A1: Epic Movie Plot for next “Gladiator


In review of the movie Gladiator, an imaginary character, Maximus, revolves within the real world of the Roman Empire. The real Emperor Marcus Aurelius, was the last of the “Five Good Emperors” (per Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). The previous five Good Emperors, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonimus Pius, all had peaceful, “Pax Romana” reigns and were noted for hand-choosing competent heirs, which established a bond legally as strong as that of kinship.


Contrary to the other four though, Marcus Aurelius mistakenly anointed his son, Commodus, to become the next emperor of the Roman Empire. Commodus would later be strangled to death by a wrestler. This passing of the Five Good Emperors, according to Gibbon, would mark the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. The plot of Gladiator would have Marcus Aurelius wishing to appoint a competent, benevolent ruler, Maximus, if not for the patricide of Marcus Aurelius by his son Commodus, before the pronouncement could be made. Per the movie, the “wrestler” who strangled Commodus would be the same Maximus, now a Gladiator, finally obtaining his revenge.


However, there was a real Maximus who was even grander and more historic than Maximus, Stilicho.


Stilicho was of humble birth, son of a Vandal barbarian father and Roman mother. Born only 25 years after Constantine granted official tolerance toward Christians. He was Christian in a time when Christians were not yet fully dominant.


Stilicho was Rome’s last great general, having never lost a battle, yet the city of Rome would be under siege for the first time in 800-years, within one month of his death, with the success of the siege  resulting in the sacking of Rome two years later.


As Stilicho was coming into power, the emperor Theodosius completed what Constantine had started. Constantine, would recognize Christianity shortly after his conversion to Christianity, but Theodosius would complete the process by making Christianity the official religion of the state. In doing so, he would anger the still Roman-pagan dominated Roman Senate.


For over two generations before Theodosius, since Constantine’s Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the Roman-pagan Senate had been arguing with the Christian emperors for a return to “traditional” Roman-pagan beliefs.


Stilicho, a semi-barbarian, served in this unsettled environment, joining the Roman army as many barbarians would do to gain honor in Rome. He rose in the ranks over the next 20 years fighting the Visigoths until, in 384 AD, Theodosius sent him as an envoy to the Neo-Persians to negotiate a peaceful settlement relating to the partition of Armenia. The emperor was so taken by Stilicho that Theodosius had Stilicho marry his adopted niece Serena.


The recent declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire did not sit well with the remaining Roman-pagans. On May 15, 392, the Western Emperor Valentinian II was found hanged in his residence. Valentinian had continued the imperial policy of suppressing Pagan interests over those of the Christians, so the presumed suicide looked more and more like an assassination by pagans. Theodosius’s wife Galla, sister of Valentinian, was convinced of it. To make matters worst, a pagan regime was put into place over the Western Empire, throwing out all of Theodosius’s appointments.


In January 393, Theodosius declared his son Honorius to be the Western Augustus and prepared to invade the west to place him on the throne.


Stilicho, fresh from his negotiations with the Persians was asked to help raise the army that Theodosius would lead to victory at the Battle of the Frigidus (Frigid River), against the now Pagan-led Eastern Empire. One of his comrades would be his future rival, Alaric, the Visigoth who commanded a substantial number of Gothic auxiliaries.


The decisive defeat of the Pagans (could they have been Judeo-Pagans?) would reunite all of Rome for the last time and of even more import, would forever establish Christianity in the Roman Empire.


Like a scene from Gladiator, humble Stilicho won over the confidence of his emperor so that shortly before his death in 395 AD, Theodosius appointed loyal Christian Stilicho to be the guardian of his two-year-old son Honorius, Following Theodosius’s death, Honorius became emperor of the Western Empire, while his brother Arcadius became emperor of the Eastern Empire. Neither proved to be effective rulers and Stilicho became the de facto commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in the West.


On the death of Theodosius, the Visigoths, under pressure from the Huns, elected Alaric as their King. Alaric broke his treaty with Rome and led his people on a raid into Trace. Stilicho led both halves of the Roman Empire into the Eastern half, but Arcadius recalled his Eastern forces on the advice of his Praetorian Prefect. Stilicho would go into combat with only the Western half, while the Praetorian Prefect would be slain by the returning Eastern Army. Alaric would make his escape, the first of many.


Two years later, in 397, Alaric again began to make trouble, and again Stilicho gained tactical superiority over Alaric, by landing forces at Macedonia, before Arcadius, again on the advice of the new Praetorian Prefect, ordered Stilicho to turn back. Loyal-to-the-end Stilicho, not wanting Civil War, complied with the order. But Alaric would escape a second time.


Each time the force would be applied to the Eastern half, Arcadius’s half. Was Arcadius an example of Gladiator’s Commodus?  Was he jealous that Stilicho was chosen by his father Theodosius to protect his brother Honorius and not him? Was he afraid that the always loyal Stilicho was plotting a coup d’etat against Rome? Was he hiding behind the advice of his Praetorian Prefects?


Or, were the Sanhedrin up to their old tricks of whispering lies into the ears of both parties to cause strife and dissention? Were the Pharisees plotting to split the Western and Eastern half off from one another, in preparation for the Persian and yet-to-be-created Muslim invasions two-hundred-years later?


Some of these questions would be answered in North Africa. Gildo controlled Mauretania, the granary of the Western Roman Empire. He would revolt against Rome after being egged on by Arcadius’s new Praetorian Prefect. Stilicho’s army of 5,000 troops were able to route the 70,000 undisciplined Africans. Gildo was captured and executed in 398 AD.


Once again, Arcadius had to find a new Praetorian Prefect. This time, Flavius Anthemius would be a respectable and superior choice in all regards to the treachery of the two previous Prefects, Rufinus and Eutropius. Anthemius fostered good relations towards the Western Roman Empire and later, the two capable leaders even shared joint consulships.


Close to 400 AD, Stilicho successfully sent a naval expedition against the wild Picts, who had caused trouble in Britain.


In 399 AD, in what would come back to haunt him, Christian Stilicho destroyed the oracles of the Sibylline Books, which were old pagan prophesies of ancient Rome. The Roman-pagans would consult the Sibylline Books before any endeavor of great import. To the Roman-pagan, they were priceless, and Stilicho would become their greatest enemy.


In the meantime, Stilicho was too busy saving their Roman Empire. In 401, Visigoth leader Alaric, conspired with the Ostrogoth leader Radagaisus for a joint invasion of the Roman Empire. Radagaisus, aligned with Alans, Sueves, and Vandals, attacked first by invading Raetia. Stilicho rushed his soldiers to the area, crossed the Danube River and crushed Radagaisus. Wasting no time, Stilicho turned his attention towards Alaric and his Visigoths, who had invaded Italy. Bravely hastening on in advance of his main body of troops, he hurled his crack units in a surprise night attack against Alaric’s position around Milan. Alaric had to raise his siege of the city. One of his chieftains implored him to retreat, but Alaric refused. On Easter Sunday at Pollentia, April 6, 402, Stilicho defeated Alaric and captured his camp, along with his wife. The ever slippery Alaric would once again escape to make trouble another day.


And as expected, Alaric had to once again be defeated by Stilicho at Verona in 403 AD, who as Edward Gibbon reports, only escaped by “the speed of his horse”. Finally Alaric had enough of Stilicho. A truce was signed and Alaric would never again attack while Stilicho was at the helm.


Radagaisus would return once again though. In 405, he raised an army estimated at 100,000 to 300,000 strong of Germans and possibly even Scandinavians and invaded Italy. This force of Ostrogoths, Vandals, Sueves, Alans and Burgundians were the largest force to have ever invaded the Roman Empire. Not even Hannibal had as large an invasion force. The 100,000 strong horde besieging Florence was attacked by Stilicho, driving them away. Pursuing, Stilicho caught the barbarians at Fiesole, surrounded and starved them. Then the Romans stormed the camp and obliterated all opposition, capturing Radagaisus. 


Stilicho was a military genius who had again saved Rome. He never lost a battle, continually defeated larger armies and inflicted great losses upon his opponents while conserving his own military manpower.


In the end, Stilicho’s heroism would not be recognized by his enemies, the Roman-Pagans. How was it that this military genius could never capture Alaric? Rumors and innuendos spread that Stilicho was intriguing with his old adversary Alaric, that he had invited the barbarians into Gaul, and that he planned to place his son on the imperial throne. How could a Christian who had destroyed the Sibylline Books be trusted with the honor of Rome, they would argue? Didn’t the evidence of all the invasions support the fact, that the Christian leaders of Constantine, Theodosius and Stilicho had turned the Roman Gods against protecting Rome?


Likewise, the emperor Honorius, himself a Christian, was turned against Stilicho, the man devoted by the decree of his father Theodosius to protect. The weak Honorius had been convinced that Stilicho plotted to place his son, Eucherius on the Eastern throne, recently vacated by the death of his brother Arcadius.


In 408 AD, instigated by Olympius, a jealous Greek official, the Roman army at Ticinum mutinied on August 13, killing at least seven senior imperial officers (Zosimus 5.32). This was followed by events which John Matthews observed "have every appearance of a thoroughly co-ordinated coup d'etat organized by Stilicho's political opponents." Stilicho retired to Ravenna, where he was taken into captivity. Although it was within his ability to contest the charges, Stilicho did not do so.


Like a scene out of Gladiator, the honorable Stilicho ordered his men not to resist. Without benefit of a fair trial, he was executed by Heraclian on 22 August 408. His son Eucherius was murdered in Rome shortly afterwards. The emperor Honorius restored his wife Thermantia, Stilicho's daughter, to her mother Serena. (Honorius had earlier married Maria, Stilicho's older daughter. After Maria's death in early 408, the emperor married Stilicho's other daughter, Thermantia.)


Stilicho’s death in 408 AD would mark the end of the Western Roman Empire.


The Roman-Pagan locals, now free of Christian Stilicho, fed up with countless invasions of barbarians, rampaged, slaughtering the wives and children of barbarian foederati throughout Italy. The reaction was predictable, all barbarians immediately flocked to the protection of Alaric, and clamored to be led against their new enemies. King Alaric crossed the Julian Alps and was knocking on the gates of Rome within a month of Stilicho’s execution. Alaric would lay siege to Rome for two years until storming into the Eternal City in August 410 AD.


For the first time in 800 years, a foreign invader had entered Rome.


Alaric, most likely Christian himself, did not devastate Rome upon capturing it. Honorius was not dethroned; although he became a co-emperor with Constantius. Constantius was followed by Aetius, the “last of the Romans”. Aetius defeated Attila the Hun in a decisive battle. But the Roman Empire was mortally wounded by the death of Stilicho and took its last breath on September 4, 474 AD.


The Eastern Roman Empire was now on its own, to defend herself against the onslaught of the Persian and Muslim invasions coming a little over a hundred years later. Jerusalem would be freed of Christian rule in 614 AD and again in 638 AD..


(Footnote: Sources for this segment came mostly from WikipediaStilicho.)