Humans, Heroes and Gods

„I am Spartacus!“ Those are the words that made them immortal – the heroes of our time. But where did their journeys start or more importantly, how did they come to your TVs?

In the 50s one genius invention was made to chase away all the sadness of your greyish daily lives and colour them in excitement. The TV-series (lat. series means sequence or chain) that once started with the depiction of the life of middle class families (e. g. Father Knows Best, 1954), later changed their focus to nerve-splitting westerns (e. g. Gunsmoke, 1952) and crime series (e. g. 77 Sunset Strip, 1958). However it was the famous TV-series The Simpson (1989) that achieved a global adaptation of our modern TV culture and many more are to follow…

Spartacus in Film & Television

There is no one as famous and loved as Spartacus. The cinemas have loved him and now our televisions do. The television series “Spartacus – Blood and Sand” (USA, 2010) has been an overwhelming success and don’t we all love to watch half naked athletes fighting on the arena? But as an archaeologist I can’t help but wonder about the authenticity of our beloved knight with his shinny no-armour!

Unlike many historical figures we are used to see on screen (e.g. Augustus, Nero, Cleopatra etc.) Spartacus does not have a fixed iconography, since we only find references to his appearance and character in ancient written sources. Therefore we have to keep in mind that the picture we have of Spartacus is all modelled by interpretations of a modern hero that did not exist in the ancient time!

Mordern interpretation of Spartacus: Andy Whitefield in "Spartacus - Blood and Sand"
Mordern interpretation of Spartacus: Andy Whitefield in „Spartacus – Blood and Sand“ (found in

If we have a look at the filmography of Spartacus, his journey started in the mid 19th century with the play “Gladiator” by Robert Montgomery Bird (1831), followed by the Italian film “Spartaco” (I, 1913) by Giovanni Enrico Vidali and eventually the most famous among them: “Spartacus – Rebell against Rome” by Stanley Kubrick (USA, 1960) and with Kirk Douglas in the leading role. Comparing the iconography of the previous Spartaci to our Spartacus of the 21st century, represented by Andy Whitefield in “Spartacus – Blood and Sand” (USA, 2010), we do notice a few resemblances. The distinctive rigid and resolute look from Edwin Forrest from 1831 carried out throughout the history of the depiction of Spartacus, but some elements have changed and adapted to the norms of our time. For example it is remarkable how Spartacus’ physical appearance changed. The first Spartacus seemed to be a bit corpulent, obviously muscular and strong, but still, corpulent, however Andy Whitefield represents the Hollywood ideal of an immaculate masculine torso. Whether this look corresponds to the realities of the ancient world shall be discussed later.

And so it is that our Spartacus from the 21st century is a product of modern interpretation‘s of a hero that did not exist in ancient times. His shape was modelled in modern times and adapted by the many values and ideals of today’s society. He is the shadow boxing of a feared and known figure from the ancient world, whose character we will have a closer look at…

Bibliographic references: Lochmann, T., Späth, T. and Stähli, A. 2008 (eds), Antike im Kino. Auf dem Weg zu einer Kulturgeschichte des Antikenfilms, Kolloquium auf Castelen/Augst bei Basel, 20.-22. September 2005, Basel; Schröter, A., Die Fernsehserie, ihre Form und ihr Wissen. Ein kurzer Überblick, Tv Diskurs 62.
Acknowledgment: Freya Redman, Dr Sascha Priester, Dr Tobias Bitterer

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  1. Angela sagt:

    Ich freue mich auf die Fortsetzung!!!! 🙂

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