"I shall be a good politician. Even if it kills me. Or if it kills anyone else, for that matter."
— Mark Antony
Rome (2005-2007) is a semi-historical drama series co-produced by HBO and the BBC. It follows the lives of Real Life politicians, socialites, and soldiers in Ancient Rome starting with Caesar's conquest of Gaul and progressing through the power struggles and ascension of Augustus as the first Roman emperor. It focuses on the adventures of two (fictional) soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, who witness, and sometimes influence, the major events of the era. Features one of the most notable Evil Matriarch characters in contemporary TV history, Atia of the Julii.One of its most innovative ideas was to focus on the lives of ordinary fictional Romans, rather than just historical figures like Caesar or Augustus. This had been explored before in literature and in Sit Coms, but Rome was the first television drama to do so. It was a great concept. The show had a tremendous ensemble cast, incredible production values and was both epic in scope and paid meticulous, loving attention to detail. It ended after its second series due to insufficient ratings to justify its massive expense. HBO executives later regretted the decision as DVD sales turned out to be very good.Creator Bruno Heller announced a feature film to be based on the series, but a 2011 interview reveals that the project is in Development Hell.For the capital of Italy, see Rome.
Provides Examples Of:
Aborted Arc: Timon's subplot peters out after only a few episodes before he's Put on a Bus. It's been suggested that, had the series gone on longer, the final season would have dealt with the rise of the Messianic Archetype in Judea. Had this actually happened, he probably would have had a much bigger role.
Anachronism Stew: Mostly averted, although there are a number of examples. Although early in the Roman Republic Plebeians generally did constitute a politically disenfranchised and poor lower class, by the time the show takes place in they however had more or less formal political equality with Patricians, and there were enough instances of Plebeians becoming rich and Patricians becoming destitute that the title had little bearing on economic status. With the conflict in Rome at the time being mostly rich vs. poor, depicting the rivalry as being essentially Plebeians vs. Patricians is very attractive, but also very inaccurate. Many Republicans were in fact very wealthy Plebeians, most notably Cicero and Cato the Younger (the latter being depicted on the show as regarding Plebeians as trash). The show does mention the fact that the People's Tribune (Tribune of the Plebs) representing the Plebeians had a veto over the Senate and that Gnaeus Pompey was a Plebeian, while Caesar was of a Patrician family, but does not allow such facts to detract from its Patrician vs. Plebeian themes.
Anything That Moves: Mark "I'm not getting out of bed until I've fucked someone" Antony. Especially given, as a condition of marriage, Atia demands that Antony get rid of all the slaves-male or female-that he's bedded.
Appeal to Force: The characters aggressively use their personal armies to forcefully install themselves as rulers and subvert the constitutional order. Around the times of the series, using an army inside Italy for political purposes was a novelty (Sulla started the precedent only years before, which was viewed as great sacrilege, as mentioned by Vorenus and Antony). Enforced over Caesar, as his enemies would make him face trial if he returned to Rome as a normal citizen.
Artistic License: Though Rome generally manages to keep its historical inaccuracies to a minimum, the Senate set is, rather noticeably, much smaller than the real deal (as in, a tiny fraction of the place's actual size). As high as the show's production values are, exact-size recreation of the real building would have cost a small fortune.
Bad Ass: Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. Part of it stems from Plot Armor, but these two regularly take the phrases "Outnumbered by 3 to 1" and "Numerical superiority" and do unprintable things to them. So much so that powerful people start seeking them out because they apparently are unstoppable ("Blessed by the Gods" is the phrase that gets tossed around).
They *are* legionaries, with superior training to most of the mooks they square against. Plus, most of them never see it coming, since Pullo and Vorenus are mostly in civilian garb. And then the pain starts...
The series starts with Caesar in Gaul crushing the remaining Arvernian forces of Vercingetorix, who is vanquished and thrown into a dungeon. He reappears during Caesar's triumph to be displayed and publicly executed. Another tribe plays a role in the first episode, the Blue Spaniards, agents of Pompey.
Some relatively refined members of Celtic tribes are later appointed senators by Caesar. Traditional Roman senators are appalled by that, and it helps lead to Caesar's assassination.
Bastard Boyfriend: Octavian tells Livia before their wedding that he'll whip her just because it arouses him. Once married, Octavian finds it way more arousing if Livia beats him instead.
Battle Discretion Shot: Done to save money. The battle of Pharsalus, where Caesar defeated Pompey, is shown only as a couple of horsemen clanging at each other, followed by one of Pompey's standards falling into the dust.
And then there's Thapsus, which is only acknowledged by a "Just after the battle of Thapsus" opening vignette, a handful of neat corpses and a dying elephant while Cato waxes philophical at Scipio (no, not 'that' Scipio).
Mark Antony grows a beard after Octavian crushes his rebellion. By a historical account, this actually happened.
Vorenus and Pullo after the death of Niobe. This was actually Roman custom.
Be Careful What You Wish For: After discovering his wife's infidelity, and realizing his children conspired to keep the secret from him, Vorenus curses them all to damnation. This is Serious Business for a Roman so Vorenus is aghast when he returns to his house and finds them missing. Pullo assures him he can just lift the curse when his children return. They don't.
Don't insult the Thirteenth Legion, just don't. Or cheat at dice, or be a Smug Snake (you might get your tongue bitten out), or have affairs with a certain lovely slave girl and, and, and... Pullo is basically a nice chap and possibly the most sane character of the series, but he definitely also has a temper on him and a ruthless streak as wide as the Via Appia.
By the same token, try not to be the person reading a speech of Cicero's where he calls Mark Antony "Rome's Helen of Troy" and says that it fits him, because "a woman's role always suited you best" if the person in question is in earshot.
Also not a good idea to suggest to Vorenus that he do anything dishonorable for his own profit. The look on Pullo's face as he watches some poor Mook suggest they team up to sell out Pompey pricelessly says it all. Vorenus calmly tells the mook that he has until Vorenus finishes speaking to run away and then coldly stabs him through the throat when the warning is not heeded.
And especially do not tell Vorenus that you raped and murdered his daughters, particularly when he's standing next to you with a sword in his hand.
Bio Pic: The first season chronicles the rise and fall of Caesar, as well as the childhood of Octavian, whose growth into Emperor Augustus is the arc of the second season.
Bittersweet Ending: Octavian manages to fight his way out of his mother's shadow and become emperor, but with the implication that he may turn out to be just as depraved as Antony was. Meanwhile, Pullo manages to save Caesarion (who is really his biological son) from Octavius, and goes off to raise him as his own. As for Vorenus, he makes peace with his children for their mother's death. Word of God says he survives..
Blood Bath: Atia takes a shower in the blood pouring down from a slaughtered bull in the first episode (probably inspired by an actual religious ceremony that was popular in ancient Rome, albeit a couple of centuries later).
A full on fight breaks out in the senate when Pompey's supporters pass a motion that calls on Caesar to return and surrender or be labeled a traitor and condemned to death. Caesar's supporters don't take this well, as might be expected. A second fights ensues (but just outside the Senate House and not triggered by political reasons) before Antony attempts to enter the Senate to try to veto the motion again, as the previous session was resumed due to a technicality. The fights prevent Mark Antony from vetoing the motion, which was what Pompey wanted in the first place and make a perfect Casus Belli for the Civil War, as People's Tribunes are inviolable. The motion was supposed to show Caesar he was alone, nothing more and was not expected nor wanted to be approved. Although the die-hard optimates do in fact want to destroy Caesar bluntly, so it is not a total blunder to everyone.
Earlier on, Antony pretends to be appalled by this trope, but in his usual insincere but lovable fashion he is only using stealth puns and oblique insults.
Antony You boys play too rough for me. Knives in the Senate House? I didn't know you had it in you.
Book Ends: The series begins and ends with the newsreader announcing that there is a reward for a missing slave, "stolen or absconded." It is probably meant to imply that despite all the goings on in the show (several wars, much drama and the Republic being reorganized into The Empire), for the common people things have hardly changed at all.
Bread and Circuses: Withholding shipments of grain is coldly used as a political leverage, because shortages of bread (generously provided by the state) would make the ruler of Rome tumble thanks to internal unrest.
Subverted with Lucius Vorenus. He is a dour straight man prone to flying off the handle at the slightest hint of dishonesty. He eventually snaps.
Octavia breaks, but eventually snaps back into a less stressed version of herself.
Jocasta is raped and "socially ruined" due to Atia's machinations because she is a bad low-birth influence to Octavia and her father is being purged for being very rich. She's then forced to marry Posca, but adapts to the situation quite well.
Implied when Cleopatra calls her brother her husband. This one is Truth in Television. Although, given the boy's age, it's likely the intended incest never actually had a chance to happen.
Butt Monkey: Lepidus, who is remembered primarily as the least important member of the Second Triumvirate, is treated as such on the show. His own army abandons him for Mark Antony, he's generally kept out of the loop and when he starts talking people usually just ignore him.note Such was his unimportance, after falling foul of Octavian the real life Lepidus was permitted to retire and died peacefully in obscurity, a rarity for ousted leaders in Ancient Rome.
Averted; Caesar's legions are shown forming a testudo (turtle, wall of shields) and rotating their troops in a disciplined way. Legionary Titus Pullo leaves the formation and is punished for that.
Played with later at the battle of Philippi; both sides start in organized formations but the battle later degenerates into a massive confused brawl. It can be seen later that Octavian and Antony's forces have the clear upper hand when significant numbers have reformed into tight formation to advance toward the command position of Brutus and Cassius.
Camping a Crapper: Vorenus started a gang war by having his men rape a guy in the toilet.
The Chains of Commanding: After a slave brings Pompey the message that Caesar's army is advancing, he's faced with a decision: should he fight or flee? Pompey then gives a monologue saying how envious he is of the slave, who has all his decisions made for him.
Pullo gets saner in season 2; being a civilian and a family man like his friend Lucius brings him wisdom and stability for a while. Vorenus goes in the opposite direction due to his personal disgraces, but eventually he gets his act together.
Subverted with Julius Caesar, who lets his empathy get in the way.
Not so - it's made very clear in the show that his mercy is a political tactic rather than stemming from true compassion. See his fury when Vorenus exhibits this same kindness and lets Pompey go after Pharsalus.
Octavian, however, manipulates everyone like a ruthless genius.
Atia 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.
Octavian and Pullo interrogate a man regarding Vorenus' grandson. Pullo hesitates and admits he doesn't know what to do, since in the army "they have specialists." Octavian suggests they start by cutting off the man's thumbs.
Octavian: We need to hear the truth. If you persist in lying to us, we'll torture you. You'll die only after many hours of agony and horror. You give us honesty now, and you'll go swiftly, painlessly. >Pullo: Juno's cunt, you're salty! And I was worried about bringing you!
A man is crucified in season one, but the soldiers are allowed to take him down off the cross again once he's been forthcoming in information.
In Season Two Servilia is tortured by Atia's men. Torture methods included gang rape and partial flaying.
Also in season two, Atia has Timon torture a slave boy who tried to poison her. Truth in Television as a slave's confessions were only legal in court if they were made under torture.
Combat by Champion: A surrounded Antony challenges Octavian to this kind of personal resolution, who just laughs at the idea.
Combat Breakdown: The Battle of Philippi starts out as a relatively orderly Roman vs Roman battle, with both sides fighting using the "fight for a few minutes, switch" approach, though it quickly degenerates into a chaotic melee.
Conscription: Pompey can only oppose green young recruits against the advancing forces of Caesar in Italy. Pompey's boys are no match for Caesar's seasoned, hardened veterans.
Cool Chair: Cassius affirms that Caesar's chair at the senate (curule seat) is a throne, but Brutus refutes it pointing out it's just too plain modest and chairlike to qualify...
Country Matters: Many, many times. The most memorable is when Mark Antony's slave writes a letter to Caesar, saying "...and the Tribune's behavior was just as offensive as you thought". While the slave writes that, we hear Antony having rough sex with Atia in the background while roaring "JUNO'S CUNT!" (his actual Catch Phrase)
Corrupt Church: The augurs qualify, if only because their leader takes bribes.
Corrupt Politician: Inherent in the System, it would be easier to list the honest ones... if such men exist in the show. Legalist catonians allegedly; Vorenus tries to be a straight one during his brief stint in Season I.
Cosmic Plaything: Lucius "Fortune pisses on me again" Vorenus. The gods seem to take perverse pleasure in putting him into awful situations and having him escape by the skin of his teeth, only to wind up in another mess, and occasionally happiness is dangled before him, only to be snatched away. In the first series, he even gets offered a position in the senate, no less! But once again, fate and patrician political machinations conspire to tear his life apart at a critical moment. Also In a major chain of events Vorenus sparing Pompey leads to Caesar in Egypt -> Pullo -> Caesarion -> Last episode Vorenus being seriously wounded defending him.
Cradle of Loneliness: Cleopatra cradles Antony's body and makes it hold her after she sees just how ruthless and cold blooded Octavian is.
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Pullo, who knows very little about history, philosophy or politics and sometimes acts like an outright moron (taking the words "your work here today will grant you immortality" to mean he's never going to die, for instance) but he is one of the most badass characters on the show. The moronic part fades as the show goes on.
Culture Clash: Most Romans are very dismissive or worse about anything foreign, as Caesar puts it when the Egyptian chancellor doubts his consular jurisdiction, since it's based on "Roman law." Caesar very casually and mildly replies "Is there some other form of law, you wretched woman?"
Cultured Warrior: Lucius Vorenus. 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.
Most notably in one situation where Lucius Vorenus decides that the most ethical thing to do is kill a little boy, who his wife had with another man while Vorenus was at war. 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. The series might just be the single best example for this trope ever to appear on TV. To establish the mood, the very first episode has one of the main characters crucifying prisoners of war. He's one of the (somewhat) good guys.
Atia pimping her own daughter Octavia to Pompey in order to secure a political marriage. Pompey is offered a "taste the merchandise" first. Cue Octavia naked on all fours like an animal.
Atia arguing with her daughter Octavia over who shall kill Octavia before the mob breaks through the gates. Octavia doesn't want her mother to kill her simply because they are still angry with each other. That they should all commit suicide is not disputed. Atia orders her slave to kill her if she is not able to herself, and orders the slave to kill himself right afterward, since it would be inappropriate for him to live on. He obediently agrees.
Another example, Niobe: "Love doesn't come unbidden, you must work for her. Strange marriage it would be if you loved each other from the start."
Atia sending Servilia the gift of a naked slave, picked because of his large genitals. "A large penis is always welcome!"
When coupling, having servants in the room to fan you and hand you water is a must.
Pullo's mother and father were slaves, yet he owns a slave himself. The learned Posca is a slave, which doesn't seem to bother him; his living standard is much higher than that of most free men. When he is freed he purchases slaves. The institution of slavery is never in question.
"Nice guy" Pullo has a fit of jealousy, and kills a slave with his bare hands. How does he try to justify himself? "He angered me." What's Vorenus' complain? "That boy belonged to me!" Does Pullo feels sorry? Of course he does. He promises Vorenus that he'll pay him back.
Caesar, who suffers from seizures, hides in a closet during one such episode, with Octavian with him. A slave on the other side of the door just sees Octavian go inside and hears Caesar moaning. Word gets back to Atia, who is thrilled her son, who by the way looks to be about 14 at this point, is being fucked by Caesar, imagining what political power they shall now wield. Octavian corrects her: Caesar suffers from a terrible affliction, and wasn't actually fucking him. Atia deflates, and responds that she is "very disappointed."
An example that also plays as in-universe Values Dissonance when a serious Cassius is brokering a political deal with a casual Asian ruler who is really interested in a form of bestiality that the Romans use as a punishment and not as an entertainment. Cassius complies without much objection anyway but he is subtly shocked.
Octavian, having just directed and supervised an interrogation by torture and helped to conceal the corpse, regards the victim's sleeping with another man's wife and giving her a child as utterly reprehensible.
The Opening Narration states that Rome — a Republic with many democratic traits — cannot govern itself. Magistrates are elected but many of the characters work to avoid what they call rule of the mob, consider elections a mere formality, just a matter of bribes and demagoguery and some are deeply offended when the Senate becomes less restrictive and incorporates pleb citizens and non-roman ones. Nobody really believes in democracy anyway, everything is done behind the scenes by the oligarchy, although the Caesarians are somehow the people's party as they draw a lot of their power from the plebs.
NaÔve Newcomer and staunch legalist Vorenus is disgusted when he discovers the fraud about Roman democracy but Posca convinces him it's for the best.
Posca The people are not crying out for clean elections, they're crying out for stability and peace. They're crying out for jobs and food and clean water... You can do great things for your people.
Antony plays the elections card when he negotiates the aftermath of Caesar's assassination. "Messy things elections." The conspirators are horrified as they would have to validate their taken-for-granted powers. They reach a compromise and no democracy is needed.
By the end of the show the city is ruled by a sole dictator, and the order is achieved (in Real Life an unprecedented era of prosperity ensued, the Pax Augusta aka Pax Romana).
Octavian once he decides to take up his adoptive father's legacy.
The Dog Bites Back: Timon to Attia, when Attia tries to force him to murder a captive Servilia, who they've already been torturing for hours.
"I am NOT a fucking animal!"
Downer Ending: Very narrowly averted. The series was originally supposed to end after one season, with Caesar's murder being the Grand Finale. That means that the Season 1 finale, where Vorenus' wife kills herself in front of him and their children, and Brutus' mom strongarms him into orchestrating his best friend's murder, was originally going to be the finale for the entire series. As bittersweet as the real ending was, it could have been much worse.
Vorenus wants to make up with Niobe because he's convinced he'll be dead soon in the coming Civil War, and someone has to perform the proper religious rites in his memory. Pullo offers to do so himself. Vorenus is touched, but points out that Pullo will likely be dead too.
Pulio buries Eirene with all due ceremony. When Gaia admits on her deathbed to having poisoned Eirene, Pulio smothers Gaia and callously dumps her body in the river.
After helping Marc Antony kill himself, Vorenus cleans the makeup off Antony's face, dresses him in armor and seats him on the throne.
Dying Curse: After the death of her son and the extinction of her political cause (partly due to Atia's machinations), Servilia goes to Atia's house with a knife, chants incessantly until Atia comes out to confront her. Then, with the full attention of everybody around, she indulges in a lengthy curse of Atia, damning her to have nothing but "bitterness and despair" for the rest of her life. To seal the deal, she then stabs herself, with her servant following suit. While Atia achieves the goal she's been aiming for the entire series, she finds it's Lonely at the Top.
Antony: Now that is an exit!
Dying as Yourself: Antony abandons Egyptian style and returns to Roman attire and weapons to commit suicide : "Tell the people I died well, I died Roman."
The Empire. The ur-example, although we don't actually get there until the very end of the series, in an absolutely spine-chilling moment when the true extent of Octavian's power finally becomes clear.
Enemy Mine: Antony and Octavian team up against the senatorial forces.
Vorenus' first shown mission; He suggests, under duress, that the best way to find a thief among the conquered tribes would be to crucify members of each clan one by one until they talk. He shows no pleasure at this, even slightly pained by their screams, but still does it. When one gives him the information, he orders all of them to be taken down while lamenting his own situation (pretty rich for a guy at the foot of a currently occupied cross). This sets up the moral overtones of most of the series, and shows how honorbound Vorenus is.
Vorenus eagerly anticipating seeing his wife again, then flying into a rage and calling her a whore when he suspects that she might have been unfaithful.
Antony 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. This doubles as a Historical In-Joke: true to his characterization on the show, the real Marc Antony had an extremely wild youth that left him in staggering levels of debt.
Atia unabashedly assigning a politically oriented errand to a man the moment the two finish having sex. The she parades herself naked in front of her son after she bathed. The she forced her daughter to divorce the man she loves on the off chance that Pompey might marry her, then calling her a "torpid little she-cow" when the plan fails.
Octavian condescendingly telling Pullo that he's "a Roman citizen of noble birth" while he's hog-tied in the dirt, then calmly beating the snot out of one of his disabled captors and singlehandedly deducing Caesar's political maneuvering — all in the two minutes after he's freed.
A condensed triple one at the start of the second episode (shown in the middle of the first one in the BBC recut); Rowdy Pullo makes a lewd remark, Vorenus commands him to show decency as he is under Rome's standard. Pullo talks back pointing at General Antony, who is fornicating a young shepherd by a tree with his entire personal escort watching and with his cohorts halted — they are marching towards Rome on the double — . Legalist Vorenus replies that he (Antony) is not under the standard.
The first Senate session: A radical Cato —the only senator dressed in black— gives a condemnatory and incendiary speech against Caesar (a war hero still in Gaul), while the flexible Cicero suggests a more subtle opposition.
Even Evil Has Standards: Erastes Fulman, the Roman equivalent of a mob boss, flies into a rage when he hears that Mark Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral incited a riot. Amusingly enough, he threatens to 'disjoint' his men if they participate in the uproar.
"We observe the fucking decencies!"
Everyone Has Standards: Vorenus cows the meanest gang leaders to submission by smashing a statue of a goddess they all worship.
Femme Fatale: Atia yet again. Gaia and Cleopatra count as well.
Fetish: The senatorial leaders in exile resort to an Asian ruler who casually request an interspecies erotica show (baboon meets woman) as the condition for his help. The Romans awkwardly seal the deal and comply. The scene serves as in-universe Values Dissonance, Cassius points out it's not an entertainment but a punishment (used by Romans) and is subtly shocked by the requirement (but complies).
Pullo and Octavian: their first exploit together results in them sharing a secret that becomes the root of their Intergenerational Friendship.
Vorenus and Antony. Early in the show Vorenus deeply dislikes everything that Antony stands for, but he grows to like him as time passes. The two share moments of common soul exploration and when Vorenus reluctantly leaves Antony, he even utters the famous parting words It Has Been an Honor, much to Antony's surprise. Finally Antony asks Vorenus for his sword to kill himself, assisted by Vorenus.
Atia and Servilia are socially polite and behave as friends in public and sometimes in private, but they both know it's all an act and a display of power and alternated supremacy.
Antony enjoys acting like if he and Cicero were friends and Cicero follows suit, but it's just a pantomime, almost sadistic. One rarely misses a chance to hurt the other when the political tide is favourable.
Friendship Moment: Vorenus and Pullo have a ton of these, but Brutus and Cassius have one as well.
Foreign Cuss Word: Pullo's favourite exclamations are Gerrae and Cack, Latin words (the last one also exists in English but is not widely used as such).
Going Native : Lucius Vorenus is complimented in Egypt by Atia for averting this and staying properly Roman; the other Roman officials including triumvir Mark Antony did not, a thing that is used politically against him, as happened in Real Life.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Erastes Fulmen is always either boisterously Affably Evil or seething with rage. One of his funniest moments is when he rages at a slave who whistles: "For fuck's sake, stop that Teutonic droning! If you have to whistle like someone's bum-boy, at least whistle a Roman song!"
Posca enjoys a trusted position as Caesar's slave and there is clearly considerable affection between the two, to the extent that Posca weeps bitterly over Caesar's death and Caesar explicitly freed him in his will.
The same goes for Cicero's secretary Tiro, as well. In Real Life, the two men became friends and Cicero freed him.
Hard Head: Played with. Pullo is knocked unconscious and falls into a coma when a blow to the head puts a splinter inside his scalp. He undergoes painful surgery and finally makes a full recovery.
Heroic BSOD: Once the Unstoppable Rage has worn off, Vorenus has one of these after believing his whole family is dead. Pullo also has one towards the end of Season One when Vorenus rejects him.
Vorenus and Pullo, bordering on Ho Yay, which is lampshaded in-universe.
Brutus and Cassius in season two.
Historical-Domain Character: Easily half the major characters. Technically even Vorenus and Pullo, though in their case it was simply taking the names of two of Caesar's real centurions mentioned in his book De bello Gallico and creating the characters from whole cloth.
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.
Consul Antony and Cicero are verbally fencing. Cicero wants the cards on the table. Antony enjoys himself.
Cicero: Please go on, make your threats. I don't like to submit to mere implication.
Antony: There is a question I've always wanted to ask you. Your old friend Crassus, when he was captured by the Parthians, is it true that they poured molten gold down his throat? Because that would really sting.
A slight variation early in the show. Antony again.
Mark Antony: Caesar has many more legions than the Thirteenth.
Scipio: Yes, on the far side of the Alps.
Mark Antony: Winter does not last forever. Spring comes. Snows melt.
Scipio: That is a threat!
Mark Antony: No, I assure you, that is no threat. Snows always melt.
Seems to be a Running Gag with the character. Caesar and Antony are seeking to bribe a priest, offering money as a "gift" for his wife. The priest keeps bumping up the price, saying his wife has expensive tastes.
Priest: She would dress her slaves in silk if I let her. She eats oysters for breakfast. Daily.
Antony: (moving close) She should be most careful. People often choke on oysters.
Info Dump: Octavian's informed monologue about the events of the first episode not only filled in the finer political points of the episode to Pullo and Vorenus but the audience as well.
It's All About Me: Atia ignores the word empathy, everything she does gravitates around her self-centered schemes. Subverted in her final scene where she realizes she is Lonely at the Top. (Implied by her face when she looks at Antony's dummy)
A great deal of Season One involves Vorenus and Pullo being excused for offenses they should be executed for.
Caesar: You have powerful gods on your side.
Evil Matriarch Atia, despite being one of the most morally detestable characters in the whole series, manages to survive up to the end of the season 2 finale.
Exactly how much she's avoided said karma is debatable, though: she was abandoned by the love of her life whose death she helped cause, and while her son is now the Emperor she's lost all influence over him. By this point he actually seems to take a quiet but sadistic pleasure in her suffering, and he's probably going to ensure she lives by his rules for the rest of her miserable, lonely existence.
Kent Brockman News: The Forum newsreader remains the same through the series and his news are nothing but pure propaganda for whoever is in charge at the moment. The news are often followed by advertisements read in the same hamming tone.
Kneel Before Zod: Caesar and Octavian (after becoming Caesar) use a soldier as a footstool when climbing onto a horse.
Large Ham: Many in-universe examples. There's the Forum newsreader, for one. "OUR GLORIOUS FATHER - GAIUS! JULIUS! CAESAR!"
Erastes Fulmen also fits, especially when he wants to emphasize something. "DIFFERENT FUCKING RULES!"
Licensed Game: CDX (UK version) is a point-and-click adventure with full-motion FMV that takes the premise that the lead is a freelance props buyer, after recently working for the BBC on "Rome", has a dagger some very nasty people want. It's surprisingly good.
Line in the Sand: Caesar does an excellent version when he plays on the emotions of his 13th Legion to get them to march on Rome.
Loads and Loads of Characters. But even with the sizable cast, several important historical characters were left out, such as Scribonia (Octavian's wife before Livia), his daughter Julia, Livia's second son Drusus, Octavia's first husband Claudius Marcellus and her children of that marriage prior to her marriage to Antony. Had the show continued with those people absent, it would have created a lot of problems.
Longest Pregnancy Ever: Eirene tells Pullo of her pregnancy during historical events that occur around 42 B.C. Judging by other historical events, like the betrothal of Octavian and Livia, she is still pregnant in 39 or 38 B.C. This is reportedly due to the necessary rewriting of the last few scripts.
Manipulative Bastard: Atia and later Octavian. The usually blunt Antony slides into one with his rabble-rousing Caesar's eulogy.
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Atia firmly believes this to be true. Which is why she arranges for Octavian to visit a brothel, so that he can become a real man.
Atia: You will penetrate somebody today or I shall burn your wretched books at the yard.
Meaningful Rename: To emphasize that he is the lawful heir to his great uncle, Octavian changes his name to Gaius Caesar. and finally to Caesar Augustus. Noted by Cicero, very wary of the implication.
Military Maverick: Pullo and Vorenus by extension most of the time. One example early in the Civil War has Pullo under strict orders about not attacking Pompeyan forces, disregarding those orders and charging against the easily outmatched green soldiers of Pompey. Caesar benefits greatly by this insubordination as he realizes his enemy is very weak in Italy.
Milking the Giant Cow: The Forum newsreader played by Ian McNeice punctuates his Large Ham news bulletins with stylized gestures and poses that were actually used by professional speakers and politicians at the time. At one point Lucius Vorenus tries to use them during his brief attempt at politics, but completely fails to make them seem impressive.
Neutral No Longer: While Cicero is a senator with deep republican convictions, he is wise enough not to antagonize the Caesarians in public and maintain a moderate status. His position gets untenable when his Arch-Enemy Antony becomes the ruler of Rome and forces him into his side. Cicero instead openly confronts and insults Antony and unleashes Octavian against him.
A condemnatory but symbolic senate motion against Caesar -only intended to show Caesar his relative isolation, making him less adventurous- becomes violent, is actually passed and after some twists Mark Antony —an inviolable tribune— gets assaulted. That gives a now cornered Caesar a Pretext for War against them. Cue the Civil War.
After the demise of Caesar, Brutus stops further killings ("We are liberators, not murderers") and spares the life of Antony (who already had escaped an attempt on his life). Days later Antony masterfully manipulates the masses during Caesar's funeral and forces the conspirators to leave the city, Antony becomes the successor of Caesar and sole ruler of Rome.
Cicero plays and empowers Octavian against Antony, who is the continuator of Caesar. Octavian lets Cicero think he is just a docile pawn of the Senate but eventually Cicero is outmaneuvered by an Octavian who now as Consul military occupies Rome and the Senate itself, something that even Caesar never dared to do..
Setting Pompey free leads Vorenus and Pullo to Egypt. The war is prolonged and Pompey is killed by the locals to impress Caesar, despite the fact that Caesar often spares his Roman enemies. In Egypt Caesarion ensues. Years later, in the final episode Vorenus is probably mortally wounded while defending Caesarion. Word of God says he survives, but it's a narrow thing.
Nostalgia Filter: When Octavian asks Pullo to join his invasion of Egypt, the young emperor says it'll be just like one of their old adventures. Pullo's uncertain smile shows he remembers all too well that they involved torture and murder.
Not so Above It All: Lucius Vorenus, though rather than be above the silliness he was above the corruption. Vorenus eventually goes from being a honorable soldier to the Godfather of Rome's criminal underworld.
One Gaius Limit: Technically, Octavian would have been called "Gaius" by his family and close friends in Real Life. He's always referred to as "Octavian" to avoid confusion with his great uncle. Later he invokes a Meaningful Rename as explained above.
Protagonist Centred Morality: Titus Pullo is a rapist and multiple murderer but is presented as heroic because he is a loyal friend to Vorenus. This is entirely deliberate, since raping the enemy's women was completely normal behavior for Roman legionaries.
Antony and Octavian are Genre Savvy rulers; they avert Caesar's mistakes regarding clemency and thus purge a great amount of political enemies. They also kill some men who just happen to be very rich while the rulers have great expenses.
Reader: These being the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero: When I was a young man, I defended the State. As an old man, I shall not abandon it. I give sincere thanks to Mark Antony, who has generously presented me with the most promising theme imaginable. I address you directly, Antony. Please listen as if you... as if you... please listen, as if you were sober and intelligent, and not a drink-sodden, sex-addled wreck. You are certainly not without accomplishments: it is a rare man who can boast of becoming a bankrupt before even coming of age. You have brought upon us war, pestilence and destruction. You are Rome's Helen of Troy. But then... but then... a woman's role has always suited you best."
Mark Antony and Caesar in season one. Octavian takes up Caesar's blue mantle rather well in the second season.
Also Atia and Servilia in a villainous version: passionate, indulgent, vulgar Atia tends to wear reds and purples, while the more calculating, elegant, reserved Servilia tends to wear blues and greens.
Octavia and Octavian also have this dynamic: gentle, emotional, romantic Octavia wears pinks, purples and corals, while cold, emotionless Octavian wears a lot of blue and white when he's grown up (not counting his consul's and senator's togas).
Right Through His Pants: Averted. To say the least. Brutus, Mark Antony and Pullo all have scenes involving full frontal nudity (and Brutus became a lot more popular because of it), while many others are shown naked but not full frontal.
Right Through the Wall: In the second episode Octavia overhears her mother Atia having very loud sex with Mark Antony, which she mockingly imitates at a party later. Antony's comment: "She has you exactly."
Special mention to Julius Caesar's speech just before he marches on the walled capital Rome with only an armed gang. And wins.
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.
Lampshaded when Octavian has to speak to his gathered troops.
Shout-Out: After the shipwreck of Lucius and Titus's fleet, the two characters devise a means of escape from their desert island which will be very familiar to anyone who's read Watchmen.
Shown Their Work: Very minute details of the Roman world are constantly and unemphatically recreated by the show. The arena set, for instance, is completely realistic. On the DVD commentary, the show runners point out that most gladiator fights were everyday local events and took place in the Forum Romanum, not in large-scale arenas. The not yet built Colosseum would be the exception, the small temporary arena in the Forum that we see in Rome was the norm. It's a case of Reality Is Unrealistic.
Subverted: Atia goads an apathetic Antony to betray a campaigning Caesar and seize Rome for himself (herself more like it). Antony thinks about it briefly but is dismayed by the notion, scorns Atia and does the opposite; he gathers new resolution and quickly runs to help Caesar.
Under orders from Octavian, Pullo makes a half-hearted attempt to flip Vorenus against Antony. It's a foregone conclusion how that turns out.
Stealth Insult: Antony uses one every chance he has. Cicero in a lesser way.
After all is lost at Philippi, Brutus charges the enemy army all by himself, taking care to take off his armor first.
Antony enlists Vorenus' help to commit suicide.
Suicide Pact: Antony and Cleopatra, obviously. The show alters the conventional story a bit, though, by having Cleopatra fake her death off-screen, causing Antony to kill himself for real so she could sell him out to Octavian and save herself. But when she realizes that Octavian is a coldhearted badass who can't be persuaded, she kills herself as well.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Memmio to Erastes Fulmen, with even both characters being played by actors that look very much like each other. A weird example since Erastes Fulmen's "departure" was a natural part of the script, rather than a last minute addition.
Tactical Withdrawal: Pompey says that he only needs to stomp his feet, and legions would spring up all over Italy. The first thing Pompey does when Caesar crosses the Rubicon river with "only an armed gang" is to run away from Rome.
Take Our Word for It: Many of the large, famous battles. The battle which forces Pompey to flee to Egypt is basically a hazy shot of a few soldiers fighting. The scene later on where he explains what happened by drawing in the dirt with a stick is actually a much more effective representation.
Played seriously when Julius Caesar refuses to execute Vorenus and Pullo for having let Pompey escape, because their incredible luck implies they're protected by powerful gods.
Also when Vorenus uses a Blasphemous Boast to frighten the underworld into accepting him as their leader. Pullo warns him the gods doesn't like that sort of thing, but Vorenus thinks he's lost everything anyway. "What more can they do to me?" At the end of the episode, it's revealed his family hasn't been killed, but have been sold as slaves.
Thanatos Gambit: When Vorenus confronts Erastes Fulmen to find out his children's whereabouts, Erastes tells him that he raped and murdered them, even though he actually sold them into slavery. Vorenus kills him in a fit of rage, and doesn't find out what really happened to his children until much later. Erastes knew that Vorenus would kill him either way, so he lied to prevent him from being able to rescue his children.
That's an Order: It has to be pronounced sometimes when the main characters, soldiers, are disinclined towards something. One particularly significative instance when Vorenus is reluctant to give his personal opinion about an insult (You are cowardly scum) to Antony, who has to resort to this phrase and yet they end up sharing a moment of mutual understanding and bonding.
That Was Not A Dream: After Niobe commits suicide and Vorenus curses his own children, he staggers out into the narrow crowded streets which appear to have become a nightmare, with fleeing men and crippled beggars shouting that Caesar is dead. Vorenus grabs a priest and begs to be woken up. The priest agrees to do so then headbutts Vorenus unconscious and robs him.
Timeshifted Actor: Octavian is played by Max Pirkis as a child and by Simon Woods as a young adult.
Took a Level in Badass: Brutus starts the series as an Idle Rich more concerned with his poetry than with politics. He eventually becomes a killer, a reasonable -albeit naÔve- leader and an army General.
Translation Convention: While everyone speaks English, they denote social class based on which British accent is used.
Also, Greek characters, such as Posca, are portrayed as speaking English with a thick Greek accent.
Many slave characters, such as Eirene, Merula, and Castor, are played by Italian actors and use their natural accents. Gaia slips in and out of a generic foreign accent, while Eleni has a fairly standard British accent. Justifiable, as slaves would have come from various places.
In a particularly ironic twist, characters that are meant to sound particularly crude (such as Mark Antony) sometimes speak Latin.
At least, informed by modern standards: The Romans had different ideas about male beauty, which didn't really include the rugged look.
Underestimating Badassery: Erastes Fulmen to Vorenus, repeatedly. Fulmen shows up with his gang of thugs and tries to intimidate Vorenus on a few occasions; when he finally crosses the line, Vorenus and Pullo kill every last one of them without breaking sweat.
The Unfair Sex: Very much averted. There are plenty of ruthless female characters such as Atia, Servilia, Gaia and Cleopatra and even the more sympathetic women like Niobe and Octavia do some highly questionable things
Unstoppable Rage: Pullo and Vorenus, more than once. But the stand-out example is when Vorenus slaughters Erastes Fulmen's entire gang.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The series is quite loose on many aspects of history. Some of them are forgivable for the sake of dramatic/artistic license, but others are questionable. It may work better if you think of the series as a sort of "Rome, as seen by Romans." There are all sorts of oddities in their interpretation of other cultures (the wild German cavalrymen, the long-haired Gauls, the dark, effeminate Egyptians) but it is entirely possible to look at these oddities as a dramatization of "Roman Stereotypes."
The real Atia, besides being a dull Roman matron, died one year after Caesar and thus shouldn't have been around for the second season. There is no record of a romantic relationship between her and Mark Antony. Brutus did not suicidally charge the enemy at Phillipi, but rather had a slave kill him.
The Voiceless: A viewer could be forgiven for thinking Vorenus' younger daughter is totally mute. She makes only the slightest of sounds on very rare occasions.
Word of God from the DVD commentary is the actress who played her the longest was Italian and refused to learn English lines phonetically. Rather than argue with a little kid, they simply cut out her dialogue and even Lampshaded it later.
Pullo: She still doesn't say much, but she can give such a look . . .
Well-Intentioned Extremist: Brutus, his only goal is the preservation of a sacred Republic started by an ancient kin. He reluctantly joins politics and the plot to kill Caesar when he realizes that Caesar may be a threat to the constitutional order. Once Caesar is gone he stops further violence "we are tyrant killers, liberators, not murderers" and spares Antony, an action that turns against him when Antony manages to continue the legacy of Caesar and in the end he has to exile with the rest of the conspirators and embark in another civil war.
We Named the Monkey Jack: When Vorenus brings home the one little boy who survived the wasting disease that killed the rest of his slaves, the girls coo over him and one of them says, "We'll call him Rubio after my pigeon that died."
We Used to Be Friends: Caesar and Pompey were very close associates during the First Triumvirate, when the series start that falls apart as Pompey's wife, daughter of Caesar dies and the Senate seduces Pompey against Caesar. Slightly hinted during the show, they share a mutual respect at first and Caesar is deeply affected by Pompey's fate.
Calpurnia, threatens Caesar with divorce if he doesn't end his relation with Servilia. Caesar complies as he needs her family political influence and money.
Servilia, she sets in motion the plot to assassinate Caesar purely out of spite from being rejected by him.
Atia, oh gerrae! Atia. All of the above happens thanks to her machinations. Plus humiliating her is Antony's final mistake, as after that she begs Octavian to destroy him. By the end of the series she is maneuvering against her daughter-in-law; from Atia's point of view the wife of her little boy Octavian / Augustus is just an intolerable usurper to the "First Lady of Rome" dignity.
Atia: I don't give a fuck what the priests say. I'll not let a vicious little trollop like you walk ahead of me. I go first. [...] I know who you are. I can see you. You're swearing now that someday you'll destroy me. Remember, far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go and look for them now.
Worthy Opponent: Pompey, Cicero, sensible and reasonable men. Caesar, of noble-birth is one as well for the senatorial-patrician side, despite the fact that they hate him and would never give him any credit. Previous dictators like Sulla were very ruthless as opposed to Caesar. And as the above Badass Boast shows, Atia acknowledges Servilia was this after her death.
In the aftermath of Caesar's death, his heirs Octavian and Mark Antony become enemies over time. When Antony steps all over the Senate and takes his legions north to seize Gaul for himself, Octavian joins forces with the Senate (run by sympathizers of Caesar's murderers) to crush Antony's rebellion. Antony is defeated, but Octavian turns on his allies by using his new position of Consul to take control of the Senate and make Rome his own dictatorship. As Brutus begins marching on Rome, he allies with Antony once again, because it's the only way they can survive. After winning the battle, Octavian and Antony are now joint dictators of Rome. But Octavian then blackmails Antony into leaving Rome and taking up his seat of power in Egypt. Over the years, Antony and Cleopatra provoke him into declaring war, which he does. He wins this war, and ends up as the first Emperor of the Roman Empire.
Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Julius Caesar sends Vorenus to bribe a former army colleague. Honest to a fault but loyal to his superior, Vorenus does so and reports back. Caesar comments that he didn't think the man would sell out so cheaply. "I must send you to handle all of my corruptions." Manipulative Bastard that he is, Caesar quickly sees how uncomfortable this makes Vorunus and says that he was only joking.
Realising that war is coming between Marc Antony and Octavian, Posca flees back to Rome but makes sure to bring Antony's last will and testament with him. Realising the contents of the will contain everything he needs as a Pretext for War, Octavian thanks Posca for his "loyalty". Posca has the grace to look embarrassed.