Gladiator 2 trailer makes a splash, begging the question: did the Colosseum really have naval battles?

Gladiator 2 naval battle
Gladiator 2 (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

It's been more than 20 years in the making, but Gladiator 2 is just a few months away. After a series of first look pictures, we now have the first trailer for the historical action epic. The trick with every sequel is raising the stakes from the previous movie to give movie fans something they haven't seen before. The Gladiator 2 trailer delivers on that, with one of the highlights being a full on naval battle taking place in the famous arena.

In the trailer, we see Paul Mescal, playing an adult Lucius who becomes a gladiator, taking part in gladiator battle where the entire floor of the Colosseum is flooded with water and multiple ships are floating on it and engaging in a battle; we even see what looks like a shark grabbing someone after they fall into the water. 

At the height of its power, Rome was certainly opulent, but could it really stage entire naval battles within the Colosseum? 

Believe it or not, yes, the recreation of naval battles was something that ancient Romans did as entertainment, called naumachia. As laid out in a video from TED-Ed, naumachia date all the way back to Julius Caesar, more than 100 years before the Colosseum was built, using both natural and artificial bodies of water. The Colosseum was actually built on the body of a lake, with the goal for the building to always be able to be filled with more than a million gallons of water and easily drained. However, the video admits it is still a mystery how Roman engineers were able to achieve this effect.

Though at least at first glance it looks like Gladiator 2 may have stretched the truth a bit with its depiction of the naumachia. The video says that the water covering the Colosseum floor was five feet deep and that miniature boats with flat bottoms were used so as not to scrape the floor of the arena. From what we see in the trailer, they certainly look like full-sized boats used in the battle scenes and the water definitely looks deeper than five feet.

The timeline also appears to be off. Emperor Caracalla and Geta, played by Fred Hechinger and Joseph Quinn in Gladiator 2, ruled Rome around 200 CE, but according to the TED-Ed video, naumachias were moved out of the Colosseum to their own venue around 90 CE. At that point, underground animal cages were added to the Colosseum, which made flooding the floor of the arena impossible.

Playing a little loose with history is par for the course with Gladiator (the original movie's depiction of Emperor Commodus is pretty much entirely fictionalized), but naval battles in the Colosseum was something that did happen, and man does it look cool in the movie.

As for the other gladiatorial combat we see in the trailer, while exotic animals, including rhinos, were displayed and hunted in the Colosseum, we couldn't find anything about anyone riding one like a horse. (Again, looks cool though).

Gladiator 2 stars Mescal, Hechinger, Quinn, Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal and Connie Nielsen. Here is the official synopsis for the movie:

"From legendary director Ridley Scott, Gladiator II continues the epic saga of power, intrigue, and vengeance set in Ancient Rome. Years after witnessing the death of the revered hero Maximus at the hands of his uncle, Lucius (Paul Mescal) is forced to enter the Colosseum after his home is conquered by the tyrannical Emperors who now lead Rome with an iron fist. With rage in his heart and the future of the Empire at stake, Lucius must look to his past to find strength and honor to return the glory of Rome to its people."

Get the chance to see all of this on the big screen when Gladiator 2 premieres exclusively in movie theaters worldwide on November 22. Watch the Gladiator 2 trailer right here:

Gladiator II | Official Trailer (2024 Movie) - Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal, Denzel Washington - YouTube Gladiator II | Official Trailer (2024 Movie) - Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal, Denzel Washington - YouTube
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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.