Ancient Rome is an expensive era to depict on the small screen. There are several historical dramas and bombastic action films that portray the rise and fall of the Romans and their eternal city, but when it comes to television, few studios have the resources to do it right. HBO's Rome debuted on a bigger budget than its much later hit Game of Thrones, and the high cost of its production led to a premature end to the series (and about 14 years of history condensed into 10 episodes).
Unlike Westerns, which can be filmed just about anywhere outside Hollywood, or English period dramas (which can take place in a handful of drawing rooms), Ancient Rome requires the resurrection of a 2,000-year-old culture. For that reason, we rarely get a quality series on this fascinating era of history. The following is a selection of the best television shows about Ancient Rome. Vote up your favorites.
- 1Photo: HBO
Set In: The final years of the Roman Republic, beginning in 49 BCE with Julius Caesar's civil war.
Synopsis: An ornately produced ensemble drama, it chronicles the rise and fall of Caesar, and depicts the street-level lives of soldiers and working-class Romans. The second season follows the ascension of Caesar's heir, Octavian, and the downfall of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
- Actors: Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker, James Purefoy, Tobias Menzies
- Premiered: August 28, 2005
- Network: HBO
- Photo: Starz
Set In: The late Roman Republic, circa 73 BCE.
Synopsis: Thracian gladiator Spartacus gains renown in the gladiatorial arena, and will soon lead a slave revolt that rocks the Roman Republic to its core.
The main plot occurs in Seasons 1 (Blood and Sand), 3 (Vengeance), and 4 (War of the Damned), while Season 2 (Gods of the Arena) is a prequel to the events of Season 1. Blood and Sand ends with the beginning of the Third Servile War. Vengeance follows Spartacus as he leads his rebellion. War of the Damned builds toward the final battle between Spartacus's forces and those of Marcus Licinius Crassus.
- Actors: Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, John Hannah, Peter Mensah, Erin Cummings
- Premiered: January 22, 2010
- Network: Starz
- Photo: Starz
Set In: The late Roman Republic, about five years before the events of Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
Synopsis: This miniseries centers on Quintus Lentulus Batiatus, the owner of the gladiator school that will house Spartacus, and his champion gladiator Gannicus.
- Actors: John Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Dustin Clare, Peter Mensah, Jaime Murray
- Premiered: January 21, 2011
- Network: Starz
- Photo: Netflix
Set In: Ancient Germany in the year 9 CE.
Synopsis: As Roman forces are attempting to subdue the Germanic tribes, Roman officer Arminius is torn between his duty and his identity in the lead up to the brutal Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The series is unique in that its Roman characters actually speak Latin, and the barbarians speak German.
- Actors: Laurence Rupp, Attila C. Arpa, David Schütter, Bernhard Schütz, Sergej Onopko
- Premiered: October 23, 2020
- Network: Netflix