Some will argue that; “relax, it is just a movie, who cares if they get some historical stuff wrong?” Well, I do. I can accept that film, as a medium, is designed to entertain first, and that everything else is an merely an afterthought. However, with television and film rapidly taking the place of books as a reference point for people’s historical understanding, it seems that the line is being blurred, between entertainment and history.
This is a worrying trend indeed.
While period dramas, like those done by HBO or the BBC, can be great – Rome or I Claudius, can be used to illustrate elements of real Roman history – the vast majority of the material produced, like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the massive list of “sword and sandal” films, are little more than wildly inaccurate junk.
According to the thesis of this article from The Washington Post,this has resulted in people’s learning ability being damaged by these poorly researched films and TV shows.
I will now look at the 5 most common and disturbing historical inaccuracies within movie about Roman and Greek Civilization.
5. Greece… Rome… They’re All The Same, Right?
Well no, they are not. There are some 300 years in between Classical Greece (5th Century BC) and the fall of the Greeks to the Romans in 146 BC, and then nearly another 100 years until the “city of marble” was begun by the Emperor Augustus, 27 BC – 14 AD. So why do films often combine the two?
The latest Twilight film, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 will serve nicely here: the Volturi (the guys in the black cloaks trying to murder the Cullens) live in Tuscany, and in their lair there’s a series of statues in the background, which are meant to establish that the Volturi are an ancient coven.
Herein lies the first issue: the film’s set designers just assume that Greece and Rome are the same, or that they existed around the same time. This just isn’t true! Movies often depict these civilizations at their peak, citing the look of Classical Athens in 5th Century BC and the Roman Empire of late 1st/early 2nd century AD. When they mix the two, it results is an intelligent insulting culture killing nightmare.
One of the statues that the Volturi have in their lair is the Charioteer(pictured above). The Volturi are old, and this stuff would be to their taste, right? True, and this is some subtle character development for them, but the problem is that the Charioteer is an Ancient Greek piece, and in fact is still in Greece, not Tuscany. It is in Delphi museum, and it has never left Greece. Ever.
And then there’s the Labyrinth scene in the abomination known as The Immortals – a film which offended me so much I left the theatre for five minutes to gather myself - which does the same thing. The setting is the mythical era of history (at least the 14th Century BC) and yet within the labyrinth’s wall niches there are Greek red figure pottery(4th Century BC), black figure pottery (5th Century BC), and busts of Roman copies of Greek statues (2nd Century AD).
This is literally impossible, historically insulting and plainly needs to be stopped.