Roman civilization movie review

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Roman Empire is considered to be the first civilized society because of their rich traditional and cultural activities. Through storytelling and records of these historical activities that denoted Roman Civilization, people can learn these activities. Roman Empire (Roman Republic) is the most powerful empire before civilization.  For instance, the city of Rome still has the monumental architecture designed in the ancient Roman such as Pantheon, Colosseum and Trajan’s Forum. The dominance of Roman Empire has interested a lot of scholars who want to ensure that the history is preserved for learning purposes. Currently, there are a lot of books, film and documentary highlight Roman civilization through the aspects of their society such as slavery, leadership, family and other social activities. The essay would review the film “Ben-Hur (1956)” by reviewing how the film depicts the aspect of Roman society, what I like and dislike in the movie as well as if I can recommend the film to some.

Review of the Film: Ben-Hur (1956)

The film Ben-Hur (1956) was adopted from the novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880)” by Lew Wallace (Wallace, 2015). The film is set in AD 26 during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius Nero who was a controversially awarded the leadership because he was adopted.  The film is about the life of Judah Ben-Hur and his adopted brother. The film is a perfect depiction of the aspects of the Roman City. Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy prince and merchant in the city of Jerusalem (Wyler, Zimbalist, & Tunberg, 1959). He lives with his month, Miriam, his sister, Tirzah and their loyal slaves. The childhood friend of Judah Messala is a tribune and returns as the commander of the Roman Garrison. However, these two friends have different views about the need of the society. Ben-Hur is devoted to his faith and freedom of the Jewish while Messala believes that Rome should have its glory and its imperial power.  The difference in their views brings the first conflict that results in Messala issuing an ultimatum that demands that Judah should deliver rebels to the populace to the Roman Authorities.

Judah Ben-Hur faces tough imprisonment when he refuses to give the rebels to the empire (Wyler, Zimbalist, & Tunberg, 1959). The circumstances of Ben-Hur was a mere accident when during the parade for the new Government Valerius Gratus loses tiles fall from the roof of the Ben-Hur’s house. Messala knew well that the fall of Governor Valerius Gratus was an accident and he decides to condemn Judah to the galleys and imprisons Tirzah and Miriam. The intimation technique of arresting Judah and condemn him to slavery is meant to scare the rebels. After Ben-Hur to imprison, he swears to take revenge.

After three years being chain to work as a gallery slave, he shows strong beliefs in God and believes that God will kill him to be free. In slavery, he attracts the attention of Arius who admires his self-discipline and determination, and he offers to train him as a gladiator or charioteer. However, Ben-Hur’s beliefs in God compel him to declare the offer and reinsert that God would aid his quest for vengeance (Wyler, Zimbalist, & Tunberg, 1959).  Ben-Hur rescued Arius when the gallery rammed and sunk. In an attempt to return the favor, Arius successfully petition Emperor Tiberius to release Ben-Hur. The condition of releasing Judah was for the Emperor to adopt him as his son (Wyler, Zimbalist, & Tunberg, 1959). He gains his wealth and learns Roman ways. After being the champion, he is not satisfied as he still longs for his homeland and family.

On his way, home Judea, he meets Balthasar and Sheik who knew his prowess as a charioteer. Balthasar and sheik convince him to compete in the quadriga. However, after learning that his friend (Messala) whom he was seeking revenge on was going to compete and he decided to decline the completion. When he reached his home, he learns that Esther still loves him, Miriam and Tirzah contract leprosy in prison and died (Wyler, Zimbalist, & Tunberg, 1959). The death of his sister and mother changes his mind to seek vengeance on Messala and competes in the Chariot race to win.

Aspects of Roman Society depicted in the film

The movies are an attempt to depict many aspects of Roman society despite the main theme being faith and Religion (Scurman & Malam, 2009). The most common aspects of Roman society depicted in the film are the governance of Roman Empire and his imperial, chariot race, slavery and typical life of princes. The aspect of Roman society was based on the governance of the Roman Empire, and his imperial has a clear structure. The movies reveal many levels of the government in Roman Empire and its Imperials. The movie shows that the highest office in the Roman society was Emperor Tiberius then there is a governor and Tribune. Tribunes were in charge of the protecting the interests of the Roman empire in imperial as Messala was in charged on Judea (Wallace, 2015). Tribunes were also meant to protect the interest of the Roman Empire in its imperial.   The Governors were in charge on the region within the empire as shown by Governor Valerius Gratus. The emperor was charged with the responsibility of conducting official duties of the emperor.

The second aspect of the Roman Society was slavery. Slavery was very prominent in the Roman society. The film shows many instances of slavery in the Roman society. For instance, as the movie beings, it shows that Judah Ben-Hur is living with his royal slaves. Slavery and slaves were very important to the economy of Roman because it was the backbone of its economic activities (Scurman & Malam, 2009). The slaves were meant to serve royalty and be humble and obey their masters. Furthermore, the slaves had a duty to build the society by being subjected to build buildings within the empire. The slavery was also a form of punishment for any crime committed. In the film, this three instance of slavery and slaves were shown in the movie. Slavery punishes Judah, and as a wealthy prince in Jerusalem, he has royal slaves.

The film as reveals that the pertinent issues of religion and faith especially during the time of Jesus Christ. In the ancient Roman society, there had many gods, and the coming of Jesus Christ brought a conflict of interest. The difference in religion brings in the first conflicts of the movie between childhood friends (Wallace, 2015). Judah Ben-Hur believed in God while his childhood friend Messala believed in many different gods. Furthermore, religion and faith was not the priority of Messala; he simply wanted to reinforce the rule of the emperor and its imperials. As tribune, he was very loyal to the throne. On the other hand, due to the difference in religion, there were many rebels in Judea. The rebels believed in Jesus Christ and therefore, they did not owe their alliance and loyalty to the throne. It brought t a conflict of interests between the Tribunes and rebels in the film.

One of the most important aspects of the Roman society was chariot race.  The chariot race was one of the most important social activities within the Roman Society. In the film, Ben-Hur is adopted by Emperor Tiberius and trains as a charioteer. Judah also races his childhood friend in the chariot (Wallace, 2015).  During the charioteer were seen as entertainers in the Roman Society. In fact, the chariot race was important in the Roman society as it used to bring the leadership and the civilization together to enjoy the race. For instance, the film shows the chariot race that aspects of the Roman society were important as people cheered the charioteers.

The film has shown other minor aspects of the Roman society such as the use of horses for transportation, the discipline of the slaves and the importance of slaves in the society. In the film, Messala as the Tribunes uses horses to move from one town to another. In the Roman Society, the slaves were sources of income (Scurman & Malam, 2009). They were sold to make money.  The slaves were also used to build galleys as the case of Ben-Hur. All in all, the slaves were the cornerstone of the Roman society, and it denoted the difference between high and low class in social stratification.

Successful vs. Unsuccessful depiction of the Roman society in the film

On a personal level, the film has depicted some levels of the Roman society successful while others were unsuccessful. The most successful depiction of the Roman society was the chariot race and the charioteers (Wyler, Zimbalist, & Tunberg, 1959). The film shows that the charioteer as entertainers as people in the hippodrome where there seats for the spectators to watch the race. It also has a place for the leaders of the government to see. It is the most successful depiction of the Roman society because the race between Judah and Messala shows the importance of sports to the Roman society. However, the film does not specify if the different ethnic groups of either driver of the chariot as it shown the race between the Jewish driver and roman driver (Scurman & Malam, 2009).  The chariot race is a form of gladiatorial context that is successful depicted in the film.

On the other hand, the most unsuccessful depiction of the Roman Society the leadership structure. The film recognizes the leadership structure in Roman Emperor, but it does not show how the functions and expectation of the leadership. Messala was a tribune who was meant to protect the interest of roman and its interest, but it fails to highlight the administrative functions of the Emperor and Governor.

Likes Vs. Dislikes in the Film

The film is very interesting and highlights the civilization of the Roman society. What I like most about the film is the vivid and almost accurate depiction of the Roman society. The historical conflicts between Jewish and Roman lead to the conflicts of the film and breaking up of childhood friendship. It is important to note that the film also has Hippodrome for the gladiatorial chariot race (Scurman & Malam, 2009). It is interesting to see the unpredictability of the chariot race despite having the background expectation that Judah would win. The depiction of Ben-Hur in the gallery and working as a slave is also accurate. I like a lot of things in the film and its execution as well as narration. However, the film fails to highlight the role of the emperor and his authority. Furthermore, given the difference in cultures. All in all, I would recommend the film to anyone because of the excellent execution of the major themes in the Roman culture and civilization.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Scurman, I., & Malam, J. (2009). Ancient Roman Civilization. The Rosen Publishing Group.
  2. Wallace, L. (2015). Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Bibliolife DBA of Bibilio Bazaar II LLC.
  3. Wyler, W., Zimbalist, S., & Tunberg, K. (Directors). (1959). Ben-Hur [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from Youtube:
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