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Doing Justice to the Classics

“Gladiator” calls for New Roman Legion to save “the West”

A Dream that was Rome is a site containing “writings on man, masculinity, and the emerging patriarchal renaissance” composed by someone who calls himself “Maximus” in imitation of the fictional character in the film Gladiator. Like other sites Pharos has documented, A Dream that was Rome begins with the assumption that the modern “West” is in decline, and prescribes that women and men should “come together as partners, not equals” in order to “heal the damage done by feminism to heterosexual relations between men and women.” But rather than invoke antiquity itself in support of its misogyinst politics, A Dream that was Rome looks no further back in history than the release of Ridley Scott’s film.

A Dream that was Rome describes itself as “Pro-masculine. Pro-Man. Pro-Patriarchy. Pro-Family.” Its misogyny is evident in the way it describes feminism as “the disease that ails us” and feminists and “liberals” as “the demographics of western society who are hell bent to send all that was good about the West straight to hell.” Arresting this supposed cultural decline, he writes, “will be brought about by men who get women to submit to male authority and follow his lead once more.” “Maximus” describes being contacted by a woman wishing “to dump her cuck husband” and who is sleeping with a neighbor “to spite him [her husband] for being such a loser” and concludes that “she wants a real man, not a boy, to take her and make her a woman again.” He reports that “the horror story for men in [India] is unbelievable” because of the “cultural (Hindu) sense of women (literally) being ‘divine’ in purity,” despite the fact that one survey ranked India the most dangerous country in the world for sexual violence against women and another ranked it near the bottom for women’s well-being and empowerment.

The ideology of misogynist sites often overlaps with white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and A Dream that was Rome is no exception. “Maximus” warns “white female[s]” to “get pregnant or go extinct,” reflecting a common fear on white supremacist sites about the supposed dilution of the “white race.” He invokes a string of anti-Semitic stereotypes when he describes the threat to the “West” as a “Zionist cabal…of usurious banking families around the world” and a “homosexual/pedophile trafficking network of globalist elite satanists.” At the bottom of every page one finds a common white nationalist symbol that Pharos has documented, the ancient Roman acronym S.P.Q.R.

A Dream that was Rome’s appropriation of antiquity is subtly different from that found in other misogynist sites

As Donna Zuckerberg has shown in Not All Dead White Men, the misogynist movement online contains many factions that are often in conflict with each other. “Maximus” rejects the philosophies of the “Red Pill” community, because in his view it focuses too much on sex and not enough on moral revitalization. And unlike other sites that frame the supposed decline of the “West” in xenophobic and Islamophobic terms, he is a convert to Islam. Nevertheless the assumptions about women and how men should treat them that underlie “Maximus’s” politics are the same misogyny under a different name: “Man, Capital M.”  As “Maximus” puts it, “feminine wiles and tactics…will never work on a patriarch who is 100% in command of himself and also 100% knowledgeable of the truth of female nature.”

A Dream that was Rome’s appropriation of antiquity is also subtly different from that found in other misogynist sites, even as it tends to the same hateful conclusions. The author of A Dream that was Rome obviously identifies with the vision of ancient masculinity that the film Gladiator promotes. On nearly every page “Maximus” punctuates his arguments with images or video from the film, and he signs all his posts “Strength and Honor,” which is a phrase that Maximus uses as parting words in the film. The site’s title is taken from the scene in the film where the dying emperor Marcus Aurelius tells Maximus about the “fragil[ity]” of the “dream that was Rome,” which parallels the site’s author’s fears about the supposed fragility of “the West.”

But unlike other misogynist sites Pharos has documentedA Dream that was Rome does not attempt to describe what ancient Roman masculinity was like, much less to argue that it should be revived. Its focus is entirely on the figure of Maximus and what he represents in the film: an honorable soldier who stands up against the forces of corruption in an attempt to restore freedom to his fellow-citizens. The “Maximus” of this site casts himself in the same role, as the lone voice speaking out against modern cultural decline.

A Dream that was Rome thus displays the political power of representations of antiquity

The historical inaccuracies in the film Gladiator have been extensively documented, but “Maximus” does not attempt to use the historical reality of ancient Rome as a model for how we should behave. He does not make the kinds of arguments Pharos has documented on other misogynist sites, that we should emulate the patriarchy of ancient Rome. He does not seem to care if the words “Strength and Honor” that end every post have no ancient authority but were improvised by Russell Crowe in imitation of an Australian boarding school’s mottoA Dream that was Rome is less about resurrecting the ancient world’s patriarchal society, or even about using the prestige of antiquity to legitimize its hateful views, as it is about using the film Gladiator’s vision of antiquity to recruit and inspire other men to adopt its arguments about women, feminism, and cultural decline. “Maximus” even wrote a post exhorting his readers to contact him in order to “Join Maximus’ Legion to Save the West.” The one post where he invokes something authentically ancient as a model deals not with Roman military history but Plato’s Republic (another favorite text of white supremacists), interpreted through the lens of the 2017 science fiction film Ghost in the Shell. 

A Dream that was Rome thus displays the political power of representations of antiquity. The representation of Rome and Roman masculinity in Gladiator really is a “dream” — it never existed — but it is one that has inspired “Maximus’s” quest for what he believes is self-improvement and the salvation of his culture. Something similar is at work in those who find inspiration in the (also distorted and often unhistorical) representation of the Spartans in the 2006 film 300 (“Maximus” seems to have incorporated a Spartan helmet into his site’s logo as well, despite his focus on the Roman military). Something similar can also be said about the bronze statue of the Roman emperor Trajan that provides the background for each page on “Maximus’s” site. Its relevance to A Dream that was Rome is unclear — Trajan was a general in the Roman army and so may appeal to “Maximus” but does not appear in Gladiator — but the actual sculpture in the image is part of a monument to another man inspired by ancient Rome. It was commissioned and set up by the Italian dictator Mussolini in the “Via dei Fori Imperiali,” a street lined with modern sculptures of Roman emperors that Mussolini built on top of the remains of the ancient imperial forums to provide a setting for military parades connecting his fascist regime with the Roman Empire.

Imagine what might be possible if antiquity’s power to inspire were used for good

Sites like A Dream that was Rome illustrate the ancient world’s power to motivate, to engage, and to inspire. “Maxmius” is far from the only person to be inspired by Gladiator: publishers even described the boom in book sales following the film as the “Gladiator effect.” But as Pharos has shown again and again, too often the inspiration that antiquity provides leads people, like “Maximus,” like Mussolini before him, to embrace misogyny, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism. Imagine what might be possible if that power to inspire were used for good.

Pharos’ regular procedure is to link throughout our articles to archived versions of hate sites to avoid generating traffic and advertising revenue for them, but to provide one link to the “live” version of the site for documentary purposes. A Dream that Was Rome is no longer online.

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