The Classical Sources of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur

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Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was one of the most popular novels ever written, and its portrayal of ancient Rome and Roman institutions (e.g. chariot racing and penal system) influenced millions of people for well more than a century. Yet no one has ever identified Wallace’s classical sources or examined his research methodology. After discussing Wallace’s lack of formal education, this paper examines his access to and use of primarily Josephus, Plutarch, Homer, and other ancient and secondary sources, especially Gibbon and Pope, several problems (particularly the size of the Antioch Circus and length of the spina), and how subsequent theatrical and cinematic adaptations of the novel assumed, reinterpreted, or ignored the results of Wallace’s research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-75
Number of pages47
JournalInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Classics
  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities


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