What is Television’s Obsession with the Roman Empire?

Image Credit: IMDB

Have you noticed a rise in the number of historical fiction TV shows over the past few years? Audiences seem to love watching narratives set in ancient times. What’s more interesting is that many of the shows have Roman ties. Shows like Netflix’s Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, Amazon Prime’s Britannia, and even the comedy series Plebs, are all set in the Roman Empire. Famed director Martin Scorsese is also in talks with Vikings and The Tudors creator Michael Hirst to develop a new TV drama exploring the life and times of a younger Julius Caesar.

One could also argue that the popular HBO series Game of Thrones also has Roman influences, even if it was set in the Middle Ages. For instance, exiling or banishing in order to provide labor was often practiced in Ancient Rome. In Game of Thrones, people who were exiled were sent to The Wall or Essos. Another example is how Game of Thrones’ Valyria seems to be parallel to the Roman Empire in terms of it being an epicenter of knowledge, culture, and refinement. Both have also had the same fate in which they faded into oblivion after the height of their power. You can binge-watch the series again to review the similarities. While waiting for its final season which is due in 2019, you can also read On Stage and Screen’s opinions on the show’s 7th season.

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Image Credit: Plebs’ Official Twitter Page

It should come as no surprise that several series draw inspiration from that particular period. The Roman Empire lasted for a full 844 years and, at one point, had a populace that comprised of 20% of the world’s population. This means that there is plenty of story material for writers to draw on. For example, the British TV series Plebs take a different approach focusing on the daily lives of three young men living in Ancient Rome. Though it is set in ancient times, it features modern language and contemporary style. Plebs was renewed for a fourth season, which means its ratings are doing well and that the obviously formula works.

Image Credit: IMDB

Let’s also not forget about TV series that explore Spartan history. While it technically falls under Greek history, there was a certain time when Roman and Greek histories overlapped. The Roman Empire did conquer Greece, after all. So one way or another, Spartan-inspired mediums would somehow have small references to Rome. Shows like Spartacus and Hollywood movie 300 also feature similar themes of war and conquest, and are successful in their own right. It’s no wonder many Spartan-based offshoots have since emerged and been successful in their respective industries. Foxy Games have several titles based on Sparta including 300 Shields Extreme and Fortunes of Sparta which have both done extremely well online. It encourages players to discover more about the history of that particular epic battle. The game even takes some inspiration from the aesthetics of the film in terms of the warriors’ armor. However, what’s interesting about the game’s depiction is that the armor looks a lot like Roman armor. In the film 300, Spartans only wore capes and undergarments, most likely to evoke their savagery. This only proves that Spartan and Roman backgrounds are always somewhat related.

There’s no doubt that the Roman period is rich in themes and anecdotes so much so that TV writers can have plenty of content to base their scripts on. Whether it’s about a story of conquest or simply about everyday life during the pomp of the Roman empire, TV audiences seem obsessed, and this fascination doesn’t look like dying down anytime soon.

This is a contributed post. 


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