The Ancient Scribe

Examining ancient culture's status in the modern era

HBO’s Rome: Historical Inaccuracies

Posted By on June 6, 2010

This may be a bit dated since the series ended some time ago, but with rumors of a movie floating around, I decided to watch it again. That reminded me just how many “oops” moments there were in the show.

HBO’s Rome is a TV series based on the historical accounts of the Roman Empire. Bruno Heller, John Milius, and William J. MacDonald are the creators of this British Italian historical show set against the backdrop of 1st century B.C Rome. This TV series primarily focuses on the scenario of transformation of ancient Rome from a Republic to an Empire. This show features the conflict between the Gauls and Caesar, and Caesar’s invasion (including Mark Antony’s death and Augustus’s rise to power as the first empire). This show also got a lot of critical acclaim, and attained major success in both HBO and BBC in terms of ratings. Needless to say, I have been a fan ever since they started airing it.

This TV series focuses on the lives and times of the people belonging to the upper strata of the society. It also pays equal attention to the lifestyle and the conditions of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two commoners who are soldiers in the Roman army. About them, one can find information essentially in Commentarii de Bello Gallico, written by Caesar. This TV series shows the civil war in 49 BC by Julius Caesar against the traditional Roman Senate. This was followed by his rise to absolute power, and subsequent imposition of dictatorship. This has always attracted my friend Neil, and given a chance, he can go on for hours about the phenomena of dictatorship, and the psyche of dictators, starting with Caeser. The first season ends with the Gallic Wars. The second season revolves round the conflict between Octavian and Mark Antony after the assassination of Caesar in 44 B.C, until Octavian’s victory in 31 B.C.

Though HBO has done a good job in providing a basic outlook of the city, how people dressed back then and the type of lifestyle they had, but on the whole the historical accounts feature certain inaccuracies which most historians, according to me, cannot deny. For instance, the characters of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo are sort of fictional characters; however, their names are real. The account about Atia, the mother of Octavian, is wrong. She was not a conspiring woman as shown in the series. She was actually a very pious and religious woman. She did not want her son to delve in politics in the first place.

Another aspect showing historical inaccuracy is that during the gladiator fights, the gesture of thumbs up does not indicate sparing the weak contestant, instead it indicates showing no mercy to the loser. Numerous noteworthy characters like members belonging to the Optimates (including the members of the traditional section headed by Brutus and Cato) have not been mentioned in the HBO series. The list of the missing names also includes the names of Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, Titus Labienus, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus and Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther. Overall, it is a colorful series and I really appreciate the way they presented the Roman era in the present day, though they still need to do a bit more research in my (fairly snooty and objectionable) opinion.


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