sevilia road  
an historical evaluation of Season 1
 
   
 

ANALYSIS: Episode 5
The Ram has Touched the Wall


Episode Five: “The Ram Has Touched the Wall”, of this HBO series “Rome”, has some elements that correctly pertain to the Roman historical context, however there are also a number of historical inaccuracies throughout the episode. Many scenes can be connected to some historical primary sources, while others have been made up completely. For instance, the classic idea of the Roman woman is completely shattered in several scenes, portraying almost cat-fight-like actions between both Atia and Servilia. Neither of these women may have been perfect, but their overall character in this episode seems to deviate greatly from what would have been expected of women at this time. There is not a great deal of primary sources documenting these two specific women to justify this theory, but there is certainly enough to believe their expected behavior would have been quite different. Furthermore, the blame for most of these errors in history lies with men like Caesar, and Pompey. As it is, one very important scene in this particular episode has Caesar breaking off his affair with Servilia because Atia’s greed and hatred of Servilia has driven her to cause a chain-reaction that ultimately leads to this break-up. There is actually no evidence that Caesar ever stopped seeing Servilia, so this scene cannot be considered reliable. On the other hand, many sources attest to the intensity of their love for each other and it is in fact possible that their love affair very well might have continued.

Besides the presence of emotional women causing the majority of the drama behind the scenes of Roman politics, this episode contained many references to the actual Roman politics themselves, specifically the dealings between Pompey and Caesar. Pompey and his troops wait in southern Italy along the Adriatic Sea for the entirety of the episode, contemplating terms of negotiation with Caesar which seems to greatly bother Pompey and agitates several of his colleagues, including Cato and Cicero. From historical accounts, it is reasonable to believe their location in southern Italy is in fact Brundisium, for at the close of the episode Caesar is informed they have sailed to Greece. Cicero is accurately portrayed as a reluctant follower of Pompey by this point, for he sees that Pompey does not seem to be as productive in this war against Caesar as was initially expected. There is a certain loyalty however, seen in certain members of Pompey’s army, specifically Brutus, whose historical devotion to Pompey’s cause has been noted by primary sources. Also, in all of Pompey’s scenes there is a rather aimlessness and ambiguity about him, both being qualities of his poor leadership and indecision which has historical significance in ultimately leading to his downfall.

Caesar on the other hand is very sure of himself in this episode, which seems to be an accurate reflection of his actual personality. However, according to primary sources, this certainty of his was expressed in ways other than remaining in Rome only to appease his mistress Servilia instead of trying to pursue his enemy. Caesar had the tactics of a truly great politician, as the episode says, he used bribes to win over those who might have been reluctant. At the same time he had the confidence of a great commander, as historically seen in the Brundisium instance when he wrote to Pompey to tell him he was coming towards his location, conquering all the surrounding cities as he proceeded. This type of leadership is not accurately displayed in the episode, for he is confident and a bit cocky in telling Marc Antony that they will only leave Rome “when the time is right”, but the reality conveyed in the overall episode is that Servilia is the only thing keeping Caesar in Rome. Again, it seems as if the women of Rome are the focal points, being both the cause of all the political drama and holding the men back from fulfilling their duty of fighting this war. However, in truth, the quarrel between Caesar and Pompey was solely between them, and although their respective personalities as commanders were portrayed with quite a bit of accuracy, the means by which they acted this way were not.

The other historical character this episode observes briefly is Octavian. The beginning of the episode places him as the pawn of his mother Atia to obtain as much power as possible from her uncle, Caesar. Again, the women seem to have control over every element in this episode, for Atia then hires Pullo to instruct Octavian in becoming a “man”, which entails that he learn a more soldier-like lifestyle. This does not follow Atia’s historical characterization, for she would hardly have let Octavian leave the house, let alone selfishly force him to take part in a dangerous plot. However, Octavian learns to take charge, which is more historically in tune with his character, as he sneaks out of his house without his mother’s knowledge or approval in order to assist Pullo in kidnapping Evander. In the scene where both Pullo and Octavian torture Evander and eventually kill him, it is Octavian who dictates the means by which Pullo inflicts torture upon this defenseless man. Although there is no historical evidence to support the events that take place in this scene, the menacing and frankly disturbing merciless attitude of the child Octavian is merely what the creators of the episode used in foreshadowing of the historical adult Octavian. This example of the child Octavian is another instance following the theme that the heartless characters appear to be in control throughout this episode.

Finally, although some of the characters such as Vorenus and Pullo are fictional accounts, there is some substance of Roman history in their actions. For instance, Vorenus enlists as an Evocatus, which was an actual branch of the Roman military composed of men who had already served as centurions but were “called back” (as is the English translation of “evocati”) into service. The temple of Mars in the Evocati initiation scene is feasible because Mars is the Roman god of war. Furthermore, the scene in which Servilia bestows curses on both Caesar and Atia by carving out lead curse tablets also reflects a true past Roman ritual. Servilia was not recorded to have been one involved in witchcraft, and since it is unlikely that she and Caesar broke off their affair, it is unlikely that she would have been in such rage as to curse these two people. However, lead curse tablets did exist in ancient Rome and were used to bestow on people all sorts of ailments and misfortunes. For this episode, the presence of the curse tablets provides more entertainment than accuracy, for this element of witchcraft and curses gives Caesar a reason for eventually failing, and it also makes the Roman women the center of attention in stirring up conflict among the men during this war. A final true element of Roman history that was used to discredit Roman women in this episode was the graffiti on the public wall in the market. The public portrayal of a scene from Caesar and Servilia’s sex life was vulgar and obscene, as Roman graffiti in Latin tended to be. Graffiti was often public and very crude, depicting obscene words (in this case, the translation to “bitch” and “homosexual”) and obscene pictures. Again, the women and their catfights were not the focus of the historical Rome, but in this episode, graffiti had an authentic use, and as a theme in this episode, it was the women who stirred up the controversy.

Overall, this episode has historical personalities of the men almost spot-on, while falling a bit short in portraying the attitude and action of the perfect Roman woman. It appears that the phrase “behind every great man is a woman” seems to play true, for the women seem to be the only ones really playing this game, using their men as mere pawns. For, these men do not move or act in a war that is clearly theirs without first being influenced by at least one woman. Primary sources cite there is plenty more going on during this Roman civil war (specifically in the affairs of Caesar and Pompey) than the personal problems between these men and their significant women. This overall episode earns three eagles for accuracy.