HBO’s Rome’s Julius Caesar

Rome is one of my favorite tv shows. The Fall of the Roman Republic, as a historical period, is the greatest drama I’ve ever heard. The only thing that can possibly compare, in my mind, is a story about the Mongol Empire, but we don’t have nearly as detailed records of it here, at least enough to make a good tv show. I tried to watch Marco Polo but I’m less interested in that exact period in Mongol/Yuan Dynasty history.

Rome is set roughly around the time of Julius Caesar’s daughter’s death. At the time, Caesar was in Gaul completing his conquests there. The death of Julia, his daughter, severed his ties to his fellow Triumverate and ally, Pompey Magnus. This is significant because this is when the Roman Senate (and I guess the Optimates Party – the Roman version of Conservatives) turned Pompey against Caesar.

I think roughly around this time Crassus, the third Triumverate, dies fighting Parthians. This unhinges the precarious balance of three strongmen who held Rome together, conflict was inevitable. Oh, Crassus dying is like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet leading an army into Iraq and getting killed.

The show is pretty detailed, which is fascinating, but it’s easier since this is an incredibly well documented period. The actors are fantastic, and the story is gripping. The actor they had to play Caesar does a great job portraying the fascinating historical figure.

Gaius Julius Caesar started out his life an impoverished nobleman, one of excellent lineage (his family claimed descent from Aphrodite) but poor. He grew up in the tenements owned by his family. Caesar was actually really punk rock as a kid, one of the serious cool kids whose clothes didn’t fit on purpose. Sulla, the dictator-for-life who took control of Rome during Caesar’s childhood, took a look at him and declared basically, “I don’t like that kid, he wears his pants too low.”

What he really said was, “In him I see many a Marius.”

Which I guess I should explain, Marius was perhaps one of the greatest, and in some ways one of the worst, Romans in all of Roman history. Marius, hero of the Jugurthan Wars in Numidia (where he fought and defeated the rogue prince Jugurtha), and the hero who defeated the Cimbri and the Teutons (crazy Gauls who invaded Italy). Marius, the genius who rebuilt the legions, casting off hundreds of years of tradition to forge the war machine that would eventually be used to conquer Rome itself. Marius was Sulla’s mortal enemy. Basically, Marius was a hero and a villain all at once. He seriously killed a lot of Romans once he seized power.

Marius was also Gaius Julus Caesar’s uncle.

Punk Rock Caesar had to go on the run until Caesar’s Mom (and others) convinced Sulla to not try and kill him. What kicked off the death order? Sulla said, “Divorce your wife,” to Caesar. Caesar’s wife was the daughter of yet another of Sulla’s enemies.

“Eat a dick,” said Caesar, flipping Sulla the bird. That’s my translation.

Sulla ordered Caesar’s death.

Anyway, Caesar was an unlikely candidate to be one of the three Triumvirs who would rule, and then eventually tear apart, Rome.

So Rome the tv show, not Rome the City, kicks off with the beginnings of the civil war to come. It comes down to Caesar and his forces against Pompey and the might of the Conservative Senators. And I dig it, man.

There’s plenty of nudity and violence, and cameos from other historical figures. Young Octavian, Caesar’s grand-nephew (and posthumously adopted son and future big name is history), is present and has wacky adventures. Brutus is there, of course, and somewhat portrayed positively. There’s some fictional characters, but I actually like them too.

The point is it’s good, it’s only two seasons, and it’s well produced. Now, HBO, if you can hear me, get to work on a Mongol Empire tv show. Seriously guys, come on. The world needs it. The world deserves it!

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