Rome is a historical drama television series created by John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller.
Rome is set in the 1st century BC, during Ancient Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire.
The series primarily chronicles the lives and deeds of the rich, powerful, and historically significant, but it also focuses on the lives, fortunes, families, and acquaintances of two common men: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, fictionalised versions of a pair of Roman soldiers mentioned in Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico. The fictional Vorenus and Pullo manage to witness and often influence many of the historical events presented in the series, although some dramatic licence is taken.
The first season depicts Julius Caesar’s civil war of 49 BC against the traditionalist conservative faction in the Roman Senate (the Optimates), his rise to dictatorship over Rome, and his fall, spanning the time from the end of his Gallic Wars (52 BC or 701 ab urbe condita) until his assassination on 15 March 44 BC (the infamous Ides of March). Against the backdrop of these cataclysmic events, we also see the early years of the young Octavian, who is destined to become Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome.
The second season chronicles the power struggle between Octavian and Mark Antony following Caesar’s assassination, spanning the period from Caesar’s death in 44 BC to the suicide of Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BC after their defeat at the Battle of Actium.
- Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus (Season 1 and 2):
- A staunch, traditional Roman officer who struggles to balance his personal beliefs, his duty to his superiors, and the needs of his family and friends.
- The basis for this character is the historical Roman soldier of the same name, who is briefly mentioned in Julius Caesar’s De Bello Gallico 5.44.
- Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo (Season 1 and 2):
- A friendly, upbeat, devil-may-care soldier with the morals of a pirate, the appetites of a hedonist, and a total lack of personal responsibility, who discovers hidden ideals and integrity within himself.
- Ciarán Hinds as Julius Caesar (Season 1):
- Caesar is ambitious but his aims and motives are often kept ambiguous to further complicate the plot and test the personal loyalties of other characters.
- He advertises himself as a reformer who sides with the Plebeians, though he is himself a Patrician.
- He is also merciful to his beaten enemies, genuinely distressed by their deaths and relieved at their willingness to make peace where a more vindictive individual would have simply killed them.
- Kenneth Cranham as Pompey Magnus (Season 1):
- A legendary general, past the days of his prime, who tries to recapture the glories of his youth as well as to do what is right for the Republic.
- The real Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was a Roman general and politician who was as ambitious as Caesar and just as unorthodox in his youth.
- He chose to ally himself with the optimates in opposing Caesar and supporting the traditional Roman Republic.
- Polly Walker as Atia of the Julii (Season 1 and 2):
- The niece of Julius Caesar and mother of Octavian and Octavia.
- She is depicted as a cheerfully amoral and opportunistic manipulator.
- Her family connections and sexual liaisons have brought her into contact with some of the most powerful individuals in Rome, making her a highly influential figure in Roman society.
- Atia is very loosely based on the historical figure Atia Balba Caesonia about whom little detail is known.
- Rome historical consultant Jonathan Stamp identifies the historical figure Clodia as the primary basis for the character of Atia.
- James Purefoy as Mark Antony (Season 1 and 2):
- A very popular and cunning Roman general and politician and a close supporter of Julius Caesar in Season 1.
- In Season 2, he is in a power struggle with the power hungry and unaccomplished Octavian.
- Tobias Menzies as Marcus Junius Brutus (Season 1 and 2):
- Portrayed as a young man torn between what he believes is right, and his loyalty and love of a man who has been like a father to him.
- The real Marcus Junius Brutus was the most famous of Julius Caesar’s assassins, and one of the key figures in the civil wars that followed the assassination.
- Max Pirkis (Season 1 and early 2) and Simon Woods (Season 2) as Gaius Octavian (Augustus):
- Son and younger child of Atia, Octavian is presented as a cold, self-entitled student of power and politics.
- He is eager to enter political life and follow in Caesar’s footsteps – an ambition more easily achieved when Caesar posthumously adopts him.
- The basis for this character is the early life of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.
- Lindsay Duncan as Servilia of the Junii (Season 1 and 2):
- The mother of Marcus Junius Brutus, lover of the married Julius Caesar, and enemy of Atia of the Julii.
- Servilia is depicted as a sophisticated and regal Roman matron who follows her heart to her detriment, betrayed by love, and hungering for revenge.
- Slowly she becomes as cold, calculating, and cruel as those whom she would destroy.
- Servilia is loosely based on the historical personage of Servilia, mother of Marcus Junius Brutus, and famous lover of Julius Caesar.
- Indira Varma as Niobe (Season 1):
- A beautiful woman devoted to her family, Niobe is a proud Plebeian from a large clan.
- After marrying Lucius Vorenus and giving birth to their two daughters, she functioned as a single parent when Lucius went off to war.
- After being told (incorrectly) by the army that Vorenus is dead, she embarks on a love affair with her sister’s husband, giving birth to a son a few months before a very much alive Vorenus returns home.
- Convinced he will kill her and all the children should he learn of the affair, she tells Vorenus that the baby Lucius is his grandson by their older daughter and her lover.
- Nicholas Woodeson as Posca (Season 1 and 2):
- A Greek slave of Julius Caesar, and also his friend, aide-de-camp, and confidant in most things personal and professional.
- As a slave, he will seldom receive credit, but it appears that some of the simpler and more elegant solutions to Caesar’s problems come from the mind of Posca.
- Posca is freed and given a stipend in Caesar’s will at the start of the second season.
- He throws his support behind Antony, but later strategically defects to Octavian.
- Kerry Condon as Octavia of the Julii (Season 1 and 2):
- The character is based on the Roman matron Octavia Thurina Minor, sister of Roman Emperor Augustus, born to one of the most powerful families in Rome, the Julii.
- Octavia is the only daughter and elder child of Atia of the Julii, who is the niece of Gaius Julius Caesar.
- In Season 2, for political reasons she is married to Mark Antony.
- This is something she did in real life when Antony was newly a widower in 40 BC as part of the Pact of Brundisium, having been ordered by the Senate to set aside the mandatory ten-month term of widowhood after the death of her first husband, Claudius Marcellus.
- Rick Warden as Quintus Pompey (Season 1 and 2):
- The son of Pompey.
- There is no basis for this character, but he may be meant to represent the younger of Pompey’s historical son Sextus Pompeius.
- Karl Johnson as Cato the Younger (Season 1):
- An extreme traditionalist, against political, social, and moral decay, and a staunch defender of the Roman Republic.
- The real Cato the Younger was a Roman orator, author and politician who committed suicide to avoid living under Caesar’s tyranny.
- David Bamber as Marcus Tullius Cicero (Season 1 and 2):
- A moderate politician and scholar, faced with trying to save the traditional Republic from the ambitions of the various characters on the show.
- He is depicted as craven and willing to take any position to save his own skin.
- The real Cicero was a Roman politician, writer and orator, and as far as is known was not a self-serving coward but a steadfast and courageous patriot.
- Lee Boardman as Timon (Season 1 and 2):
- A Jewish horse trader who serves as a loyal assassin and bodyguard for Atia.
- He accepts money as payment but prefers sex with Atia.
William J. MacDonald and John Milius pitched the idea to HBO as a mini series, but the network made it a full-fledged series. In 2002, HBO and the BBC agreed to co-produce the series, committing a US$100-110 million (£62.7 million) budget to the production of twelve 1-hour episodes, with HBO contributing $85 million, and the BBC contributing $15 million. The BBC contributed £800,000 to every episode of Rome in its first season. Rome is the largest co-produced series with the American film market in the BBC’s history. The series also marked the first series on which HBO and the BBC worked together as co-producers, although the two companies had worked together in other roles in earlier series, including Band of Brothers and The Gathering Storm.
Tranter from the BBC has said this about the development of Rome: “It felt like something that could have been developed by us, and HBO felt like natural partners for the BBC”. On 20 April 2006, Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO announced the development of a second season for Rome.
Between March 2004 and May 2005 Rome was filmed in co-production with Rai Fiction in the Italian countryside on Cinecittà studios’ six sound stages in Rome. A collection of massive sets in Cinecittà studios’ back lots comprised an elaborate “period reconstruction” of sections of ancient Rome. It was a huge undertaking, with an international crew of 350, and more than 50 local Italian interns.
The production is regarded as one of the most expensive in the history of television. Funding was generously employed to recreate an impressively detailed set featuring a number of Roman Villas, the Forum, and a vast slum area of the ancient city of Rome. A significant part of this set was later destroyed by a fire that burned down a portion of the Cinecittà Studios in 2007. According to HBO, the fire started after they had finished filming the second season. A portion of the set was also used in late 2007 by the crew of the long-running BBC sci-fi drama series Doctor Who, for the fourth-season episode “The Fires of Pompeii”.
Audio commentary on the Season 1 DVD indicates that many of the background performers used in the series were also their true professional counterparts. One example is that the actor shown in the series working as a butcher on the streets of Rome was in fact a real-life butcher.
In a separate move, the BBC also decided to re-edit the first three episodes (all directed by Michael Apted) into two episodes. The BBC claimed that this was because the British audience were more familiar with the history of Rome than their American counterparts and so much of the history was unnecessary; however, Apted claims that the purpose was to boost the ratings by increasing the prominence of the scenes of sex and violence. In an interview with The Times, Apted said:
I’m really pissed off with the BBC for bringing down my first three episodes to two and, in doing so, taking out much of the vital politics. What also makes me very grumpy is that I was told that the cuts had been introduced by the BBC because they thought British viewers already knew the historical background. But all that’s happened as far as the viewer is concerned is that it has made Rome hard to follow.
Apted also said that he only learned of the edits by accident, “…a couple of weeks ago when one of the actors told me”. Since then, the original uncut Season 1 episodes aired on UKTV Drama, coincident with the UK broadcast of Season 2 on BBC Two.
The Italian broadcast of the series was also marred by controversy. Strong language was removed in the Italian dubbing process; as for the more explicit sex scenes and disturbing violence, they were replaced by “safe” alternative versions shot during production especially for the Italian market. Rai 4 began showing the “complete version” of the series on Italian TV in September 2009.
Composer Jeff Beal was invited to audition for Rome after he completed work on HBO’s Carnivàle. The producers sent him a short edit of season 1 episode 7. From that, Beal began writing a demo score. Based on head writer Bruno Heller’s desired gritty pre-Christian feel for the series, and HBO’s interest in a non-modern sound, Beal chose to compose and record with live instruments from across the ancient Roman world. For each episode, Beal had about two weeks to work: in the first, he composed for – and recorded – the instruments he performed on the soundtrack. In the second week, he incorporated producer’s notes, and orchestrated and recorded the other live instrumental sections.
Rome has garnered mostly positive reviews.
Broadcast and DVD Releases
Rome’s first season originally aired on HBO in the United States between 28 August and 20 November 2005, subsequently being broadcast on the United Kingdom’s BBC Two between 2 November 2005 and 4 January 2006, and on Rai 2 in Italy between 17 March 2006 and 28 April 2006. The second season aired on HBO in the US from 14 January 2007 to 25 March 2007.
The series was launched in the United States on 25 August 2005, at Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles. HBO broadcast the series pilot “The Stolen Eagle” four days later. According to the Nielsen ratings system, the pilot broadcast was seen by 3.8 million viewers and achieved a 9.1 household rating for Sunday primetime. HBO re-aired the pilot 11 times in the week following 28 August 2005 premiere, garnering a total viewership of 8.9 million for all 11 airings. After the broadcast of only three first-season episodes, HBO announced plans to produce a second season of Rome in 2006, for release in March 2007. HBO aired each episode multiple times a week, and by the end of the first season, the total weekly audience for all airings exceeded seven million viewers. The second season premiered in January 2007, with the first episode attracting 1.5 million viewers. The final episode aired 25 March 2007 in the US, garnering 2.4 million viewers.
In total, HBO spent about $10 million US$ to promote Rome. HBO enlisted the Mozilla Firefox web browser in its marketing campaign for the series by designing a downloadable custom Rome Firefox theme. BBC Two premiered Rome in the United Kingdom on 02 November 2005, attracting 6.6 million viewers (27%); viewing figures declined in future episodes, with the season finale only attracting 3 million viewers (13%). The first episode of the second season aired on BBC Two on 20 June 2007.
A “sanitised” version of the first series of Rome – with toned-down nudity and violence – aired on Rai 2 in Italy, garnering only a meagre 10% audience share. RAI also stated to have co-produced the show, whereas HBO listed only itself and BBC as co-producers. The Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera called it a “prime example of historical misinformation”, and called actor Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar) a “parody”. The paper also called the relationship between Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker) and Mark Antony (James Purefoy) “ridiculous”. The second series was never broadcast at all on analogue TV; however, starting from October 2009, digital-only channel Rai 4 broadcast the original uncut version of the first series and went on to broadcast the second series unaltered as well.
Cancellation and Future
HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht announced in a July 2006 news conference that season two of Rome would be its last, citing the fact that the series (called “notoriously expensive” by Broadcasting & Cable) had been developed under a two-year contract with the BBC that would have been difficult for the BBC to extend due to the series’ cost. Of the storyline, co-creator Heller said:
I discovered halfway through writing the second season the show was going to end. The second was going to end with the death of Brutus. Third and fourth season would be set in Egypt. Fifth was going to be the rise of the Messiah in Palestine. But because we got the heads-up that the second season would be it, I telescoped the third and fourth season into the second one, which accounts for the blazing speed we go through history near the end. There’s certainly more than enough history to go around.
Rome: The Complete First Season was released as a six-disc Region 1 DVD box set in the United States in 2006, distributed by HBO Home Video. Featuring all 12 episodes, it included features such as episode commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage and making-of features. The set (without the episodic previews and recaps) was also released in Region 2, with the same title.
Season 2 was released in North America in 2007 and soon after in Region 2. Rome: The Complete Series was released in November 2009 on Blu-ray in North America.
Awards and Nominations
Capping its successful first season, Rome won four Emmy Awards out of eight nominations in 2006, for the episodes “Caesarion”, “Triumph”, “Kalends of February” and “Stealing from Saturn”. The series also won an Art Directors Guild (ADG) in the category “Excellence in Production Design – Single-Camera Television Series” for the pilot episode “The Stolen Eagle”. Michael Apted won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) in the category “Outstanding Directing – Drama Series, Night” for “The Stolen Eagle”. The series itself was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the category “Best Television Series – Drama”, and Polly Walker who portrayed Atia of the Julii was nominated in the category “Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Drama”. The series was also nominated for three Satellite Awards, two for season 1 and the last for season 2. The pilot episode “The Stolen Eagle” won a Visual Effects Society (VES) award in the category “Outstanding Visual Effects – Broadcast Series”. Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominated the series for the category “Best Writing – New Television Series” in 2005. The series was also nominated for four British Academy Television Awards (BAFTA), three in season 1 (2006) and one in season 2 (2008). In 2005, the series was nominated for a Cinema Audio Society Award (CAS) in the category “Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Series” for the episode “The Spoils”. The British award ceremony nominated the series for the Royal Television Society (RTS) award in the category “Best Visual Effects – Digital Effects”. For season 2 (2007) Alik Sakharov won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series, for the episode “Passover”.
In a February 2008 interview with Movieweb.com, actor Ray Stevenson stated that a Rome film was in development, with Heller working on a script. Heller confirmed in December that there was “talk of doing a movie version”, adding that “It’s moving along. It’s not there until it is there. I would love to round that show off”. In an April 2009 interview with the Associated Press, actor Kevin McKidd stated the Rome film was “in development”, and Lucius Vorenus would likely be a part of it. McKidd said in a later 2009 interview, “There is a script that is being shopped and it’s supposedly very good, I haven’t seen it, but I am definitely going to be a part of the movie… He is very much alive, so that should be a fun story to tell.” In March 2010, Entertainment Weekly stated that Heller had completed the script for Morning Light Productions, the film’s financiers, and was now awaiting a director and a studio, since HBO Films “won’t be involved”. However, in a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Heller indicated the project had stalled – “I’m not holding my breath.”
There are numerous inaccuracies in the series’ representation of various historical events and personages. Co-creator Bruno Heller has said: “We try to balance between what people expect from previous portrayals and a naturalistic approach … This series is much more about how the psychology of the characters affects history than simply following the history as we know it”. Series Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp also notes that the show aims for “authenticity” rather than “accuracy”. The filmmakers stressed that they wanted to portray a more accurate picture of Rome, a gritty and realistic city as opposed to what they call the “Hollyrome” presentation that audiences are used to from other films, with “cleanliness and marble and togas that looked pressed.”
We did everything we could to make these episodes historically authentic, which meant researching and incorporating every kind of detail we could about the way our characters behaved, the way they interacted, how they dressed and gestured, the kind of streets they walked down, the way they conducted their private and public lives. We were not, however, making a documentary. We were striving for authenticity because it enriches the experience of the drama for the viewer. Jonathan Stamp.
Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo are historical figures mentioned briefly in Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico, but their adventures and involvement in key events in the series are fictional.
- The series had a high number of viewers but was cancelled after only 2 seasons out of the planned 5 due to a high production cost.
- Series 01 (2005):
- Episode 01: The Stolen Eagle.
- Episode 02: How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic.
- Episode 03: An Owl in a Thornbush.
- Episode 04: Stealing from Saturn.
- Episode 05: The Ram Has Touched the Wall.
- Episode 06: Egeria.
- Episode 07: Pharsalus.
- Episode 08: Caesarion.
- Episode 09: Utica.
- Episode 10: Triumph.
- Episode 11: The Spoils.
- Episode 12: Kalends of February.
- Series 02 (2007):
- Episode 01: Passover.
- Episode 02: Son of Hades.
- Episode 03: These Being the Words of Marcus Tullius Cicero.
- Episode 04: Testudo et Lepus (The Tortoise and the Hare).
- Episode 05: Heroes of the Republic.
- Episode 06: Philippi.
- Episode 07: Death Mask.
- Episode 08: A Necessary Fiction.
- Episode 09: Deus Impeditio Esuritori Nullus (No God Can Stop a Hungry Man).
- Episode 10: De Patre Vostro (About Your Father).
Production & Filming Details
- Michael Apted … (3 episodes, 2005).
- Mikael Salomon … (3 episodes, 2005).
- Allen Coulter … (2 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Alan Poul … (2 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Steve Shill … (2 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Timothy Van Patten … (2 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Alan Taylor … (2 episodes, 2005).
- John Maybury … (2 episodes, 2007).
- Julian Farino … (1 episode, 2005).
- Jeremy Podeswa … (1 episode, 2005).
- Adam Davidson … (1 episode, 2007).
- Carl Franklin … (1 episode, 2007).
- Alik Sakharov … (1 episode, 2007).
- Roger Young … (1 episode, 2007).
- Bruno Heller … executive producer (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Todd London … co-producer / producer (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Anne Thomopoulos … executive producer (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Eleanor Moran … producer: BBC / producer (20 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Marco Valerio Pugini … producer / executive producer / co-executive producer (17 episodes, 2005-2007).
- James Dyer … co-executive producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- James G. Hirsch … co-producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Eugene Kelly … co-executive producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- William J. MacDonald … executive producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- John Milius … executive producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Robert A. Papazian … co-producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Frank Yablans … co-producer (14 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Michael Apted … consulting producer (12 episodes, 2005).
- Frank Doelger … executive producer (12 episodes, 2005).
- Bruce Everett … co-producer / co-producer: Rome (12 episodes, 2005).
- Stan Wlodkowski … co-executive producer (12 episodes, 2005).
- Mark McGann … co-producer (10 episodes, 2005).
- April Nocifora … associate producer (10 episodes, 2007).
- Jonathan Stamp … co-producer (10 episodes, 2007).
- Fabiomassimo Dell’Orco … co-producer (7 episodes, 2007).
- Grace Naughton … associate producer (7 episodes, 2007).
- Mere Smith … producer (7 episodes, 2007).
- Emanuele Cotumaccio … network producer: RAI (3 episodes, 2007).
- Todd Ellis Kessler … supervising producer (2 episodes, 2007).
- John P. Melfi … executive producer (2 episodes, 2007).
- Scott Buck … co-executive producer (1 episode, 2007).
- Jackson Merrick … executive producer (1 episode, 2007).
- Gareth Neame … executive producer (unknown episodes).
- Gianfranco Pierantoni … co-line producer (unknown episodes).
- Jane Tranter … executive producer (unknown episodes).
- Bruno Heller … (creator) (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- William J. MacDonald … (created by) (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- John Milius … (created by) (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Scott Buck … (2 episodes, 2007).
- Todd Ellis Kessler … (2 episodes, 2007).
- Mere Smith … (2 episodes, 2007).
- Alexandra Cunningham … (1 episode, 2005).
- David Frankel … (1 episode, 2005).
- Adrian Hodges … (1 episode, 2005).
- Eoghan Mahony … (1 episode, 2007).
- Jeff Beal … (22 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Marco Pontecorvo … (9 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Alik Sakharov … (9 episodes, 2005-2007).
- Martin Kenzie … (4 episodes, 2005).
- Jonathan Freeman … (3 episodes, 2007).
- Sidney Wolinsky … (5 episodes, 2005).
- Glenn Farr … (5 episodes, 2007).
- David Siegel … (5 episodes, 2007).
- Frances Parker … (4 episodes, 2005).
- Rick Shaine … (3 episodes, 2005).
- Yan Miles … (1 episode, 2005).
- Oral Norrie Ottey … (unknown episodes).
- Production: HD Vision Studios, BBC, and HBO.
- Distributor(s): HBO and BBC (original airing).
- Release Date: 28 August 2005 to 25 March 2007).
- Running Time: 44-65 minutes.
- Rating: 18.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.