influential Roman households would never allow such a situation to unfold, rejecting it should it come up during senatorial debates as they would 1) want to protect their own interests 2) uphold Roman pride and the image of Roman superiority over foreign civilisations.
But I must say that it is a legitimate strategy. Should the good gladiators be given positions of true freedom and find patronage or influence in Rome, they might slowly forget the hardships that they had borne. Over time they could probably become so entrenched into Roman society that over the course of 2-3 generations, their families could serve Rome as well as a "true" Roman household. Another way could be to constantly rotate the gladiators such that they do not start to establish long standing cliques and alliances within themselves, strong enough to risk their lives in a bid to rebel against Rome. I must admit that I am still struggling to see how I can fit it in. If all else fails, hey, its my story right hahaha. But I will hate to tweak history without a solid explanation.
Thank you so much for your kind words! I will continue working hard to make sure it doesn't!