Commodus

History, archaeology, historiography, peoples, and personalities of ancient Rome and the Mediterranean.

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Commodus

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Wed Nov 29, 2006 10:08 pm

Salvete

I was watching the extended special edition of Gladiator with more than 10 minutes of new material and alot of extras in it. It was a really good movie, but I have a question.
In one of the extras on the dvd's, one of the writers said that around the time Commodus came to power, a Roman general disappeared during Commodus' rise to power and that they based their Maximus character somewhat on him. My question is: is this true? Was there really a Roman general who disappeared after Commodus succesion, or did this happen often if one emperor died and another came to power?
valete

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Postby Publius Nonius Severus on Thu Dec 21, 2006 1:56 am

Quinte-

Interesting question. I'm glad you asked because it gives me a chance to do some research. Work is so boring lately! The short answer is it is quite possible they are referring to a Roman General Salvius Julianus who was executed by Commodus for supposedly plotting against him. In order to help clarify, I'll walk you through the information I found.

The most reputable biography of Commodus was done by Cassius Dio. In the Epitome of Book LXXIII of his Roman History he mentions a distinguished Roman by the name of Salvius Julianus. Julianus is also mentioned in the Life of Commodus (Part of the Historia Augusta - a less reputable source!) as the "commander of the troops" (presumably a reference to the army in Germania that engaged the The Marcomanni, the Hermanduri, the Sarmatae, and the Quadi.

After the death of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus appointed Julianus the Praetorian Prefect but later executed him as he suspected him of being involved in the first failed plot to assassinate him (There doesn't seem to be any evidence to support this). Supposedly Julianus was well liked by his troops and had total command of their loyalty.

There are several references in the above mentioned works that Commodus had initially taken on the advisors and attendants of his father but often later dismisses (or killed) them.

Although Julianus did not "disappear" per se, he was a general at the time of Commodus's succession and the details of his life near his demise do partially resemble the story of Maximus in "Gladiator".

I hope you find this informative!
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Postby Tarquinius Dionysius on Tue Sep 11, 2007 6:21 pm

I really don't like Gladiator anymore. Initially though, I thought it was great; a nice throwback to the sword-&-sandal epics from 50s. These days I can't help but cringe at 1) the cheesy acting, 2) the overblown Zimmer score, 3) the drab cinematography, and worst of all 4) the lack of historical accuracy/perspective. This last point is really what bothers me the most about it. See for the movie to actually be a cheesy epic, it just takes itself too seriously. But for it to be a serious treatise on the subject, the historical errors are all the more glaring.

For many people films like these are their only exposure to ancient history or culture, but what does it serve them if Gladiator simply perpetuates the same old stereotypes or worse, creates new ones?

I'm sure I don't need to point this out to any of you, but since I'm ranting on the subject: Marcus Aurelius wasn't interested in restoring the republic. He chose Commodus to succeed him. They actually co-ruled for four years before Commodus became sole emperor in 180. Gladiator makes it seem as if he lasted barely 100 days in power before he was murdered by Maximus, but his reign lasted a good (or should I say bad) 12 years. Where are the important historical figures of the time? Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Tigidius Perennis, Cleander, Aemilius Laetus, etc...

Only Lucilla appears, but it's doubtful she was as well-intentioned as she's portrayed in the movie. Which brings me to Commodus himself. I think Joaquin Phoenix is a fine actor, but wrong for this part. To be sure, the role was written to be wrong from the start, but Phoenix plays Commodus as a tortured and psychologically complex man, when in reality, he was more like a dimwitted megalomaniac. He did fight in the arena as a gladiator, but he died in his bath, strangled by a wrestler named Narcissus.

The real history is so much more entertaining. Why does Hollywood feel the need to "spice it up", or make it somehow more "palatable" to their audiences? I don't see why a historical movie can't be at the same time entertaining AND accurate.
Last edited by Tarquinius Dionysius on Sun Jan 06, 2008 5:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Gladiator

Postby Aldus Marius on Tue Sep 11, 2007 8:29 pm

Salve and Welcome back, mi Tarquini!

I loved Gladiator. Your disappointment seems to be based on the expectation that it would be a historical movie. It was not, and didn't pretend to be. It was, if anything, an alternate-history movie, and I was able to thoroughly enjoy it on that basis.

What Gladiator got right, I think, was the feel of being a good Roman in a hopeless situation. Stereotype? --I saw no Iron-Handed Oppressors, no crucifixion scenes, nothing out of a Passion play. I did see a Legion commander with tremendous fides towards his Emperor, who upon that Emperor's death was torn between loyalty to principle (virtus) and loyalty to the State. I saw a man, a fugitive, demonstrate pietas in setting up his little clay gods wherever he happened to find himself. (This was probably the first sympathetic portrayal of the religio Romana in the history of cinema.) I saw, and the movie revolved around, a good man being reduced to a dreadful state, finding his wrath (defined as "the rage of love unreturned"), and clawing his way back to redemption. Indeed, "the anger of the righteous availeth much."

Perhaps the story struck such a chord in me because I was, at the time, in a very similar situation in Nova Roma. I, too, had been a useful citizen, now wrongly-accused, now roundly condemned, voluntarily exiled once, and under threat of involuntary exile. It did occur to me that my loyalty might have been misplaced... Even so, it'd be another nine months before I came to my senses and got the hell out while I was able to do so with even a shred of dignity.

Nevertheless, Gladiator remains the only Roman flick that I actually love. Most of the supposedly great ones, like Spartacus, Ben-Hur and Fall of the Roman Empire, I have endured rather than enjoyed; too often, "Roman" movies end up being about America or Christianity rather than Rome, and tendentious moralising abounds. Gladiator only had the Corrupt Evil Empire-vs-Virtuous Republic angle for me to dislike. But then, so did Star Wars.

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Postby Tarquinius Dionysius on Wed Sep 12, 2007 12:45 am

Have you seen the BBC/HBO television series Rome? The first few episodes may take some time adjusting but overall I think it's one of the finest productions on Ancient Rome ever made. Both entertaining AND historically accurate. I guess I'm one of the few dissidents regarding Gladiator, seeing as it won the oscar for best picture that year. :)

I don't know, I just see it as a missed opportunity for Ridley Scott, who did better (but also flawed) work in the genre with 1492 or Kingdom of Heaven. On a technical level there is not much to fault but the writing usually takes a back seat.

When I was talking about stereotypes I meant that, anyone walking into this movie who has only superficial knowledge of Ancient Rome would pretty much see these preconceived notions confirmed: war with barbarians, bloody games in the colosseum, mad emperors, etc... There's just little sense of everyday life, or even the political context of the era. There is so much more to the Roman Empire than gladiatorial combat. :)

I also liked I, Claudius much better. Even though it's very "stagey" by today's standards, it benefits from being a more intimate and personality driven drama.
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