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I would like to get some opinions on the accuracy of Ancient Rome The Rise and Fall of an Empire TV mini series aired on the BBC, specifically the clothing,armor and army in general portrayal. Is it accurate? I think there may have been different people working on each episode because there are some inaccuracies that are in some episodes by not others for example stirrups were used in some episodes, while in others they were not.

Clip from the first episode:
Well, I couldn't see the video, but judging by the sound recording I would have to wonder about the overall accuracy of the programme. I noticed that they mentioned "the five hundred year rise and fall of Rome". Perhaps I am mistaken but as far as I was aware that should be a TWELVE hundred year rise and fall (and that is only if you are only (a)looking at the western half of the empire and (b) accepting Gibbon's view that the western empire 'fell' in any case). If you include the eastern half of the empire, that would be a two thousand one hundred year (or thereabouts) rise and fall.

I noticed that the actor playing Caesar, at the conclusion of the siege of Alesia, said 'now I have begun my service to Rome' (or something along those lines). I would have thought that a year's service to Rome as consul for 59BC would have counted as service as well, as would his praetorship two years before, as would his Aedilship and as his quaestorship before that, which was itself followed by military service in Spain. Added to that he was a member of the college of pontifs. I would have thought the Caesar would know this, as should the programme makers have done.

As I couldn't see the pictures I cannot comment on how things were represented unfortunately.

Let's see...

Caesar faced a quarter of a million Gauls at Alesia, including 100'000 from the relief force, leaving 150'000 inside Alesia. Where do the figures come from? To me, they seem highly unrealistic. Caesar does not give any numbers that I could find, Plutarch's numbers however add up to closer to half a million (300'000 outside with the relief force, 170'000 inside with Vercingetorix), way beyond those of the movie.

Caesar himself speaks of three attacks against the Roman circumvallation. The movie shows only one, though it is unclear which one. The last, one is to assume... but only during the first were Romans drawn up on both sides of the fortifications (B.G. 7.81). Only during the last does Caesar actually intervene personally.

Finally, the movie seems to show Caesar as wanting a revolution against the optimates at the Senate already at Alesia. What does this make of his attempted compromise with Pompey, and his hesitation before crossing the Rubicon? Granted, these may have been fake, but there was a lot of provocation between Alesia and Caesar's decision to turn on Rome, and the movie seems to ignore that, or decide that Caesar's mind was already made up, in which case, nothing the Senate could have done would have stopped Caesar.

I'll attach a lengthy opposition of some extracts from the Commentary on the Gallic Wars to the movie. In italics, the quotes from Caesar as found on the Perseus Project. In normal script, the movie's p.o.v. (or my view of the movie's p.o.v. to be fair). All to be found in book 7,72 ff.

Caesar, ... adopted the following system of fortification; he dug a trench twenty feet deep, ... he drew two trenches fifteen feet broad, and of the same depth; the innermost of them, being in low and level ground, he filled with water conveyed from the river. Behind these he raised a rampart and wall twelve feet high; to this he added a parapet and battlements, with large stakes cut like stags' horns ... Stakes being sunk into this trench, and fastened firmly at the bottom, to prevent the possibility of their being torn up, had their branches only projecting from the ground. ... The soldiers called these "cippi." Before these, ... pits three feet deep were dug, which gradually diminished in depth to the bottom. In these pits tapering stakes, of the thickness of a man's thigh; sharpened at the top and hardened in the fire ... They called this a lily from its resemblance to that flower. Stakes a foot long, with iron hooks attached to them, were entirely sunk in the ground before these, and were planted in every place at small intervals; these they called spurs.

In the movie: “Caesar... he raised a rampart and wall twelve feet high; to this he added a parapet and battlements, with a few rare large branches, projecting from the junction of the rampart and the wall, to prevent the enemy from scaling it, except in the large intervals between these branches.” No sign of lilies, cippi, no spurs, nor even standard ditches. As a result, the Gauls simply charge with no impediment until they reach the legions. They are shot at with volleys of arrows, much like the French at Crecy, but without the English’s protective stakes.

Accordingly, drawing out their troops, they [the Gauls] encamp before the town, and cover the nearest trench with hurdles and fill it up with earth, and make ready for a sally and every casualty.

They don’t. There’s no trench to fill.

Caesar, having stationed his army on both sides of the fortifications...

Right, but probably the wrong attack since the movie seems to mean the third attack.

The Gauls had scattered archers and light-armed infantry here and there, among their cavalry, to give relief to their retreating troops, and sustain the impetuosity of our cavalry.

The Gauls have no archers. Their infantry is exclusively light armed, however; nobody seems to bother with armour, though most have shields.

After fighting from noon almost to sunset, without victory inclining in favor of either, the Germans, on one side, made a charge against the enemy in a compact body, and drove them back; and, when they were put to flight, the archers were surrounded and cut to pieces.

There are neither Germans nor archers, so the Germans cannot cout down the archers. This is the first of two attacks from outside the fortifications reported by Caesar. It cannot be the one portrayed in the movie, since (a) Caesar does not intervene personally at this stage according to the Commentaries, (b) the Roman cavalry does not intervene – that would be the last battle; it must be the battle portrayed in the movie since only there do we find Romans outside the battlements at the outset.

The Gauls, after the interval of a day and after making, during that time, an immense number of hurdles, scaling-ladders, and iron hooks, silently went forth from the camp at midnight and approached the fortifications in the plain. Raising a shout suddenly, that by this intimation those who were beseiged in the town might learn their arrival, they began to cast down hurdles and dislodge our men from the rampart by slings, arrows, and stones, and executed the other movements which are requisite in storming.

The second attack reported by Caesar. This cannot be the attack from the movie, since (a) it’s day, (b) the Gauls do not have any hurdles, scaling-ladders, etc., © they are anything but silent, and (d) don’t bother to clear the ramparts or even use missile weapons.

”At the same time, Vercingetorix, having heard the shout, gives the signal to his troops by a trumpet, and leads them forth from the town.”

No sign of Vercingetorix; no attack from the side of the besieged town of Alesia occurs.

Our troops, as each man's post had been assigned him some days before, man the fortifications; they intimidate the Gauls by slings, large stones, stakes which they had placed along the works, and bullets.

No slings, but arrows (possibly because they are easier to see on the screen – and in reality, which is why slings are often more efficacious); they make the battle look more like Agincourt than Alesia.

“All view being prevented by the darkness, many wounds are received on both sides; several missiles, are thrown from the engines.”

In the movie, it’s neither dark, nor are there any sign of engines.

”While the Gauls were at a distance from the fortification, they did more execution, owing to the immense number of their weapons: after they came nearer, they either unawares empaled themselves on the spurs, or were pierced by the mural darts from the ramparts and towers, and thus perished.”

No spurs or other defenses intervene between the Gallic charge and the legionaries.

. When noon now seemed to draw nigh, he marched hastily against that camp which we have mentioned before; and, at the same time, the cavalry began to approach the fortifications in the plain, and the rest of the forces to make a demonstration in front of the camp.

The Gauls don’t have any cavalry.

The principal struggle is at the upper lines, to which as we have said Vergasillaunus was sent. The least elevation of ground, added to a declivity, exercises a momentous influence. Some are casting missiles, others, forming a testudo, advance to the attack; fresh men by turns relieve the wearied. The earth, heaped up by all against the fortifications, gives the means of ascent to the Gauls, and covers those works which the Romans had concealed in the ground. Our men have no longer arms or strength.

The Gauls charge blindly and without any discipline against the Roman lines, the fortifications don’t come into play, no earth needs to be heaped up as the entire battle is essentially a field battle with some fortifications in the background.

Caesar, on observing these movements, sends Labienus with six cohorts to relieve his distressed soldiers...

Caesar arrives alone; Labienus is already presesent.

The Gauls within... bring the engines which they had prepared; by the immense number of their missiles they dislodge the defenders from the turrets: they fill the ditches with clay and hurdles, then clear the way; they tear down the rampart and breast-work with hooks.


Caesar hastens to share in the action.

Caesar finally gets it right in his Commentaries and does what the movie claims he did!

His arrival being known from the color of his robe...

...okay, ...

...and the troops of cavalry...

...who are not with him...

..., and the cohorts which he had ordered to follow him being seen...

... and who are either not there or not being seen...

, as these low and sloping grounds were plainly visible from the eminences,
What sloping grounds? What eminences?

Our troops, laying aside their javelins, carry on the engagement with their swords.

Apart from the fact that the javelins look more like hastae than pila, the fact that they are not used and that the battle was fought out with swords seems correctly represented.

The cavalry is suddenly seen in the rear of the Gauls; the other cohorts advance rapidly; the enemy turn their backs; the cavalry intercept them in their flight, and a great slaughter ensues.

More or less in the movie.

They [the Gauls] surrender Vercingetorix, and lay down their arms.

Amazingly enough, considering how popular the scene is, not shown.

After making these arrangements, he marches into the [country of the] Aedui, and recovers that state. ... he orders Titus Labienus to march into the [country of the] Sequani with two legions and the cavalry, and to him he attaches Marcus Sempronius Rutilus; he places Caius Fabius, and Lucius Minucius Basilus, with two legions in the country of the Remi, lest they should sustain any loss from the Bellovaci in their neighborhood. ...

He does nothing of the kind: he claims the war is over, and never needs to write book 8 of the Commentaries.
"He does nothing of the kind: he claims the war is over, and never needs to write book 8 of the Commentaries."

And he didn't either! He was so busy trying to get the film company to agree to a sequel that he didn't have time and so he got Aulus Hirtius to write book 8 of Bello Gallica for him. :wink:

Thanks for the replys but I really more interested in the accuracy of the armor,clothes,etc. The program covers a lot of time, each of the 6 episodes covering a different subject. So even if one episode has accurate clothing another may not.
Quote:"He does nothing of the kind: he claims the war is over, and never needs to write book 8 of the Commentaries."

And he didn't either! He was so busy trying to get the film company to agree to a sequel that he didn't have time and so he got Aulus Hirtius to write book 8 of Bello Gallica for him. :wink:


:mrgreen: So true. Now we know why Hirtius had to ghostwrite!
I am surprise more people have not watch this series, its really neat to watch the different periods of Roman History some of which are not often dramatized.
In my opinin, it is great that M. Caecilius put such a wonderful effort into answering about the accuracy of the program. I learned much from his response. I think it is sad that the average person knows nothing of Vercingetorix or Alesia. The only Caesar they know about comes with croutons! Smile
Quote:In my opinin, it is great that M. Caecilius put such a wonderful effort into answering about the accuracy of the program. I learned much from his response. I think it is sad that the average person knows nothing of Vercingetorix or Alesia. The only Caesar they know about comes with croutons! Smile
There are 6 episodes, and only one of them has anything to do with Caesar, others include Constantines rise to emperor, Nero's Reign,etc. And I am interested in the authenticity of the clothing,armor,buildings,etc. The material culture presented, how accurate is it? I am an avid watcher of historical drama and I long ago accepted the fact that the accuracy of the events portrayed are rarely followed, but the look,feel,etc of time is what I am interested in and this sometime is given much better attention.

And even if one episode is accurate another may not be, as I mention stirrups were used in some episodes but not in others.
I love historical programs, too. You are in CT. How are you watching it? I get BBC America, but I can't find it. Is it on DVD? I am researching for sculptures, so the accuracy is interesting for me, also. Cheers!
Quote:I love historical programs, too. You are in CT. How are you watching it? I get BBC America, but I can't find it. Is it on DVD? I am researching for sculptures, so the accuracy is interesting for me, also. Cheers!

Your can watch it all on you tube I believe. But I saw it by downloading it via torrent, then watched on my pc. You can doadload historical dramas from across the world, Britain, China, Japan, France, Russia ,etc. I have watch hundreds of historical drama's this way mostly via torrent.
I saw some episodes of this a few years ago, but Youtube enables a quick refresher. Here are a few rough notes on the costumes and general presentation of military stuff:

Episode 1, Caesar: Good to see montefortino ish) helmets, oval republican scuta and mail. The Roman troops are probably a bit uniform looking for an army after many years of campaigning, plus they all seem to be wearing long grey tunics... and they have spears instead of pila. But we can't have everything. The Gauls, on the other hand, resemble the usual bunch of hairy yelling barbarian types, not unlike orcs from the Lord of the Rings films. Once battle commences, the Gauls leap into the air and fling themselves wildly about, and the disciplined Roman battle-line instantly collapses into a scrum of men bashing each other and falling over. How did the Romans win any battles if they fought like this? Very silly!

Episode 2, Nero: Not much military stuff in this, but it's the most entertaining episode, with Michael Sheen hamming it up as Nero (despite looking nothing like him!). The costumes and sets are great, Rome looks like Rome (although the colosseum had not yet been built in Nero's day - oops!) and the (male) Romans look Roman. But why wealthy Roman ladies must always be portrayed wearing scanty 1930s ballgowns I don't know...

Episode 3, Rebellion: Peter Firth makes a good Vespasian, but the Roman soldiers wear a mixture of republican gear left over from the Caesar episode and some horrible flimsy segmentata and 'trooper helmets'. They look sort of okay if you squint a bit and don't pay too much attention. The Jews take their wardrobing tips from 'Life of Brian'. The siege of Jotopata is described as 'a classic of Roman siege tactics' - but all we see is the Romans cheering and running at the wall with ladders. Plus the Roman army is still unable to fight in open country, it seems. A flashy episode, but fails on the details.

Episode 4, Revolution: Republican Romans again, at the siege of Carthage. Same helmets and shields as Caesar, but with the mail exchanged for chest-plates. Not too bad, although the long grey tunics let the look down. Anachronistic catapults, with (obligatory) firebomb projectiles, and once again the Romans attack a city by rushing wildly at the walls, cheering.

Episode 5, Constantine: kudos to the art dept for attempting a recognisable late Roman look in this one: the soldiers wear mail and have oval shields, there are pannonian caps, and a sort of intercisa-style helmet. Strange, considering that these helmets must have been specially made for the show, that they didn't get them right - almost as if the prop-makers insisted on exercising a bit of imagination... The clothing and sets are generally pretty good, but the actor playing Constantine portrays him as a skinny excitable straggle-haired man given to shouting and waving his arms around, whereas the real emperor was a bullet-headed guy with a huge chin and (we presume) a fair amount of gravitas. Maxentius is a typical movie villain, fat and odious. I also wonder why Roman officers in all these episodes wear such dusty brown armour - it looks like leather, even when it isnt! You'd think they'd get somebody to give it a polish...

Episode 6, The Fall of Rome: I can't really comment on the appearance on the Goths in this episode, but they look a bit like the usual hairy barbarians. The Romans appear much the same as in the Constantine episode, although the civilian costumes are nice. Once again, battles are shown as a milling mass of men screaming and falling over. The actual city of Rome looks quite odd in this one too - the geography of the place seems all wrong.

Generally: this wasn't a totally bad series, and some thought has clearly gone into the appearance of the Roman army. A shame that this intention wasn't pushed a bit further, and some glaring errors avoided. The acting ranges from quite good to scenery-chewing bad, and the presentation of history is (perhaps necessarily) perfunctory and over-dramatic. I would have liked to see some battles that did not instantly turn into mass brawls, and some evidence of Roman tactics and discipline beyond charging at things shouting. But it's a step in the right direction at least!

- Nathan
Thanks for the detailed reply.

It always annoys me that in any movie with army's fighting 90% of the time its portrayed as a huge confused melee. Which is absurd. Even more annoying to me is 95% of the time armor does nothing. I loved the final fight scene in 1971 Macbeth because we see armor that actually is providing protection.

What historical dramas are there that do a good job of portraying ancient Roman life?
Hi Nathan,

it would be interesting too to know your opinion-description of the falcata bearing celtiberian warriors of the Numantine war.

thank you

LVCIVS SERGIVS ANTONINVS, recently returned from a tour in Caledonian lands
Quote:the falcata bearing celtiberian warriors of the Numantine war.
I was so busy looking out for the Romans I missed the Numantines, I'm afraid! But I couldn't really comment on their accuracy either! What did you think of them?

Quote:What historical dramas are there that do a good job of portraying ancient Roman life?

Actually, HBO/BBC's Rome didn't do a bad job. Some of the costumes were a bit wonky (silly hats, bracers, women's outfits generally), but the sets were very convincing, particularly the central area around the Forum.

The best reconstruction of Roman life I've ever seen, however, was a (UK) Channel 4 production from 2002, called Private Lives of Pompeii. I recorded it at the time, but lost the tape and I've never see it anywhere since. It was a feature-length drama documentary, with stories acted out in Latin, filmed in the actual ruins of Pompeii with touches of CGI to fill in a few background details. Did anybody else see it, I wonder?

[Image: 629.jpg.crop_display.jpg]

The script was written by Alex Butterworth, who also wrote a good book about Pompeii. There's an article by him here about the programme, but it's mainly a critique of Mary Beard (!), with response from Ms Beard herself...

- Nathan
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