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Organizational Behavior and Structure of the Roman Empire in Gladiator

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Organizational Behavior and Structure of The Roman Empire in Gladiator

Mitchell Patino

Kean University

Dr. Yvonne Catino

20 December 2016


        The movie Gladiator is an epic movie dealing with a visceral historical representation of the ancient Roman Empire. Gladiator deals with many characters under the main storyline. The main characters in the movie are Maximus, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Lucilla, and the Roman Military as a whole. The movie is set in 180AD in the Roman Empire. This is where the viewer sees Maximus. Maximus is a Roman General who commands a legion of Roman soldiers in a war against a brutal enemy in Germania. He serves under the great Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Marcus is old and nearing the end of his life, which means a transfer of power, is in order. Marcus gave Maximus, Marcus’ most trusted general, the chance to become emperor, end corruption, and restore Rome to a republic; that was the last wish of Marcus Aurelius. Unfortunately, Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, who feared his father would not name him heir to the throne, killed his father in his tent. This sets off a chain of events, with Maximus eventually escaping execution for not proving his loyalty to Commodus.

Maximus rides to Spain to save his family from execution but arrives too late. Finding his family executed and weakened by wounds, Maximus collapsed and awoke to find himself in captivity to become a gladiator under the school of Proximo. After resisting his captors, Maximus, hiding his identity for safety, shows his fighting prowess in the arena. This captures the attention of Proximo, who used to be a freed Gladiator, and gathers his trust. Maximus quickly gains recognition amongst his Gladiators and the people of the provinces. His personality allows him to become a crowd favorite, known as The Spaniard, and he demonstrates this in the epic games in Rome. Emperor Commodus, impressed by a gladiator, takes an interest in The Spaniard and asks him to reveal his identity. This is where Maximus reveals his identity, accuses Commodus of his crimes, and declares his revenge. A shocked Commodus realizes he cannot simply kill Maximus, which resulted in a dramatic shift in his attitude.

Commodus relies on trickery, fear, and wonder to manipulate the people of Rome and spy on his enemies. His treachery went even to the point of almost forcing his sister Lucilla to sleep with him or he would kill her child, the future heir to Rome. Afraid for her safety and those around her, Lucilla meets with Maximus in secrecy, along with a senator, and they devise a plan to grant Maximus’ freedom, regroup with his loyal armies, and kill Commodus. Proximo, convinced by Maximus’ call for just and freedom, decided to aide Maximus. Unfortunately, the cunning spies of Commodus and his Praetorian Guard foiled their plans, leading to Maximus’ recapture and Proximo’s death. Commodus personally challenges Maximus to a gladiatorial fight in the coliseum with the crowd to watch. Maximus happily agrees, but Commodus, assuring it will not be a fair fight, stabs Maximus right before the fight. Now, a weakened Maximus fight Commodus in the arena for all of Rome to see. Remembering his revenge for his family and his mission to save Rome, he kills Commodus with his last strength. With his dying breath, Maximus orders Lucilla to fulfill her father’s dream and restore Rome to her former glory.

While not all these events happened historically, as depicted in the movie, the attitudes, personalities, and leadership traits of the characters were certainly real. The importance of the movie is not to focus on historical accuracy but rather, the emotional side of humanity. Each character has defining attributes that causes them to behave the way they do. By focusing on their organizational behavior, decision-making, power types, conflict, and motivational factors, the following analysis factors in these effects on the individual and their interactions.

Organization and structure in Roman Empire

Roman Military

        The Roman military was a highly disciplined, highly motivated, fierce fighting machine. Being a soldier in the Roman Legions was a highly prestigious honor and a pathway to the coveted Roman citizenship. The command structure revolved around loyalty, espirits de corps, and discipline (Keppie 1984). The legion relied on a strict chain-of-command to ensure self-sustainment and organization. At the bottom of the command structure stood the auxillia, otherwise known as local soldiers recruited for specific operations. Above them were the renowned legionnaires, roughly 6,000 per legion. The general of each legion would handpick the officers, particularly those from a higher social class. Members of the elite class, known as equestrians, dominated these officer roles. All the way at the top stood the Emperor himself.

Each legion had a high surface-level diversity, many soldiers recruited from many different provinces. But despite these differences, they all shared the same deep-level diversity. That is, their values and espirits de corps were generally unified under one general general. Therefore, it was important for each Emperor to secure the loyalty of his armies (Luttwak 2016). The Emperor relied on legitimate and coercive power to maintain order in the army and empire. One of the defining factors of an emperor’s rule was his legitimacy or his right to an authoritative position. However, emperors also relied on coercive tactics. This use of power is prominent in the antagonist Commodus.

Despite the seemingly complex parts of the Roman military, their command structure represents a simple structure. In this case simple structure refers to an organization with a centralized authority in control, little departmentalization, and a wide span of control. During Marcus Aurelius’ reign, the military operated under a two-level simple structure (Luttwak 2016). These were the legionnaires, widely skilled in construction and heavy infantry tactics, and the auxilia, noncitizens who fought in less prestigious positions. This is important to understand because the authority in charge commanded this vast array of men and secured their loyalty, proving vital to their survival.

Roman Society

Just like the military, Roman society and politics based their organization according to social status. Roman society also based their manliness depending how high they were on the social pyramid.  Naturally, males dominated the society, with very few women in power. Slaves and gladiators remained on the bottom, the plebes/commoners above them, followed by the wealthy upper class, and the emperor’s family at the top. However, as seen in Gladiator, Commodus’ rule threatened an already weakened Senate. Their power was very limited and mainly served as a façade for the people (Bunsen 2002). Any non-Roman citizens were considered less than human, hence the desire to obtain Roman citizenship.



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