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"Gladiator"

A scene from Ridley Scott's "Gladiator," featuring Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus.

Getty Images/Handout

To his credit, director Ridley Scott employed a thoroughly qualified historian to help him make his film "Glad­iator" (2000) as authentic as possible [source: Winkler]. This is despite the fact that Maximus (the main character portrayed by Russell Crowe) is fictional. And yet the movie, set in ancient Rome, still manages to tick off plenty of historians.

In the film, Emperor Marcus Aurelius doesn't trust his son, Commodus, and instead taps Maximus (an esteemed general) to take over and return Rome to the old Republic. Betrayed, Commodus kills his father and orders Maximus' execution. But Maximus escapes, gets captured by slave traders and ends up as a gladiator fighting for his life in the arena.

Historians scoff at plenty of assumptions in this film, especially the notion that Marcus would have wanted a return to the old Republic. In addition to that, the movie compresses Commodus' 13-year reign into what can't be more than two years. Commodus himself was younger and more physically fit than depicted, married and (not to mention) didn't commit patricide [source: Ward].

To add to the seemingly endless pile of inaccuracies, the movie features whole battles that didn't happen, large catapults that would never have been lugged into open battlefields, a breed of dog (German shepherd) that didn't exist at the time and Latin inscriptions with incorrect grammar [source: Ward]. Some have even pointed out the anachronism of Roman officers commanding soldiers who are wielding bows and arrows to "fire" (a term that wouldn't have been used until firearms were invented) [source: Washington Times].

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