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Characters In Gladiator 2 That Are More Important Than You Think

"Gladiator 2" has been a quarter of a century in the making. Ever since "Gladiator" was released to universal acclaim back in 2000, everyone and their mother has been waiting for director Ridley Scott's highly anticipated sequel. Now, fans of the classic historical epic have only to wait until the November 22, 2024 release date to finally see what happens after Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) perished and Maximus (Russell Crowe) headed off to join his family in the fields of Elysium.

A detail-filled trailer for "Gladiator 2" already dropped on July 9, and momentum is building for the big holiday release. One thing that the promotional material has already revealed is that we're not picking up right after the previous story left off. Not even a little bit. "Gladiator 2" begins decades after "Gladiator" ends, which means there are a lot of new faces involved.

If you're confused by the parade of endless women in decadent dresses and rich men in togas with a name that ends in "-ius," you're not alone. Ridley Scott's penchant for adopting historically rooted characters and kind of just rewriting them into his own historical fiction also complicates things. Who is based on someone from history? Who's new? Who is inspired by a historical character but has been significantly altered to fit the film's narrative? Here is a quick primer on some of the most important people in the upcoming film — along with why they are (or at least could be) critical to the story.

Emperor Geta (Joseph Quinn)

Emperor Geta is one of the younger characters in the "Gladiator" sequel. He's a bona fide historical character in that there was definitely a real Emperor Geta and a darn interesting one, to boot. The historical Geta and Caracalla — his older brother by a year or so — were made co-emperors by their father, the ruthless emperor Septimius Severus. With the whole family officially ruling the Empire, the siblings immediately got down to the most important business of any Roman dynasty: exhibiting deeply disturbing behaviors and squabbling over petty rivalries. Over the years, the brothers started to hate one another, and when Severus died in AD 211, the rift between the two (which had been kept out of the public eye) became an open issue. They took sides, raised armies, and nearly sparked a civil war.

From what we've seen so far in the promotional material, it looks like Geta and Caracalla (Fred Hechinger) are present but not quite in line with their real-life counterparts. For one thing, they aren't at odds with one another, at least at first glance. They're also positioned as twins that director Ridley Scott describes (via Vanity Fair) as "damaged goods from birth."

That said, you can hide a lot of ill will with a well-edited trailer sequence. If the antipathy is there, we'll likely see it early on in the story. If it follows the real-world historical tale, the tension won't last long either, as Geta was killed in the same year his father died, famously bleeding out in his mother's arms in the imperial palace. His murderer? His brother Caracalla.

Emperor Caracalla (Fred Hechinger)

Emperor Caracalla is another infamous and very real character. Historically, he's one of the classic case studies (like Commodus) for why you shouldn't give ultimate power to a mere, inexperienced youth. Around the tender age of 10, the real Caracalla became co-emperor with his father, Septimius Severus, and eventually his younger brother Geta. In 211, his father and brother died, making Caracalla sole ruler of the Roman Empire in his early twenties.

Mud-slinging Roman historians are not kind to Caracalla. They report that, after marrying his wife Fulvia Plautilla at 14 years old, he eventually exiled her to an island and then killed her. He also killed his own brother in the arms of his mother, Julia, before purging many of Geta's friends and connections. Emperor Caracalla is remembered for raising taxes, waging pointless wars, and perpetrating senseless massacres. His mental state was also an issue. He associated himself with the legendary Alexander the Great, dressing like the Macedonian conqueror, naming himself Magnus (meaning "The Great"), and even organized his military in Macedonian style (complete with a division of elephants). Eventually, his megalomania reached god-like status, and he began claiming he was the son of the Egyptian deity Sarapis.

Caracalla's less attractive traits are cinematic villain gold, and Hechinger's character will probably exhibit them in some form in the film. If his "Gladiator 2" arc mimics his historical parallel, Caracalla won't survive, either. The unstable behavior of power-corrupted youth caught up with Caracalla quickly. While waging a campaign against the eastern powerhouse kingdom named Parthia (near modern-day Iran), the emperor was assassinated by the chief of his imperial guards. The name of that usurper? Macrinus.

Macrinus (Denzel Washington)

Serving under a Roman Emperor was no joke. Being the head of their security (a group called the Praetorian Guard) was a particularly high-pressure gig, even though it had its perks. Serving as the Imperial Bodyguard for an emperor as megalomaniacal as Caracalla was probably unbearable. It's no surprise, then, that on April 8, 217 AD, the head of the Praetorian Guard, a fellow named Macrinus, organized a plot to have a lower-ranking officer dispatch the emperor. So low was their respect for Caracalla that the assassination happened right along the roadside when the emperor, suffering from dysentery, stepped behind a bush to relieve himself. With Caracalla out of the way, Macrinus took over and ruled Rome for two years before he, too, was overthrown, captured, and executed. (Big surprise, right?)

In the interim, however, Macrinus played a fascinating role in Roman history. He was the first leader of non-senatorial rank to don the purple reserved for emperors. His unprecedented seizure of power is a hallmark moment in oligarchical Roman society, and it opened the way for men of even more capability and lower cultural status to aspire to the purple in the future.

In the context of "Gladiator 2," Denzel Washington's character will doubtless play a central role. However, the promotional material has thus far only positioned Washington's iteration of the bodyguard-turned-emperor as a rich power broker with a stable of gladiators. This works, since Macrinus was from an equestrian, basically upper middle class family. Whether he will follow the historical arc and become a treacherous leader of the Praetorian Guard or not remains to be seen. But we do know from the trailer that, like the real person, the aspirations of Washington's Macrinus have no limits.

Marcus Acacius (Pedro Pascal)

Characters like Caracalla, Geta, and Macrinus have clear connections to historical reality. Others, like Pedro Pascal's General Marcus Acacius, are purely made up to drive Ridley Scott's narrative forward. And when we say "drive," we mean that in the movie, Acacius will simultaneously be the invader who captures Lucius (Paul Mescal) and the love interest of Lucius' mother, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen). If you're looking for the individual who will push the story forward, this is the guy.

Yet there is no clear historical parallel or inspiration for Acacius. Instead, Scott and company have intricately woven him into the internal narrative fabric of the "Gladiator" franchise. In interviews, the director has described the character as a regretful man with an uncertain trajectory in life. He is given a backstory that includes serving as a junior officer under the man himself, Russell Crowe's Maximus Decimus Meridius. Pascal even points out that while working with General Maximus "back in the day," Acacius developed a similar code of honor as the great Spanish general. However, he clarifies that Acacius doesn't have Maximus' personality and is capable of different things.

While there isn't a clear inspiration for Acacius in the historical narrative for now, there's a good chance that certain parallels will pop up over time. This is what happened with Crowe's fictional character: While Maximus in "Gladiator" isn't technically a real person, there are several individuals in Roman history that could have served as an inspiration for his story. When General Marcus Acacius' full story is fleshed out, there may be more historical dots to connect.

Lucius Verus (Paul Mescal)

It's difficult to grasp the sheer multi-faceted importance of Paul Mescal's Lucius Verus — especially considering his comparatively insignificant role in actual history. Let's start with the scarce source material. While there is some evidence of a real Lucius Verus, there isn't much to write home about. Some histories list Lucius' mother, Lucilla, as having three children from her first marriage to Marcus Aurelius' co-emperor (also named Lucius Verus). However, Lucius the son never does anything of importance in the history books and likely died at a young age. This isn't unusual, as some estimates put the Roman infant mortality rate as high as 30% and suggest that half the children didn't see adulthood.

Obviously, Ridley Scott's story is going to shake up that narrative. Rather than die young or even have siblings, Lucius Verus is positioned as Lucilla's only son in "Gladiator," and one that survives the perils of youth in the Roman world. The historically inaccurate account is set to continue in "Gladiator 2," as we'll see the adult version of Lucius all grown up and fully alive. Not only that, but he will fight as a gladiator, channeling the aura of Russell Crowe's legendary Maximus in the Colosseum.

While Lucius technically does have roots in a real person, his entire character arc is embellished, extended, and exaggerated for the purposes of Ridley Scott's story. He may be little more than a blip on the historical timeline, but Lucius Verus is a critical part of this movie's alternate reality.

Lucilla (Connie Nielsen)

Lucilla is one of the few connection points between "Gladiator" and "Gladiator 2." She's also one of the strongest links between director Ridley Scott's fictional tale and the historical reality that it draws from. The real Lucilla was the real daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. She also married Marcus' co-emperor, Lucius Verus, earlier in life and likely had a son named Lucius Verus II — the one that Paul Mescal's character is loosely based on.

Interestingly, after Lucius Verus (the husband) died, Lucilla's father had her remarry a general named Claudius Pompeianus. This could be the inspiration for Nielsen's Lucilla hooking up with Pedro Pascal's General Marcus Acacius in the sequel. Pascal is in his 40s, which would be old for a soldier. Of course, Marcus Aurelius is long gone by the time "Gladiator 2" begins. In fact, if we're following the history books, Lucilla should be dead, too. In reality, Commodus's sister was accused of plotting against her brother, exiled, and killed, while Commodus lived for nearly another decade.

"Gladiator" reverses the fortunes of both siblings, which gives Lucilla greater significance in "Gladiator 2." With Commodus dead and Lucilla still alive, Nielsen's character will continue to fill that classic Roman female aristocrat role of a matriarch and marital stepping stone to power in the midst of power-hungry, testosterone-filled politicians endlessly jockeying for the same. The question is, will her role go beyond that tried and true stereotypical character formula?

Gracchus (Derek Jacobi)

Senator Gracchus plays a quiet yet critical role in "Gladiator." The aged senator represents the remnant of what traditionally made Rome so special. He fights for the greater good of the Roman people and ultimately is empowered by a dying Maximus (who himself is backed by the wishes of the late Emperor Marcus Aurelius) to restore the Roman Republic.

The Gracchus of "Gladiator" is historically inaccurate, technically speaking, since he was invented for the movie. However, Derek Jacobi's character happens to share the last name of a pair of famous populist revolutionaries who sought to reform the Roman Republic centuries before the era when "Gladiator" takes place. The Gracchi brothers of historical fame fought to improve a corrupt system, in much the same way that Senator Gracchus is tasked to do in Ridley Scott's first film.

While he doesn't feature too heavily in the original movie, his part in saving Rome is just heating up as the credits begin to roll — which means Gracchus (who is returning for the sequel) will likely have a much more important role to play moving forward. From what we've seen, the time jump of the sequel shows us Rome once again decaying under the frivolous rule of young, corrupted emperors, so something went wrong somewhere. Whether the rule of emperors Geta and Caracalla represent a failure of Gracchus and his fellow senators to restore the republic, or if the project is still waiting in the wings, remains to be seen.