August 18, 2010 at 7:03 pm (Uncategorized)

Do you remember The Sopranos? Boy, that show had it all: Violence, nudity, coarse language and an absolutely compelling storyline. So it should not be a surprise that I fell in love with Rome, the BBC-HBO series from the mid-noughties.

It is a bit of a surprise (to me anyway) that it took me so long to discover it. I borrowed the first season on DVD from my parents about three years ago, but only watched it in July. It sat on the shelf, until finally we decided to watch it, and then instantly fell in love with it. My previous TV experience with Rome was the British TV series I Claudius (based on the Robert Graves’ novel), but this 

Whereas I Claudius began in the final years of Augustus’ reign, Rome begins fifty years earlier as Julius Caesar finally triumphs over Gaul (52 BC)  Caesar returns to Rome provoking a near civil war out of which he emerges as dictator (although it should be noted that dictator in Roman times didn’t quite have the same connotation as it does today). The first season concludes with Caesar’s assassination by the conspiracy led by Brutus and Cassius.

The second season is devoted to the struggle of Octavian, Caesar’s nephew whom he adopted as his son in his will, as he overcomes his rivals including Brutus and Mark Antony to become the Emperor Augustus.  

Interwoven throughout the two seasons is the story of two soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo who serve as men in the street whose destinies seem to coincide with the larger story at key point. For example, Vorenus is Caesar’s bodyguard, but at a crucial moment he is lured away by news of his wife’s infidelity and Caesar is assassinated.  

Like most historical fiction, Rome takes certain liberties for the sake of the story, but after all, it’s not a documentary.

Rome‘s projected length was five seasons, but unfortunately cost factors  (Rome was one of the most expensive series ever made and a quick viewing will makes that abundantly clear) truncated the show to two seasons (they historical pace really picks up in last episodes of the second season)

After I finished watching, I was of course interested in deepening my knowledge and have worked my way through a couple of books on Rome I’m reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall which covers the story after the events of the TV show, and another good book is  The Roman Empire by Paul Veyne which looks at the social aspects of Roman life.

Colin Wells, in his excellent little book , The Roman Empire notes that liberty meant pretty much anything the speaker wanted: You were always in favour of liberty, for the republic; your opponents were always factionalists, tyrants, enemies of liberty etc.  While Caesar may have been a tyrant aiming at making himself emperor, his assassins who spoke in the langauge of liberty certainly were not in favour of democracy other than the rarefied form where good families made all the real decisions.

Plus cà change.


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