Dr Jamie WoodUniversity of ManchesterWEEK 1: THE FALL OF THEROMAN EMPIRE ON FILM
Aims of today’s session To consider some modern representations/ interpretations of the end of the Roman Empire To think about the role that these depictions play in popular perceptions of the Roman Empire To consider what this can tell us about (a) fall of Rome (b) the contexts in which interpretation/ representation takes place To think about how cinema relates to other cultural representations of the fall of Rome
Medieval visions of Rome Successor kingdoms Victory over Rome (e.g. Visigoths) Common descent and peaceful succession to Rome (e.g. Franks) Institutional memories Medieval Papacy: the Roman church as successor of empire Imperial successors Holy Roman Empire (800): a re- founded empire Continuity in Byzantium
Renaissance and Reformation Renaissance: self-conception/ representation as period of rebirth of classical learning 1453: Fall of Constantinople to the Turks Reformation: Papacy and Holy Roman Emperor take on key role in counter-reform movement Personal identity: Writers such as Erasmus & Luther cultivate connections to church fathers writing under later Fall of Constantinople (painted 1499) empire (e.g. Jerome & Augustine)
18th & 19th Century The Grand Tour Emerging nation states in western Europe trace their origins to the post- Roman kingdoms; so end of Roman rule is important International empires look to Roman Empire as example (and try to learn from it) E.g. Training elites to govern the empire Roman Republic and foundations of American Republic (see Winkler)
In art andliterature 18th century: history-writing in independent Naples emphasise oppression of Rome Melissa Calaresu, ‘Images of Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768), detail from Ancient Rome in Late Rome: a Caprice View with Ruins based on the Eighteenth-Century Neapolitan Forum (c. 1730) Historiography’, Journal of the History of Ideas 58.4 (1997), 641- 661 19th century: literary focus on decadence and the decline of nations (including Roman Empire) Wolfdietrich Rasch, ‘Literary Decadence Artistic Representations of Decay’, Journal of Contemporary History 17.1 (1982), 201-218 Karl Briullov, Sacco di Roma 455 (1833-36)
Discussion of articles1. Winkler, ‘The Roman Empire in American Cinema after 1945’2. Cyrino, ‘Gladiator and Contemporary American Society’3. Winkler, ‘Cinema and the Fall of Rome’ Think about the following questions: What are the key points of your article? Can you think of any problems with your article? What does your article tell us about modern interpretations of the Roman Empire and/or its fall? Is this approach to the study of the ancient world valid? Why? What is its value and what are the risks?
Ben Hur (i) 1959 Set in reign of Tiberius Rich Jewish citizen betrayed by childhood friend and new Roman tribune, Messala, after refusing to submit the names of dissenting Jews Sold as a slave, eventually becomes a charioteer and defeats Messala, who dies in race Ben Hur is saved by Jesus, witnesses his crucifixion, which solidifies his conversion Compares the military regime of the Roman Empire with that of Nazi Germany Rome presented as a master- race, arrogant and destined to fall
Quo Vadis (i) 1951 Set in Rome, from 64–68, under Nero Main subjects: emergence of Christianity and the corruption of the empire Characters and events depicted are a mixture of historical and fictional Story of Roman military commander, Marcus Vinicius, who returns from the wars and falls in love with a devout Christian, Lygia, and becomes intrigued by her religion Their love story is told against the broader background of early Christianity and its persecution by Nero and his (failed) attempts to blame the Christians for the fire of Rome
Quo Vadis (ii) Parallel between decadent militaristic Roman Empire with the fascist powers of 1930s and 1940s Crowd size and granting of triumph to Vinicius, who would not have qualified for one , are anachronistic (and not in the original novel) The triumph begins with children beating drums; followed by masses of uniformed soldiers: compare with scenes at 8:35 of Why we fight Mention made of Roman origin of Fascist Italy’s fasces Rome as the “evil empire” archetype
The fall of Rome... The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) Agora (2009) • What are the main themes of these trailers? • What factors do they suggest are responsible for the fall of Rome?
The birth of Britain... 2004 • What are the main similarities and2007 differences between these trailers? • Who is made responsible for the fall of Rome? • What do the trailers suggest happened next?
A cultural phenomenon NOVELS. Gore Vidal, Julian (1964): historical novel based in primary sources; impact of Christianity on empire; Christianity and politics; blames Christians for murder of Julian VIDEO GAMES. Rome: Total War – Barbarian Invasions (2005): eastern and western empire; senate no longer powerful; barbarians; hordes; religious tension between Christians, pagans, Zoroastrians
Discussion What periods/ geographical-political areas are particularly interested in this topic? What can these depictions tell us about the fall of Rome? What else can they tell us?
Conclusion Reception Evokes strong responses Highly stereotyped visions of what actually happened 2 strands: A model to learn from and emulate A negative example: an evil empire Particularly important for thinking about the fate of nations and empires Utility Not very useful for telling us what happened in antiquity But possibly useful for thinking about the topic in different ways or bringing us back to traditional interpretations And definitely useful for what it tells us about periods in which such re-imaginings took (and still take) place