In the Gladiator, how did Maximus become a slave? The army believed he was executed, so he wasn't an offically known deserter due to this. Also, he was a Roman citizen, as a citizen you had rights. It should be clear that he was a Roman citizen because he had an army tattoo on his upper arm.

He was a free man with property, which was quite clear in the movie except that it was burned to the ground. Even back then you couldn't just pick up unconscious (free) people from their home and make them a slave if they are Roman citizens.


Rather than quoting from serious academic articles, I'm going to use some simple educational websites. The History Learning Site states:

Who were slaves? They were people who were frequently captured in battle and sent back to Rome to be sold. However, abandoned children could also be brought up as slaves. The law also stated that fathers could sell their older children if they were in need of money.

Similarly Spartacus Educational explains:

Slavery existed in Roman society from an early stage of its development. There were several ways you could become a slave in Rome. Some became slaves because they could not pay back the money they had borrowed. The government would also take people into slavery if they could not pay their taxes. There were also many cases of poor people selling their children as slaves to richer neighbours.

So Roman citizens could technically become slaves (although it would be unlikely to happen at his age).

In the film, he had a home, but it was burned to the ground and his family left dead. At this point, his previous "life" is effectively done and he is now an unknown nobody. Except for the tattoo.

In the movie, the tattoo (SPQR: Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Senate and People of Rome")) is on his upper arm. Vegetius (ancient Roman historian) confirms that soldiers were often branded, although he stated it could be on their hands to make it even more obvious if they had deserted. The punishment for desertion was Fustuarium (being clubbed to death). It does appear logical that, in the film, the slave owners who found and identified Maximus would have realised they could have lost a lot of money on a valuable slave if that had happened to him.

However, having said all that, it is worth remembering that it made for a fantastic story and so historical accuracy was not high up Ridley Scott's list of priorities. For more information on this, just check out this link which lists a large collection of the historical inaccuracies prevalent in the film.

  • Thanks for the elaborate answer. I'm still not satisfied, but I think it's just an historical inaccuracy or plot hole indeed. – invalid_id Mar 18 '14 at 7:12

Well due to the tattoo on his arm they thought he was a deserter and he refused to give them any information about himself to explain otherwise.

Any historical inaccuracy at this level of detail should probably be written off as a convenience of the story telling (like the flaming ballista bolts in the opening sequence etc.).

Even if it could be definitely proved that becoming a slave in this way this would have been completely impossible, how many of the audience would know and, out of them, how many would care?

  • He was supposed to be retire after the opening battle, so the tattoo doesn't really make him a "deserter". Or did they add some stuff to the tattoo when a soldier retires? It's just so important to the story (he has to be a slave to become a gladiator). Suddenly he is a slave, I just think that's a large gap in the whole story. – invalid_id Mar 17 '14 at 10:05
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    I cannot remember who it was as it has been several years since I saw the film but one of the slavers or fellow slaves mentions him being a desterter, I think it was as he was trying to disfigure the tatoo? Is it really a large gap? He is found, barely alive, by someone who sold him to a gladiator stable. Exactly what happens is hazy as we are seeing it from Maximus's point of view. – Stefan Mar 17 '14 at 11:03
  • From Maximus point of view it is indeed a black hole what happened. But he could at least have asked what happened. All soldiers had that tattoo, he only removes it after he hears that they think he's a deserted. But he doesn't seem to care why he's a slave and how that was possible at all. His chances of killing the caesar would be higher if he wasn't a damn gladiator after all. – invalid_id Mar 17 '14 at 11:44
  • I don't think he cared at that point. It did not seem to occur to him that he might be able to get to Caesar until the slave owner mentioned it. Do not underestimate how depression can effect people. At that point his wife and child were dead, as far as he was concerned had nothing to life for until the potential for revenge appeared. – Stefan Mar 17 '14 at 11:58
  • That also explains why he didn't fight in the grouping. But then why did he fight in the first arena at all, if he doesn't care about anything at all, then why does he care about survival by killing other "slaves"... – invalid_id Mar 17 '14 at 12:18

IIRC, he was found, half-dead, by a slave trader and sold into slavery. By the time he was discovered to be a free man, he was too valuable to his owner because he had already gained notoriety as a Gladiator. I believe by that point he enjoyed the spoils and adulation a winning Gladiator received, and since his wife and son were already dead he has nothing else to live for.

  • That doesn't explain why he's a slave, you can't just pick up random sick people that are free citizens. Wikipedia states: "New slaves were primarily acquired by wholesale dealers who followed the Roman armies". Picking random people up within the Roman empire is an insanely stupid thing to do. – invalid_id Mar 17 '14 at 10:10
  • I just looked at the Wikipedia for Gladiator and all it says is the slave trader "assumed he was a deserter". I'd have to go back and watch it again, I can't remember specifically if they stated what that assumption was based on. – Johnny Bones Mar 17 '14 at 10:12
  • That's indeed what is stated in the movie when people ask the slave trader about the mark/tattoo. But then every one that was once in the Roman army could accidently become a slave after retirement. Criminals could be slaves, but they should be officially marked as "criminal", assuming someone is one is just absurt imo. – invalid_id Mar 17 '14 at 10:18
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    Well, he was sold in Africa where it would probably be tough to confirm his status. Aside from the language barrier, he was far from his home base where he would be recognized. In that case, it was a bit of a "black market" deal, and Proximo profited immensely from Maximus' performance. So, the part about any retired soldier becoming a slave; was it a plot hole or an oversight by an ancient civilization? – Johnny Bones Mar 17 '14 at 10:24
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    Why would someone take the risk of being a cocaine dealer? Money, of course! :o) – Johnny Bones Mar 17 '14 at 15:08

In the movie, by the time he is picked up by slavers, he's spent. His wife and child are dead, his land destroyed, and he is close to death himself. After his recovery he is sold as a slave, Proximo mentions the tattoo and the slaver says he is a deserter. He doesn't fight at first because he is tired for working for others and doesn't care. He fights in the arenas because it's life or death, unlike the wooden sword tryouts.

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    There are enough flaws in this post to truly confuse me. Sorry. If you are not ESL you are more drunk than me. – Meat Trademark Oct 22 '18 at 5:16
  • Are you answering this question, or asking a new one? – F1Krazy Oct 22 '18 at 5:29
  • I've fixed up the grammar, and taken the liberty of removing the last sentence because it looked like you were trying to ask a new question, which is not what answers are for. – F1Krazy Oct 22 '18 at 5:33

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