The Image of Ancient Rome in the Cinema


Cleopatra the movieThe Image of Ancient Rome in the Cinema

Carl Mora

Film-Historia: Vol. VII, No.2 (1997) 221-243 

Abstract

The ancestral memory of the Roman Empire has been the most persistent theme defining European civilization. From this vanished political entity of antiquity the modern divisions of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe have drawn much of their governmental, military, religious, and cultural heritage and practice. It is not surprising then that Europe repeatedly has sought to reestablish a semblage of «the glory that was Rome»-beginning with Charlmagne’s Carolingian Empire in the 6th century A.D., continuing with the Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century A.D. (which lasted until 1806), and followed by the various renaissances beginning in the 14th century which sought to recuperate the scattered classical literary traditions. The culmination of these neo-Roman restorative trends came with the 20th century Italian and German Fascists’ overwrought attempts to recreate what they perceived was the martial spectacle and power of ancient Rome.




The constant conflicts among the competing nation states that eventually succeeded the Roman Empire periodically gave rise to attempts to reestablish the «Pax Romana» under the hegemony of one or another European state. First was Spain in the 16th century seeking to establish religious and ultimately political control over the rest of Europe. Then in the 17th and 18th centuries, France, England, Austria, Russia, and their allied lesser powers warred to maintain the «balance of power»-in other words a strategy to prevent anyone great power from establishing itself as the «new Rome.» This was followed by Napoleon’s effort to establish the predominance of the French Empire over all of Europe, an empire whose political and military symbols were deliberately patterned after those of Rome.

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