Did you know…
Contrary to popular belief of Ancient Rome gladiatorial fights, a Roman emperor actually put his thumb downwards to signify that a gladiator’s life was to be spared, whereas thumbs up meant that there would be no mercy for a downed gladiator and he’d have to die.
In the Ridley Scott directed 2000 classic ‘Gladiator‘, a historical drama film that is set in the Ancient Rome era, the crew was aware of this fact before, during and after principal photography. Nonetheless, since “thumbs up” is generally considered to be a good sign in present times, they decided not to unnecessarily confuse the audience.
The belief that the ‘thumbs-up’ and ‘thumbs-down’ gestures indicated approval and disapproval respectively entered the public consciousness with Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1872 painting ‘Pollice Verso‘. The ‘thumbs down’ gestures of the crowd in Gérôme’s popular picture were interpreted by the 19th century public as signs of disapproval. Actually, the artist probably never intended that, as ‘pollice verso’ just means turned thumb.
-Courtesy of IMDb and Columbia College.