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The essays collected in this book present the first comprehensiveappreciation of The Fall of the Roman Empire fromhistorical, historiographical, and cinematic perspectives. The bookalso provides the principal classical sources on the period. It isa companion to Gladiator: Film and History (Blackwell, 2004)and Spartacus: Film and History (Blackwell, 2007) andcompletes a triad of scholarly studies on Hollywood'sgreatest films about Roman history. * A critical re-evaluation of the 1964 epic film The Fall ofthe Roman Empire, directed by Anthony Mann, fromhistorical, film-historical, and contemporary points of view * Presents a collection of scholarly essays and classical sourceson the period of Roman history that ancient and modern historianshave considered to be the turning point toward the eventual fall ofRome * Contains a short essay by director Anthony Mann * Includes a map of the Roman Empire and film stills, as well astranslations of the principal ancient sources, an extensivebibliography, and a chronology of events

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Table of Contents


Praise for The Fall of the Roman Empire: Film and History

Title page

Copyright page

List of Illustrations

Notes on Contributors

Editor’s Preface

CHAPTER ONE: A Critical Appreciation of The Fall of the Roman Empire

1. “See the Greatness of Rome”

2. The Ending

3. Musical Score and Plot: Private and Public

4. Epic Style: The Final Duel

5. Anthony Mann’s Road to Epic

6. Pre-Release Cuts Made to The Fall of the Roman Empire

7. Imperial Powers: Rome and America

CHAPTER TWO: History, Ancient and Modern, in The Fall of the Roman Empire

CHAPTER THREE: Marcus Aurelius: The Empire over Himself

1. Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Prince

2. Marcus’ Philosophy as Seen from the Outside World

3. The Private World of the Meditations

4. The “Inner Citadel”: Marcus’ Empire over Himself

CHAPTER FOUR: Was Commodus Really That Bad?

1. Commodus in Ancient Historiography

2. Commodus in Historical Fact

CHAPTER FIVE: East and West in The Fall of the Roman Empire

CHAPTER SIX: Empire Demolition

CHAPTER SEVEN: Excerpts from the American Souvenir Program of The Fall of the Roman Empire

1. A Prologue by Will Durant

2. The Roman Forum: In Ruins Today . . . and Re-Created

3. An Epilogue

CHAPTER EIGHT: Edward Gibbon and The Fall of the Roman Empire

CHAPTER NINE: Fact, Fiction, and the Feeling of History

1. Feeling in Historical Fiction and Historiography

2. The Feeling of History in The Fall of the Roman Empire

3. “…for this is Rome”

CHAPTER TEN: Peace and Power in The Fall of the Roman Empire

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Politics of The Fall of the Roman Empire

1. The Historical Context

2. The Politics of Empire

CHAPTER TWELVE: Excerpts from Edward Gibbon

1. Marcus Aurelius and His Time

2. The Auction of the Empire

The Chief Ancient Sources on Marcus Aurelius

1. Cassius Dio

2. The Augustan History: Marcus Antoninus the Philosopher

3. Herodian

Chronology: The Roman Empire at the Time of Marcus Aurelius


Supplemental Images


Praise for The Fall of the Roman Empire: Film and History

“[Offers] useful perspectives and controversial points of discussion.” Scholia Reviews

“A comprehensive treatment of an underappreciated film from a variety of critical perspectives.” Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“After reading the book, I reviewed The Fall of the Roman Empire, this time better informed about the director, the history (Roman and cinematic), the political and social issues of the day, details about production, comparison with contemporary and later films, and much more. Viewing the film from this expansive vantage point made for a rich experience.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

“Martin Winkler has assembled a collection of vigorous and highly readable essays by noted classicists and film scholars featuring topics from the representation of Roman history onscreen to the contemporary extra-cinematic discourse about Mann’s film. This volume offers a compelling and much-needed critical re-evaluation of one of the most controversial epic films ever made.” Monica S. Cyrino, University of New Mexico and the author of Big Screen Rome

“Winkler’s expertise and enthusiasm shape an illuminating and accessible collection of source materials, documents and essays on the 1960s film that helped put ancient Rome back into cinemas in the 21st century.” Maria Wyke, University College London

This paperback edition first published 2013

© Blackwell Publishing Ltd except for editorial material and organization

© Martin M. Winkler

Edition history: Blackwell Publishing Ltd (hardback, 2009)

Blackwell Publishing was acquired by John Wiley & Sons in February 2007. Blackwell’s publishing program has been merged with Wiley’s global Scientific, Technical, and Medical business to form Wiley-Blackwell.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The fall of the Roman Empire: film and history / edited by Martin M. Winkler.

p. cm.

 Includes bibliographical references and index.

 ISBN 978-1-4051-8223-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-118-58982-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Fall of the Roman Empire (Motion picture) 2. Rome–In motion pictures. 3. Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, 121–180. 4. Rome–History–Marcus Aurelius, 161–180. 5. Rome–History–Commodus, 180–192. I. Winkler, Martin M.

 PN1997.F3235F35 2009



A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover image: Roman Empire. Samuel Bronston Productions (1964). Image courtesy Photofest.

Cover design by Richard Boxhall Design Associates

List of Illustrations

 1. Marble statue of Marcus Aurelius in the National Museum, Rome. 
 2. Equestrian bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio) in Rome. 
 3. Portrait of Edward Gibbon from the American edition of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Philadelphia, 1804–1805). 
 4. An exceptional studio portrait of Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor. 
 5. Sketch for the et of the Roman frontier fortress by Veniero Colasanti and John Moore. 
 6. Alec Guinness, Anthony Mann, and Sophia Loren on the set of the fortress. 
 7. Anthony Mann (l.) lining up a shot in the Roman fortress, with Stephen Boyd (r.) as Livius. 
 8. A pensive Marcus Aurelius, in the background Timonides (l.) and Cleander (ctr.). 
 9. Director Anthony Mann examining models for the set of the Roman Forum. 
10. Producer Samuel Bronston (r.) on the set of the Roman Forum. 
11. The Speakers’ Platform (rostra; ctr.), the Arch of Tiberius (l.), and Duilius’ Column (the columna rostrata; far r.) in the Roman Forum. 
12. The Temple of Vespasian (l.) and the Temple of Concord (r.), with the steps (foreground l.) leading up to the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum. 
13. The Temple of Jupiter (ctr. background) dominating the Roman Forum. 
14. Commodus on his triumphal procession through the Roman Forum. 
15. The arena of shields in the Roman Forum for the duel between Commodus and Livius. 
16. The duel in the Colosseum between Commodus and Maximus in Gladiator. 
17. The Temple of Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (“Jupiter Best and Greatest”). 
18. The statue of Jupiter inside his temple. 
19. The statue of Jupiter inside his temple as built by Veniero Colasanti and John Moore. 
20. The statue of Jupiter with the head of Commodus, the god’s head lying on the ground (foreground l.). 
21. Publicity shot of Stephen Boyd and Sophia Loren in one of the imperial palace sets. 
22. The imperial palace with wall decorations copied from surviving mosaics in the Baths of Caracalla. 
23. A statue of Roma, the divine personification of Rome, dominates the palatial hall in which Lucilla deposits her father’s Meditations and Commodus announces his New World Order. 
24. The simple décor of the senate hall and the Roman she-wolf behind Commodus represent the traditional virtues that made Rome great. Timonides (ctr. l.) and Julianus (to the r. behind him) debate Roman policy toward the Germans. 
25. The title card of The Fall of the Roman Empire, with PAX ROMANA crossed out (l.). 
26. The end title of The Fall of the Roman Empire. 

Notes on Contributors

WARD W. BRIGGS, JR., is Carolina Distinguished Professor of Classics Emeritus and Louis Fry Scudder Professor of Humanities Emeritus at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of monographs, articles, and reviews on Roman literature and a former editor of the journal Vergilius. He has also edited several books on the history of classical scholarship, including the letters and writings of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve.ELEONORA CAVALLINI is Professor of Greek Literature and of the History of the Classical Tradition in Contemporary Culture at Bologna University, Ravenna Campus. She is the author of Ibico: Nel giardino delle vergini, Luciano: Questioni d’amore, and Il fiore del desiderio: Afrodite e il suo corteggio fra mito e letteratura and of articles on Greek lyric poetry, on history, philosophy, and law in the Hellenistic age, and on the history of the classical tradition. She is the editor of Samo: Storia, letteratura, scienza; I Greci al cinema: Dal peplum d’autore alla computer graphics, and Omero mediatico: Aspetti della ricezione omerica nella civiltà contemporanea.DISKIN CLAY is Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at Duke University. He is the author of Lucretius and Epicurus, Paradosis and Survival: Three Chapters in the History of Epcurean Philosophy, Platonic Questions: Dialogues with the Silent Philosopher, and Archilochos Heros: The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis. He has published numerous articles and reviews and is a former editor of the American Journal of Philology.JAN WILLEM DRIJVERS is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He is the author of Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding of the True Cross and Cyril of Jerusalem: Bishop and City and co-author of the series Philological and Historical Commentaries on Ammianus Marcellinus. His research focuses mainly on Late Antiquity, especially the Christianization of the later Roman Empire, late Roman historiography, and the relations between the Roman and Sasanid empires.ANTHONY MANN (1906–1967) is among the least appreciated of major American film directors. After working in the theater he began directing small-budget films, especially in the genre of film noir, in the 1940s. In the 1950s he directed, among a few other films, a series of tough and dark Westerns, the main basis of his high reputation among cinema aficionados today. The last two of these, Man of the West (1958) and Cimarron (1960, disowned by Mann), bear mythic-epic overtones and point toward the historical epics he made for producer Samuel Bronston in Europe, El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). His last completed film was the World War II drama The Heroes of Telemark (1965). He died while filming A Dandy in Aspic (1968), a Cold War espionage thriller. Mann had also directed, uncredited, the Fire of Rome sequence in Mervyn LeRoy’s Quo Vadis (1951) and was the original director of Spartacus (1960) before Stanley Kubrick.PETER W. ROSE is Professor of Classics at Miami University of Ohio. He has published articles on classical literature and on Cuban cinema and has written analyses of films for various leftist political newsletters. His book Sons of the Gods, Children of Earth: Ideology and Literary Form in Ancient Greece applied Marxist critical perspectives to the Greek literary canon.ALLEN M. WARD is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Connecticut – Storrs. He is the author of Marcus Crassus and the Late Roman Republic and of several articles on that period of Roman history. After taking over for the late Fritz M. Heichelheim and the late Cedric A. Yeo, he is also the principal author of A History of the Roman People, now in its fourth edition.MARTIN M. WINKLER is University Professor and Professor of Classics at George Mason University. His books are The Persona in Three Satires of Juvenal, Der lateinische Eulenspiegel des Ioannes Nemius, the anthology Juvenal in English, Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo’s New Light, and The Roman Salute: Cinema, History, Ideology. He is the editor of Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema, a revised edition of Classics and Cinema, the first collection of scholarly essays on the subject of antiquity and film. More recently he has edited essay collections on Gladiator, Troy, and Spartacus. He has also published articles on Roman literature, on the classical tradition, and on classical and medieval culture and mythology in the cinema.

Editor’s Preface

Upon its release in 2000 Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was one of the most surprising box-office hits worldwide. The story, primarily unfolding on a gloomy frontier, in a scorching desert, and in the Colosseum, is about a doomed hero who has fallen from favor and power. But he comes back as if from the dead and takes revenge on a creepy megalomaniac. A gigantic battle in a forest primeval, several episodes of savage arena combat, spectacular settings, and romantic love pique viewer interest. Nothing quite like this had been seen on the cinema screen for decades. Made at great expense, directed by someone with a proven record for atmosphere, starring an actor at the height of his popularity and an attractive supporting cast, and boasting state-of-the art computerized special effects, Gladiator resurrected not only imperial Rome at the height of its power but also single-handedly revived interest in a film genre considered to have been dead, buried, and unlamented since the 1960s.

A noteworthy aspect of all the publicity that studio, star, writer, director, and others advanced to promote this new Roman spectacle, however, was the almost complete silence about an epic film that bears a strong resemblance to theirs. It is unlikely that Gladiator would have been possible without The Fall of the Roman Empire. Released in 1964, this film had been produced by independent studio head Samuel Bronston, who specialized in historical epics made with lavish care, and filmed in Spain (exteriors) and Italy (interiors at Cinecittà). It was directed by Anthony Mann, a distinguished director best known (if not popularly so) for his 1940s work in film noir and for his 1950s Westerns. The script had been written chiefly by blacklisted screenwriter Ben Barzman, with extensive historical research by Basilio Franchina and a hand from Philip Yordan, the head of Bronston’s story department. The Fall of the Roman Empire was the most accomplished presentation of Roman history ever put on the silver screen. But it was also the last of the giant epics about classical Rome until Gladiator, if we discount Richard Lester’s more modest A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). Together with Joseph. L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra of 1963 and George Stevens’s The Greatest Story Ever Told of 1965, The Fall of the Roman Empire was one of the three most expensive ancient epic films ever made. These three represent the precarious heights of scale and cost that epic films set in antiquity could reach before the age of digital images. In retrospect, their fate was predictable. Cleopatra, the most ambitious of them, was as good as ruined when it was re-edited and released in versions lacking as much as half of its original footage. The Greatest Story Ever Told has never been shown in its original length since its initial release and lacks a full hour of footage even in its current DVD editions.

The Fall of the Roman Empire also suffered some notable cuts. It was released at a running time of 184 minutes, including overture, intermission, and exit music. The film was later shortened by about half an hour. Even its original release version reveals a variety of cuts and changes. The only completely uncut version is reported to have been released on Super 8 mm in the early 1990s, taken from an original 16 mm negative. The Fall of the Roman Empire was filmed in 70 mm (with an aspect ratio of 2.20 : 1) but shown in most theaters in 35 mm (aspect ratio of 2.35 : 1). It has been as good as unavailable for viewing on a theater screen for over forty years. Television and videotape editions further reduced its epic quality. The director’s elegant visual compositions and the grandeur of the film’s sets were destroyed in the pan-and-scan version of the shortened cut. This version also omitted a crucial plot point concerning the parentage of Commodus. The original version was briefly available during the 1990s in letterbox format on laserdisc, a short-lived video format. This edition became the source of bootleg DVDs. A legitimate DVD edition of the original release, with digitally restored images and soundtrack, did not appear until 2008. Home theater owners at least can now approximate what the film was meant to look like, even if it still does not provide a director’s or fully restored cut.

Until recently, then, only few audiences who have been able to attend special screenings in revival theaters or museums could appreciate The Fall of the Roman Empire. This is regrettable, for it is an unusual work:

Anthony Mann … and his various collaborators … examine Roman thought at its most civilised peak, at a time when the Empire was a still manageable instrument for the dissemination of ideas … By thus making Rome the ‘hero’ rather than the traditional ‘villain’ … Mann and Bronston were breaking new ground.Spectacle, always geared to show Rome in the guise of imperialistic oppressor, was consequently to play a different role: this was to be a discussion on power and corruption swathed in traditional epic clothes.1

The silence of those concerned in the making and marketing of Gladiator – a veritable damnatio memoriae of the older film, to put it in Roman terms – is therefore unfortunate and unjustified.2

The present book undertakes the first critical re-evaluation of The Fall of the Roman Empire from historical, film-historical, and contemporary points of view. It is also a companion volume to essay collections on Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus that I have edited earlier.3 Chapter One is a general introduction, critical of the film’s weaknesses (some) but appreciative of its virtues (many). The next four chapters turn to Roman history and culture as the film represents them. Chapter Two deals with its divergences from the historical record, also discussing some contemporary issues that influenced its making. Chapters Three and Four deal with the two emperors who play major parts in the film’s story, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Chapter Five focuses on the film’s presentation of the East, an aspect too often neglected in studies of epic films about the Roman Empire. Chapter Six reprints a valuable short essay by director Anthony Mann, written around the time of the film’s release. (On the essay’s unfortunate title see my comments in the head note to that chapter.) Chapter Seven consists of some excerpts from the American souvenir book of The Fall of the Roman Empire that illustrate how a modern historian involved in its production presents imperial Rome to readers and viewers and what importance the studio attached to its re-creation of the Forum Romanum, the film’s most spectacular and thematically important setting. Chapter Eight demonstrates the extent to which the film reflects the influence of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the work that was Anthony Mann’s inspiration and gave the film its title. Chapter Nine argues that history and historical fiction have certain narrative strategies and goals in common, not least that of imparting to their audiences an understanding of or feeling for history. Nevertheless, historiography and historical narratives in word or image that imaginatively combine fact with fiction should be evaluated by criteria appropriate to each kind. The charge of factual inaccuracy commonly advanced against the historical novel, drama, or film is therefore beside the point. Finally, Chapters Ten and Eleven examine specific modern political, social, and cinematic influences on The Fall of the Roman Empire and how it combines the past with the present thematically and stylistically.

Like all other historical films The Fall of the Roman Empire is best watched and evaluated alongside the historical record. For this reason translations of the principal ancient sources about Emperor Marcus Aurelius and brief excerpts from Gibbon complement the analytical essays. These texts will guide readers interested in comparing history and film or in tracing the changes that may occur when the past is adapted to a popular medium of the present. With the exception of Herodian’s account of Commodus’ accession, however, ancient sources about this emperor’s rule are not included here. The most important of them are readily available in the volume on Gladiator mentioned above.

Readers will observe that there is no complete consensus between and among contributors about the qualities of The Fall of the Roman Empire. But our differences should prove to be an incentive for readers to approach both Roman history and cinematic epic from a new perspective. The present book does not of course exhaust the variety of possible approaches to the historical, cultural, or cinematic aspects of The Fall of the Roman Empire. Its contents are intended to point readers, especially scholars, teachers, and students, in the direction of further avenues of work on this film and on its historical and cultural foundations, whether ancient or modern. The readers we hope for are those interested in history and its survival in popular culture, in the classical tradition, and in cinema and its cultural and artistic importance. We also address academic readers in classical studies, ancient and modern history, intellectual history, American studies, and cinema and media studies. All contributions are written in non-specialized English and without academic jargon. Quotations from classical texts appear in translation, and words or phrases in Latin and Greek are explained or translated. We provide documentation and further references, sometimes extensively so that readers can pursue individual topics the more easily on their own. If we succeed in persuading them to think anew about Roman history and culture and about historical cinema or to watch The Fall of the Roman Empire and other historical films, especially Gladiator, with greater understanding or appreciation, our book will have achieved its goal.

As editor of this volume I am grateful, first and foremost, to my contributors for their willing and enthusiastic participation. Since the idea of the pax Romana plays a central part in The Fall of the Roman Empire and in Roman history, they will, I hope, allow me to coin the phrase pax academica as a way to characterize our fruitful co-operation. I also owe special thanks to William Bronston, the producer’s son, to Norma Barzman, the chief screenwriter’s widow, to Anna Mann and Nina Mann, the director’s widow and daughter, and to Samuel Bronston biographer Mel Martin. All of them have provided me with valuable information and sometimes with unique behind-the-scenes details about the production history of The Fall of the Roman Empire.

For some illustrations I am once again indebted to William Knight Zewadski, who with his customary generosity allowed me free access to film stills from his extensive collection. As before, Al Bertrand at the press deserves my thanks for his interest in and support of this project from its inception. I also thank the always reliable staff for efficiently seeing the book through the production process. Elizabeth Stone, my copy-editor, was a model of efficiency and reliability.

Academic books that collect essays on a particular topic by divers hands often contain the proceedings of conferences or symposia or have been commissioned by a publisher. Sometimes, as in the present case, their origin lies in the editor’s interest in or even passion for a particular topic. Here this passion is twofold, encompassing equally Roman history and the cinema. The book’s genesis may be traced back to a particular moment several decades ago. A sixteen-year-old German schoolboy, enrolled in a humanistisches Gymnasium, one weekday afternoon finished his Latin homework and took a bus to one of those great old movie palaces in the center of town. It was showing a film with an irresistible title: Der Untergang des römischen Reiches.

Sic itur ad astra cinematographica.


1  Quoted from Derek Elley, The Epic Film: Myth and History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 105.

2  If silence could not be maintained, coy reticence was resorted to. Diana Landau (ed.), Gladiator: The Making of the Ridley Scott Epic (New York: Newmarket Press, 2000), limits itself to the following brief comments: “Also in the category of interesting failures was Anthony Mann’s 1964 film The Fall of the Roman Empire, whose plot featured several of the main characters who later appeared in Gladiator” (19–20). A one-page list of Roman epics (“Reel Life in the Ancient World,” 21) includes The Fall of the Roman Empire, “but Anthony Mann’s intelligent epic was lost on most sixties audiences.” The condescending tone and the downplaying of plot similarities here hints at a measure of defensiveness. A producer of Gladiator observes that actress Connie Nielsen reminded him of “a young Sophia Loren in The Fall of the Roman Empire” (56; Loren had been about five years younger than Nielsen when she played Lucilla), and Richard Harris “gave Gladiator the strongest link with the past of Roman-era spectacles on film. Back in the early 1960s, when Anthony Mann was casting The Fall of the Roman Empire, Harris was originally signed to play the role of Commodus” (59; followed by a mention of Alec Guinness and by Harris’s reminiscence of “a big row with the director” before leaving the film). Landau, 18–21, provides a total of six images from Roman films other than Gladiator in this lavishly illustrated book; none is from or about Mann’s film.

3  Martin M. Winkler (ed.), Gladiator: Film and History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004) and Spartacus: Film and History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007). On the relations of Gladiator to popular and film culture cf. my brief summary (in Latin), “Quomodo stemma Gladiatoris pelliculae more philologico sit constituendum,” American Journal of Philology, 124 (2003), 137–141.


A Critical Appreciation of The Fall of the Roman Empire

Martin M. Winkler

I believe in the nobility of the human spirit … I don’t believe in anything else.

– Anthony Mann (1964)

I miss the values of family, nobility, personal sacrifice andhistorical awareness that governed our films’ heroes.

– Samuel Bronston (1988)

The preceding quotations characterize the approach to epic filmmaking by the director and the producer of The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), but today their words are likely to strike us as old-fashioned or outdated. On our screens ancient Rome has usually been a sex-and-violence-driven imperialist society. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) prepared the way for such portrayals of Rome in the big Hollywood epics made after World War II.1 Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) deals with Roman history mainly as blood sport. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) plumbs the depths of supposedly authentic Roman torture and depravity and appeals equally to sadists and masochists. Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004), written by the author of Gladiator, tells more of a Roman than a medieval story but manages only a minimal plot line on which to hang a series of violent fights and duels in a depressingly dark world. Doug Lefler’s The Last Legion (2007) is in the same vein. On television, the two seasons of Rome (2005, 2007) show us an unrelievedly dark world of political intrigue, assassination, and nearly endless sex. Most Romans, it seems, were sexual deviants engaged in militarism, conquest, slavery, and bloody games. And they were pagans, Christ crucifiers, and religious persecutors. How could they ever have survived as long as they did, much less have inspired most of Western civilization? If modern evil empires last only for a few decades, how could Rome have continued from 753 BC, the traditional date of its foundation, to AD 476, the end of the Western empire as a political entity, or even until 1453 if we include the history of the Eastern or Byzantine empire? “Our roads and our ships connect every corner of the earth. Roman law, architecture, literature are the glory of the human race,” Messala says in William Wyler’s version of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959). This may be so, but we never see any of it. And it is the villain who voices these words, only to be told off by the hero: “I tell you, the day Rome falls there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before.” Nor would we learn much about the greatness of Roman civilization from other films – except one.

1. “See the Greatness of Rome”

As its title indicates, the true subject of The Fall of the Roman Empire is not a heroic individual’s fight against an oppressor or corrupt system, although this aspect of epic storytelling is part of its plot, nor is it about conflicting religious systems. Instead, the film is a serious attempt to do justice to Roman civilization and to make a case for the continuing importance of Roman history.2

A brief look at how differently The Fall of the Roman Empire and Gladiator, its unofficial and unacknowledged remake, show us the city of Rome itself is instructive. Both contain scenes set in imperial palaces. Those in The Fall of the Roman Empire are light and airy and attractive actually to live in. Those in Gladiator are dark and oppressive. The one building that defines Rome and its empire in Gladiator is the Colosseum, a place of violence and death.3 The Colosseum is nowhere to be seen in The Fall of the Roman Empire, whose chief setting is the Roman Forum. The Forum is nowhere to be seen in Gladiator except in a brief sequence that parallels a far more elaborate one in the earlier film. Commodus enters the city in a triumphal procession through the Forum. In The Fall of the Roman Empire this had been the audience’s first glimpse of Rome, meant to overwhelm by sheer visual appeal. Commodus’ parade in Gladiator consists of six or seven chariots and looks puny, even if thousands of computer-generated soldiers and people fill the area. And the Colosseum ominously looms in the background. Since director Scott copied visual compositions taken from Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will (1935), the effect is depressing and forbidding.4 From the first, this Rome gives off an atmosphere of Albert Speer’s design for Germania, the Nazis’ megalomaniac new Berlin that was to rise after their Final Victory in World War II. The visual prominence and the dramatic function of the Colosseum and the Forum in their respective films tell us what we are to think of the people who ruled the world from this city. The Roman Forum was of such importance to the makers of that they included an outline of its history in the film’s American souvenir program (reprinted in this volume) which goes well beyond the normal bragging about size and cost of the set, which it also contains. Although it will not satisfy experts, this sketch provides readers – that is, the film’s viewers – with a vivid impression of the importance of Rome and of the vicissitudes of “history’s largest page,” as the Forum has been aptly called.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!