One of the two protagonists. We first meet him as a centurion of the 13th Legion in Gaul who has not seen home nor his family for 8 years and wishes nothing but going back to them. Vorenus is an impeccably honest and most honorable man that values tradition, law and loyalty to the Roman Republic above all... something that will bring him innumerable problems. Played by Kevin McKidd.
Colonel Badass: As a centurio primus pilus, a "First Spear Centurion", his status and responsibilities approximate (though not completely, see Drill Sargent nasty below) roughly to that of a Lieutenant Colonel in a modern army
Cultured Warrior: He often cites examples from Roman history during his Honor Before Reason rants, sometimes talks about other cultures (eg. the Egyptian gods) as if he's read up about them and the reason he was sent on the mission to find Caesar's stolen eagle in the first place was because his superior officer thought he was clever. His Badass qualifications are impeccable.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Many, but most notably in one situation where Lucius Vorenus decides that the most ethical thing to do is kill a little boy. It's heartbreaking to see how torn he is between "doing the right thing" and killing his wife's bastard, and listening to his instinct to not kill a child.
Drill Sergeant Nasty: One in the pilot, mellows in later episodes. As a centurio primus pilus. the over all discipline of the legion would be one of his (many) responsibilities.
Not so Above It All: Though rather than be above the silliness he started off above the corruption. Vorenus eventually goes from being a honorable soldier to the Godfather of Rome's criminal underworld.
Unstoppable Rage: More than once. But the stand-out example is when he slaughters Erastes Fulmen's entire gang.
What the Hell, Hero?: Vorenus has an unfortunate amount of these. Lampshaded by one of his interactions with Da Chief Marc Anthony. Vorenus himself had this reaction when Pullo killed one of his slaves just because them slave was in a relationship with the girl Pullo loves.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Sort of. He still believes in the Republic, while everybody else sees it as rotten to the core.
You Get Me Coffee: The first time they are in Egypt, Vorenus has to remind Pullo to go form with the other soldiers. They are friends, but he still outranks him.
"Here I come, girls! I'm gonna drink all the wine, smoke all the smoke, and fuck every whore in the city!"
The other protagonist. Pullo is an impulsive, boisterous and wholly irreverent legionary in the 13th Legion serving under Vorenus, who he befriends nonetheless after going on a mission with him. The two then return to Vorenus' house in Rome as Heterosexual Life Partners. Played by Ray Stevenson.
Crazy Jealous Guy: Kills Eirene's poor lover, who was very kind, polite, and respectful to him.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Pullo is a rapist and multiple murderer but is presented as heroic because he is a loyal friend to Vorenus. Raping the enemy's women was completely normal behavior for Roman legionnaires.
Vorenus' wife through an Arranged Marriage and mother of two daughters, both named Vorena. At the start of the series she has been in charge of the Voreni household for eight years while her husband was at war in Gaul. She also has a son from her brother in-law who she tries to pass as her eldest daughter's when Vorenus returns home. Played by Indira Varma.
A Germanic slave that Vorenus and Pullo rescue from a band of Pompeian soldiers early in Season 1. Pullo is instantly infatuated with her, and after a while he has her freed and marries her. Played by Chiara Mastalli.
Longest Pregnancy Ever: Because of HBO's decision to cancel the show in the second season, the writing team had to compact the story lines planned for the second, third and fourth seasons into one in order to give the story some closure. This lead to Eirene remaining pregnant during historical events that happened in the span of two whole years.
Only Known by Their Nickname: It's not until the very last episode she is in that her real name is revealed - Adela. In Real Life, the Romans used to give the slaves new names based on perceived qualities of them. Eirene in particular is Greek for "peace".
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Averted. The Rome version of the character never says the famous Shakespearean line "Et Tu, Brute?" (like in Real Life, his wounds made him unable to talk in his dying moments). This is lampshaded in the next episode, when Brutus asks "You too, Mother?" when Servilia tells him to leave the city.
Big Bad and Big Good: To the senate, he's the former. To a large part of the Roman Army and to the people of Rome he's the latter.
Chessmaster: Subverted as he lets his empathy get in the way.
Culture Clash: The Egyptians present him with the head of Pompey thinking they are going to gain his favor. Caesar is enraged instead.
Dark Secret: Caesar has epilepsy and is terrified that anyone might find about it. This is because according to Roman tradition epilepsy was a result of having been cursed by the Gods, and the people would refuse to being led by a man subject to it.
Easily Forgiven: Caesar can be ruthless but manages to fit this trope fairly well. He spares Vorenus and Pullo on one occasion (possibly more, but I can't remember) and his response to Brutus and Cicero trying to surrender is to hug them, apologise to Brutus while kissing his cheek, beg them to tell him that Pompey, an even bigger enemy, is still alive, and then, drag them off to have food since it must have been awhile since they had a decent meal. More than one character points out that forgiving people is Caesar's shtick, doing double duty as a way to be seen as a Reasonable Authority Figure and to make people beholden to him.
According to the DVD Commentary this was also a way of humiliating his enemies, given Roman values (if he'd clapped Brutus and Cicero in chains, it would have shown them as Worthy Opponents).
Et Tu, Brute?: Might not have said the words, but his eyes told it anyway.
Genre Savvy: Zigzagged. He spared Vorenus and Pullo despite letting Pompey escape because they both managed to survive unlikely things. He also sent the two on an important mission to get Cleopatra. On the other hand, he ignored warnings of a bad omen which lead to his assassination. But, then again...
"It's not the killing. It is the waving about of swords I find tedious. I dare say I can kill people readily enough, as long as they're not fighting back."
One of the main protagonists. A brilliant yet antisocial young man who through years of manipulation, becomes Rome's first emperor. Played by Max Pirkis in his teenage years and by Simon Woods as a young adult.
Underestimating Badassery: Though perhaps here better called 'Underestimating Magnificent Bastardry'. In particular, the entire second season consists of people dismissing Octavian as a threat because of his 'youth and inexperience' only to find themselves outmaneuvered, marginalized, and quite often killed off.
"I shall be a good politician. Even if it kills me. Or if it kills anyone else, for that matter."
Julius Caesar's right hand man and a talented soldier and politician in his own right, though he is hampered by his many flaws. In the aftermath of Caesar's death, he is one of the most powerful men in Rome, putting him in direct conflict with Octavian, Caesar's heir. Played by James Purefoy.
Anything That Moves: As he puts it, "I'm not getting out of bed until I've fucked someone". Especially given, as a condition of marriage, Atia demands that Antony get rid of all the house slaves — male or female — that he's bedded.
Badass Boast: Mark Antony buggers boys like Octavian for his morning snack, meaningfully understates his masterful speech as "I got a bit carried away" and "has an angry mob that will roast and eat your 'men of quality' in the ashes of the Senate House!"
Democracy Is Bad: Antony plays the elections card when negotiating the aftermath of Caesar's assassination. The conspirators are horrified as they would have to validate their taken for granted powers. They reach a compromise and no democracy is needed.
Enemy Mine: Teams up with Octavian against the senatorial forces.
Establishing Character Moment: Strolling into Caesar's tent covered in blood, bantering with Brutus, and then, when given a mission to accomplish on a strict budget, unabashedly stealing half the money anyway. One of his first outdoors activities has him fornicating a peasant while his guards watch and his cohorts wait.
Manipulative Bastard: While he usually prefers a blunt approach, he outmaneuvers everyone during the eulogies of Caesar and gets to control Rome in the aftermath.
My Master, Right or Wrong: Playful example with Caesar. Atia tries to turn Antony into The Starscream but it backfires for her when Antony realizes out loud "what a wicked old harpy you (Atia) really are".
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Twice; one in the Roman Senate and another in Egypt. He doesn't stop until the offender is dead.
Not So Different: From Vorenus of all people, in Egypt they talk about their byronesque/doomed shared nature
Vorenus: You're no coward, but you do have a strong disease in your soul. It will eat away at you until you die [...] I recognize the symptoms, I have the same sickness.
The Purge: After he makes peace with Octavian, Mark Antony hands him a loooooong list of Roman citizens he wants slaughtered.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Red to Octavian's Blue. Which is funny considering when they reluctantly choose to have an alliance (what is to be the Second Triumvirate), Octavian wears the standard red-and-gold Roman armor while Mark Antony wears custom blue-and-white armor.
Rousing Speech: Brilliantly subverted for Antony's speech after Caesar's funeral (the one that became known as Shakespeare's famed, although entirely fictional, "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech). We see the results of his speech, and even have several characters describe what happened, but none of the actual speech is shown or heard.
"I know who you are. I can see you. You are swearing now that some day... some day you will destroy me... Remember, far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go and look for them now."
Caesar's niece and mother to Octavian and Octavia, plus long-time lover of Mark Antony. Atia is an extremely ambitious and Evil Matriarch supreme that stops almost at nothing to get what she wants. She's the real power force in the Julian household... at least, until Octavian grows enough to overrule her. Played by Polly Walker.
Blood Bath: In the first episode Atia takes a shower in the blood pouring down from a slaughtered bull during a ritual to ensure the safe travelling of her son to Gaul.
Break the Haughty: By the end of the series her son is the most powerful man in the known world and will remain that to the day he dies, in partly because of her constant scheming and her upbringing of him. Yet the love of her life has abandoned her and then committed suicide, and Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Livia has surpassed her in influence over and respect from Octavian.
Chessmaster: She likes to think she's this but since her plans fail at least half the time and she seems to act on whim a lot she's more of a Smug Snake.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: These don't manage (nor aim) to make Atia sympathetic to the viewer, but they do make her an unexpectedly funny character. Examples include nonchalantly discussing about how the family should commit mass suicide, being overjoyed when thinking that her son and uncle have an incestuous affair or threatening to have her son's books burned off if he doesn't go to a brothel and loses his virginity.
Disproportionate Retribution: Gods, I don't like that Plebeian friend of my daughter. Let's have her entire family murdered, her house sacked and the poor girl gang raped.
Historical Villain Upgrade: Atia is portrayed as seductive, manipulative and evil. There's absolutely no historical evidence for this; Tacitus actually describes her as a pious, devoted mother and an ideal Roman matron.
The Rival: To Servilia, Livia, Calpurnia (arguable Unknown Rival in this case) and even Cleopatra herself. In short, Atia doesn't like any other woman that dares to seem capable of gaining prominence in the Julian household.
Octavian's older sister and Woobie supreme of the series. Being the only woman of marrying age in the family makes her the perfect unwitting pawn of Atia and later Octavian to gain political influence. Played by Kerry Condon.
Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Octavia turns out to be indirectly responsible for the deaths of Julius Caesar and Niobe.Seduced by Servilia, Octavia acts Octavian to tell her some secret that she can pass to Servilia and the Pompeiian camp (they, of course, expecting it to be about Caesar) but all Octavian tells her is Vorenus' wife's affair. Servilia initially dismisses this piece of information but it becomes useful when Vorenus becomes Caesar's glorified bodyguard, and is used to drive him away from Caesar so Brutus and co. can kill him, unleashing the whole second round of war and political assassinations. Meanwhile, Vorenus confronts Niobe and she kills herself out of honor.It only gets worse.With Caesar dead, Vorenus is also vulnerable and Erastes Fulmen goes to his house to kill him. However, since Vorenus is out to bury his wife, he only finds his children and sister-in-law there, and he enslaves them to get back at Vorenus.
"Oh, I don't mind really, but it is really I who should go first. If you consult the priests, I'll think you'll find the wife takes precedence."
Octavian's wife, a smart, no-nonsense young patrician girl who has no fear of challenging Atia. Played by Alice Henley.
Evil Counterpart: To Octavia. To her family (and especially her mother), Octavia is little more than a tool that can be used to forge political alliances and gain more power. Livia also marries for power, like Octavia, but it's her who decides to do so, and her mother does not control her in the least. Once married, Octavia is submissive and lets her husband decide what to do with her, while Livia soon reins Octavian in.
"The Roman people are not crying out for clean elections. They are crying out for jobs. They are crying out for clean water, for food, for stability and peace."
An old, wise and educated Greek slave owned by Caesar, who he tutored when he was young. Nowadays he acts as his personal manservant, counsilor and confident. He is free to speak his mind, which includes a lot of snark. Played by Nicholas Woodeson.
A quiet and awkward young Patrician torn between doing what he believes it's right and what others expect of him - particularly his mother Servilia and his Parental Substitute, Julius Caesar. Played by Tobias Menzies.
Culture Clash: While trying to recruit men for a campaign against Octavian he uses the fact that he was the man that gave the last stab that killed Caesar as a Badass Boast in order to impress some Anatolian princes and make them agree to provide his army. They are disgusted instead, finding that killing an already injured man that can't defend himself is cowardly and shameful.
Family Business: Reluctantly enters politics, which has been the playfield of the Junii for the last 500 years.
Foil - Brutus loves Caesar but hates his politics. Verinus has no personal affection for Caesar (and Caesar sees him as a pawn) but comes to understand that his dirty way of doing things is necessary to keep Rome running.
Ignored Epiphany: Sort of. In late season one he feels betrayed by Caesar and gives in to his mother, going along with the plot to kill the dictator. He goes through with it, but then Antony comes in and they share a look where Brutus' guilt is written all over his face. He then cries out in agony over what he's done. However he seems to get over it rather fast, and stays allied to Cassius to the very end.
Ironic Echo: "You too, Mother?" when Servilia suggests he should join Pompey's side. In the same scene he explains to his mother that Caesar may take Rome but eventually some ambitious man would kill him...
"Gods of the Junii, with this offering I ask you to summon Tyche, Megaera and Nemesis, so that they witness this curse. By the spirits of my ancestors, I curse Gaius Julius Caesar. Let his penis wither. Let his bones crack. Let him see his legions drown in their own blood. Gods of the inferno, I offer to you his limbs, his head, his mouth, his breath, his speech, his hands, his liver, his heart, his stomach. Gods of the inferno, let me see him suffer deeply, and I will rejoice and sacrifice to you."
Brutus' mother and long time mistress to Julius Caesar. Servilia is a bitter and evil woman, but her dangerousness always falls one level short of her main rival's, Atia of the Julii. Played by Lindsay Duncan.
Undying Loyalty: To the point of committing suicide after her mistress does.
Gnaeus Pompey Magnus
"It seemed impossible to lose. That is always a bad sign."
Once a mighty conqueror and hero of the Republic, Pompey is a jaded Consul of Rome living mostly of past glories by the time the show starts. When Caesar tries to seize power he sides with the Senate against him. Played by Kenneth Cranham.
Arranged Marriage: His marriage to Julia, daughter of Caesar, is specifically pointed as the only thing that makes the two get along. Her Death by Childbirth sets the show in motion. Later, an attempt to solve their conflict by making him marry Octavia falls through.
Consul Incognito: After losing the Battle of Pharsalus, he escapes disguised as a Greek trader.
Decapitation Presentation: Gets his head on a plate offered to Caesar by the Egyptians, who wish to congratiate with him. He is supremely pissed.
Dirty Old Man: The marriage was cancelled, but he made use of his "rights" with Octavia anyway.
Et Tu, Brute?: He gets offed by a once soldier of his, now working as a mercenary for the Egyptians.
Disproportionate Retribution: Vorenus refuses to work for him and later stops his thugs from killing an indebted man in front of his shop (mind you, not from killing him at all). Erastes sells Vorenus' family in slavery.
Thanatos Gambit: Knowing that he is going to die anyway, Erastes falsely tells Vorenus that he has raped and killed his family, and then desecrated their bodies dumping them in the Tiber, just to spite him.
"I told you I'm not a whore."
A former brothel supervisor tasked with keeping the customers on line, who is hired by Vorenus after he takes over Erastes Fulmen's gang. While technically a slave, Gaia is a tough and vindicative woman that stops at nothing to get what she wants. Played by Zuleikha Robinson.
"The truth? The truth is I have known you as a brother. The truth is that I saved your life at Gergovia. Took an arrow for it. The arrow's still in there, the truth is I'd do it again brother. The truth is that I've been nothing but a good soldier to you and a good fucking friend. Do what you have to do Pullo. I'll see you in Hades."
A former legionary of the Thirteenth. After returning from Gaul, Vorenus gets him and his other comrades lands in Germania but Mascius loses his concession playing dice. He then returns to Rome and joins the Aventine gang after hearing that Vorenus has taken over it. Played by Michael Nardone.
And Zoidberg: "Oh I get it, third fucking man and all that!"
"When confronted by a hungry wolf, it is unwise to goad the beast, as Cato would have us do. But it is equally unwise to imagine the snarling animal a friend and offer your hand, as Pompey does."
The renowned Roman politician, intellectual and master orator, leader of the moderate faction in the Senate. Cicero distrusts Caesar's and later Mark Antony's actions but lacks the spine to take direct action against them. Played by David Bamber.
Shoo the Dog: To his slaves, the day of his own murder, so they won't be hurt.
Worthy Opponent: With Caesar. They tended to be on different sides of a debate - especially during the civil war - but they shared a respect for each other. Cicero was genuinely surprised by the assassination of Caesar.
A prominent general in the senate faction and member of the famous Scipio family. Played by Paul Jesson.
Another friend of Octavian and third in the Power Trio of young men that give birth to the Roman Empire. In contrast to Agrippa, Maecenas is a politician from a wealthy urban family who has a talent for rethoric and his own personal goals beyond those of Octavian. Played by Alex Wyndham.
A Roman General sent by the Senate to defeat Antony, only to have his entire army defect to him on the spot. He then switches sides too and ends up as Antony's second in command. He later becomes the least powerful of the Triumvirate formed with Antony and Octavian, but gets Africa for his troubles... for a while. Played by Ronan Vibert.
"This month's public bread is provided by the Capitoline Brotherhood of Millers. The Brotherhood uses only the finest flour: true Roman bread for true Romans."
A public servant that cries news and advertisements at the Forum in front of the Roman Senate. Played by Ian McNeice.
Book Ends: He appears in both the pilot and the last episode making the same announcement, offering a reward for a missing slave, "runaway or stolen". It's used to show that despite the vast historical changes happened in the span of the series, the life of the average citizen remains the same.
My Country, Right or Wrong: His job consists on screaming whatever propaganda the government of the time hands to him, and it changes as wildly and quickly as the composition of that government does. He never questions it.
Queen Cleopatra VII
"You have a rotten soul."
The infamous last hellenistic monarch of Egypt, a beautiful and ambitious woman that is well aware of her powers of seduction. Played by Lyndsey Marshal.
Irony: Before her death, she claims that Octavian has a "rotten soul," presumably for planning to kill her adolescent son. Cleopatra's not the nicest person herself, having quite similarly secured her own throne by trampling the body of another child, her own brother.
Heel Faith Turn: Played with. He abandons his role as Atia's hitman in favor of reconnecting with his religion, but he tends up becoming a fanatic. Eventually played straight when he decided to not assassin king Herod.