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Series / The Caesars

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Top row, L-R: Augustus, Germanicus, Tiberius. Bottom row, L-R: Sejanus, Caligula, Claudius.

A British mini-series shot entirely on studio sets, with a cast largely comprising well-known character actors, focusing on the political intrigue surrounding the reigns of the Julio-Claudian Roman Emperors... sound familiar?

Aired in 1968, Granada Television's take on the early years of The Roman Empire comprised six episodes written by Philip Mackie (who went on to write The Cleopatras for The BBC in 1983) and directed by Derek Bennett, first airing in autumn of 1968. Rather than encompassing the entire Julio-Claudian dynasty, the series focuses primarily on the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula, beginning with the last days of Augustus in 14 AD and concluding with the declaration of Claudius as Emperor in 41 AD.

The six episodes broadly cover three major plot arcs. In "Augustus", the dying Augustus (Roland Culver) ponders the question of whether to name as his heir his exiled, wastrel grandson Agrippa Postumus or Tiberius (André Morell), his wife Livia's son by her first marriage. He settles on Tiberius, who will be succeeded by his nephew Germanicus (Eric Flynn), but in "Germanicus", the armies of the Rhine rise up against intolerable conditions and demand that Germanicus be made Emperor immediately; Tiberius successfully manipulates Germanicus into putting down the mutiny instead of using it to propel himself to the Imperial throne.

The next two episodes detail the Succession Crisis dominating Tiberius' reign and the rise and fall of Sejanus (Barrie Ingham), his right-hand man. In "Tiberius", Germanicus is apparently murdered by the governor of Syria, Piso, allegedly on the Emperor's orders. More prospective heirs are cut down in "Sejanus", including Tiberius' son Drusus and Germanicus' son Nero, as Sejanus tries to manipulate his way into ruling Rome as a regent for Tiberius' young grandson Gemellus (whose mother Livilla is Sejanus' lover); the Emperor eventually catches on and has Sejanus arrested and executed.

The final two episodes cover the brief but chaotic rule of Tiberius' successor. When Tiberius dies in "Caligula", he names Germanicus' surviving son Gaius Caligula (Ralph Bates) as co-heir with his grandson Gemellus. Caligula presents himself as sole ruler and initially rules benevolently, but after recovering from a severe fever, he becomes violently, even homicidally, insane and declares himself a god while massacring anyone he sees as a threat, including Gemellus. His murderous reign continues into "Claudius", but his enemies are finally multiplying faster than he can eliminate them, and he is assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, who declare Germanicus' lame, stammering brother Claudius (Freddie Jones) the new Emperor.

The series has been largely overshadowed by I, Claudius since the latter series aired in 1976, but it was a hit with critics and audiences during its original airing, with Freddie Jones' performance as Claudius being singled out for particular praise and being awarded the Monte Carlo Golden Nymph award in 1969. Among the differences in characterisation are a more sympathetic portrayal of Tiberius, a less sympathetic portrayal of Germanicus, Caligula's descent into madness beginning after his fever rather than at birth, and Claudius preferring that Rome be an empire rather than a republic.

The series was released on DVD (Region 2 only) in 2006.

This series provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating:
    • In "Tiberius", after Piso commits suicide rather than face certain conviction for treason while Plancina is absolved of all responsibility for Germanicus' murder, Tiberius sombrely observes to Sejanus that he will now be universally detested by the Roman people.
    • Caligula is not shy about antagonising his subjects with insane decrees after becoming Emperor, but is determined that they will fear him too much to act against him. The Praetorian Guard don't fall in line with this.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Caligula flirts openly with members of the Praetorian Guard and even plants a kiss on Drusilla's husband Lepidus in "Caligula".
  • Ancient Rome: The series is set here, during the early years of The Roman Empire.
  • And Starring: Freddie Jones (Claudius) gets this treatment in the opening credits of every episode except the last, the cast list always ending with "And Freddie Jones". In "Claudius", it is Ralph Bates (Caligula) who gets the "And" credit, while Jones gets top billing.
  • Arranged Marriage: As happened in reality, most of the marriages in the series were arranged; one of Augustus' last requests is for Drusus to marry Livilla, while Caligula orders Claudius to marry Messalina to set an example for the Roman people. Although both marriages ended badly, we only see the outcome of the first. Tiberius also mentions his disastrous arranged marriage to Augustus' daughter Julia when confronting Livia in "Tiberius".
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Subverted; following the murders of Caligula and Caesonia, Claudius hears the Praetorian Guard approaching and scurries across the room to hide behind a curtain. The guards pull him out of hiding, and he grovels in front of them, sobbing and begging to be spared... and is stunned when they declare "Hail Caesar!" and salute him. The final scene of the series has Claudius, still reeling a bit, telling a delegation from the Senate that he is Emperor now.
  • Balancing Death's Books: When Caligula is ill with the fever that leads him to believe he was a god, several Senators vow that they will give their own lives if the gods will spare Caligula. When Caligula recovers, he decrees that the Senators in question make good on their vows.
  • Based on a True Story: Although, for the most part, the series avoids the more salacious rumours spread by contemporary historians, the primary sources are still such classical accounts as those by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. Some details remain exaggerated (for example, most modern historians believe that if Caligula committed incest with any of his sisters, it was likely limited to Drusilla).
  • Batman Gambit: Tiberius pulls one of these in "Germanicus" to put down the mutiny among the armies of the Rhine. Crispus is sent to Cologne to tell Germanicus that Tiberius is very ill, and simply wants to retire to his villa and die. Germanicus takes this as a sign that he doesn't need to march on Rome with the rebellious troops behind him to become Emperor, but simply needs to wait a short while for Tiberius to die, and so he orders the ringleaders of the mutiny executed and restores order - just as Tiberius wanted him to do.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Julio-Claudian dynasty, a family tree full of backstabbing, extortion, incest, and murder.
  • Blue Blood: Livia takes great pride in being a member of the Claudians, one of Rome's oldest and most influential families (many of her descendants, including Tiberius and Claudius, seem more indifferent to being blue bloods). In "Tiberius", she refuses to talk in the presence of Sejanus, as he was born a commoner.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: In "Claudius", Callistus and Vitellius persuade Cassius Chaerea to lead the Praetorian Guard in assassinating Caligula.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Caligula and his sisters, at least until he accidentally kills Drusilla by strangling her and banishes Julia Livilla and Agrippinilla for allegedly conspiring against him.
  • The Caligula: The Trope Namer, in a genuinely unsettling performance by Ralph Bates. He flies into a violent or even murderous rage at the least provocation, raises funds by forcing the wealthy to leave their entire estates to him in their wills and then having them assassinated, executes or exiles countless people (including several members of his own family) for treason on flimsy or outright false evidence, and then there's the whole god complex.
  • Caligula's Horse: The Trope Namer, Incitatus, is mentioned, though not actually seen.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Tiberius never wanted to become Emperor, and resists accepting the title following Augustus' death until it becomes politically necessary.
  • The Chessmaster: Tiberius has an episode of this in "Germanicus". With the legions rebelling against his being named Augustus' successor ahead of Germanicus in both Pannonianote  and Germany, and concerned that if he goes to quell one mutiny personally the other might flare up while his back is turned, Tiberius manages to squash both of them without leaving Rome. He sends Drusus and Sejanus to put down the Pannonian rebellion, while he manipulates Germanicus into putting down the German rebellion by sending Crispus to tell him that Tiberius is gravely ill, thus making him decide that instead of marching on Rome with his rebel followers, he should whip them back into shape to better serve him when he becomes Emperor.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Claudius, although he admits to his closer confidantes that it is largely an act, especially during the reign of Caligula.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Frequently employed by the powerful to get their enemies to confess to real and especially imaginary crimes.
    • When Germanicus believes he is being poisoned in "Tiberius", he and Agrippina order the torture of their kitchen slaves until they confess to the poisoning.
    • In "Sejanus", Tiberius orders that the doctor Endemus, whom Apicata alleges in her final letter before her suicide to have been part of Sejanus and Livilla's conspiracy to poison Drusus, be tortured until he confesses and then executed.
    • Caligula has (falsely) accused traitors Capito and his son Bassus tortured to death as dinner entertainment in "Claudius".
  • Curtain Camouflage: Claudius hides behind one after Caligula's assassination, terrified that he is also on the conspirators' hit list. As he gasps in panic and knocks over several metal trays when he scurries toward the curtain, the Praetorian Guard have no trouble knowing where to look for him.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Caligula insists that his and Caesonia's daughternote  be named Drusilla, after his dead sister.
  • Decadent Court: The Julio-Claudian family and their social circle form a tangled web of debauchery and intrigue. There's Livia admitting to having arranged "a good many" deaths, Livilla and Sejanus seemingly poisoning her husband Drusus so that they can rule as regents when her son Gemellus succeeds Tiberius, Caligula having incestuous relations with his three sisters until he accidentally kills one and banishes the other two for (imagined) conspiracies against him... and much more besides.
  • Defiant to the End:
    • While Germanicus' son Nero is being starved to death in prison in "Sejanus", he shouts curses against Tiberius until he no longer has the strength to do so. Sejanus reports this to Tiberius, but implies that Nero voluntarily refused his food.
    • In "Caligula", Agrippina forcibly starves herself to death as a final gesture of defiance against Tiberius to ensure that her blood remains on his hands, as does the blood of many of her other relatives.
    • When Caligula is murdered by the Praetorian Guard in the final act of "Claudius", his last words as he is being stabbed are "Strike again, I'm still alive!"
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Tiberius crosses this in the final scene of "Sejanus" when Macro hands him Apicata's suicide note implicating Sejanus and Livilla in the murder of Tiberius' son Drusus. The revelation that the man he trusted more than anyone was responsible for killing his only son causes him to break down crying, and in the following episode, he has lost all interest in running the Roman Empire and is just waiting to die.
    • Agrippina's suicide in the first act of "Caligula" drives Tiberius' friend Nerva past the point of no return. After years of watching Tiberius turn into the ruthless Emperor he was initially only pretending to be, Nerva finally loses all hope for both his friend and the Empire he governs, and after delivering a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Tiberius, he shuts himself up in his room and commits suicide.
  • Dirty Old Man: Tiberius admits to becoming one in his later years, although fewer details are given than in I, Claudius; Nero refers to him as a "fornicator" in "Sejanus", while Tiberius mentions his "nameless vices" to Gemellus and his "private debaucheries" to Nerva in "Caligula".
  • Doesn't Trust Those Guys: Caligula invokes "Trust no one" as a personal philosophy. Of course, his tyranny creates enough enemies even among his inner circle that he can be regarded as Properly Paranoid.
  • Double Meaning: At the beginning of "Caligula", Tiberius invites the title character to accompany Macro to visit Agrippina on Pandataria. Caligula declines, and when Tiberius remarks that Agrippina is his mother, he replies that he has never cared much for blood relationships. In a different sense, he doesn't care for the blood relationship he has with his sisters, Julia Drusilla, Julia Livilla, and Agrippinilla, as he has incestuous relations with all three.
  • Dramatic Irony: Caligula's first scene in the series occurs near the end of "Sejanus", when he is getting drunk with Tiberius and Claudius. Caligula laughs off the planned construction of golden statues proclaiming Sejanus as a god as madness, adding, "With all due respects to my great-grandfather, the divine Augustus, men are not gods." As any student of Roman history knows, and as we see in "Caligula", he changed his mind very quickly on that subject after becoming Emperor.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • In "Tiberius", Piso is told by the Emperor that while he will dismiss many of the charges against him, he will not dismiss or defend him against the charge of treason for his armed re-entry into Syria. When his wife Plancina then tells him that Livia has intervened on her behalf but not on Piso's, he decides that it is Better to Die than Be Killed and stabs himself.
    • At the end of "Sejanus", Macro reports that when Sejanus' estranged wife, Apicata, saw that their children had been murdered as part of The Purge of Sejanus' family and supporters, she took her own life (but not before writing to Tiberius detailing Sejanus and Livilla's role in poisoning Tiberius' son Drusus).
    • Agrippina commits suicide by voluntary starvation in "Caligula" when it becomes apparent that Tiberius has no plans to end the exile to Pandataria with which Sejanus had her sentenced. When Tiberius' friend Nerva hears the news, it pushes him to commit suicide as well, distraught at what Rome and Tiberius have become.
    • When Caligula is assassinated at the end of "Claudius", Caesonia knows she will soon follow and orders the Praetorian Guard to kill her. When they hesitate, she takes a sword from one of them and stabs herself in the chest.
  • Embarrassing Password: Caligula delights in giving these to his guards. Requiring them to say "Cupid" or "Loveykins" to each other makes them sound as though they are flirting with each other, which the Ambiguously Bi Emperor finds highly amusing.
  • The Emperor: Four of them, although the series mostly concentrates on the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula. Claudius remains an important character throughout (he is the only character to appear in every episode), but only becomes Emperor in the final few minutes, while Augustus dies near the end of the first episode.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: As happened in real life, one of Caligula's first acts as Emperor is to personally carry his mother Agrippina's remains from Pandataria to Rome to be interred in Augustus' Mausoleum, and he orders that funeral games be held in her honour.
  • The Exile:
    • At the time of "Augustus", the Emperor's grandson Agrippa Postumus has been banished from Rome to the island of Planasia as punishment for his drunken, hell-raising behaviour.
    • In "Sejanus", Agrippina is exiled to the island of Pandataria as part of Sejanus' purge of his political opponents. As she has been a thorn in Tiberius' side since he became Emperor, he chooses not to end her exile even after Sejanus is executed for treason.
    • After the title character in "Caligula" recovers from his fever and begins seeing enemies everywhere, he has two of his sisters, Julia Livilla and Agrippinilla, banished from Rome for supposedly plotting against him.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When the Praetorian Guards who have murdered Caligula announce his death to his assembled guests, Caesonia, knowing that she is marked for death as well, decides not to put off the inevitable and says, "Kill me!" Two guards march toward her, swords drawn, but hesitate to deliver the killing blow, so she takes one of their swords and does it herself.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In "Claudius", Capito tries to save his and Bassus' lives by claiming to be involved in a conspiracy against Caligula along with Mnester, Callistus, Vitellius, and Caesonia. The last name convinces Caligula that Capito is lying and he is tortured to death. However, Callistus and Vitellius ultimately do successfully conspire to have Caligula assassinated by the Praetorian Guard.
  • A God Am I: Caligula declares this following his fever, and the more sycophantic of his followers commission temples in his honour in Rome.
  • Gold Digger: In "Augustus", Tiberius accuses first Livia, then Augustus of being gold diggers in different ways. He points out that Livia divorced his father, Tiberius Nero, to marry Augustus at a time when the latter was clearly destined to become ruler of the Roman Empire (Livia does not help her case in Tiberius' eyes by insisting that she did love his father... until she met Augustus), and notes to Augustus that in marrying Livia, he married into one of Rome's oldest and most influential families (the Claudians).
  • Happily Married: Augustus and Livia are said to be this in "Augustus", having been married for fifty years at Augustus' death. Tiberius was also happily married to Marcus Agrippa's daughter Vipsania before being made to divorce her in favour of Augustus' daughter Julia; after Vipsania's (off-screen) death during the events of "Tiberius", he bitterly describes her to Livia as his "only real wife".
  • Historical Domain Character: Almost every character in the series is mentioned by name in the classical sources.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Though Tiberius is not portrayed as heroic as such, he is treated much more kindly than he is by Tacitus, Suetonius, or Robert Graves. His reluctance to accept the title of Emperor and his sad resignation to the hatred of the Roman people as he eliminates his political opponents are emphasised, while his sexual depravities are only hinted at in the odd throwaway line.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "Germanicus", the title character puts down the rebellion among the Rhine armies by letting them round up and execute the ringleaders themselves, so that such rabble-rousers as Calusidius are killed by the very rabble they were previously rousing.
  • Idle Rich: This is essentially Claudius' role during the reign of Tiberius. Though he desperately wants a job, and begs Tiberius to give him some sort of responsibility as a member of the Imperial family, the Emperor thinks him too much of a buffoon to trust him with any authority, and any titles he is given are purely honorary. When Caligula becomes Emperor, whether or not Claudius fits the "idle" or "rich" part of this description changes frequently, as Caligula confiscates and/or restores his fortune, or decides he would like someone he can push around easily in one place of responsibility or another - at least until he changes his mind for whatever reason (or no reason at all) and gives Claudius the sack.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Caligula plays this straight following his fever, and is all the more terrifying because there is no way of knowing what might cause his violent outbursts.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Applied by Caligula in some of his accusations of treason. For example, when he recovers from his fever, he declares that since his death would have meant the installation of his cousin and nominal co-heir Gemellus as Emperor, Gemellus must have been rejoicing at the prospect of Caligula's death and made plans accordingly, and should therefore be executed forthwith.
  • Irony: When Drusus is taken ill in "Sejanus", Tiberius remarks that medicine is not an exact science, in contrast to astrology. While this was the common belief in Ancient Rome, when medicine was little understood and the stars were truly believed to govern people's lives, the opposite belief is much the more common today, as it was when The Caesars was filmed.
  • Just the First Citizen: In "Germanicus", Tiberius resists taking on new titles (including that of Emperor) for as long as possible following Augustus' death, partly because he feels he is too old to be Emperor and partly because he sees himself as a temporary ruler rather than the lifelong ruler Augustus ultimately became.
  • Kangaroo Court: Tiberius and Caligula's reigns are both marked with frequent trials for treason on weak to non-existent evidence simply because the "traitor" is a political opponent of someone in a position of power. After becoming Emperor, Caligula initially declares that treason will no longer be a crime in a bid to wipe the slate clean from Tiberius' reign, but after his fever he brings the show trials back with a vengeance.
  • King Incognito: In the opening scene of the series, Augustus is sitting on a public staircase, begging from passers-by. When Claudius stops by to donate (only to find he has gambled away his money), he observes that this is a tradition Augustus follows for one day each year, having been prompted to do so by a dream he had many years earlier.
  • King on His Deathbed: Augustus and Tiberius both linger for a while on their deathbeds in "Augustus" and "Caligula" respectively, and during/after their final moments, various murders take place to resolve any potential succession crises (in the former case, Postumus is murdered to clear the way for Tiberius to succeed Augustus, while in the latter case, Tiberius himself is killed to allow Caligula to become Emperor).
  • Kissing Cousins: As in real life, several of the marriages in the series are between blood relatives. For example, at the end of "Augustus", the dying Augustus commands the marriage of Tiberius' son Drusus to Livilla, whose father (also called Drusus) was Tiberius' younger brother. Meanwhile, Agrippina, whose maternal grandfather is Augustus, is married to Germanicus, whose maternal grandmother was Augustus' sister Octavia.
  • Lady Macbeth:
    • Livia may be Tiberius' mother rather than his wife, but she still fills this role in "Augustus", repeatedly urging Tiberius to arrange the execution of Augustus' grandson Agrippa Postumus, thereby removing the last obstacle between himself and the Imperial throne. (It turns out she needn't have bothered, as Augustus apparently planned to have Postumus executed anyway.)
    • Agrippina plays this role in "Germanicus". As Tiberius observes, she is impatient to become Empress, and tries to urge her husband, Germanicus, to use the rebellious troops' support of him to march on Rome and declare himself Emperor rather than waiting for Tiberius to die. She also sees through Crispus' story that Tiberius is gravely ill, and is frustrated when Germanicus falls for the bait and suppresses the rebellion in his armies.
    • Livilla plays Lady Macbeth to Sejanus' Macbeth during "Sejanus", as she encourages him to eliminate her son (and Tiberius' grandson) Gemellus' competition for the position of Tiberius' successor, so that they may rule Rome as regents when Tiberius dies and the young Gemellus becomes Emperor. (While we - and Tiberius - only have Apicata's word that Sejanus and Livilla poisoned Drusus, Sejanus unambiguously orders the arrest of Germanicus' son Nero on false treason charges, then has him starved to death while imprisoned.)
  • Loophole Abuse: At the end of "Sejanus", when the title character is arrested and executed, Macro reports to Tiberius that the Senate ordered his children executed as well. His daughter was a virgin, and Nerva points out that Roman law forbids the killing of a virgin. Macro explains that, before her execution, she was violated by the public executioner to make it legal.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In "Claudius", Caesonia gives birth to a daughter, Drusilla, just one month after marrying Caligula. She claims that Caligula is the father, but as she had a reputation for promiscuity before marrying Caligula, there is some doubt over the baby's paternity.
  • Master Poisoner: When Tiberius accuses Livia of ordering Germanicus' poisoning by Piso and Plancina in "Tiberius", she happily admits that she has "had a good many people put to death one way or another in the past sixty years". However, in contrast to I, Claudius, we never actually see her poison anyone. Likewise subverted with Piso and his wife, who are likely innocent of the charges of poison against them, and quite possibly with Sejanus and Livilla as well—in all cases, we never are actually shown the poisoning, leaving it ambiguous whether the "victim" was murdered or not.
  • Mood-Swinger: In "Caligula", the title character lampshades his use of this, saying that the uncertainty it instills in people who must deal with him is an integral part of his ruling philosophy.
  • Morton's Fork:
    • In "Tiberius", when Germanicus is (seemingly) poisoned by Piso and Plancina, Tiberius notes that if he does not prosecute Piso for the crime, it will look as though Piso was acting on his orders, whereas if he does prosecute Piso, it will look as though he is trying to hide his involvement in Germanicus' murder by letting Piso take the fall. Either way, he knows the public will believe he ordered Germanicus' murder to remove a major obstacle to his continued reign as Emperor.
    • In "Claudius", carrying on a tradition from the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, Caligula decrees that all wealthy Romans should include a bequest to the Emperor in their wills... and that the size of their bequests shall be taken as a sign of their loyalty. Those who bequeathe their entire estates to him will be deemed fully loyal, those who bequeathe only a small part of their estate will be deemed traitors - a crime punishable by death and seizure of their full estates. When the senator Anicius bitterly draws attention to the lose-lose nature of this law, he is executed on the spot.
  • My Beloved Smother: In "Augustus", Livia exerts considerable influence over Tiberius, telling him in their first scene together that she has always ordered him to come when she sends for him, and emphasising the importance of his succeeding Augustus as ruler of Rome. However, by the time of "Tiberius", he regards her as largely irrelevant, and her death between the events of "Tiberius" and "Sejanus" goes unmentioned.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Caligula happily admits that Caesonia had a reputation for promiscuity when he married her, as evidenced by the fact that their daughter Julia Drusilla was born only a month after their marriage.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Claudius admits that he exaggerates his disabilities so as to be written off as harmless while Caligula is Emperor.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Augustus remarks to Livilla when she visits him on his deathbed that he believes Claudius isn't as foolish as he seems to be, and Claudius himself admits several times throughout the series that it is largely an act. Meanwhile, Tiberius does think Claudius is as foolish as he appears to be and so avoids giving him any serious responsibilities during his reign (much to Claudius' dismay), and it is only his apparent stupidity that keeps him alive after Caligula becomes Emperor.
  • Opinion Flip-Flop: Everyone behaves like this around Caligula as a survival mechanism, as he has a tendency to execute people who question his rule. However, Caligula himself lampshades the fact that he rules in such a way that there is no way to predict whether a given instance of blind agreement will please or anger him, and that he can twist any flattery into an insult and react accordingly.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Sejanus eventually grows into this. In "Sejanus", Tiberius mostly retires to his villa in Capri and leaves the day-to-day running of the Empire in the hands of his right-hand man, who uses his authority to eliminate all of Tiberius' heirs except for his grandson Gemellus, so that he can marry the latter's mother Livilla and rule as regent with her when Gemellus succeeds Tiberius. He also has his political opponents arrested and executed on (mostly forged) treason charges. When Tiberius finds out what Sejanus is doing, he turns the tables on him and has him arrested and executed for treason.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: At the beginning of "Germanicus", following Augustus' death, the Roman legions on the German frontier have degenerated into an angry mob who have been pushed to breaking point by conditions in the army (twenty years' service instead of sixteen, unpaid wages, harsh punishments, etc.). Company commanders are stripped and flogged in retaliation for years of handing out floggings, and the armies demand that Germanicus, not Tiberius, be made Caesar as they believe he will be sympathetic to their plight. As Agrippina points out, all Germanicus needs to do is command them to march on Rome, and they'll do it.
  • Praetorian Guard: The original one is a constant presence around the various Emperors; while they mostly serve the same protective role they did in reality, they also carry out Caligula's assassination at the end of "Claudius".
  • The Purge:
    • As Sejanus becomes more and more influential, he arranges for the elimination of Tiberius' heirs apparent, his son Drusus and Germanicus' son Nero, and he is contemplating wiping out Caligula and possibly Claudius when he is at the height of his power. At the end of "Sejanus", Tiberius gets wind of Sejanus' designs on the Imperial throne and conducts his own purge of Sejanus' family and supporters.
    • After becoming Emperor, Caligula convicts vast numbers of influential Romans of treason on forged evidence and/or speculation, including his cousin and co-heir Gemellus, his brother-in-law Lepidus, and his sisters Julia Livilla and Agrippinilla. The alleged traitors are all either executed or exiled.
  • The Queen's Latin: As a British mini-series set in Ancient Rome with a cast of veteran stage actors, The Caesars could hardly not feature this trope.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: When Germanicus returns triumphant from his third campaign in Germany at the beginning of "Tiberius", he is sent to Syria to install the Rome-friendly Xeno on the throne of Armenia, mostly to get him as far away from Rome as possible.
  • Redshirt Army: In "Tiberius", Germanicus tries to pitch the idea of a fourth campaign in Germany to push the frontiers of the Empire from the Rhine to the Elbe, and asks Tiberius for four legions to achieve this. When Tiberius asks for an estimate of the casualties, Germanicus, scarcely batting an eyelid, guesses between 40% and 50%. This, combined with the fact that, the following winter, they would likely lose any gains made, allows Tiberius to justify sending Germanicus to Syria instead of back to Germany.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Tiberius remains this throughout his reign, only accepting the title of Emperor to stop the Senate from offering it to him on a daily basis, and mostly leaving the running of the Empire in the hands of Sejanus in his later years.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: At the beginning of "Caligula", Macro smothers Tiberius to help Caligula succeed to the Imperial throne. At the end of the episode, Caligula forces Macro to admit that he was technically still serving Tiberius at the time, and concludes that if Macro would betray the Emperor he served once, there is no reason why he might not do so again, and that he and his wife must therefore do the honourable thing and commit suicide.
  • Royally Screwed Up: The Julio-Claudians, a family rife with backstabbing, adultery, incest, and murder.
  • Secret Test of Character: When Augustus visits his grandson Agrippa Postumus in "Augustus", he appears to be softening on the idea of keeping him exiled, and asks him what his first act would be if he were made Emperor. Postumus replies that he would personally execute the colonel of his guards in revenge for years of rudeness. Unbeknownst to Postumus, Augustus has asked this question to see if he would be a worthy successor in spite of his hell-raising past, and is so disappointed by his answer that he names Tiberius his successor and leaves deathbed orders that the colonel should personally execute Postumus.
  • Seppuku: Many characters are obliged to commit this over the course of the series, mostly off screen.
    • Piso chooses this method of death in "Tiberius" when the Emperor makes it clear that he will not defend him against the charge of treason for leaving Syria after Germanicus' death and then re-entering it with an army.
    • In "Sejanus", after the fall of the title character, his wife Apicata's final act before being Driven to Suicide by her children's execution is to write a letter to Tiberius implicating Sejanus and Livilla in the death of his son Drusus. Tiberius orders Macro to tell Livilla that she should kill herself as well.
    • At the end of "Caligula", the title character orders Macro and his wife Ennia to kill themselves, saying that if Macro helped to kill Tiberius despite ostensibly being in his service, there's nothing to stop him doing the same to Caligula.
    • When Caligula is assassinated in "Claudius", Caesonia correctly surmises that the conspirators have her on their hit list as well, and orders them to kill her. When they hesitate, she takes a sword and plunges it into herself.
  • Shaming the Mob: In "Germanicus", the title character engages in this approach in a bid to quell the mutiny among the troops on the Rhine who want to have him declared Emperor instead of Tiberius, reminding them that the discipline of the Roman legions is what has made the Empire great. Back in Rome, however, the consuls suspect that this is a bluff, that Germanicus is actually testing the legions to see if he would have their long-term support as Emperor.
  • Shown Their Work: Philip Mackie's scripts were adapted from such classical sources as Tacitus' Annals, Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, and Cassius Dio's Roman History, in some cases quoting (translations of) the dialogue (for example, Suetonius claims that Augustus said "Have I played my part well in the comedy of life? Then applaud!" on his deathbed, and this scene is recreated in "Augustus"). However, in contrast to I, Claudius, some of the really juicy bits were omitted, perhaps in deference to the censors of 1968.
  • Smug Snake: Germanicus is painted in a less flattering light than he is in I, Claudius, as quietly power-hungry, and a great deal less clever than he imagines. In "Germanicus", he falls hook, line, and sinker for Crispus' lie that Tiberius is gravely ill, and that his being named Caesar is therefore imminent enough that he can put down the rebellion in his army rather than using it to take the Imperial throne.
  • Speech Impediment: As he did in reality, Claudius has a severe stammer, especially when he is drunk (which he is at least once an episode). Caligula taps his foot impatiently when Claudius stammers in front of him, which only makes things worse.
  • Springtime for Hitler: In "Caligula", the patricians who declare publicly that they will offer their lives if the gods spare Caligula's in an attempt to curry favour with him are forced to carry out their promises when Caligula recovers.
  • Succession Crisis:
    • Augustus has to deal with one, with his preferred heirs, his grandsons Lucius and Gaius (Agrippa Postumus' older brothers), dead before the series begins. It's implied in the series and agreed by historical sources that Augustus didn't particularly like his stepson Tiberius but saw him as the only suitable heir. In the series, Tiberius himself bitterly remarks that he's been made into a placeholder until Augustus's grandnephew, Germanicus, is old enough to be emperor.
    • Tiberius is confronted with one throughout his reign. Initially, he plans to make Germanicus his successor in accordance with Augustus' will. When Germanicus dies in Syria, he names his own son Drusus as his successor, to be followed by Germanicus' son Nero. When Drusus is poisoned and Nero is arrested on trumped up charges of treason by Sejanus and starved to death in captivity, Tiberius names Caligula and Gemellus co-heirs. Caligula accepts, but glosses over the "co-heir" idea and has Gemellus murdered after Tiberius' death.
  • Take Me Instead: Several members of the Senate are revealed to have said this when Caligula falls ill in "Caligula". When he recovers, Caligula forces them to follow through on this.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: In "Germanicus", the Powder Keg Crowd is transformed into this when Germanicus decides to have the rebellious legions round up and execute their own leaders for treason rather than doing so himself. They prove rather more overzealous than Germanicus expects; as he surveys the aftermath, he is told the troops took the chance to settle a few old scores with bloodshed in addition to killing the rebel leaders.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Claudius and Messalina; each lampshades the other's contribution to this when Caligula orders them to marry in "Claudius".
  • Unexpected Successor: No-one thinks Claudius will ever become Emperor, least of all Claudius himself, even though he is technically in the line of succession when both Augustus and Tiberius die. However, following Caligula's murder at the end of "Claudius", he is one of the few remaining male members of the Imperial family, and when the Praetorian Guard find him hiding behind a curtain, they declare him the new Emperor.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Messalina is disgusted at the idea of being forcibly married to Claudius.
  • Unwitting Pawn: "Germanicus" features an example in its title character, who is manipulated by Tiberius into putting down the rebellion among the armies of the Rhine after being led to believe that he only has a short wait to become Emperor at Tiberius' death, and so does not need to lead the mutinous troops in a march on Rome to be acclaimed Caesar.
  • Uriah Gambit: Tiberius observes that, since the more popular Germanicus was considered his main rival for the Imperial throne after the deaths of Augustus and Postumus, he will be accused of having pulled one of these following Germanicus' death in Syria in "Tiberius". (Although he did send Germanicus to Syria to get him far away from Rome, he had no intention of sending him to his death.)
  • Villainous Breakdown: Sejanus suffers one when Tiberius' letter denouncing him and ordering his arrest is read before the Senate, shouting in angry disbelief as the senators abandon him and he is surrounded by the Praetorian Guard he once commanded.
  • Villainous Incest: Caligula is implied to have slept with all three of his sisters as part of his descent into insane depravity following his fever.
  • Vorpal Pillow: A blanket rather than a pillow, but Macro uses this on Almost Dead Guy Tiberius in "Caligula".
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In "Germanicus", the title character's chief of staff, Ennius, tells him that he has two options to deal with the rebellion: either stamp it out in a display of strength or use their support to make a case that he should be Emperor instead of Tiberius. When he instead has the rebellious troops round up and execute their own ringleaders and asks Ennius to confirm that he was right to do so, Ennius bitterly tells Germanicus that he has done neither of the things he suggested, and only Tiberius has come out ahead from the whole affair.