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The true story of “The Gladiator”

We all have watched Ridley Scott’s movie, but what is the true story of “The Gladiator”? Who were Maximus, Commodus and Marcus Aurelius?

Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe)

Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe)

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and 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.”

Absolutely one of the most famous quotes ever, obviously one of the most loved movies ever. “The Gladiator” is kind of an open window on the past, through which we can see life in the Roman Empire. Entertainment for the eyes, knowledge for the mind. Yes, I said knowledge, because it is based on a real story, the story of an evil emperor and his beloved father.

Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris)

Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris)

Although the character of Maximus is completely invented, Commodus and Marcus Aurelius are not:

  • Marcus Aurelius was really Commodus’s father, but his death was actually caused by plague;
  • In the movie, Marcus Aurelius was mentioned to be a philosopher: he was! He was one of the most important Stoic philosopher and wrote mostly in Greek;
  • The battle at the beginning of the movie shows faithfully how the Roman army fought, and that campaign is celebrated onto the famous column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius in Rome;
  • Commodus’s reign was marked by absolutism as in the movie: many historiographers said that he called himself “the Roman Hercules”;
  • Commodus’s love for gladiators was real: in the movie, we see that he doesn’t hesitate to challenge Maximus in the arena, and actually it happened often (obviously the fight was fake so that he could always win).
Maximus fights Tigris of Gaul in the Colosseum.

Maximus fights Tigris of Gaul in the Colosseum.

Besides the characters also the background is historically important. The recreation of the Colosseum and the ludi gladiatori (the games of gladiators), which compose the best scenes of the movie, are faithfully close to the real story:

  • As they say in the movie, the gladiators were slaves, admired by everyone;
  • The destiny of a gladiator was really decided by the audience and by the emperor, as we can see in many scenes: however the gesture of the emperor that means “kill him” was not thumb down but the opposite, as a symbol of the unsheathed sword;
  • In the movie all the gladiators recreated the Battle of Carthage by order of the emperor: actually the emperor could order them to recreate all battles he wants in the Colosseum;
  • It is true that during the fight the gladiators could also challenge some animals, like tigers in this case, although usually they preferred lions;
  • The character of Proximo (Oliver Reed) is a lanista, trainer and owner of the gladiators, the person that organized all the fights.


The story of Maximus Decimus Meridius can be lived again by everyone. You just need to come in Rome!


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