essay on “Gladiator”:
In this paper I would like to present the film Gladiator (2000) by Ridley Scott as the research material to know and understand better what was going in Roman Empire in the late 2nd century A.D. and whether the movie reflects the true events and characters of that time.
Gladiator is the Hollywood movie directed by Ridley Scott, which tells the story of depression and elevation of the general Maximus Decimus Meridius, who was the leader of the Roman Army. The film starts with the battle of the Roman armies against Germanic barbarians in 180 A.D., which ended the long lasting war and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius finally got esteem for it. Marcus Aurelius understands that his life is coming to the end, and though he has a son- Commodus, he decides that Maximus with his bravery, courage and high moral principles could be better leader. His long-term objective is to return power to people, to Roman Senate.
Therefore, when the army celebrated victory, Aurelius offers Maximus to lead Roman people after his death. Maximus is very much surprised, though he has to give his answer till dawn. Then Commodus comes to his father, he is not very sincere and seems a little bit insane in his desire to power, and Aurelius reveals him his intentions regarding Maximus as the future leader. Deeply insulted, Commodus strangles his father and makes an order to kill Maximus, as well as his wife and his son. Maximus understands that Marc Aurelius’s death was not accidental, and Lucilla, Commodus’s elder sister realizes this fact as well.
Maximus escapes execution and races to his family, but he is late just for few hours- his wife and son were crucified, and his house burnt.
After Maximus buries most precious for him people, he is very exhausted and just falls on their graves. He is found by slave traders and taken to Zucchabar (North Africa) where he is purchased by Proximo, who is the leader of school of gladiators. Maximus feels very depressed and therefore he refuses to fight at the very beginning, but on the arena he shows his true fighting skills that increases his popularity among people.
At the same time in Rome, Commodus is trying to be closer to his people and please them and therefore he makes the decision to start gladiatorial games.
The official version is to commemorate the death of his father. Proximo and his gladiators are hired to participate. During the first fight, the aim of which was to reconstruct the Rome’s triumph over Carthage, Maximus shows his strategic power as of the general and as of the soldier, and even Commodus is intrigued with the gladiator called “The Spaniard”, but as Maximus wears helmet, he doesn’t recognize him. After the show is over, Commodus descents to the arena to greet the victors and tell the Spaniard to remove his helmet and announce his name. Maximus at first turns to Commodus with his back, but then shows his face and says: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies in the North, General of the Felix Legions, Loyal Servant to the true Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, Husband to a murdered wife; and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Commodus is deeply shocked, but now he cannot kill Maximus, as the crowd approves him. Commodus decides to act strategically and calls Maximus in the fight against Tigris of Gaul, he also adds some tigers on the arena, but Maximus not only survives, but also reveals himself as the merciful gladiator, when he refuses to behead his opponent as Commodus commanded.
After the fight, Maximus meets his servant Cicero who tells him that Maximus’s army is still faithful to him and is camped at Ostia. Maximus along with Commodus’s sister Lucilla and Senator Gracchus decide to overthrow Commodus, but Commodus is not that silly, as he suspects his sister in conspiracy. He threatens her son and she tells him everything. Commodus immediately gives an order to storm the gladiator barracks. Maximus escapes, but Haken and Proximo are murdered. Juba, Maximus’s close friend, is imprisoned. After the escape, Maximus gets to the ambush of Praetorian guards.
Commodus is still burning with the desire to kill Maximus and he challenges him on the duel on the arena. And even though Commodus brings a stiletto to kill Maximus, Maximus kills him with his own weapon. But severely wounded, Maximus is also dying. He sees his family and obtains the inner peace. He is buried by Juba with two tiny statues of his wife and his son.
The story told by The Gladiator is far from real historical facts of the period. First of all, I must say that no great battles with Germanic tribes are reported in historical sources just before the death of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 A.D. just before he was going to start new military campaign (Birley, 2000).
Speaking about Marcus Aurelius and his relationship with his son Commodus, as well as his image in the movie, the decision of Aurelius to give power to Maximus to restore free Republic is ridiculous, in reality he was against Republic restoration. Commodus did not kill his father as well. Not because Marcus died most probably of plague, which was very spread at that time period. Commodus in the movie is depicted as lazy father’s son, which in reality was not true. Beginning with 177 A.D. Commodus ruled jointly with his father and they jointly commanded wars. As to the Commodus’s image in the movie, he is around thirty years old, has black curly hair, is right handed and is of average built. History reveals that when Marcus died, Commodus was eighteen years old, was very strong, was blond and left handed. He was also not single, as at the age of sixteen he was married to Bruttia Crispina, though then he executed her in 182 or 187 A.D. after her adultery. Commodus’s death was also fictional, as he was strangled by the wrestler in 192 A.D. and not stabbed on duel, though it is true that Commodus was the only Emperor who participated in gladiatorial fights.
Maximus never existed at all. He could be the composite image of the courageous general and the soldier from the province. There is no mention of such a character in historical sources.
Gladiators of the late second century A.D., as well as their fights, were not exactly how they are shown in the movie. During the period gladiators were divided into definite categories in accordance with their fighting style, armor and arms (Kyle, 1988). And their fights were always individual duels that were fought under rules enforced by referees (Kohne and Ewigleben, 2000).
I would like also to mention that the breed of the Maximus’s dog- German shepherd- did not exist at that time. During the battle, they were using mechanical dart launchers and fire- curling catapults against Germanic tribes, which is impossible for ancient times (Winkler,2004).
Regardless some historical inaccuracies, the movie very brightly revealed the spirit of the time. Rome at that period was violent and bloody, Emperors were mainly fighting and spent little time improving lives of common people. Gladiatorial fights served as the tools of showing that death is near and how it should be heroically met or was an allegory to reveal that life is cruel and one can die any moment.
Despite lack of truthful details, the story of Gladiator is not less interesting and absorbing. It contains real and fiction characters and tells how life in Ancient Rome could be.
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