Become a writer An introduction to the history of gladiators duuring the roman civilization Print this page Conscripts and volunteers Today, the idea of gladiators fighting to the death, and of an amphitheatre where this could take place watched by an enthusiastic audience, epitomises the depths to which the Roman Empire was capable of sinking. Yet, to the Romans themselves, the institution of the arena was one of the defining features of their civilisation. Hardly any contemporary voices questioned the morality of staging gladiatorial combat.
July 12, by Professor Rollmops I began writing this article inwhilst still researching my PhD at Cambridge. It was largely finished, but with significant holes which I have finally decided to fill in.
I originally intended to research it more intensively and submit it for publication to an academic journal, but ultimately the style seemed more journalistic and its prohibitive length ruled out any hope of publication in a newspaper or magazine.
So, after all these years, here it is! Prohibitive costs and questionable appeal were the enduring memories after the hugely expensive and unsuccessful Cleopatra and the ponderous The Fall of the Roman Empire. Afterno one was either rich enough or stupid enough to invest in a project of this scale.
Gladiator, the first Roman epic for almost forty years, whilst receiving mixed reviews from critics, has proven very popular with cinema-goers the world over.
Yet what is so frustrating about Gladiator is its lack of contextual historical accuracy. The genre to which Gladiator belongs has always been a flawed one. Roman epics have attracted criticism for both their historical accuracy and dramatic qualities.
Otherwise they have tended towards ponderous, opulent romance. Gladiator is an interesting product in the context of film history, for it picks up almost directly where the Roman epic left off. Gone are the moralising voice-overs which introduce the historical context; gone is the typical demonisation of the Roman Empire; gone is the anachronistic emphasis on modern Christian concepts of ethics and morality.
In their place we have a secularised film which does not seem to carry any message whatsoever. This absence of any clear moral purpose behind Gladiator is, in part, what makes it a better Roman epic than many of its predecessors. Historical films can also have a very powerful effect on an audience, imaginatively and emotionally, but often very particularly on account of national identity.
This is especially the case when the film depicts the actions of a national group, and particularly in the context of an international conflict. It was not at all well received by the English. It seems extraordinary that a cinematic interpretation of events which took place almost seven centuries ago could cause such rancour, yet such they did.
Some film-makers might therefore be wary about alienating potential audiences, which raises the question as to whether or not historical accuracy in the cinema depends upon the degree to which there is a risk of upsetting members of any social group which could identify with the characters and events of the film.
Inevitably, where national identities are concerned, someone is bound to be upset, and the director or author of the screenplay are likely to find themselves forced to justify the reasons for their portrayal.
The Roman epic, however, occupies a special place in the broad spectrum of historical films. This is because the period it depicts is sufficiently distant in time to avoid arousing the ire of any political or ethnic group by an historically unfair or inaccurate portrayal; thus neutralising any possible social antagonism such as that generated by films such as Braveheart.
This might go some way towards explaining the flights of fantasy into which Roman epics are capable of delving. The recent and appalling television production of Cleopatra was a perfect example of the quite extraordinary degree to which history can be manipulated. Gladiator is another production in which there is very little historical truth.
It need only be pointed out that Maximus did not exist, that Commodus was already co-opted as co-emperor inthree years before the death of Marcus Aurelius inand that he ruled until when he was strangled to death by a professional wrestler as he lay in a drunken sleep, to illustrate the quite ridiculous historical inaccuracy of the film.
Can Gladiator therefore rightly be called an historical film? On some levels, namely those of costuming and interior design, the makers of Gladiator have made an impressive effort to achieve historical accuracy.
It is perhaps counter-productive to quibble about the exact appearance of the Roman urban landscape at the time; which facades loomed, which statues stood where, which aqueducts had been completed, and about the decoration of the interior of the senatorial curia.
Perhaps more importantly, the attention to detail in military hardware, costumes, furniture, personal effects, and so on, is a considerable advance on previous cinematic depictions of theRoman Empire.
Another positive of the film is that it attempts to create a less anachronistic intellectual, social and cultural context. Often, due to the need to acquaint the audience with the historical context, period films tend to be packed with informative dialogue and exposition, which at times stumbles uncomfortably from the lips of the protagonists.
Gladiator is somewhat more successful in contextualising this background and making it incidental to the film. Still, it is reasonable to wonder why so much effort has been put into minute detail, when the broader context in which all the detail is conveyed is almost completely fictional?
Director Ridley Scott provides the best answer to this question. It is tempting, however, to be more cynical and say that considering the lack of regard for the historical narrative, it is essentially a vehicle for great special effects and innovative action sequences.
After all, the project began with only the arena in mind. The script, which needed a great deal of work, ran to a mere thirty-five pages and underwent a number of transformations throughout the shoot. Perhaps as a consequence of the simplicity of its original conception, it is difficult to find any serious message in Gladiator.
If one were to look for a historical message in it, all one really finds is that Marcus Aurelius was a good man, Commodus was a bad man, life was hard and tenuous, and that Roman Republican government, namely rule by the Senate, was a cherished ideal.
It could also be misconstrued that the principle message of the film is to reveal the horrors of gladiatorial combat, for Gladiator depicts gladiatorial contests with very startling realism, although what we see is as nothing to the vast and elaborate slaughter which often took place in the Colosseum and other arenas around the Empire.
Yet this is not really the concern of Gladiator. Indeed, if one looks at the web-site, it becomes quite clear that the film is more concerned with glorifying the arena than anything else.Jul 12, · Gladiator is an interesting product in the context of film history, for it picks up almost directly where the Roman epic left off.
Gone are the moralising voice-overs which introduce the historical context; gone is the typical demonisation of the Roman Empire; gone is the anachronistic emphasis on modern Christian concepts of ethics and morality. Nov 22, · Let's look at what happened inside a Roman Colosseum during the rule of the Roman Empire!
The great amphitheater that we know as the Roman Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian around Aug 19, · Among the many legacies of Roman dominance are the widespread use of the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) derived from Latin, the modern Western alphabet and calendar and the emergence of Christianity as a major world religion.
Sep 01, · The reign of Nerva (), who was selected by the Senate to succeed Domitian, began another golden age in Roman history, during which four emperors–Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus.
Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. search Search the Wayback Machine. Featured texts All Texts latest This Just In Smithsonian Libraries FEDLINK (US) Genealogy Lincoln Collection Full text of "A New General Biographical Dictionary".
An introduction to the history of gladiators duuring the roman civilization Print this page Conscripts and volunteers Today, the idea of gladiators fighting to the death, and of an amphitheatre where this could take place watched by an enthusiastic audience, epitomises the depths to which the Roman Empire was capable of sinking.