We’ll stay with our central themes of travel, mobility and forced movement in the Roman world.
In Gladiator, these are issues intrinsically connected with the central character, Maximus. The film is built around his astonishing journey across the Roman social hierarchy. In the process viewers are, however, also presented with a breathtaking route around the periphery of the Roman empire, from the forests of the Danube over the farms of Spain to the deserts of North Africa, and finally, to Rome. Our audience picked up on that point with really interesting interventions in the Question & Answer session following the film, led by Dr Daniele Miano. For example, how likely is it that a Roman general born in Spain would never have been to Rome, as suggested in the film? Questions like these highlight the complex nature of what it meant to be Roman: while it may be doubtful for a Roman general, there must have been many common soldiers, particularly in auxiliary troops, who never experienced Rome itself. Yet, they probably saw more of the empire and had a more ‘global’ experience than many other inhabitants of the Roman empire who in turn may have seen these soldiers as quintessentially ‘Roman’.
With Quo Vadis we start to explore another group of travellers and migrants in the early Roman empire: Christians. While the film is resolutely set in Rome, mobility is an underpinning theme throughout, in allusions to the spread of Christianity through the coming-and-goings of the apostles Peter and Paul, in the threat of expulsion or imprisonment hanging over the Christian community in Rome, and, of course, in the character of the heroine, the beautiful ‘barbarian’ hostage-turned-Christian Lygia. All of this set against the harrowing events of the great fire of Rome in 64AD and emperor Nero’s madness, impressively brought to life by Peter Ustinov!
We’ll have another Question & Answer session afterwards, this time with Dr Meredith Warren, Lecturer in Early Christianity at the University of Sheffield.