Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Roman Empire

*Roman Empire. The broad context of the novel is the Roman Empire during the Golden Age of the Julio-Claudian emperors, who ruled from 27 b.c.e. to 68 c.e. This empire, the largest the world had yet known, extended more than eighteen hundred miles from west to east and included parts of three continents—Europe, Africa, and Asia. With more than 50,000,000 subjects under its protection, the empire was comparable in size to the continental United States.

In Lew Wallace’s novel, as in history, Rome has an ambiguous role. It represents both hostility and opportunity. Its hostility is exemplified in the crucifixion of Christ, the destruction of Jerusalem, the annihilation of the temple, and the expulsion of the Jews from their homeland. Opportunity is exemplified in the empire’s toleration of its Jewish subjects, who flourish in its cities. Ben Hur, the novel’s hero, is a Jew who obtains Roman citizenship and prospers within the Empire. Meanwhile, Christianity spreads rapidly over Roman highways and in the cities.


*Rome. Capital of the Roman Empire. This city, which ultimately will become a Christian Jerusalem in which Peter and Paul will preach and be martyred, is a powerful image throughout the novel. Rome and Jerusalem were founded around the same periods: Rome in the eighth century b.c.e. and Jerusalem about two and a half centuries earlier. One was the City of David, the other, the City of Caesar; Lew Wallace wanted to show both as “Cities of Christ.”

*Holy Land

*Holy Land. Eastern Mediterranean region corresponding roughly to the area of modern...

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Ben-Hur Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Allmendinger, Blake. “Toga! Toga!” In Over the Edge: Remapping the American West, edited by Valerie J. Matsumoto and Blake Allmendinger. Berkeley: University of California Press, with UCLA Center for Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century Studies and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1999. Wallace’s depiction of the decline of barbaric Rome and the birth of Christianity helps justify United States expansion in the West. Ben-Hur also resembles the formulaic Western.

Eddings, Dennis W. “Lew Wallace.” In Nineteenth-Century American Fiction Writers, edited by Kent P. Ljungquist. Vol. 202 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1999. Brief biography and criticism of Wallace’s works, especially Ben-Hur. Contains lists of Wallace’s books and selected periodical publications as well of lists of biographies and further references.

Gutjahr, Paul. “’To the Heart of the Solid Puritans’: Historicizing the Popularity of Ben-Hur.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Comparative Study of Literature 26 (1993): 53-67. New historicist attempt to explain the contemporary reception of Ben-Hur as the Protestant response to scientific challenges to the literal truth of Bible.

Mayer, David, ed. Playing...

(The entire section is 457 words.)