All About History
History vs Hollywood
This Hollywood epic won a record 11 Academy Awards — but does it make the cut for historical accuracy?
Ben-hur goes under the microscope
Director: William Wyler Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd Country: United States Released: 1959 01
The film is based on the 19th-century historical fiction novel Ben-hur: A Tale of Christ by Lew Wallace. The main character, Judah Ben-hur, is a fictional Jewish prince but his life runs parallel to Jesus Christ, who he encounters.
Towards the beginning, the Roman tribune, Messala, asks Ben-hur, at this point his friend, to provide him with information on anti-roman Jews. Ben-hur refuses to betray his own people and the film correctly portrays the tensions between the Romans and the Jews.
In the movie, Ben-hur is depicted as one of the galley slaves, the enslaved men who powered the Roman ships. However, this is inaccurate because slaves were not used in this capacity at this time — the ships were actually powered by free men.
Alongside the inaccuracy regarding galley slaves, the battle against the Macedonian pirates is also completely false.
The film is set during the lifetime of Jesus, between 4 BCE to roughly 30 CE, at which point there were no pirates with large warships.
The iconic chariot race towards the end of the movie portrays just how dangerous the sport was, if a bit toned down. As well as this, it correctly shows how successful chariot racers could gain a life of fame, glory and wealth through the sport.