These Great Times & Visions of ROME




These Great Times find me

writing little poems

of no consequence.

My bravery consists it seems

of the ability to succumb to Fear,

time & time again,

and yet continue.


All around me Mighty Works are made,

Great Ventures are undertaken,

whilst I undertake small tasks,

mend broken toys with sticky tape.

My Wisdom seems to consist

of knowing the utter worthlessness

of all my efforts.


Around me Great Scientists pursue knowledge

Like hounds after a fox,

seeking to tear it

into small digestable pieces,

whilst I myself am pursued

by Doubt & Debt,

a consumer consumed,

providing my creditors

with a never-ending feast.


I struggle to write poems

that will be remembered forever,

(vanity is the last thing to die)

Battling to collect my thoughts

& pursue my vision against

the barrage of background domestic noises.

The clackering clatter of dishes being washed,

the Arcade sounds of my daughters video games,

the hollow roar of the neighbour’s mowing.

Through a gap I reach to grab the shining moment,

but it is gone.

Tomorrow I will try again.





ROME”- the series, seasons 1 & 2, HBO Studios (2006)

 “Its Easy!” I said to my Personal Assistant, as I attempted to explain the Labyrinthine intrigues that were Roman politics circa 47BCE.

Just think of the Soprano‘s..Caesar is fat Tony Soprano, Posca has Sil‘s role as consigliere, Janice is probably Atia and Johnny Sachs is Pompey. Mark Antony is sort of a cross between Paulie & Ralphie.”

So who’s Cicero?” she asked.

Essentially a weak figure always trying to mediate a deal. I’d equate him with Little Carmine

Yes, I was being flippant o reader, but there’s a great deal to what I said. The Mafia and the predatory Roman Republic had much in common, beyond both coming from “the boot”. Both had a similar expansionary business model for one thing.

ROME is a few years old now I know, but I missed it the first time around, not having cable and not wanting to see how the Seven network would bowdlerize it, it’s taken till now for me to catch up on this excellent production. (Thanks to the good folk at Civic-Video for providing the discs.) Besides ROME is still worth reviewing so that it’s not completely buried & forgotten in the constant deluge of the latest over-hyped productions.


And ROME deserves to be remembered for a long time to come. To my mind this is perhaps the best, and certainly the most historically accurate film/video/television portrayal of the classic Roman world ever produced.

Purely seen as a study-aid, or even in documentary terms, ROME the series towers above ANY of the drear and pompous historical “Documentaries” dealing with Rome that have come out in the past twenty or thirty years or so. Such Documentaries are generally a painful experience for me, with their facile analysis, over-simplifications and general inaccuracies, all presented with a gee-whizz style of hyperbole which is just irritating. A student of the period will learn more about ancient Rome’s politics, personalities and culture from this series than from any Documentary yet produced.

As for previous ‘fictional’ recreations of Rome, most are sterile Hollywood style pastiches. In such movies from Spartacus to Caligula, the Roman world is presented as a kind of cardboard backdrop to the hokey morality plays that make up the plot. Gladiator tried hard, but despite the Big-Budget special effects, ultimately fell back into the same old rut.

The BBC‘s production of Robert GravesI Claudius” was certainly successful as Drama and as an introduction to the personalities of the Imperial Family, but was hampered with a low budget. Plus, despite the Toga’s, they all seemed dreadfully British.

Only Fellini’s Satyricon, made back in the nineteen-sixties, successfully creates a mise-en-scene that comes close to capturing the decadent ambience of the Roman world. It seems only fitting therefore, that ROME the series was made in Fellini’s old stomping grounds, the CINE CITTA studio’s in modern day Rome.

Clearly by filming in Rome itself the series was able to draw on the ancient Spirit of Place and achieve a degree of authenticity beyond the reach of other productions. Each day of filming the actors and crew would come down the old Appian way past ancient monuments to get to the studio. The original Forum was but a short walk away. The Italian countryside was available for those gorgeous pastoral scenes that seemed to have sprung straight from a Grecian urn and they hired hundreds of local Italians, the direct descendants of Caesar etal., as extras.

The outstanding contribution of the series historical consultant, Johnathon Stamp, must be acknowledged. Over and over again I was impressed by the attention paid to small details; the way the legionaries carried their kit on a march, the little hand gestures that Cicero used to make whilst making speeches, the use of a sponge on a stick instead of toilet paper. This historical accuracy contributes greatly to the realism of this production.

But ROME is more than a history lesson, it is visually gorgeous and dramatically engaging. The acting of all parties thruout is of the highest calibre. ROME brings historical personalities like Caesar and Pompey and Marc Antony to life. You can believe these people actually lived, and breathed and schemed and died.

But part of the beauty of ROME is that it doesn’t just focus on the lives of the Great and Powerful. We are given also a good look into the lives of the underclasses, both the poor free Roman citizens and the slaves. Indeed, one of the strengths of ROME is in the way it explores the complexities of Slavery. Our recent historical experience of slavery has been informed by the race-based slavery of the USA. Slavery in the ancient world was a much different kettle of fish. There were many ways to end up a slave, from being on the losing side in battle, to being unable your pay your debts, and conditions of servitude varied wildly. The personal slave of a powerful person could themselves also wield great power, and a slave could always buy themselves out of slavery and become a Freedman, and in time their own children could rise as high in Roman society as any freeborn citizen. 

Fans of big battle scenes will have to wait till the Battle of Phillipi half way thru season two. Clearly the budget did not extend to having lots of enormous, high-cost CGI battlescenes.

Thus the Battle of Pharsalas was shown merely as a brief montage of swords flashing and horses neighing. Thapsus was shown as a corner of the battlefield in the aftermath, which consisted largely of an elephant lying on its side and a couple of spears sticking into the ground. The Battle of Mutinae was also shown in aftermath, but this time the desolation continued for a considerable distance into the CGI generated horizon. The Siege of Alesia was actually the most graphic battle sequence portrayed in the series. Though limited to a single cohorts POV, it was exciting and historically accurate, showing in detail the kind of military precision & flexibility that made the Roman legions so feared. But fear not, despite the absence of exciting battle scenes there is still plenty of bloodshed and violence to go around.

Rome was not built in a day” is an old adage, and this production was likewise based on a considerable effort. Four hundred craftsmen spent five months building the five acre set based around the forum (half the size of the original) and over 2,700 costumes were handsewn for the first three episodes. A cohort’s worth of actor/soldiers were given intensive training and drilling in order to perform the various military functions and maneuvers required.

If I have a complaint about this series it is that it only goes for two seasons. The Roman Empire continued in some form or other for another 1,500 years, there’s enough raw human material there to continue this series for the rest of my life. Come on HBO, how about a sequel?


 The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet

and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists.

So there.



~ by reverendhellfire on November 7, 2010.

2 Responses to “These Great Times & Visions of ROME”

  1. I like this poem, Reverend. Very evocative. Naked simplicity.

    • Thank you. Ah these insignificant moments-they all add up. Which reminds me I’ve just watched Nic Roeg’s “Insignificance” again. I like the elevator scene, where Einsteins chatting to an Indian lift-driver about time and space.”I’ve heard your people believe that where-ever you stand, then there is the centre of the universe>” Yes,”the sighing Indian replies, “but its hard to remember when your in an elevator all day.”

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