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Very often, starting at the Colosseum with my guests, I’m asking them about their general knowledge of Ancient Rome. Often, we don’t get further than Romulus, Spartacus, Julius Caesar ... and of course the movie “Gladiator”. I agree, movies are often a first approach to an historical topic, and I’m enjoying them as much as you maybe do, wasn’t it for the historical mistakes the directors often make. Not so often flagrant as in the movie “Spartacus”, where on the set some soldiers smoked cigarettes with filters, a jet was flying over and one of the soldiers looked quite regularly at his electronic watch, probably really bored by the endless rehearsals and a truck can be seen driving along the hills behind a battle scene. At least, from that point of view, the film “Gladiator” was much better. With a similar budget you can indeed attract the best historians and archeologist of all over the world. And probably they were paid very well for their job. But even then, there is artistic freedom, and mistakes are made. I have never heard of an emperor who would fight against a slave or a convict. If he would enter the arena, it would be only against free man. Probably, that was the biggest mistake made in the movie Gladiator.
A few rules are important to understand all history. The first is that the victor is writing history. Never the looser. If I would ask you if you ever have read the Lives of the Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, and asking you who of the twelve first emperors was the best, the answer is very simple: the 12th one, who asked Suetonius to write the biography. This is an innocent example, but it makes clear that there is nothing that you have to hold for granted. Other examples can be more controversial. Using the lines: "out of a Virgin was born a child", "a child was found in a basket" and "Shepherds found a child and he became King". Automatically we are thinking about Jesus and Moses. But wasn't it the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia who was giving birth to Romulus; and wasn't he left behind in a basket at the Tiber?; And wasn't Romulus found by the shepherd Tiberinus who rescued the boys and they were raised by his wife Larentia and subsequently became the first king of the Romans? That Romulus later killed his brother Remus has of course nothing to do with Kain and Abel. But, .... at the end, it were not the Romans who wrote the history, but the Roman Catholic Church.