Top Three Ancient Roman Controversies Posted by on Apr 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

There are certain controversies about ancient Rome that scholars have continued to argue over. Here is my Top Three List of controversies about ancient Rome.

1) There are a lot of controversies surrounding gladiators. There’s a popular belief that before gladiators fought to the death, they recited the phrase, “Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant”. The phrase means “Hail Emperor, those who are about to die salute you”. However there is a growing body of scholars that argue that this phrase was not a routine salute. There is very little mention in ancient sources about the use of this quote. Therefore some scholars believe that there was a singular incident where some condemned criminals recited this phrase before Emperor Claudius; in hopes of attaining the Emperor’s mercy. Moreover, scholars argue that this incident was misunderstood as being a customary salute that all the gladiators used for every fight.


2) There’s also the controversy over the pollice verso, which is the “thumbs down” gesture typically believed to have been the signal for a gladiator to slay his opponent. Some scholars believe that it wasn’t a downturned thumb that was used to signal death. Rather the thumb was enclosed within the fist to signal death. There are other scholars that believe that the signal for death was the thumb held horizontally, apart from the fingers. Whatever the signal may be, there’s no denying that the “thumbs down” version has dominated the imagination of popular culture.


3) Not only are there controversies about specifics related to gladiators, there are also controversies about Julius Caesar as well. For example, after crossing the Rubicon, Julius Caesar was quoted as saying “Alea iacta est” which in Latin means  “The die is cast”. However, scholars say that he borrowed this quote from a Greek playwright named Menander, which would have meant that the original quote was in Greek, not Latin. If that’s the case, then the correct phrase would have been “alea jacta esto”, which is a more precise translation of the Greek phrase “Let the dice be cast”. What’s puzzling is that Plutarch favored the Greek translation while Suetonius favored the Latin translation. The debate goes on as to what Julius Caesar actually said, which brings up the question, “Does it matter what Julius Caesar actually said?” Well perhaps it does. If you’re the scholar that supports the Latin translation, then you could argue that perhaps Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon was a way of Cesar resigning to his fate to destiny. A kind “oh well, leave it up to fate” sort of mentality. However, if you’re the scholar that supports the Greek translation, you could argue that Caesar took a deliberate and active initiative to disobey the Senate. In layman’s terms it might mean, “there’s no looking back, cross the Rubicon!”


There are so many controversies out there that relates to ancient Rome. So, let me pose the question, what are your top three ancient Roman controversies?


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  1. Ben:

    Latin or Greek translation can be very controversial. This is why people should always rely on professional translation services when they need a document translated, whether it is a literary, legal or technical document.