Ridley Scott's Gladiator, released in 2000, proved to be a critical and commercial success. It was widely lauded for its computer-generated special effects, especially its sweeping panoramas of ancient Rome, and its dramatic performances. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Russell Crowe). A new era in epic cinema set in the ancient world had begun. Various claims to historical accuracy were made on the film's behalf. Classical scholars studied these claims closely, with mixed reactions. The film's historical advisor, Prof. Kathleen Coleman, emphasised the limited degree of input she had into the final product, given practical and artistic considerations weighing upon the director. It is quite remarkable that a concern for historical fidelity is regularly advertised by those who create historical fiction - as though at some basic level of persuasion or impression, the fictional element is inferior to the historical, upon which it is ultimately dependent. Nevertheless, Gladiator owes much less to academic histories than it does to a series of imaginations of ancient Rome, which extend back to Hollywood films of, for example, Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith, to 'toga' plays of the early 20th and late 19th centuries, and finally to historical novels of the 19th century. The imaginations of ancient Rome contained in these novels, and elements of them which continued to exert influence into the 20th century, are the subject of this paper.