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Messala (Ben-Hur)

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Ben Hur character
First appearanceA Tale of the Christ (1880, novel)
Last appearanceBen Hur (2016, film)
Created byLew Wallace
Portrayed by
  • Francis X. Bushman (1925)
  • Stephen Boyd (1959)
  • Stephen Campbell Moore (2010)
  • Toby Kebbell (2016)
Voiced byDuncan Fraser (2003)
OccupationRoman nobleman
Roman military general

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Messala is a fictional character from Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, and its film adaptations, where he appears as the main antagonist.


Messala is a Roman nobleman and the son of a Roman tax collector;[1] he is also Judah Ben-Hur's boyhood friend and turned into his arch-rival after betraying him.[2] When Messala is reunited with Ben-Hur for the first time in five years, their different views and opinions ultimately end their friendship. Later, Messala betrays his former friend when he accuses him of attempting to assassinate Valerius Gratus.

Five years later, Judah, having survived the galleys, seeks revenge on Messala for betraying him and his family. Judah offers to drive Sheik Ilderim's chariot intending to defeat his rival. During the race, Messala's chariot breaks apart and he suffers serious injuries.

In the 1959 movie Massala dies of his injuries from the chariot race. However, in the novel, he continues to plot against Judah long after the chariot race despite being crippled and left in financial difficulty. Messala hires a Northman called Thord to kill Ben-Hur, but Thord allows him to live. Upon returning, Thord lies to Messala about killing Judah. Five years later, his mistress, Iras (daughter of Balthasar) murders him upon learning the true nature of the Romans.


In the 1899 Broadway play. Messala was portrayed by William S. Hart who went on to greater fame starring in western movies.

In the 1925 silent film Messala was portrayed by Francis X. Bushman as an ambitious and ruthless Roman who ceased to care for Ben-Hur long before being reunited with him.

In the 1959 film Messala was portrayed by Stephen Boyd.[3] In contrast with the book, there is a confrontation between Ben-Hur and Messala when Messala asks him to identify rebels. Messala dies of multiple injuries sustained in the chariot race - when his attempt to destroy Judah's chariot fails. After the chariot race, Judah sees his rival and former friend. In his final moments Messala informs him that his mother and sister are not dead - but are in the Valley of the Lepers. Thinking, due primarily to his childhood memories, that Messala was once a good man who ultimately became corrupted by Rome, Judah comes to forgive him when he says to Pilate it is his opinion that his mother and sister's current condition was not Messala's deed. Messala's mistress Iras does not appear in the film, nor is she mentioned.

In contrast with the 1925 version, Boyd's Messala appears delighted when he hears that Judah has come to see him and still cares for his childhood friend, before they ultimately have a falling out over their different beliefs.

In the book, Messala does not tell Judah that his mother and sister are alive. Another difference between the book and the film is that Messala and Gratus taking the Hur family wealth is not part of the film's plot.

In the 2003 animated film, Messala was voiced by Duncan Fraser. The character is quite different to the 1959 film. In this version he asks Ben-Hur for forgiveness before witnessing the Crucifixion with Judah and his family.

In the 2010 television miniseries, Messala was played by Stephen Campbell Moore.

In the 2016 film adaption, Messala's background is largely changed from his original version. He is a Roman orphan adopted by Ben-Hur's father and raised as his brother and has a romantic interest with Tirzah, Ben-Hur's younger sister. His grandfather was accused of betraying Julius Caesar and crucified. This has given him an urge to earn his own reputation. After becoming a Roman officer, he returns to Jerusalem only to find himself stuck in a dilemma between friendship with Judah and loyalty to the Romans. In the end of film, he reconciles with Ben-Hur. The character was portrayed by Toby Kebbell.[3]


  1. Wallace, Ben-Hur (1880), p. 81–2.
  2. Morsberger and Morsberger, p. 301 and 303.
  3. 3.0 3.1 McNary, Dave (16 March 2016). "Watch: First Trailer for 'Ben-Hur' Remake". Variety.com. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 31 July 2016.

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