Becoming a True Roman
First, let's consider the most explicit and obvious theme of the poem-whether it is the true underlying message of the poem is another question. Virgil announces the theme of his epic in his opening lines: Arms and a man I sing, who first from the shores of Troy exiled by fate came to Italy and to the Lavinian
shores-much was he buffeted on the earth and on the sea
by the power of the gods, on account of the unforgetting anger of cruel Juno, much also he suffered in war, until he could found a city
and carry his gods into Latium-whence the Latin race,
and the Alban fathers and the walls of high Rome.
(Book 1, lines 1-7)
He sums it up again at the end of the introductory section of Book 1, in line 33. "Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem." Roughly, "This is how hard it was to found the Roman people." We could sum up both expressions of the theme in these words: this is how much one man had to go through to found the Roman people. By extension, Virgil seems to be saying, this is what it takes to be a true Roman, to act in a way that helps to realize the divine destiny of Rome, which is to bring about a peaceful world. The imperial mission of Virgil's poem is to remind Romans of this destiny and to call them to live more as true Romans, less as wealth-hungry, power-hungry exploiters of those they had conquered. The more they lived the ideals he taught, the less likely a return of the civil wars that had torn the country apart for so long, until the victory of Augustus. Augustus wanted a renewal of ancient Roman values, and so powerful was Virgil's poem thought to be as a force for such a renewal that as soon as it was published it became a school text. Looked at in this way, everything Aeneas goes through has meaning for everyone who aspires to be a true Roman. In part, the first five books show the basic strengths such a human being must have, in part they show how much he must give up, how much he must outgrow. (There were women who were true Romans, heroic by the Roman standard, but since the heroes were mostly male, and for the sake of simplicity, the use of "he" seems appropriate here.) To take the basic requirements first: He must have strong natural pietas, reverencing and obeying the gods, reverencing, loving, and obeying his father and his other ancestors, loving and willingly doing his duty by his wife and children, being easily moved to compassion by the sufferings of all human beings. That last quality, of fellow feeling with all human beings, is humanitas, and without that Roman rule would be harsh and exploitative-as Virgil knew it too often had been. All these qualities Aeneas has from the beginning, but they are not enough. At first, like an Homeric hero, he wants death in battle and glory; he must give that up. He must become willing to put aside his human need for love. He must accept not only the loss of his homeland, Troy, but the loss of his wife, the loss of Dido, the loss of the comforting presence of his father. At first, Aeneas can only give up what he must give up under the direct influence of the gods or of his father. The comparison of Aeneas to an oak tree rooted deep in the Underworld, with its branches stretching toward heaven has been given as the fourth of the "top ten quotations," and it has been discussed in the section on metaphors. For ease of reference, here is the translation again: With such words [Dido] prays, with such lamentations
the most wretched sister speaks and speaks again [to Aeneas]. But he is not moved
with any lamentations, nor does he hear any voices gently;
the fates oppose [it], the god stops the man's kind ears.
And just as when an oak [is] mighty with ancient strength,
[and] the Alpine north winds with their blasts, now from this side, now from that, strive against each other to uproot it, and high
branches strew the ground from the shaken trunk,
[the tree] itself clings to the crags, and as high as it reaches with its top to the breezes
high in the air, so deep it reaches with its root into the Underworld; not otherwise the hero is assailed by voices from this place and that, and in his great breast he feels grief,
[yet] the mind remains unmoved; the tears fall useless.
(Book 4, lines 437-449)
Notice that it is "the god" who "stops the man's kind ears." If Mercury had not given him orders direct from Zeus, how could he have found the strength to leave? And weak as he in so many ways is during the first five books, how can he face the warfare waiting for him in Italy? He must be deeper rooted in the Underworld; he must in fact go down into the Underworld for the contact with a deeper power that can alone transform a hero full of human weakness into a Roman hero. Wisdom Gained from the Underworld
Here the questions begin. What is it about his experience in the Underworld that transforms Aeneas? Perhaps it is the wisdom Anchises gives him about the true nature of the universe, when he explains that one soul animates the whole universe, and all living things are born of it. Their souls are divine fire, but their bodies keep them in darkness and full of all kinds of emotions, and even when they die, the taints of the body remain, and they must be purified. Growth toward the full realization of such a vision would certainly be easier in a peaceful world, but if that is what Virgil was thinking, he says little that would express it. Far more time is spent on the vision of the heroes of Rome to be, and Virgil tells us that Anchises has kindled in his son's soul the love of coming fame. Then he describes Aeneas's return to the upper world through the gate of false dreams. Certainly one of the main themes of the last six books of the Aeneid is that love of fame is not only and always a good thing: it can lead to a kind of combat that is far more destructive than it needs to be. It can lead to a love of warfare as a place to win fame. And yet, how are men to be inspired to fight when fighting is necessary without the hope of winning glory? There is also the message that even those who fight only under compulsion and with the best motives will inevitably be taken over at times by rage and lose their humanitas. Yes, Aeneas is stronger and calmer in the last six books. He has put concern with his own human fulfillment behind him and lives for the fulfillment of his high destiny. He has been told that he will live only three years after his marriage to Lavinia, and there is no hint of any expectation that this marriage will bring him anything but another son, who will play a key role in the process that will lead to the founding of Rome. But so sad is his victory over himself that it seems fitting, when we meet Virgil in Dante's Divine Comedy, that he should be incapable of really understanding the joy of Heaven or the bliss Dante will get from seeing Beatrice again. Those who made the Aeneid a textbook, however, were not troubled by what has troubled later readers. Nor was the twentieth century Italian Fascist dictator Mussolini, who extolled the Aeneid as a means of stirring up Italian patriotism.
The Romans produced great poetry and prose. We know more about them than any other ancient civilization because they left behind a vast amount of literary and historical works. However they did not have the same impact on literature as the Greeks. In fact a lot of their literature, like their art, is ignored today. The Romans built great libraries with books they took from conquered territory and works they added themselves. By A.D. 350 there were 29 libraries in Rome. Literacy spread. The English historian Peter Salway has noted that England under Roman rule had a higher rate of literacy than any period until the 19th century. Latin was less expressive and more difficult to play with than Greek. With its long monotonous syllables it required a special skill to produce poetry with life. Latin was better for expressing clear, precise thoughts rather than shades of meaning. Reading Scrolls
inscriptions from Pompeii Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University, wrote in the New York Times: The books Greeks and Romans read “were not ‘books’ in our sense but, at least up to the second century. The ‘book rolls’ —long strips of papyrus, rolled up on two wooden rods at either end. To read the work in question, you unrolled the papyrus from the left-hand rod, to the right, leaving a “page” stretched between the two. It was considered the height of bad manners to leave the text on the right hand rod when you had finished reading, so that the next reader had to rewind back to the beginning to find the title page, bad manners—but a common fault, no doubt, Some scribes helpfully repeated the title of the books a the very end, with just this problem in mind.” “These cumbersome rolls made reading a very different experience than it is with the modern book,” Beard wrote. “Skimming, for example, was much more difficult, as looking back a few pages to check out the name you had forgotten (as it is on Kindle). Not to mention the fact that at some periods of Roman history, it was fashionable to copy a the text with no breaks between words, but as a river of letters. In comparison, deciphering the most challenging postmodern text (or “Finnegan’s Wake,” for that matter) looks easy.” Ancient Roman Book Market
Julius Caesar was a writer... Beard wrote in the New York Times: “All reading material was laboriously copied by hand. The ancient equivalent of the printing press was a battalion of slaves whose job it was to transcribe one by one as many copies of Virgil. Horace or Ovid as the Roman market would buy.” “Bookstores in Rome clustered in particular streets . One was she Vicus Sandalarius, or Shoemaker’s Row, not far from the Colosseum (convenient for post-gladiatorial browsing). Here you would find the outsides of the stores plastered with advertisements and puffs for titles in stock, often adorned with some choice quotes from the books of the moment. Martial, in fact, once told a friend not to bother to venture inside, since you could ‘read all the poets” on their door posts.” For those who did go in, there was usually a place to sit and read. With slaves on hand to summon up refreshments, it would have been not unlike the coffee shop in a modern Borders. For collectors there were occasionally secondhand treasures to be picked dup at a price. One Roman academic reported finding an old copy of the second book of Virgil’s “Aeneid”—not just any old copy but, the bookseller assured him, Virgil’s very own.” A new book could cost as much as two years of salary for a professional soldier, “The risks on cheaper purchases were different.” Beard wrote, “A cut price book roll would presumably have fallen to pieces as quickly as a modern mass-market paperback. But worse, the pressure to get copies made quickly meant they were loaded with errors and sometimes uncomfortably different from the authentic words of the author, One list of prices from the third century A.D. implies that the money needed to buy a top-quality copy of 500 lines would be enough to feed a family for four (admittedly on very basic ration) for a whole year. See Language and Writing
Ancient Roman Writers
...So was Emperor
Marcus Aurelius The late 1st century B.C. and the first century A.D. was the Golden Age of Roman literature. Great Roman famous poets included the naughty Catuluus, the romantics Tibullus and Propertius, the epic-maker Virgil and the love scribe Ovid. The great historians and rhetoricians include Horace, Livy, Cicero and Caesar from the later Republican period and Petronius and Seneca from the early Imperial period. Writers were not very well paid and had a hard time making money from their work. Casson wrote that one dramatist “made his living by selling scripts, and they did not make him rich; indeed at times he was penniless. It was written that three plays of his were written in his spare time from a job turning a millstone.” Writers received a lump sum from a book seller for the rights to copy his works. Once a text hit the streets there was no way to prevent pirated copies. One writer lamented, “My book is thumbed by our soldiers posted overseas, and even in Britain people quote my words. What’s the point? I don’t make a penny from it.” Other writers compared their job to that of prostitutes and called their publishers pimps. The Emperor Augustus once referred to a slim book of poetry he wrote as being “on the game, all tarted up with the cosmetics of Sosius & Co.” Writers like Horace that seemed to have done well for themselves did so because they were taken under the wing of a patron. Horace was put up in a house by Maecenas, Augustus’s unofficial minister of culture. Others had to work hard to plug their work. In the early 2nd century A.D. Pliny complained that in Rome, “There was scarcely a day in April when someone wasn’t giving a reading.” And the poor authors had to put up with small audiences, most of whom slipped out before the reading was over. Virgil
Virgil The poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is regarded as the greatest Roman writer. He is credited with transforming myth into literature. He wrote the epic the Aeneid , which appeared after his death and is regarded as a model of writing in the Latin style. Virgil saw himself as an outsider in Rome. He was born Publius Vergilius Maro in the village of Andes near Venice. His father was a farmer wealthy enough to pay for an education for his son. Virgil studied at Cremona and Milan before moving at the age of 17 to Rome, where he studied rhetoric and philosophy but didn’t stay all that long. After the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Virgil’s father’s farm was seized. The loss meant that he could no longer pay for Virgil’s education. Some powerful people in Rome sympathized with Virgil’s plight and helped his father obtain a new farm. These friends also introduced Virgil to Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus. One of Augustus’s ministers became one of Virgil’s best friends. He was also the writer’s benefactor, freeing Virgil from worries about money According to one old story Virgil held a funeral for a common housefly which he claimed was his favorite pet. Mourners and an orchestra were hired; celebrities and statesmen were on hand; special eulogies were read by prominent citizens; and finally the fly was buried in special mausoleum. The cost of the funeral? About 800,000 sesterces (around $200,000 in today's money). [People's Almanac] Virgil’s Life as a Writer and Death
Virgil Using the Greek poet Theocritus as his model, Virgil wrote Eclogues , pastoral poems describing the beauty of Italy. He followed that with Geogics , more serious and original poems about farming and the Italian countryside. This work established Virgil as a famous poet. Virgil’s life was devoted to writing. He never married and few events of his life seemed worth recording. He lived in Naples during the 12 years it took to write the Aeneid . Emperor Augustus took an interest in Virgil’s work and asked that parts of be read to him as it was being written. Virgil was still working on the text when he died. The Aeneid wasn’t published until after his death. Virgil becme ill and died while taking a trip to Greece and Asia Minor to verify facts for his book. In his will he bequeathed one quarter of his property to the Emperor Augustus. Virgil asked that the Aeneid be burned after his death because it wasn’t perfect. This request on the orders of Augustus was denied. The Aeneid had a big impact on Latin literature and Virgil’s legacy. It became the standard by which all other Latin literature was measured and lived on well past the Roman age. The Christian church called Virgil divinely inspired. Dante chose Virgil to be his guide in Hell and Purgatory in the Divine Comedy . Virgil’s work also had a big influence on Chaucer, Milton, Tennyson and others. In the Middle ages, his tomb in Naples became a religious shrine believed to be endowed with magical powers. Example of Virgil’s Writing
The Lacoon. a Greek work In the Aeneid Virgil, a Roman, wrote:
The Greeks shape bronze statues so real they
they seem to breathe.
And craft cold marble until it almost
comes to life.
The Greeks compose great orations.
The heavens so well they can predict
the rising of the stars.
But you, Romans, remember your
To govern the peoples with authority.
To establish peace under the rule of law.
To conquer the mighty, and show them
mercy once they are conquered.
Drawn from Homer's Iliad , the Aeneid attributes the origin of the Roman people to Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War. Although it is set in the distant past it has many features of A.D. first century Rome. Homeric themes are presented in a Roman way and battles are fought like Roman battles. Some key facts are different. Virgil records the events of the Odyssey as occurring before those in the Iliad (the contrary is true in Homer’s books). Many of the details from events in the Iliad , particularly the Trojan horse story, come to us from the Aeneid not the Iliad
Trojan Horse by Giovanni Domenico Tipeolo In the Aeneid the Trojans have been kicked out of the their homeland because of the war and the end up in Italy, which is caste as a kind of Promised land. There, Aeneas marries an Italian princess and their descendants founded Rome. The Roman emperors embraced the story and used the links to the Trojans to legitimize their rule. Virgil selected Aeneas, a grandson of Aphrodite and a member of the Trojan royal family, because he seemed to be the only Trojan in the Iliad who had a future. He kept Aeneas true to his character in the Iliad and made him one of the founders of the Roman race by incorporating an existing Roman tale about him. The basic theme in the Aeneid is that duty, honor and country have precedence above everything else. The work also has some pretty graphic language. Describing the death of Euryalus, Virgil wrote, “He writhes in death/ as blood flows over shapely limbs, his neck droops,/ sinking over his shoulder, limp as a crimson flower/ cut off by a passing plow.”
Death of Dido Michael Elliot wrote in Time a common complaint of the generation that was required to study the classic in school: “At school, I loathed Latin, in general, but I detested Virgil in particular, After you’d spent hours wading through conjugations and declensions and ablative absolutes and gerund and parts perfect, imperfect and pluperfect, there was the pointless torture of learning and then reciting lines of dactylic hexameter about this bloke wandering aimlessly around the Mediterranean at the whim of a perpetually pissed off goddess. I mean, even Milton was more fun.” The translation of the The Aeneid by Robert Fagles is considered first rate. Aeneid (Yale University Press) is translated in verse by Sarah Rudmen, a poet. Story of the Aeneid
After the fall of Troy, the Trojan hero Aeneas sets sail in search of a new home. After a fierce storm he becomes separated from his crew and ends up at Carthage in North Africa, made invisible by magic, in a land ruled by Queen Dido. Dido falls in love with Aeneas. He helps her build a royal city. Jupiter’s gets angry about this as Aeneas has become side sidetracked from his duty to found the Roman Empire. He tells Aeneas to quit dawdling and get over to Italy. Dido ultimately feels betrayed by Aeneas. When Aeneas leaves Dido flies into flurry of rage and grief and kills herself. Aeneas and his companions settle briefly in Thrace, Crete and Italy before finally choosing Rome as their home. Aeneas helps King Latinus of Rome fight against outsiders, marries the king’s daughter Lavinia and inherits his kingdom when Latinus dies, ruling over a kingdom of united Trojans and Latins. After this Aeneas visits the underworld and sees the heroes of Rome’s future. He returns with knowledge of magic and shamanism. Aeneas’s story ends when he is killed in a battle with Etruscans. When Aeneas catches a glimpse of Dido in the underworld he explains” “Oh dear god, was it I who caused your death?/ I swear by the stars, by the Powers in high...I left your shores, my Queen, against my will...Stay a moment. Don’t withdraw from my sight.”
Another view of Dido's death
Cicero (106-43 B.C.) was a famous Roman statesman, orator and writer known for his rhetorical style and eloquence. The scholar Micheal Lind wrote in the Washington Post, “No great mind in Western history —not Socrates, Plato or Aristotle—has influenced so many other great minds, Ciceronian eloquence was incorporated into Christianity by St. Augustine and St. Jerome...Machiavelli sought to revive the the republican political tradition of Cicero...The United States—more than even France—is a Ciceronian state.” Cicero’s ideas were important in the development of American democracy. For a long time schoolchildren were required to memorize his speeches. Many that had to do this recall Cicero as a pompous, long-winded bore. Now he is all but forgotten. Cicero was born in 106 B.C. in a small town, and through his powers of persuasion and without much money, he rose to the highest echelons of Roman government. By the age of 35 Cicero had established himself as the premier courtroom orator of his time. Cicero was tall and thin. He was a devoted father and enjoyed collecting books and paintings. He was committed to restoring traditional political values but was not great purveyor of the values he extolled. He once was charged with rigging a provincial lottery and other times was accused of hiring street toughs to settle matters. He divorced the woman who bore his children so he could marry a teenager from a wealthy, influential family. Book: Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician by Anthony Everitt (Random House, 2002) Cicero’s Writings and Thoughts
Cicero More writings of Cicero survive than of any other Latin author. These include around 900 letters. Among them are letters to almost every famous person in Rome who lived during his time. They also provided an invaluable look at everyday life in Rome. Cicero is famous for his speeches. About 60 Cicero’s speeches remain. They are regarded as some of the most eloquent speeches ever written. Numerous philosophical and rhetorical treatises and poetry have also survived, Cicero’s made Latin into an art form. His speeches and prose were so eloquent and stirring that “Ciceronian” became synonymous with “classically perfect,” “persuasive” and “polished.” The Oxford classic professor J.W. Mackail wrote: “Cicero’s unique and imperishable glory is that he created the language of the civilized world, and used that language to create a style which 19 centuries have not replaced, and in some respects have hardly altered.” Cicero is credited with introducing Greek philosophy to Rome and originating the idea of checks and balances. Cicero once said, "Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain always a child." Horace
Horace Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-8 B.C.) was one of the Roman Empire's greatest poets and the founder of a philosophy he called “idealized common sense.” He is the source of many proverbs and quoted phrases such as "Carpe diem" ("Seize the day")...”put no trust in the morrow.” Horace was bald, fat, and "touched with cowardice and torn between the pleasures of the country and need crawl at court." He was a failed soldier who once took off running in the opposite direction when his commander ordered him to charge. He later became a petty bureaucrat which gave him enough time to write poetry. His Satires and Epistles were classic commentaries on the Augustan Age. Horace’s Poems
Describing his life's work in his third book of Odes , Horace wrote: I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze And taller than the regal peak of the pyramids... I shall never completely die. In another ode, Horace wrote:
Happy the man, and happy he alone.
He, who can call today his own;
He who, secures within, can say.
Tomorrow do they worst, for I have
lived today .
Ask Me No More by
Lawrence Alma-Tadema - Ovid is regarded as the premier Roman love poet. Brought up in the province to an equestrian family, he moved to Rome as a teenager and wrote about the sensuous life he enjoyed in upper class Roman society. Famed as a kind of Roman Casanova, he married three times, had a great many lovers and was involved in a highly-publicized sex scandal. Ovid once wrote, "Offered a sexless heaven, I'd say no thank you, women are such sweet hell." He wrote that he learned about love from the mysterious Corinna who he rhapsodized about in his early Loves . As a teenager he wrote they were "two adolescents, exploring a booby-trapped world of adult passions and temptations, and playing private games, first with their society, then— liaisons dangeruses —with one another." Ovid was also a great storyteller. His Metamorphosis told the story of the Greek gods in a Roman context. He also poked fun of them. His irreverence helped led to the tossing of the Greek gods and replacing them with Roman ones. Ovid originated many versions of the myth stories we know today such as the King Midas, golden touch tale. Ovid's Love Poetry
Alma Tadema's Silver Favourites In the Art of Love , a carefully crafted "seducer's manual," Ovid wrote:
Love is a kind of war, and no assignment for cowards.
Where those banners fly, heroes are always on guard.
Soft, those barracks? They know long marches, terrible weather. Night and winter and storm, grief and excessive fatigue.
Often the rain pelts down from the drenching cloudbursts of heaven. Often you lie on the ground, wrapped in a mantle of cold.
If you are ever caught, no matter how well you've concealed it. Though it is clear as the day, swear up and down it's a lie. Don't be too abject, and don't be too unduly attentive.
That would establish your guilt far beyond anything else.
Wear yourself out if you must, and prove, in her bed, that you could not Possibly be that good, coming from some other girl.
Martial and His Sexually-Explicit Epigrams
On Marcus Valerius Martialis, Steve Coates wrote in the New York Times, “You have to be impressed by a plucky Spanish provincial, in the dangerous days of Nero and Domitian, who could manage to earn a handsome living writing dirty poems for the urban sophisticates of ancient Rome. [Source: Steve Coates, December 12, 2008]
sex with a goose Arriving in Rome around A.D. 64, Martial spent much of the next four decades composing short topical verse about life in the big city, an urban panorama as broad, as varied and as full of depraved humanity as any to have survived from classical times. In conventional but nimble Latin meters, he wrote gory epigrams about the Colosseum, sycophantic ones to flatter the ruler of the day, tender ones about such topics as a slave girl’s early death and, above all, comic ones aimed squarely at Roman society’s foibles. Preoccupations including comb-overs, stingy hosts, medical quacks, the poetry racket, the futility of cosmetics, consumptive heiresses and one-eyed women lend his books the ambience of a front-row seat at the Roman carnival. Modern readers, however, are drawn to Martial mostly for his scorpion-tailed epigrams of sexual invective, written, limerick- and graffiti-like, as raunchy entertainment. Even by today’s standards, many are grotesquely obscene; Martial takes us down some of Rome’s sleaziest streets (“I write, I must confess, for dirtier readers, / My verse does not attract the nation’s leaders”).
If Martial’s poems weren’t saintly, though, they were all in good fun (“My poetry is filthy — but not I,” he insisted). His targets were types, not real people, and many of his outrageous sketches, it has been rightly said, “come no closer to plausible reality than a Victorian Punch cartoon.” In this spirit, Martial riffs endlessly on prostitution, marital infidelity, oral sex, pederasty, exhibitionism, unapproved modes of homosexuality, and incest (“Of course we know he’ll never wed. / What? Put his sister out of bed?”). Roman sexual humor, it seems, when not simply gross-out comic description of intimate body parts — Martial wrote a notorious poem involving a loquacious vagina — hinged largely on the question of who might be on the passive end of any copulatory squirming (“I thought ’twas you that played the man / But find receive is all you can”).
In a review of Martial’s Epigrams translated by Garry Wills, Coats wrote in the New York Times, “In the case of lines far more lubriciously explicit than these, Wills embraces the Roman poet’s copious Latin obscenities in tumescent Anglo-Saxon translations, and in this sense certainly conveys the authentic Martial. He suggests that his happy-go-lucky rhyming verse and dogged meters work toward the same end, preserving some of the strict formality of Martial’s elegiacs and hendecasyllables. But in fact, Wills’s commitment to rhyme, not a significant concern for Latin poets, forces his syntactical hand and allows much of the real Martial to fall between the cracks. One neat example is a two-line poem that Wills translates: “Her teeth look whiter than they ought. / Of course they should — the teeth were bought.” A prose version reveals that Martial was able to insult not one woman but two in the same space: “Thais’s teeth are black, Laecania’s snow-white. The reason? The latter has ones she bought, the former her own.” Book: Martial’s Epigrams translated and with an introduction by Garry Wills (Viking, 2008) Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Most of the information about Greco-Roman science, geography, medicine, time, sculpture and drama was taken from "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [µ]" by Daniel Boorstin. Most of the information about Greek everyday life was taken from a book entitled "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum [||]. Page Top
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays Last updated January 2012
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire
BBC DVD Cover
Jeremy Hylton Davies
Lyall B. Watson
Country of origin
No. of episodes
21 September – 26 October 2006
Heroes and Villains
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is a 2006 BBC One docudrama series, with each episode looking at a different key turning point in the history of the Roman Empire. Contents
3.1 Episode one: Caesar
3.2 Episode two: Nero
3.3 Episode three: Rebellion
3.4 Episode four: Revolution
3.5 Episode five: Constantine
3.6 Episode six: The Fall of Rome
4 Media information
4.1 DVD & Video Download release
4.2 Companion book
6 External links
Series Producer Mark Hedgecoe has stated that he made the series in response to previous films that "have tended to ignore the real history and chosen to fictionalise the story." The series was filmed with the Panasonic SDX 900 DVCPRO50 professional camcorder in widescreen progressive scan mode at 25 frames/s. According to Mark Hedgecoe, a standard definition format was chosen largely because it was more forgiving to focusing errors and required less light than high definition, thus speeding up the shooting. In his opinion, the camera delivered better footage than a Digital Betacam camera, and provided rich, filmic feel, which was well-suited to capturing the gritty reality of the Roman Empire. The series was co-produced by BBC, ZDF and the Discovery Channel. BBC History commissioned the online-game CDX to tie-in with the series. Reception
Historical novelist Lindsey Davis writing in The Times points out that "the episodes were produced by different teams" and "it shows," stating episodes 3 and 4 work better than episodes 1, 2, and 5 and although she hasn't seen the final episode, she wants to watch it and she "can’t say fairer than that." She compliments the producers who "avoid the talking-heads style, though they use literature and the advice of modern historians," but criticises the series in that "once they fill up with battle and crowd scenes, the formula of self-contained one-hour dramas doesn't give enough scope," and because "we don’t see many women in this series." She concludes that "there is pleasing material here," stating, "the filming is good, the dialogue sounds real, the sets work, the military scenes will delight many," but she criticises the decision to not broadcast the episodes in chronological order as, "if they stick with their eccentric programming, we’ll be jerked about maniacally," stating, "this is history on the Eric Morecambe principle: all of the moments — but not necessarily in the right order!" Nancy Banks-Smith writing in The Guardian of episode one was complimentary of Michael Sheen’s "storming performance" as Nero, adding that she found it "slightly disturbing" that he "reminded you subliminally of Tony Blair." She was however critical of the docudrama format of "spicy drama sandwiched between simple slices of narrative" which she compared to "watching a play with someone who insists on explaining the obvious," adding that she "got the impression that the narrator was not talking to me at all." Of episode two on Caesar she stated that "the historians have got their chilly mitts on," pointing out that it "was so painstakingly dull that Nero, always a crowd pleaser, had to be shown first." Sam Wollaston writing in the same publication of episode three compared it to Rome postulating that this series "came about in response to all the mutterings from cross historians about factual inaccuracies in the BBC's grand romp last year." He states that "after some extensive research (I looked up Tiberius Gracchus on Wikipedia), I declare this one to be historically accurate, but also a grand bore." Highly critical of the docudrama format he states that "they never work, either as dramas or as documentaries," and goes on to explain that "there's no proper character development, and you don't care about any of them," before concluding that this "goes to show that sex is more fun than the truth." Ratings
Episode one (2006-09-22): 4.2 million viewers (21% audience share). Episode two (2006-09-28): 3.6 million viewers (17% audience share). Episode three (2006-10-05): 3.3 million viewers.
Episode four (2006-10-12): 3.4 million viewers.
Episode five (2006-10-19): 3.8 million viewers (17% audience share). Episode six (2006-10-26): 3 million viewers (13.6% audience share). Episodes
Episode one: Caesar
This is the story of the most famous Roman of them all, how he risked everything to tear down the government he served and bring revolution to Rome. —Alisdair Simpson’s opening narration
At the close of the Gallic Wars, Caesar finds his army encircled by a massive force of Gauls but wins a decisive victory with a brilliant counterattack at the Battle of Alesia. An inspiring speech to his troops promising to rescue Rome from its corrupt rulers and restore it to its people raises opposition from Senators Cato and Marcellus. Caesar refuses to disband his army before crossing the Rubicon plunging the Republic into civil war and turning his deputy Labienus and old friend Pompey against him. Caesar captures Rome unopposed after Pompey is forced to withdraw his vastly outnumbered legions and the senators and people flee. Caesar seizes the emergency funds from the treasury to fund his campaign but failing to pay-off his soldiers is later forced to decimate his own rebellious Ninth Legion. Pompey amasses a huge army in Greece while Caesar leads a one-year campaign against opposition in Spain. Caesar is forced to retreat inland by Pompey at the Battle of Dyrrachium but is victorious when the Senators force an impetuous attack at the Battle of Pharsalus. Caesar overturns the Republic and has himself made dictator for life (essentially the first emperor) only to be assassinated by rivals just four years into his reign. Cast
Mark Noble as Gaius Crastinus
Simon Dutton as Titus Labienus
Alex Ferns as Mark Antony
Sean Pertwee as Caesar
Crispin Redman as Cato
Karl Johnson as Marcellus
John Shrapnel as Pompey
Biliana Petrinsky as Cornelia
Douglas Reith as Lucius Metellus
Historical consultant: Mary Beard
Writers: James Wood & Jeremy Hylton Davies
Producer & director: Nick Green
Episode two: Nero
This is the story of what happened when the most powerful man on Earth lost his mind and brought the Empire to the brink of destruction. —Alisdair Simpson’s opening narration
Nero witnesses the Great Fire of Rome from his villa in Antium and hurries back to the capital to try to control the fire and save lives. Seneca tells him to rule like the gods and he vows to build an inspirational city of marble and stone on the ruins. The expense threatens to bankrupt the empire and Tigellinus is sent to rob the temples, turning many in the senate against the emperor. The Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero and have Piso proclaimed as emperor is revealed and the conspirators, including the trusted Seneca, are executed. Nero inaugurates the biggest arts festival in Roman history with himself at the top of the bill. In the furious throws of increasing megalomania he kicks his wife Poppea to death. A now isolated Nero leaves Rome in the hands of the senate as he sets out on a debauched tour of the empire. With his reconstruction still incomplete as the money runs out Tigellinus is ordered to initiate a suicide campaign to dispose the richest men in the empire. A rebellion rises up and the Senate sentences the fleeing Nero to death bringing the dynasty to an end. Cast
Michael Sheen as Nero
Catherine McCormack as Poppea
James Wilby as Tigellinus
Ben Pullen as Rufus
Hugh Ross as Senator Piso
Michael Maloney as Senator Natalis
David de Keyser as Senator Clavius
Trevor Cooper as Senator Scaevinus
Hugh Dixon as Seneca
Alex Lowe as Milichus
Stewart Pelmut as Street singer
Historical consultant: Mary Beard
Writer & director: Nick Murphy
Episode three: Rebellion
In the spring of AD 66 Josephus Ben Matedinyahu witnessed one of the greatest rebellions in the history of the Roman Empire. —Alisdair Simpson’s opening narration
The First Jewish-Roman War begins when the Jews rise up against their corrupt governor, drive the Romans out of Judea and defeat a counter-attack at the Battle of Beth Horon. The future Emperor Titus is sent to recall his father Vespasian from exile in Greece to lead the legions against the rebels in Galilee. Josephus Ben Matityahu commands the resistance from the city of Jotapata where many Jews take refuge from Vespasian’s campaign of terror. Vespasian leads a three-week Siege of Jotapata and Josephus is captured. Joesephus predicts that Vespasian is destined to be emperor. Jerusalem prepares for a final stand under the fanatical Yohanan of Giscala who murders the more moderate Hanan and unites the rebel factions. Back in Rome the Empire is thrown into chaos when Nero is overthrown and the army turns to Vespasian to be their new Emperor. Titus accomplishes the Siege of Jerusalem by cutting off the city with an encircling wall. Yohanan ignores Joe’s pleas for surrender and leads subterranean attacks on Roman siege towers that undermine his own walls. Titus leads a bloody assault that massacres the rebels and razes the city. Cast
Ed Stoppard as Josephus
Jonathan Coy as Florus
Jonathan Hyde as Hanan
Peter Firth as Vespasian
Adam James as Titus
Danny Midwinter as Placidus
Tom Espiner as Yaakov
Rod Hallett as Nicanor
Richard Harrington as Yohanan
Historical consultant: Martin Goodman
Writer & director: Andrew Grieve
Episode four: Revolution
In an age before Rome was ruled by emperors young Tiberius Gracchus had been brought up to respect his father’s principles of honour and justice, but in just 20 years he will die defending his father’s ideals, murdered by the aristocrats standing behind him, his crime; starting a revolution so powerful it changed Rome forever, setting on the path to its greatest triumphs and worst excesses. —Alisdair Simpson’s opening narration
Tiberius Gracchus first makes a mark on history winning the golden crown from General Scipio Aemilianus by being first over the wall at the victorious Battle of Carthage. Back in Rome, now the capital of the world, he finds the growing gap between rich and poor threatening the foundations of the republic. Urged to achieve greatness through further military exploits he sets out with reinforcements for the campaign of General Mancinus against the rebellious Numantine tribe in Spain but is defeated and forced to negotiate a peace treaty that the Senate later refuses to ratify. His actions while repudiated in the Senate have made him a hero amongst the Roman people and his new father-in-law Senator Pulcher supports him in a successful campaign to become their Tribune. He snubs the Senate and takes his proposed land reforms directly to the People's Assembly where his old friend Octavius vetoes them. He brings the city to a standstill when he vetoes all other business in response and has Octavius deposed. Octavius and the Senate spread false rumours that he intends to make himself king and in the ensuing unrest he is murdered. Cast
James D'Arcy as Tiberius
Greg Hicks as Aemillianus
David Hinton as Axius
Geraldine James as Cornelia
Tom Bell as Nasica
David Warner as Pulcher
Wendy Nottingham as Mother
James Hillier as Octavius
Sylvester Morand as Mancinus
Paul Brightwell as Pompeius
David Kennedy as Matho
Historical consultant: Mary Beard
Producer, director & writer: Christopher Spencer
Episode five: Constantine
In the autumn of 312 AD Constantine’s army was camped 40 miles north of Rome. One of the two emperors in the west, Constantine was preparing for the decisive battle against his rival Maxentius. Travelling with Constantine were members of a growing new religion. —Alisdair Simpson’s opening narration
In Rome the tyrannical Maxentius consults the gods Jupiter, Apollo and Mars to be told that, the enemy of Rome will be defeated, while outside the city Lactantius tries to convince Constantine to convert to Christianity. Constantine initially dismisses Lactantius but after seeing what appears to be a sign from the Christian god on the eve of the attack, he follows Lactantius' advice to adopt a Christian symbol. The two forces clash at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge where Maxentius is drowned in the Tiber as the bridge collapses and a victorious Constantine rides into Rome under the Christian symbol. Constantine creates an alliance by marrying his sister Constantia to the Eastern Emperor Licinius and the two issue the Edict of Milan as a joint decree of religious tolerance. Constantine’s rejection of the Pagan gods and funding of St. Peter's Church turns Licinius and the Senate against him. Senator Bassianus' failed assassination attempt on Constantine ignites a holy war between the eastern and the western empires. Constantine defeats his opponent at the Battle of Chrysopolis and the empire is united under one Christian god at the Council of Nicea. Cast
David Threlfall as Constantine
John Blakey as General Gnaeus
John Woodvine as Lactantius
Charles Dale as Maxentius
Andrew Havill as Bassianus
Paul Mooney as Priest
Louise Delamere as Fausta
Andrew Westfield as Bato
Lyall B. Watson as Senator
Danny Webb as Licinius
Lucy Gaskell as Constantia
Historical consultant: Averil Cameron
Writers: Colin Heber-Percy & Lyall B. Watson
Producer & director: Tim Dunn
Episode six: The Fall of Rome
At the start of the 5th century AD Rome was under siege, threatened by a vast army of Goths, forty-thousand of them were poised at the city’s gates. Rome was defenceless, even the remnants of its garrisons abandoned their posts. The events that brought Rome to the brink of disaster had their roots in a betrayal two years earlier. —Alisdair Simpson’s opening narration
The Roman Empire is under barbarian assault from Huns and Vandals and Emperor Honorius’s chief advisor Flavius Stilicho has negotiated a treaty with the Goth leaders Alaric and Athaulf but the Emperor has him executed for conspiracy. Honorius orders Olympius to slaughter all Barbarian families within the Empire and the survivors flee to Alaric’s camp. The Goths sweep through Italy to lay the Siege of Rome trapping the Emperor’s sister Galla Placidia within. Senator Atalus rides to the Imperial capital at Ravenna and Honorius agrees to the demands. The Goths withdraw but Honorius break the agreement sending reinforcements to Rome that Athaulf intercepts and eliminates. Alaric speaks directly to the Senate and they elect Atalus as Emperor but Honorius has Rome’s grain supplies cut-off and Atalus loses authority. Alaric travels to meet Honorius at Ravenna but is ambushed by his old rival Roman General Sarus who is beaten into retreat. Alaric finally leads the sack of Rome and captures Galla Placidia. Following Alaric’s death Athaulf marries Galla Placidia and his people finally settle in Southern France.