I’ve recently finished watching HBO’s Rome on Amazon Instant Video, and even though I consistently knew the outcome of every major plot point well in advance it was still shocking and fantastic to watch. Rome ran for 2 seasons from 2005 – 2007. It is a historical drama that could be described as a historically accurate Game of Thrones for today’s viewers. I will warn you now that the following may contain SPOILERS because I feel like 2000 years is a long enough time to allow such things.
The show is centered around Rome’s turbulent transition from a Republic to an Empire. The story follows Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, two fictional Roman soldiers, and their dealings with historical figures such as Julius Caesar, Pompey Magnus, Marc Antony, Octavian Caesar, and even Cleopatra. The depth of the characters is great and the actors portraying them are masters of their art. I found myself switching between loving a character and then hating them or vice versa. By the time the series had ended I had changed views on every character at least once or twice which just goes to show there are no blacks and whites of morality, just varying shades of gray.
Aside from the front all of the characters put up for public display, the show equally spends time on their more private lives. Everyone is having an affair or two of some sort or has some twisted motive for doing something seemingly benevolent. Nothing is ever as it appears in Rome and that is what keeps it fresh. Well, fresh in a two-faced and corrupt way I suppose. Funny how the more times change the more they stay the same.
Season one begins at the end of Caesar’s Gallic Wars and then quickly progresses into the civil war that follows. The rich aristocracy and senate were all too willing to do away with the powerful and charismatic Caesar who had become too popular with the plebs. It’s very interesting to watch the political struggle of Caesar trying to “peacefully” legitimize his position while his old friend Pompey is torn between his friendship with Caesar and his powerful alliance with the Senators.
Caesar wants to consolidate power and appeals to the always neglected majority of society, the common citizen. He promises them more jobs and more food provided by the city for them free of charge. The downtrodden lower class majority of Rome are all too ready for change and willing to make Caesar their king for these acts of kindness. This is outrageous for the aristocratic senators who have grown rich from the slave trade, heavy taxation of citizens, and general political corruption. There is nothing more anti-Roman, since the foundation of the Republic than the prospect of being ruled by a king.
These differences drive the conflict of the civil war, pitting Caesar and his best lieutenant, Marc Antony, in battle against his old friend, and Rome’s once greatest General Pompey Magnus. Pompey is supported by several well-known senators of the era including Cato, Cicero, Brutus, and Cassius. Sounds like a perfect appetizer for the Ides of March. Many great men were lost in this period of Roman history. By the end of the first season, I found myself uttering the historically inaccurate, but all too appropriate line, “Et tu Brute?”.
Season two follows the huge power struggle let loose by the death of Caesar. Three major factions seek to assume control of Rome. The Senators led by Cicero, Brutus, and Cassius make up one side while Caesar’s side has been split by support for his most popular lieutenant Marc Antony and his adopted son and heir, Octavian. The heated battles and political intrigue ravage the Italian, Greek, and even Egyptian countrysides. The show is derailed on more than one occasion by the manipulative and self-serving seductress, Cleopatra, who is all too skilled at seduction.
My favorite part of the show was watching Octavian’s rise from a pampered intellectual youth into THE most dynamic and powerful figure of the age. The attention to detail the show follows is rather commendable. For instance, when returning from his study in Greece the now grown Octavian comes with his new best friend Agrippa in tow. As a history nerd, I freaked out when Agrippa became a semi-regular character on the show. The cunning Octavian and the mighty Agrippa vs the world, I couldn’t not root for them knowing the history behind these great men.
I’ve been intentionally silent on the plots surrounding Caesar and Octavian’s family as well as that of the lives of Pullo and Vorenus. This is because these are lesser known stories or outright fiction made for the show and those I would not spoil for you, dear reader. I will, however, spoil season two and even the possibly currently in production season three. Season two ends with Octavian winning the civil war and becoming the single most powerful man in Rome taking the title First Citizen. Season three will see him reforming the republic into an empire and changing his name to Augustus.
I hope season three actually does get made, I could watch this show forever and technically they still have 500+ more years of material they could write into the show. I’d even be down for a Byzantine spin-off series after the fall of the Western empire. That could prolong the show another 1000 years. Or we could go back to the founding of the Roman Kingdom for a prequel show. With 2000 years of history at your fingertips, HBO has options. If you like Roman history or you enjoy Game of Thrones then you’ll likely love HBO’s Rome. It’s available on Amazon Instant Video for anyone who has Amazon Prime.