Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Rome Pt 1 breathes life into Falco's Rome

Like many of you I was glued to the television Sunday night watching the premiere of HBO's new miniseries. Having just finished reading my second Lindsey Davis Falco mystery, "Shadows In Bronze", it delighted me to see ancient Rome depicted as a seething mass of humanity, especially the scene where a sedan chair winds its way through haggling merchants and bustling slaves. It made me recall not only Falco's Rome but Gordianus the Finder's Rome as well.

Like some of you I was a little confused by the punishments administered to the legionaries and the lack of punishment of Pullo when he fell asleep on watch and allowed Gallic children to steal their horses. Falling asleep on watch was considered a capital offense so I find it unlikely that it would have occurred and been so casually overlooked.

I'm also curious about Octavian's mother Atia being portrayed as a manipulative schemer in both this production and the earlier miniseries "Empire", produced by ABC. I have not found any significant references indicating Atia played much of a role in any political maneuverings involving her son. Maybe it is for this reason that the production companies decided to develop her character along those lines. There isn't much in the classical sources to confirm or refute this type of portrayal. While researching this aspect of the production I did find an article that pointed out several interesting facts about Caesar and Octavian's relationship that I was unaware of:

"In 46 BC, Octavian took part in Caesar?s triumphal parades in Rome, earning himself some military award, despite taking no part in the effort. Clearly this shows that Caesar at least had some design on his great nephew?s future. The following year Octavian followed Caesar to Spain, where the dictator conducted the last battle of his career against the sons of Pompey at Munda. Though Octavian himself took little part in the actual military aspect of this campaign, his journey to join Caesar seems a significant development in the relationship. While en route, Octavian was faced with difficulties in avoiding enemy resistance, including a shipwreck which could?ve been disastrous. When the two finally crossed paths, Caesar was apparently very pleased with his nephew?s daring determination and courage. Other than Caesar?s short triumphal visit to Rome, this period in Spain was likely the first time the two were truly able to foster a serious relationship. If at any time, this was the chance for Octavian to impress Caesar, and for Caesar to bring the young man under his wing. While there is little historical documentation, Octavian likely learned a great deal about provincial administration, warfare and political manipulation while a part of his uncle?s entourage. Nicolaus of Damascus, though his account is unreliable at best, indicates that Octavian was so firmly entrenched with Caesar that he was able to have considerable influence. In one example, Nicolaus states that Octavian begged a pardon for the brother of his great boyhood friend, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who had served under Cato in Africa. Despite beginning to retract on the number of pardons issued by this time in the civil war (as many who were pardoned would continue to fight), Caesar relented, and may have helped cement a lifetime friendship with the two future leaders of Rome.

By the end of the campaign in Spain, Octavian was sent to Apollonia in Illyricum to further his studies, along with his friend Agrippa. Here he was to continue his education, while waiting to accompany Caesar on a campaign against the Dacians and the Parthians. Octavian was still a very minor player in the politics of Rome at this point, but his star was certainly on the rise. Caesar, having selected various political offices years in advance (one of many slights against Republican tradition), had slotted his nephew to serve as his right hand man, or master of horse, in the year 43 or 42 BC. At the age of 20 or 21, Octavian was expected to occupy the second most powerful position in the Roman world, but fate, and the Ides of March would have a different plan."

I knew Octavian had gone to Spain when Caesar was there but did not know about his intervention on Aggripa's behalf to secure a pardon for Aggripa's brother. I also did not know that Caesar had planned to make Octavian "Master of Horse" at only 20 or 21 years of age. (I bet this really irked Marc Antony).

At least the Octavian character in HBO's "Rome" is far more calculating and politically astute than the spoiled rich boy portrayed in ABC's "Empire". I am definitely looking forward to the next installment!

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