Nel Segno di Roma (Sign of the Gladiator) (1959)




Director:   Guido Brignone

Starring:   Anita Ekberg ( Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra), Georges Marchal (Marcus Valerius, Roman Consul), Folco Lulli (Zemanzius, Zenobia's Prime Minister), Chelo Alonso (Erica, Zemanzius' Favorite and Dancer), Gino Cervi (Aurelianus, Emperor of Rome), Jacques Sernas (Julianus, Roman Centurion), Lorella De Luca (Bathsheba, the Vestal), Alberto Farnese (Marcello), Paul Muller (Slave Master), Mimmo Palmara (Lator), Alfredo Varelli (Vithos), Sergio Sauro (Flavio).

Queen of Palmyra, Zenobia, revolts against Rome & is captured (under Emperor Aurelian - 270-275).  And don't forget Anita Ekberg is in the movie, along with Chelo Alonso as the dancing girl. 




Spoiler Warning:


Emperor Aureliana listens to the debate in the senate as what to do about this Queen Zenobia in Syria. 

Queen Zenobia of Palmyra has been threatened for years by the presence of devastating Rome. The Roman Consul Marco Valerio is taken captive by the Queen's force.  He wants to get close to the Queen to convince her to attach her kingdom to the Roman Empire, making Palmyra a tribute-paying vassal state of Rome.  In chains Valerio has to work with others to continually push a wheel to keep moving a huge mill stone around and around to grind up the wheat into four. A prisoner falls onto the grinding area and the stone crushes the man's left arm.  Valerio uses the confusion to take a sword away from one of the officials and hold him as a hostage.  After the injured man is taken away to receive medical attention, Valerio throws down the official's sword and lets him up off the floor. 

For punishment for Valerio, he is tied to a X-figure wood frame by his hands and feet.  On horse-back Zenobia leads her escort out to visit the forced labor sites.  Up front with her is her Prime Minister Zemanzius.  She sees Valerioron the X-framwork and demands that he be taken down. 

Valerio has an aide - the Roman centurion Julio.  With the aide of another soldier, Valerio sneaks over the great wall around the palace.  He goes into the religious temple.  There he sees his beloved Bathsheba, the Vestal.  He calls out her name and she looks and sees Julio.  They hug and kiss each other.  They talk about their own situation and the situation of Valerio.

A man with access to the prison slips a key to Valeriro so he can take off his chains.  Then Julio and two other soldiers start firing lit arrows in among the huts of the labor camp.  A roof and a side wall of one hut almost immediately start going up in flames.  Some shout out:  "Fire!"  The guards start moving the prisoners.  The man who helped Valerio now helps him again, by taking Valerio in a different direction.  By now many other buildings are on fire.  The horses are let loose. 

Valerio now joins Julio in the hill overlooking the labor camp. 

The Prime Minister has a favorite girl, the dancing girl Erica.  She tries to calm her frustrated beau because he has plans different than those of the Queen. 

Valerio bursts into the Queen's room, and quickly informs her that he has no intention of harming her.  He says he has only one weapon and that's a knife.   He takes the knife out and puts it on top of a side table.  The Queen starts to pick it up, but then stops herself.  She starts to run out a door, but is stopped by Valerio.  He presents the idea that he could be her ally.  She just laughs at that idea.  But he keeps working on her.

The soldiers working for the Prime Minister come out to confront the forces of Julio.  Julio rides out to them and after a brief talk Julio is taken into their custody. 

Julio is free again and he goes to visit with Bathsheba.   A soldier messenger warns Julio that soldiers are coming.  Julio kisses Bathsheba goodbye and heads off with the soldier.  Julio goes over to see the Roman troops led by Marcello. 

Bags of wheat flower are brought to Palmyra and the citizens descend upon the wheat wagon like hungry locusts.

The Queen holds forth in the palace.  Erica dances for the Queen.

The plan of Valerio is almost ready to work, if it were not for the Roman General Marcello who started a sudden attack against Palmyra. As if that wasn't enough, Queen Zenobia had already for some time asked Syria and Persia to support her, in case of war. 

The Prime Minister lays out his battle plans for the Queen.  Valerio is there with the Queen.  A wrench is thrown into the plans of the Prime Mininster when Zenobia makes Valerio one of the commanders of the army.  This is a bad shock to both the Prime Ministers and the other army commanders. 

Valerio rides horseback with the Queen.  They are alone in the desert.  There is a small pond of water with lily pads blooming on the surface of the water.  Valerio takes one of the flowers of the lily pads and gives it to the Queen.  He then kisses her several times.  Then they both kiss each other.  Their little tryst is broken up by an archer who fires off an arrow that lands close to the couple. 

Soldiers grab Bathsheba and take her away. 

Back at the palace, Valerio retrieves the message from the arrow.  He reads it and then burns it.  He goes and meets with the Roman General.  During the meeting, Valerio admits that he has fallen in love with Zenobia.

It's the night before the battle.  Valerio is very restless.  The Queen notices this and asks him why is he so restless. 

Valerio listens to the conversation between the Prime Minister and his commander.  The Prime Minister wants to be King.  Valerio waits for the commander to come out of the tent and then he waylays him.  He brings him over to the Queen's tent.  She asks what is the meaning of this?  Zenobia is shocked to hear the meaning of this.  The commander is taken into custody. 

The Prime Ministes whips up the frenzy among the foreign leaders fighting alongside Palmyra against the Queen and her bad leadership.

The Queen is told that Valerio has left the camp. 

The day of the battle begins.  Bathsheba is in the temple with the Prime Minister and Erica along with the high priest.  It looks like the priest is going to make a sacrifice of the Vestal.  But as the priest prepares himself he is shot in the back with an arrow.  Julio and some other Romans burst into the temple.  A battle begins between the Queen's men and the Romans.  Julio sword fights with the Prime Minister.  Then Julio has to fight off a soldier.  He gets some help from his guardian angel, his helper in the prison, which frees Julio to stop the Prime Minister from absconding with Erica.  The fight between the two men starts up again.  An enemy soldier stabs the guardian angel in the back.  Julio now kills the Prime Minister.  The victor now rushes over to his guardian angel to check on him. The man is dead.  Batsheba comes over to Julio.  He jumps up and gives her a hug to comfort her. 

The two armies are on the battlefield now.  The easterners attack the Romans.  Zenobia is there leading her troops.  The troops, however, fall into a trap laid by the Romans.  Their cavalry has the earth beneath them collapse and they fall into large holes in the ground.  The Romans have catapults that throw flaming balls of fire at the enemy knocking quite a few soldiers out of the fight.  Then the Roman archers slice into the eastern troops.  Also catapulted onto the enemy are large spears.  The Roman cavalry now descend on the easterners and the enemy runs from the battlefield. 

Zenobia knows she has lost.  She rides up with one soldier to the Roman General and Julio.  She grabs a spear and throws it at Julio.  The spear pierces his armor landing in his chest.

Julio is saved by the doctors.  Zenobia is a prisoner.  The Roman General says she will be conducted to Rome.  She is obviously very upset by all this.  She falls on her bed crying. 

The parade arrives in Rome.  Bathsheba faces the Emperor Aurelian, supported by Julio.  Now Valerio speaks out for saving Queen Zenobia.  The senators says she should live. 

At his estate, Valerio comes riding in.  He and Zenobia hug and kiss each other. 

(Source in part of the story:  Sheba and the Gladiator at the Internet Movie Database.)


I had never heard before of Queen Zenobia.  But then who knows much about Syrian history anyway?  She was a bold leader, but one who in the end lost to the Romans.  That's not really a surprise.  But the Romans did not kill her.  In real life, the Queen was given an estate and was active in Roman society for many years.  Lots of eye candy with Anita Ekberg and Chelo Alonso.  Lots of outfit changes and hairdos by Ekberg.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


114 AD --  Palmyra became part of the Roman Empire.  It was an ancient Arabic city in central Syria, an important city located in an oasis 215 km (134 mi) northeast of Damascus. It was a vital caravan stop for travelers crossing the Syrian desert.

Though the ancient site fell into disuse after the 16th century, it is still known as Tadmor in Arabic.

193-235  --  the Severan Dynasty in Rome. 

226-651  --  the Second Persian Empire, known as the Sassanid Empire.  It was the last great Persian empire before the conquest of Islam.   

235-285   ---  in Rome it was the height of the period known as the Crisis of the Third Century. (Rulers:  Maximinus I, Gordian I & II, Pupienus, Balbinus, Gordian III, Philip I, Trajan Decius, Hostilian, Trebonianus Gallus, Aemilian, Valerian, Gallienus, Claudius Gothicus, Quintillus, Aurelian, Tacitus, Florian, Probus, Carus, Numerian, Carinus,

260-274  --  the period of the Gallic Empire. 

Zenobia was the daughter of Arab chieftain Zabaai ben Selim.

258  --  Zenobia's husband, Septimius Odenathus, became a Roman consul.

260  --  Roman emperor Valerian (253-260) was held captive and then killed by Sapor I of Persia. Zenobia's husband took to the field and she was right there at his side on horseback.

Her husband was assassinated along with his future heir. 

267-272  --  she reigned as Queen of Palmyra and as regent for her infant son Vaballathus.

She told everyone that she was supporting the Roman Empire by defending its Eastern portion against the Sassanid Empire.  She was actually just playing off Rome on the west to Persia on the east for her own future.  She made a series of conquests that eventually made her the ruler of much of Syria and Asia Minor.  

268-284  --  Illyrian Emperors.  (Several were from Illyria.)

269  --  Zenobia conquered Egypt.  She proclaimed herself the Queen of Egypt and declared (which was probably true) that she was descended from Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

270-275  --  Aurelian was the emperor of Rome.  His goal was to re-unite the Roman Empire, which he accomplished.   (His predecessor was Quintillus and his successor was Tacitus.)

272  --  Aurelian conquered Zenobia's kingdom.  Palmyra was besieged and sacked.  She and her son fled to Persia, but they were captured. 

274  --  Aurelian brought Zenobia, bound in gold chains, to Rome to parade her in his triumph.

Aurelian, however, was taken by Zenobia's beauty and dignity.  He freed her and gave her a villa in today's Tivoli, Italy.  There she spent the rest of her life.

275  --  Emperor Aurelian was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard. 


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