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Gladiator - Thumbs Up, Down, or Else?
This mistake was first pointed out by Roger Ebert, a Veteran of thumbs up/down. At the Colosseum, closing the thumb in the fist meant life and extending thumb meant death. But in the movie, thumbs up meant life and thumbs down means death.
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Rated 3.5/10 (139 ratings) Your opinion?
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Contributed By: ymeng2000 on 05-23-2000 and Reviewed By: Webmaster
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Presto writes:
The thumbs up, thumbs down argument has not even been resolved. I don't think a movie critic is one of the best sources on Roman history and its intricacies. Some historians believe the thumbs up was live, some believe it meant die, others believe it meant nothing at all. Nothing has been proven yet...
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ymeng2000 writes:
The slipup finder wrote: I have found any historians actually disagree with Roger Ebert.
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Hack Ace writes:
The thumbs up meant send him (her???) to the gods (ie kill them). Thumbs down meant lower your weapon and show mercy. Thumbs down could also mean keep them here on earth.
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Tadabiyashi writes:
It makes more sense (to modern people) to have it the way they did
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xsaudio writes:
it's been awhile since i've seen the movie, but if memory serves me correctly, and you are referring to the time that Maximus did not kill his opponent, it is clearly evident that Ceasar wanted Maximus to kill him with the thumbs up, but Maximus defied Ceasar by sparing his opponent. Guess i'll have to wait till it's on vhs and check again.....
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Moontear writes:
A friend of mine stated that the emperors never used thumbs up/thumbs down at gladiatorial contests. That was an invention of a painter who did a scene of a gladiatorial contest and added that little bit in. However, from what I understand, the thumbs up/thumbs down issue has never been truly resolved, or proven to have been used or not used. If there was a signal, no one seems to have recorded what it was. Just a little something Roman writers must have taken for granted. In the context that it's used in, and that most people assume it to be used, thumbs down means kill the person, thumbs up means spare them, they made a valiant fight. I recall the first time Maximus fights in the arena, Commodus looked like he really wanted to give a thumbs down when he finds out it's Maximus, but gives a thumbs up because he knows the crowd wants him spared.
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The_Loser writes:
Thumb up --> agree with the crowd Thumb down --> disagree ?
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ChunkyButt223 writes:
You are all wrong! As a Latin student, I learned that it was neither up or down. Romans pointed their thumbs to the side. If the thumb pointed toward their body it meant to put your sword away and let them live. If their thumb pointed away from their body it meant to gig 'em or kill them. Anyone who disagrees can bring it on!
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Juergen writes:
i read the same comment from siskel and thought he was right. Actually, if you look on the bonus dvd disc, there is the making of gladiator, or something like that. The archaeologists state that there was in fact a signal given, but whether it was up for life, or down, has been generally left to a film-maker's imagination, and that the actual signal is not known. just my two cents. check out the dvd.
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Gandolf2k1 writes:
I highly doubt you agree with Siskel, since he has been dead for a while.
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DarkSaber2k writes:
We could argue about this till we all die, but we will never know who is right and who is wrong. The Romans of that time are dead, all gone. Without them, we will never know what the signal was or meant or even if there was one. We can only speculate. Personally, I have always believed that Thumbs up meant spare him and thumbs down meant kill him, but I will never know for certain.
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Mr. Masks writes:
really, it doesn't matter if it was accurate or not. Let's say Ebert was right and that the thumb in the fist meant to spare them and a thumb sticking out meant to kill them. Ok, that's all good and well and he was right.. But how many people today would know that? Maybe 1 in 20, and that's pushing it. I'm very educated and I've never even heard of that. What I've noticed about this director is that he didn't make the movie for the critics, but rather for the audience. He used signs and settings that would be easily recognizable by the audience so that everyone could understand the movie, which is why it won so many awards. but like some of you have said, the thumb thing is still in dispute, so no one can really be sure.
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jwoo writes:
I've studied a bit of history before and from what I've read, I can't really tell much about the fate of the winning gladiator. But I know that back then, the weaker gladiator did have a chance to live. It was actually up to the audience. If they wave their handkerchiefs, he lives. If they put thumbs down, then the weaker dies. It was in a case like the masked gladiator. But that's all I pretty much know. From what I've heard, I only heard of thumbs up or down for the defeating gladiator.
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jwoo writes:
Whoops. Missed something else. Again, like said before by someone else, no one is really sure what they did with the thumb back then. I've heard of it as a "turned thumb." Many related to the expression of judgement like that, but not sure how exactly it was turned or why because there is no visual evidence for this.
15 of 6576 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
DarthVader9999 writes:
It is proven that what he did was and is correct. Ebert isn't who'd I ask about Roman history.
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Vasilis("Gladiator expert") writes:
Each caeser had their own method of establishing whether they should live or not.
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SamDanger writes:
Come on people. Check the books. Nobody knows how they did it. More modern artists confused everyone by painting the paintings with Gladiators and the Caesar giving a thumbs up or down. We know what it means. Did the Romans do something different? Nobody can honestly say for sure. Ask any historian and they will tell you nobody knows. They have theories, not answers
15 of 6576 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Megan writes:
Please, you're going to trust Roger Ebert? Just because he's good with thumbs up and down, doesn't mean he knows Roman history. Like everyone else has said, there is a lot of speculation over the thumbs up/down. We will never know what it truly was, unless some gladiators come back from the dead to haunt the people involved in Gladiator because they got it wrong. This isn't a slip-up.
15 of 6576 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Meliza Black writes:
Let's face it, the thumbs up/thumbs down thing (mainly thumbs up) was a sign of masculine strength in the lower region, you can adapt that to fit the movie however you like.Maybe thumbs up means it is good enough because he is showing enough masculinity and down meaning that he is weak.
15 of 6576 found this helpful. Did you? Yes
Jim writes:
jwoo writes: "... turned thumb ..." ChunkyButt223 writes: "You are all wrong! As a Latin student, I learned that..." Chunky, I don't care what you studied as a HS Latin student. I can take it further and can say that I've studied ancient Roman history and not just the language. The truth is (no matter how wrong chunky thinks we all are) that we don't really know the meaning. But most scholars believe that the turned-thumb, as mentioned by jwoo, meant an order to kill the gladiator and that that is where we get modern day equivalent of taking your turned thumb and passing it across the front of your neck like a knife as if to say "You're a dead man." But, as others have said, the movie used the method they did so that the audience would understand because those are the ones that most people today understand them to be. There are a lot of things the movie did to make an effort to be as historically accurate as possible but others that they knew were not historically accurate so as not to interfere with telling a good story.
15 of 6576 found this helpful. Did you? Yes

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