Factual error: The galley during the battle scene is rowed by slaves. Romans during this time period didn't use slaves to row their galleys. Rowers had to be able fight. If not, the Romans would be outnumbered 200 to 30 when they boarded the pirate ship as the pirates rowers would be able to fight.

Factual error: The actors and stunt drivers use only two reins to control the four horses that pull each chariot in the race. However, charioteers in ancient Rome used separate harnesses with two reins controlling each horse. In a race such as the one depicted in the movie, where four horses draw the chariot (two-horse races were common, as well), a real charioteer from the era would be holding eight reins.

Factual error: Al-Tair and al-Deberan are the names of the Arab Sheikh's horses, and he states they're named after the stars. Those stars were given their names by Arabian astronomers, and calculated astronomy by the Arabs emerged during medieval Islam in the 7th and 8th century CE, 674 years after the plot of the movie takes place.

Factual error: Before the chariot race, Sheik Ilderim pins a Star of David on Ben Hur's belt. The Star of David did not become a Jewish symbol until the Middle Ages.


Factual error: Quintus Arrius is fighting an enormous fleet of Macedonian pirates. However, Macedonia had been a Roman province since 148 BC and after the defeat of the Cilician pirates by Pompey in 67 BC the Mediterranean was free of pirates. The movie is set nearly 100 years later.

Factual error: When Messala is passing through Nazareth, he says they will be in Jerusalem by tomorrow night. Nazareth is approximately 90 miles from Jerusalem. It would take three days to cover that distance, not one.

Factual error: In the movie, Pontius Pilate is appointed to be governor of Judea around AD 32 (Judah is enslaved in AD 28, spends 3 years as a slave and then at least one year with Arrius before he meets Pilate, who is still not appointed). In reality, Pilate was the governor of Judea from AD 26-36.


Factual error: Before the spectacular chariot race, we have the "Parade of the Charioteers." Around the arena you see classical statues. They are just props, they do not influence the storyline at all, they are just dotted around the set to remind us that we are in the Roman Empire. All the statues are just plain white stone. Archaeological research shows that the great Greek and Roman sculptors always painted their sculptures. Skin, clothes, eyes, hair, were all carefully painted to make the statues look 100% lifelike. In the next thousand years the paint wore away, and now, when you go to a museum and look at Greek and Roman sculptures you only see plain stone figures. Yet in ancient Greece and Rome all those statues were elaborately painted. This error applies not just to Ben Hur but probably every classical epic film ever made.

Rob Halliday

Factual error: The circus maximus was built in such a way as to allow the entire track to be visible to the spectators. This is not the case in Ben Hur.

Factual error: Emperor Tiberius of Rome was a reclusive and vicious tyrant by 26AD when "Ben Hur" is set. Furthermore, by that time, he had retired to Capri and was rarely in Rome. In the movie, he's the picture of Regal benevolence, basking in the love of the crowds and showering glory on Arrias in victory. In real-life that never would have happened. Tiberius' Governor Sejanus would have presided over Arrias' triumph, not Tiberius. (01:23:00 - 01:26:00)

Factual error: When Judah is being led to the galleys after Jesus give him some water you see hills in the background, and a highway is going through them. (01:05:10)

Revealing mistake: During the chariot race, where the contestants are riding towards the screen, tyre tracks from the camera vehicle are clearly visible imprinted in the sand. (00:20:50)

More mistakes in Ben-Hur

Quintus Arrius: Now listen to me, all of you. You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live.

More quotes from Ben-Hur

Trivia: The spectator crowd in the chariot race scene was partially made up of small wood models.

Dr Wilson

More trivia for Ben-Hur

Join the mailing list

Separate from membership, this is to get updates about mistakes in recent releases. Addresses are not passed on to any third party, and are used solely for direct communication from this site. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Check out the mistake & trivia books, on Kindle and in paperback.