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My Brief Review of HBO’s Rome and its depiction of Cleopatra

Have you watched HBO’s terrific series, Rome? It’s one of my favorite TV serials, airing from 2005 to 2007 with only two seasons comprising a total of 22 episodes. If you’re a history fan, I highly recommend finding the time to watch it. The series skillfully combines historically-researched storytelling with a generous dose of fictional drama. The two seasons can be broadly summarized as follows: the first season depicts Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, leading up to his demise, while the second season focuses on the civil wars and concludes with Octavian ascending as Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first emperor and also known as the “first citizen.”

Cleopatra’s depiction could have been better: Apart from expected dramatizations, Cleopatra’s portrayal aligns more with Roman propaganda against her. In the series, she is portrayed as a wild, ageless woman, despite nearly twenty years passing between her first appearance before Caesar and her final appearance before Octavian. As someone who has written a series on Cleopatra, I have a biased view and believe her role could have been given more justice. Once again, the series portrays her as a seductress and out of control. For a different portrayal of her twenty-two year rule, interested individuals can refer to my blog post “The Remarkable Cleopatra”. The series primarily presents a Roman perspective, omitting significant events in Cleopatra’s life, such as her rise to regency, involvement in the Alexandrian war, her relationship with Antony, and her actions to save herself in the end. Unlike the scenes depicting Caesar’s death, the portrayal of Cleopatra’s last moments deviates from ancient sources like Plutarch and Dio.

Ciaran Hinds as Caesar and James Purefoy as Mark Antony are fantastic: I found Hinds to be fantastic in his portrayal of Julius Caesar, and the series does justice to some of Caesar’s characteristics. He is depicted as a relatively merciful man towards those who opposed him, adored by his soldiers, and ultimately betrayed by those he trusted. The depiction of his death aligns closely with Suetonius’ narrative, which is one of the best sources on Caesar’s demise. Contrary to popular belief, Caesar did not say “Et tu, Brute?” but possibly uttered “You too, child,” or more likely, nothing at all. He was 55 years old when he died. Additionally, the portrayal of Antony is also brilliant and faithful to ancient accounts.

The lead characters are memorable: The series revolves around two soldiers, Vorenus and Pullo, who play pivotal and often unwitting roles in major events of Roman history. The writers drew inspiration from real soldiers, T. Pulfio and L. Varenus, who fought for Caesar during his Gallic campaigns. Caesar himself mentions them in his book, stating, “In that legion there were two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pulfio and L. Varenus. These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity.” While Caesar’s book offers only a brief description of their bravery without further details, the fact that Caesar mentions them suggests their exceptional nature (as he rarely mentions lower-ranking individuals).

Impressive sets, costumes, and depiction of Roman life: The production features lavish sets, costumes, and a realistic portrayal of Roman society, capturing the essence of the era. It is worth noting that the series was canceled by HBO after two seasons due to its high production costs, which is a great pity. In fact, some of the sets used in the production still stand at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios! The depiction of slavery in Roman society is portrayed realistically, serving as a poignant reminder of the harsh and dehumanizing lives imposed upon enslaved individuals. It is also worth mentioning that the events in this series take place after those involving Spartacus

Atia, Octavian’s mother, is entirely dramatized: Atia, Octavian’s mother, plays a significant role in the series. She is depicted as extraordinarily ambitious, devious, ruthless, licentious, and amoral. However, this portrayal contradicts historical accounts. Nevertheless, TV and movie portrayals debauchery among Roman elites is something that never really interested me. I often skipped or just glossed over those scenes, both in Rome, and also the other TV series, Spartacus.


If you haven’t watched it, don’t wait! It’s fantastic TV and a must for those that love to go back in time!

Sources: Caesar, Julius. The Conquest of Gaul [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 76). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition. Translated by W. A. Macdewitt”

If you’re interested in a twists-and-turn filled journey with Cleopatra from the point of her Regency to her eventual end:

The Last Pharaoh #1 of 3 360 pg.e-book, paperback
Journey with the famous Cleopatra in this exciting series full of twists-and-turns

Alternatively, walk with Spartacus in my new series on the famous Thracian. His world was very different from the famous Queens and Kings.

The Spartacus Rebellion #1 of 3 340 pg.e-book, paperback
Journey with Spartacus in this gritty trilogy of hope and vengeance
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About Jay Penner

Jay Penner writes fast-paced, realistic ancient historical fiction. His highly-rated books regularly feature in category bestsellers on Amazon. He is the author of Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Whispers of Atlantis series. Reach out to him or subscribe to his popular newsletter.

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