How Accurate Is: Gladiator (Film, Ridley Scott, 2000)

Gladiator

Hello everyone! Today’s post is on the film Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe. To begin I should point out that Gladiator is only a historical film in the sense that Inglorious Basterds is; the names are right, and the story is quite satisfying, but there is little relation to actual history. Just as Hitler was evidently not assassinated, so too was the Roman Republic evidently not restored in 180 CE (I should point out that I am not making any comparison between these two events). It is, therefore, a difficult task to truly assess the historical accuracy of Gladiator.

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Book Recommendation: The Ottoman Endgame, Sean McMeekin

TheOttomanEndgame

Hello everyone! Today’s post is a book recommendation for The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Sean McMeekin. McMeekin is a professor of history at Bard University, and has written extensively on Russia, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Both a detailed narrative summary of the years surrounding and including the First World War from the Ottoman point of view and a (well-timed) explanation of many of the historical factors which lie behind the current geopolitical reality in the Middle East, The Ottoman Endgame is truly wonderful. Well-researched, well-written, and well-conceived, I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in either the First World War or the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Endgame is, in a way, tragic; although it is obvious from the first pages that the death knell has sounded for the Empire, it is difficult not to sympathize with their plight (though it is also difficult to pity them overmuch, in light of the vicious ethnic violence which erupted across the Empire in its final years). The period from the fall of Abdul-Hamid and the Balkan Wars all the way to the Greco-Turkish War and the resurrection of Turkey as a modern nation-state is covered in this book, each section more compelling than the last. The high drama of the First World War on the Eastern Front is exposed, from Russia’s near-victory at the Bosporus to Britain’s missed opportunity at Alexandretta. Each front and section of the war is treated to its own chapter, with the section on the Gallipoli campaign particularly detailed due to the extensive records kept during the investigation into its failure. As a reader, it is easy to get a sense of the personalities behind many of the chief players in this drama, particularly the Ottoman Minister of War, Enver Pasha (though it should be noted that McMeekin often presents the motivations of his protagonists as fact, when they are, in fact, his opinion). The prose moves quickly and a sense of suspense is lent to proceedings even if the outcome is already known.

In the end, the promised collapse of the Empire comes almost as an anticlimax; the Empire fades away rather than exploding, and in its ashes Turkey is almost immediately reborn. Mustafa Kemal’s feat of arms in the Greco-Turkish War is treated to many pages, and the Greeks do not come off as the heroes in the conflict (though neither do the Turks). Once again, it is difficult to avoid nostalgia at the thought that over two thousand years of Greek culture in Anatolia is in the process of fading away; at the same time, however, the vibrant culture of modern Turkey will succeed it. McMeekin also does not avoid the harsher aspects of the end of the Empire, treating with detail (and respect) the extensive ethnic cleansing during both the First World War and the Greco-Turkish War, while, at the same time, refusing to directly state his position on either side of the often contentious historical issues at hand. While this was likely necessary if he wanted to gain access to many of the archives he needed, it does leave the chapters involved feeling overly cautious. Regardless, this is an excellent historical work, and one that I could not recommend more highly. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a wonderful day!

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How Accurate Is: Rome, S1E2 (TV Show, HBO, 2005-7)

Mark Antony
Mark Antony

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be another post on Rome, this time Rome Season 1 Episode 2. There will be less to say about the episode this time, but as always there were certainly some inconsistencies present. I will add before I begin that, once again, the show has the potential to be enjoyable; however, it wastes that potential.

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Book Recommendation: Constantinople, Roger Crowley

Constantinople

Hello everyone! I know it has been a very long time since I posted anything here, and I apologize. The last month has been fairly busy, but now that that is over I hope to get regular (and longer, after this one) posts up once again. Today’s post, however, will be a book recommendation. This time, it is for Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, 1453, by Roger Crowley. Crowley, educated at Cambridge, has written a number of books, primarily focused around the Mediterranean world.

Constantinople is a wonderful example of a good history book, and it shares several key characteristics with others of its ilk. For one, it is easily readable and fairly short; though this is by no means necessary for a history book, if you have grown tired of the 1200-page tomes which have been discussed on this site in the past Constantinople, at a svelte 260 pages, may be for you. For another, it moves along quickly; the narration of Crowley is wonderful, and he certainly knows when to use more poetic language and when to revert to (excellent) prose. Finally, this book tells a story well worth knowing. If you do not know the events of 1453, I would highly recommend this book; the history of the Byzantine Empire is among the most interesting in European history, and the story of its fall perhaps even more so.

Not only is a story worth telling told in this book, but it is told well. The principal actors in the drama receive ample discussion, and a brief outline of the events preceding the siege is laid out as well, ensuring that the fairly limited scope of the book’s narration does not cause any confusion. The melancholy notes of the end of a 1000-year old empire (depending on prevailing historical opinions, as old as 2000) are not left out; nor, however, is the incipient Ottoman Empire villainized as the destroyer of Rome. In contrast, it is recognized that the Ottomans borrowed much from Rome, of which their capital was but one part.

In summation, this book is one I recommend highly; its scope is narrow, that is true, but after Europe (which I am sure you have all read by now) this may be something of a relief. 1453 is a critical time in world history; why not find out more about it? I hope you all enjoyed this post, and I look forward to returning (ideally) soon with a (hopefully) somewhat longer post. Have a wonderful day!

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How Accurate Is: Rome S1E1 (TV Show, HBO, 2005-7) Part 2

Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus

Hello everyone! Today’s post is part 2 of my post on Rome Episode 1. The topic of this post will be the Fact-Based Omissions in this episode of Rome. Although these were fairly common in this episode, they were much less common than the errors covered in the previous post.

One of the most important errors was the fact that Caesar was not consul when he and Pompey split, as depicted in the episode; rather, though he had been consul in 59 BCE, Pompey had just been elected as “consul without a colleague” for the first time in Roman history in 53 BCE.[1] This omission is fairly significant. It is possible that the writers of the show had wanted the alliance between Pompey and Caesar to be obvious without having to explain the circumstances of the First Triumvirate (which would also explain the complete absence of Crassus, who despite having died the same year this episode took place goes unmentioned[2]), and decided that the co-consulship was the easiest way to accomplish this.

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How Accurate Is: Rome S1E1 (Tv Show, HBO, 2005-7) Part 1

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be on Season 1, Episode 1, of the HBO show Rome. I know that it has been a while since anything appeared here, and I apologize; from now on, I will try to get posts up more often. Rome is in itself not a new show, but nonetheless made a significant impact on the world of historical dramas. The question, as always, however, is how rooted in history it actually is.

I should begin by saying that I am on the fence as to whether I enjoyed Rome. On the one hand, it presents a fascinating and complex picture of Roman history during the period of the Civil War and the Second Triumvirate; on the other, its mistakes (so far) are many, and it oversimplifies or flat out alters beyond recognition many of the leading players in the drama. The production values of the show are certainly excellent (which was an important factor in the cancellation of the well-received show after only two seasons); similarly, most of the actors do a wonderful job. It is the writing which, perhaps, could have stood improvement. In the vein of my recent posts on Troy, I am going to split my initial impressions of this episode into several categories, the first two of which will appear in this post. These categories are:

  1. Condensation.
  2. Hollywood (un)Romanticism
  3. Fact-Based Omissions.

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Recommendation: The History of Byzantium (Podcast, Robin Pierson)

HistoryOfByzantium

Hello everyone! For today’s post, I will be recommending a history podcast I recently found, The History of Byzantium. This podcast, narrated by Robin Pierson, views itself as a spiritual successor to The History of Rome, by Mike Duncan (which I have not listened to but have heard is excellent), and although I cannot comment on whether or not it succeeds in this respect, I can guarantee it does an excellent job in all other respects. The podcast has been going for three years, since 2012, and has currently reached as far as 811 CE. Though I have only currently listened as far as the death of Emperor Anastasius, I have found the story riveting, and am enjoying myself immensely, not to mention learning about a period of history that has always fascinated me.

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How Accurate Is: Renowned Explorers: International Society (Game, 2015)

REIS

Hello everyone! Today’s post is on the accuracy of Renowned Explorers: International Society, by Abbey Games. This game is an interesting case. While it does have its roots in history, it makes no pretense to be genuinely historical; however, I found the way in which it interprets history sufficiently interesting to justify a post regardless.

The background for this game is the age of exploration, in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The Americas and most of the African coastline, as well as Asia, have been charted by Europeans, but besides the coastline mystery abounds. The game therefore makes liberal use of pop culture and historical references to populate its world with a variety of historical and semi-historical events and characters. One treasure which can be found in the game, for example, is King Kong (or an equivalent), who can then be brought back to Europe to be displayed. On a more historical note, the locales visited by the band of intrepid explorers controlled by the player include islands in the Caribbean (populated by smugglers) abandoned forts in Hungary, and the coast of West Africa, presenting an interesting mix of global locations.

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How Accurate Is: Troy (Film, 2004) Part 4

Cassandra, giving a prophecy. Guess how many people believed her?
Cassandra, giving a prophecy. Guess how many people believed her?

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be fairly brief; I just wanted to write a final post for Troy. Of all the omissions in Troy, there is one as yet unmentioned which was particularly glaring. This was the absence of Cassandra, the famous prophet and princess of Troy. In the original Iliad, Cassandra was simply one of Priam’s daughters; it fell to later poets to give her the gift of prophecy along with the curse to never be believed.[1] She would have made a valuable addition to this film, lending a much-needed sense of historic tragedy; the fate of Cassandra is, after all, among the most tragic of the war. Cassandra was a prophet; she would have known she would be murdered by Clymnestra upon reaching Mycenae, but chose to keep silent about it, either because she knew she would never be believed or simply to spite Agamemnon. The mental fortitude required to know the fate of Troy and all its inhabitants but to have her warnings constantly dismissed is incredible. The absence of this complex side character from the war damages the film immensely.

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How Accurate Is: Troy (Film, 2004) Part 3

Paris being saved by Aphrodite.
Paris being saved by Aphrodite.

I hope everyone had a lovely week, and welcome to part 3 of How Accurate Is: Troy! The subject of today’s post is my personal favourite, Hollywood Romanticism. This subset of historical errors is the most widespread in Hollywood, and represents the love of screenwriters for a happy ending. In Troy, these errors find their expression in any departure from the story of the Iliad which steer Troy towards traditional Hollywood romance and a happy ending; this was almost certainly the largest category of errors in Troy. Many of these changes served to make Troy a happier story than the Iliad, but not necessarily a better one.

One of the first changes in this category is also the most ambiguous; the story of Helen itself. In the Iliad and later literature, as well as in discussions surrounding the story of the Trojan War, there has always hovered the question of whether Helen was taken by force or consented to travelling with Paris.[1] Certainly, both sides of the argument have merit; the film, in the spirit of Hollywood Romanticism, settles on the latter. Helen being in love with Paris ensures the palatability of the story, as it is difficult to root for a kidnapper (not to mention difficult to believe it of Orlando Bloom). Therefore, while this does not represent an error per se, choosing this side of the story does represent a predisposition towards the romantic.

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