‘Gladiator’ in the year 2000, Ridley Scott invaded the earth. It earned a lot of money, won 5 Academy Awards among other accolades, and cemented its place as one of the most successful historical events in the history of cinema. The movie follows the story of Maximus as Russell Crowe, Djimon Hounsou as Juba, Connie Nielsen as Lucilla a Roman general who was unjustly enslaved by a power-hungry emperor, Commodus as Joaquin Phoenix. It also features Oliver Reed as Proximo in major roles.
Since its release, the ‘Gladiator’ has continued to be praised for its portrayal of ancient Rome by going beyond the boundaries of ancient sword-and-sand films. Undoubtedly, this film instills fear and trepidation in the minds of viewers with its bold, beautiful, and cruel scenes. Could the horror and miracles in the movie be merely fantasy? Or are they just cold facts about history? Let’s see that ‘Gladiator’ is based on a real story.
Is Gladiator a Real Story ‘Facts & Fictions’
The ‘Gladiator’ is partly based on a true story. David Franzoni supported the role of ‘Gladiator’ in a 1958 book entitled ‘The Way of the Gladiator’ (first published as ‘Those About to Die’) by Daniel P. Mannix. The book – largely authentic but mixed with speculation – delves into the horrific details of gladiatorial games, chariot races, and other brutal forms of entertainment that exploited people and animals over the years that witnessed the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire.
Franzoni was first introduced to the book during his motorcycle tour around the world. “The Romans had a unique idea of them – they were born beasts and they were proud of it,” he said, taking his letter. Undoubtedly, it is these animals that first live on the big screen with ‘Gladiator,’ using characters like Commodus. On the other hand, director Ridley Scott was inspired by ‘Pollice Verso,’ an 1872 painting of the Roman gladiator presented by producer Walter Parkes.
“Parkes opened the portrait of a man named Jean-Léon Gérôme. It shows an armed man holding a dead fork tuna, standing on a net victim. He looks up at the dark marble wall, in which Nero’s purple face is without his mind over wine or water. He has a thumb on the ground, I looked at it for a moment and it was like a lamp, ”said Scott, referring to the moment he was inspired. Scott has kept his word of wanting to bring the ancient Roman world to the big screen.
The ‘Gladiator’ accurately represents the Roman people, culture, and heritage. “The purpose of the book was to understand how to contact whom we are and how we are and who they are. There was a clear understanding that colleges were a sports franchise, ”said Franzoni. The movie also remains true to the tense power of history recorded between royal politicians and the common people. Patriotism and power dominated Roman politics, but respect and prestige were common.
Although the movie contains a number of historical inaccuracies, especially in terms of donations and timelines, it is able to capture the zeitgeist of ancient Rome. In addition, gladiators existed in ancient Rome, and they fought tigers and bears, although this was rare. It was very common for men to fight with men, often when they were chained together, as the movie shows in its first episode. This infamous act of ‘thumbs down, however, has drawn the skepticism of historians. It is not yet clear whether the act signaled the death of the losers, as the movie states.
Mannix’s book explores the conditions of Roman drama, but the movie prefers to introduce and adhere to a few characters. This allows the narrative to immerse and reap the tangible themes of justice and revenge. The book uses the freedom of art, with the author sprinkling his explanations when his research did not provide clear answers. The movie, too, uses fairy tales to fill historical gaps and fulfill the demands of an exciting cinema. While the foundation was still the same, the approach changed from printing to photography.
Well, what about the characters? The noble Marcus Aurelius, his wicked son Commodus, and his treacherous daughter Lucilla were also present. However, Commodus ‘relatives’ tendencies toward Lucilla, as seen in the movie, have no basis in fact. While the cause of Marcus Aurelius’ death still baffles historians, it is clear that Commodus had no part in it. Interestingly, the actual Commodus was much more brutal than the on-screen Phoenix version. After Lucilla’s plot to assassinate Commodus failed in 182 AD, Commodus became a tyrant.
Historians say that he provided his bodyguards with poisonous figs and then induced some of the Isis devotees to use pineapples to beat themselves to death. In the movie, Lucilla does not explicitly deceive, even though she supports Maximus. The Maximus character is just a movie creation, imitated by real Romans such as the enslaved leader Spartacus, the provincial governor-farmer Cincinnatus, and Avidius Cassius, who served Marcus Aurelius. The relationship between the main characters is also the result of storytelling, which is based on the various written connections between the politicians of the Roman Empire.
While the ‘Gladiator’ touches on Rome as it was in the 2nd century AD and incorporates the personas of real history, its story is simply a creation of art. This is not surprising – history remains inaccessible to us, and we often cover the whole world as it was at the time using truth and myth. Since the advent of cinema, many movies have prioritized creativity rather than historical accuracy. Movies such as ‘Cleopatra,’ ‘300,’ ‘Pompeii,’ and ‘The King’ go down in history, discovering new ways of representing the old; ‘Gladiator’ does the same.
Therefore, the director of Ridley Scott can focus on historical characters and very precise planning, but the structure itself is focused on fiction. The movie borrows fragments from the cruel and majestic Roman Empire, combining scattered faces with the realities of the past and the extravagant glories of an epic life. ‘Gladiator’ may not be a true story, but people’s written experiences hold their weight in the history of history.