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Historical inaccuracies in Ridley Scott’s film `Gladiator Essay

In recent years the emergence of filmmakers who expressed interest in adapting historical events as wide-screen presentations has revitalized public interest on historical events. But the usual problem is that the general public’s view usually gets distorted due to contemporary filmmakers’ nasty habit of utilizing their artistic license to its full extent More often than not, adaptations of historical events like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator offers a glimpse of early civilizations but neglects the aspect of historical accuracy which in turn cannibalizes scholarly efforts to reconcile public interest in the actual historical events.

The glitz and glamour of commercial cinema is in large part responsible for the historical inaccuracies of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Martin Winkler (17) suggests that the reason behind a historical film’s departure from its origins is that the fiction which causes the inaccuracy is what sparks viewer interest in the first place. In accordance to Winkler’s theory, the elements incorporated in Gladiator contributes to the film’s historical infidelity; its principal characters, chronology, production design, and supposed intent of exhibiting the authentic life and culture of Imperial Rome, has been diluted by the filmmakers’ aesthetics.

As per what the film entails, the structure of the Gladiator’s narrative appears to be drastically shortened. Commodus’ reign was marked by numerous assassination plots, including a scheme that involved her own sister Lucilla, all accounts of murdering the treacherous emperor have neither been established nor even mentioned in the film.

Historical accounts further suggest that Commodus’ reign ended 13 years later upon his assassination (Boatwright, Gargola, & Talbert 405-406), the film, on the other hand, although the time frame of events were never actually mentioned or given much attention, it illustrated that Commodus reigned no more than two years (Ward 33). The film also depicts that Emperor Commodus died in a gladiatorial duel with Maximus, obviously in a coliseum, with the intent of bringing back democracy to Rome and re-establishing the country as a republic.

While the 73rd book of Cassius Dio’s eye-witness account of Roman History imparts that a wrestler who popularly went by the name Narcissus choked the life out of Commodus, and the incident happened in the emperor’s bath. The film’s characters also share an extent of inaccuracy with the actual historical personalities from which they are derived from. Evidently, from appearance to characteristics, the film’s Commodus did not reflect the Roman Emperor whom history recognized.

Primarily, Commodus’, in the film, is bequeathed as a dark hared man in his mid 20s who fights with his right hand and has an underdeveloped physique (Ward 33). While the historical Emperor Commodus was and 18-year old blonde with a well developed physique and fought with his left hand (Kyle 224-227). Likewise, the actual description of Commodus’ personal traits was inconsistent with the film as the historical Commodus was notorious for his corruption, violence, and lust for blood.

The film shows the aforementioned characteristics through Commodus’ fixations on sports such as beast-hunting, chariot-racing, and gladiator combat as well as his claims to have won over 1,000 battles (Ward 32). However, Scott’s incarnation contradicts the true nature of the roman emperor as he is characterized by his guiltless lack of emotion and compassion, ruthlessness, cowardice, and mental instability (Hekster 53-56). Contrary to the film’s illustration that Lucilla had an 8-year old son named Lucius Verus, Allan M.

Ward’s Gladiator in Historical Perspective entails that, historically, the son who went by the name Lucius Verus died during infancy. Also, Lucilla gave birth to three children during her marriage with Lucius Verus Marcus and only one of the three children survived and grew up, an unidentified daughter who became part of the assassination scheme against Commodus. Lucilla, however, bore a son but she did so in her marriage, with Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, and the boy’s name was Aurelius Commodus Pompeianus who was 6-years old during the time of the film’s events.

Similarly, the reason behind the strained father-daughter relationship between Lucilla and Marcus was the latter’s arrangements of a second marriage for his widowed daughter. Apart from the disrespecting reality that the second marriage occurred only 9 or ten moths after Verus’ demisae as well as the tremendous gap between the couple’s ages (Lucilla was 19 while Claudius Pompeianus was approximately in his 50s), Lucilla also felt undignified by the fact that her new spouse came from a family of provincial equestrians in Antioch, Syria (Ward 33-34).

However, the film did not took such event into account leaving the reason behind the cold relationships between the former emperor and former Augusta vague (Ward 33-34). The film’s central character Maximus Decimus Meridius, is a fictional character based on the archetypes of able-bodied men from the far reaches of the empire’s jurisdiction who served as the materialization of Marcus Aurelius’ persisting idea of using men beneficial to the imperial cause (Ward 38).

To a similar extent, Maximus’s character is attributed to two recognizable Roman political and military personalities, Marcus Nonius Macrinus who was one of Marcus Aurelius’ closest friends and Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus who was partly responsible for the Roman triumph over Marcomannic War in the film’s beginning (Popham). George Depue Hadzsits (70) suggests that a film such as Gladiator is more likely to revive interest in the subject of history considering that scholarly efforts simply produce fragments of history which does not fulfil the human yearning for knowledge.

Hadzsits furthers that despite such visual spectacles’ temporal didactic value and lack of attention on the angle of accuracy, at least the interest for the subject matter is roused (Hadzsits 71). The problem with Gladiator, conversely, is that its revival of interest in Roman History, or ancient world history for that matter, seems to delineate the supposed dissemination of ancient Roman culture and alters it with norms that the filmmaker deems right.

In terms of production design, the armour and weaponry worn and yielded by the gladiators appear to have a medieval design rather than Roman. Allan Ward (39) writes that gladiators had already been placed under categories like eques or horseman, provocator which is believed to be the term for challenger, murmillo or what is considered as water combatants, hoplomachus or gladiators who wield heavy weaponry, retiarius the net fighters, and secutors or contraretriarius otherwise characterized as the light armed fighters.

However, Ward (39) argues that the film does not seem to highlight the distinctions between gladiators as all of the competitors generally wore the same armour with little differences in weapons of choice. Ward furthers that each fighter category comes with a different set of weapons and armour as well as a different style in combat. The matches between two gladiators are dependent of their category and fighting abilities, a secutor, for instance was often matched with a retriarius, perhaps due to the resemblance in the nature of their weapons and battle skills.

Moreover, gladiators within a similar category were not paired to pit against each other, with the exception of the horsemen and the challengers. As mentioned earlier, one of the premises tied with Gladiator is the tendency to rouse interest on the life and culture of ancient Rome, but in this context the film is also inaccurate. James R. Keller (88) implicates that Gladiator imposes the American devotion to the principles of democracy.

Initially, the final confrontation between Maximus and Commodus should incite the cultural importance of gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome, however, the re-arranged plot of the film that caused the conflict between the former general and the treacherous emperor to fail in its attempt to do so. The conflict then suggests that Maximus represents every working class, freedom loving American while Commodus serves as the embodiment of the corrupt, insensitive, and inconsiderate aristocrat (Keller 88).

In its inaccurate entirety, Gladiator has proven itself to be more of a costume drama adaptation rather than a re-telling of an antiquated historical tale. Despite the filmmakers’ efforts to conduct research and seek consultation for relevant information about the film’s source, the direction remained in the production people’s perspective and not with the scholarly one as the motion picture continued with the re-arranged biographical information of the characters and the reformatted events in the lives of the characters. In addition, the film simply delivered a visual spectacle rather than a knowledgeable historical fact. Martin M.

Winkler (204-205) writes that film producers and other individuals concerned with marketing cultural products habitually call on scholars to guide them in marketing historical films. This is, in large part, brought about by producers’ beliefs that scholar credibility is enough to amplify the promised prestige and revenue of their product. Scholarly prestige according to Winkler is mainly vital as a marketing strategy, but a more appropriate term seems to be deceptive advertising as investing parties and supposed artists convince the public of the accuracy of their distorted historical documentation with the aid of renowned experts


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