Many thanks to author and fellow history buff, Elise VanCise, for stopping by. I just love this stuff - thanks, Elise.
Gladiator trivia: film vs. history
By Elise VanCise
Often filmmakers and even authors blur the lines of history to make a story work. Nothing wrong with that; fiction is supposed to be made up, filled with adventures that perhaps historic figures might cringe at in real life. It’s fun to go back and compare some of these retellings with actual facts. Here are some fun trivia facts to go with the fiction of one of my favorite films Gladiator.
Modern day athletes often do product endorsements. Ancient Roman gladiators actually did this also. The producers of the film considered including this in the script but discarded the idea as unbelievable.
During the opening battle we see roman soldiers marching to meet the barbarians in open combat with their pilas, today we call them javelins, in hand as if they were spears. In actual Roman battle, they were thrown at the enemy before the two sides would meet. A pilum was too fragile to be used as a spear because the tip was designed to break off and bend after contact to disallow the enemy to throw them back at the legionaries.
Before the opening battle in the film we see Maximus with a ‘pet’ wolf who accompanies him in battle. The fierce Roman army was known for intimidation tactics. At the forefront of the ranks an individual known as a Signifier was placed. It was a position of honor, and he carried the standard that displayed the legion’s honors. Over the Signifier’s helmet and armor, he would wear an animal skin, often a wolf, in order to make a fierce impression on the enemy.
When Commodus goes with Lucius to meet Maximus at the Colosseum, he tells Maximus that Lucius insists Maximus is Hector reborn. Then Commodus asks Lucius, "Or was it Hercules?" The real emperor Commodus believed he was Hercules reborn.
The short sword used by the Roman army, the Gladius Hispaniensis, is seen being used by many gladiators in the film. The version used in the arena in the film is accurate as it was often shorter than the military version. The use of the common use of the gladius in arena battles is actually the source of the word "gladiator".
The real Commodus actually fought several times in the arena as a gladiator.
Unknown to the Gladiator Emperor Commodus, the soldiers would weaken his opponent by stabbing the gladiator in the back to prevent harm to their liege but also to ensure their emperor won.
In the film, Maximus kills Commodus in the arena. In life, the emperor was strangled in his dressing room by a man named Narcissus. Narcissus was a Roman wrestler employed as Commodus’ sparring partner at the time.
I hope you enjoyed this little bit of Roman trivia. I’ve always had a fascination with this period of history and its people. Could be why I named my blog Gladiator’s Pen. Stop by anytime for stories, guest authors, tips posts, and of course a little history now and then.