Roman Empire: Reign of Blood (2016) s01e01 Episode Script

Born In The Purple

1 [narrator] For over a century, the Roman Coliseum has hosted the most grueling and bloody games in human history, fought and won by the Roman gladiator.
At the end of the second century, the Roman people witness a game like no other.
For the first time in history, a Roman Emperor will fight to the death.
[announcer] All hail Commodus, Emperor of Rome! [screams] [cheers] [narrator] Commodus's reign will mark the beginning of the fall of the greatest civilization on Earth.
But his story begins more than a decade earlier.
[theme music playing] [narrator] By the end of the second century, there's no civilization as massive or as powerful as the Roman Empire.
Almost one in five people on Earth lives within the Empire's boundaries and is under rule of one of the most powerful men on the planet, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
For more than a decade, Aurelius has waged war to defend the Empire's reach.
And he reigns over a territory that spans thousands of miles.
From Western Europe and the Middle East, through parts of Africa and the entire Mediterranean.
Corey Brennan] Marcus Aurelius was considered really one of the most successful Emperors.
He was not just Emperor, but he was a distinguished philosopher.
He was a student of Epictetus, who was the leading Stoic philosopher of the day, and he was a gifted philosophical writer in his own right.
His meditations are still read today.
[narrator] Over the last century, Rome has been built into one of the most advanced cities in the ancient world.
And, under Aurelius's reign, it's given rise to a modern era.
[Tom Holland] The Roman Empire in the second century was a formidable global superpower.
They had the most proficient military forces.
They ruled the most civilized array of people.
There was anything that you wanted by Roman standards, you could find in their empire.
And what kept this empire together was an incredibly efficient array of infrastructure.
Marden Nichols] Ancient Rome during this time period was the greatest empire that the world had ever known.
It was responsible for enormous advances in technology such as the system of Roman roads or the aqueducts that supplied water.
The city of Rome itself had reached one million people.
So it was the first large-scale urban metropolis.
[narrator] Marcus Aurelius rules over 50 million people within the boundaries of the Roman Empire.
And no one lives better than his son Commodus.
[Holland] The problem that was ushered in by Marcus Aurelius when instead of doing what his predecessors had done, and adopting a person who was qualified by temperament, and upbringing, and training to serve as Emperor, instead wanted his son to succeed him.
[Nichols] Commodus was the first Roman Emperor who was ever born to a sitting emperor.
Growing up the son of an emperor, as someone who was raised from birth to succeed his father, we have to imagine that Commodus's ego had no place to go.
Knowing that he would have this role, that this had planted some seed in his mind that he was, in some sense, extraordinary.
- [groans] - [sighs] Go.
Good morning, Mother.
Do you know what time it is? Early.
I'm sending you to Germania.
What? Why? Because all you do here is drink and play with whores.
But there's a war.
It'll teach you discipline.
I'm not going anywhere.
It's already been decided.
Your father's expecting you.
[Brennan] When you think about Commodus, who had more, personally, and more, historically, going for him than any other human being previous in the history of human existence I mean, in fact, no Roman Emperor for 80 years had had a son.
However, one would be very, very hard pressed to find a less intellectually, less energetic, less motivated person with that type of responsibility in the whole of human history.
[narrator] Against his will, Commodus has been called to Germania.
Ordered to train under his father to become the next Emperor.
Hundreds of miles from Rome, along the borders of the Empire, massive armies of Germanic tribes are invading Roman territory.
And the Roman military has been called to the front lines.
With one of the strongest ground and naval forces in the world, the Roman military is made up of hundreds of thousands of highly trained soldiers, equipped with the latest weaponry, and prepared to defend the Empire's borders at all costs.
[Brennan] There was the problem of Rome's neighbors.
Both to the east, and to the north.
The Parthians to the east and Germanic tribes to the north, which were a threat.
Romans had been fighting Germans, at this point, for 250 years.
And the border on the Danube had always been a problem.
And, in fact, as it turns out, always would be a problem.
[Holland] The Roman army was the most formidable fighting machine that the ancient world had seen.
The basis for their success was less their capacity for killing, and more their capacity for entrenchment.
It was a capacity for digging fortresses, for fashioning all the infrastructure of a frontier force that served to ensure that the Roman frontiers were essentially guarded and held secure.
[Cleander] Oh, Saoterus, that's disgusting.
I hope you learned your lesson.
You'll never outdrink me, my friend.
- Never again.
- [Cleander laughs] Tell my father I'm here.
Let's hope we're not stuck here for too long.
Come with me.
Clifford Ando] Marcus Aurelius and Commodus have come down in history as very, very different individuals.
After all, he was also a leading general of his time and led many wars along the Danube frontier.
Commodus probably was as irresponsible as people say.
That said, Marcus Aurelius does not appear to have shown any hesitation in promoting Commodus from a very young age.
Where is he? [sigh] What? I promised your mother I'd try and do my best to make a man of you.
I never break my word.
It begins now.
You want me to train like some common soldier? [grunting] Again.
I'm going to show you what happens when you don't know how to handle a sword.
Aaron Irvin] One of the great debates, not just among Roman historians of today, but even of the time, was why Commodus? Why did Marcus Aurelius choose Commodus? Why, despite the fact that everybody seemed to see that he was not up to this task, why was there still the insistence that Commodus was going to be the next Emperor? Perhaps we can chalk it up to naïveté or a kind of generic just love for his son, blinding him to the realities that his son was not up to the task.
And his son was not ready for this position.
[Nichols] The means through which Commodus was groomed and trained to become Emperor were unparalleled in Roman history.
He had high hopes for his son during this period.
What Marcus Aurelius imagined for his child and what his child became were two very different things.
[narrator] As Commodus trains, the Germanic tribes begin to push through Roman defenses, banding together and launching a massive assault on the Roman army.
[Holland] The great Roman nightmare was of Northern Barbarians sweeping southwards and conquering Rome.
In the reign of Marcus Aurelius, there was a disturbance.
He knew that he had no choice but to confront that.
And as it turned out, the wars that Marcus Aurelius fought against the German people were as strenuous and challenging as any Barbarian enemy that the Roman people had faced.
[narrator] Lasting years it's a devastating war.
Killing thousands of men on both sides.
The war also takes its toll on the Emperor who soon falls ill.
[Anthony Everitt] Marcus Aurelius spent most of his life dealing with, fighting, trying to resist, coping with Barbarian tribes pressing up against the frontiers of the Empire.
And as the health of Marcus Aurelius began to fade, there was a great deal of worrying.
He seems to have had problems in his chest and stomach.
It may have been cancer.
It may have been something to do with his heart.
One doesn't really know.
[narrator] With the Emperor's health diminishing, news is sent to the palace.
But on its way back to Rome, the message is quickly distorted.
And soon enough, it becomes a rumor that Marcus Aurelius has died.
[Ando] In the case of Marcus Aurelius, it seems quite clear that rumors started to spread that the Emperor had died.
And sometimes these may well have been engineered.
And what is crucial about this, is that verification of these rumors in the Roman world would have been phenomenally difficult.
[narrator] Before long, the rumor of Marcus Aurelius's death reaches the most powerful woman in the Empire Empress Faustina.
[Jerry Toner] Faustina was Marcus Aurelius's wife.
She was the daughter of the previous Emperor, Antoninus Pius.
And she was a successful wife with Marcus, gave him children over that period.
So she must immediately have looked for her safety and for her family's safety.
[narrator] Devastated by news of her husband's death, Faustina fears her son isn't ready for the throne, and knows she has to come up with a plan before word reaches the Senate.
The Roman Senate is made up of the most influential men in the Empire.
All looking for opportunities to further their political careers.
[Brennan] There were clearly any number of folks in the Roman Senate themselves, who were senators, who thought that they had even better claim to nobility or to the throne than the reigning Emperor himself.
In general, it seems that being at the top was a very lonely and dangerous place in Ancient Rome.
[narrator] Throughout the Empire, governors and ambitious leaders are determined to seize control.
And a challenge to the throne could come from any of the Empire's regions.
With rumors quickly spreading, a power grab could soon take hold.
The play for the throne puts members of the royal family at risk.
Including the Emperor's daughter Lucilla.
Married to her father's trusted advisor, Lucilla has already been groomed for a life of influence.
[Irvin] Lucilla had been one of the oldest of Marcus Aurelius's children who had survived into adulthood.
She had been involved in Roman politics, the back room deals, the administration.
So she was far more experienced.
She had far better contacts.
She had resources at her disposal that Commodus didn't even know existed.
[narrator] But with the throne being called into question, Lucilla knows her ambitions are in jeopardy.
[Toner] Lucilla was Commodus's older sister 12 years older.
And so she was used to having a place at the top table in Roman society.
But she certainly seems to have been slightly jealous of the increasingly powerful role that her younger brother Commodus would have to inherit.
Here, take that.
No one told me we were leaving.
You've heard? Where are we going? I'm going to Egypt.
You're staying here.
We can't abandon Rome completely.
And there are things I need to do, to secure our safety.
In Egypt.
You're seeing Avidius Cassius.
I'm doing what I need to do to protect our family.
So to protect Commodus, you'll leave me here by myself.
I know it's dangerous.
But what other choice do we have? My cloak.
I will return as quickly as I can.
We will all be together.
We will all be safe! Trust me.
Go! [Prof.
David Levene] Any member of the imperial family is potentially in danger when the Emperor dies.
It is extremely common for emperors who fall from power to have their entire family wiped out.
[narrator] Determined to protect her family and secure her own power, Faustina sets a plan in motion.
Instead of waiting for an overthrow, the Empress plans to leave her city immediately.
Traveling more than 1,000 miles south across the Mediterranean to one of the Empire's furthest regions Egypt.
One of the wealthiest territories in the world, Egypt is one of the leading producers of grain, and is home to one of the largest ports in the Northern Hemisphere.
Guarded by more than 15,000 Roman soldiers, and run by the second most powerful man in the Empire, Egyptian governor Avidius Cassius.
[Irvin] Egypt was the personal territory of the Emperor.
It was actually his estate, and Cassius was tasked with keeping control of Egypt, essentially keeping control of the Emperor's own private lands.
He had been trusted by the family.
He had been in the inner circle.
[guard] Sir the report you requested.
I want you to double the guards at the port.
There's been some pilfering of the grain.
I'm not happy.
- You can go.
- Sir.
Andrew Scott] The image we get out of Faustina is one of untrustworthiness and promiscuity.
There are many rumors going around about both of these areas.
And we can see a partial answer to that in Faustina's bid to Avidius Cassius, where she thought maybe she would be able to retain her position in the Empire, perhaps even as his wife.
That was unexpected.
Cassius, you've always been there for me ever since we were children.
Now you're the only one who can protect me.
I think you might be overestimating me.
How could I? Marcus always said you were the second most powerful man in the Empire.
You could be Emperor yourself, if you wanted.
Emperor? With the strength of your armies and my name behind you, no one could stop you.
Emperor of Rome.
But you must promise me one thing.
Protect my family.
As if he were your own.
[Levene] Allegedly, again, she had actually promised to marry Avidius Cassius after Marcus's presumed death in order to solidify that transfer of power.
Because, if a power vacuum had been left, that would've put Faustina and everybody else around Marcus in an extremely perilous position.
[narrator] With Empress Faustina's backing, Avidius Cassius raises an army to march on Rome and claim the throne for himself.
Within months, he seizes control of major territories in the eastern Roman Empire.
And with support from leaders in Egypt, Syria, Judaea, and Arabia, he makes the ultimate move for the throne.
[Irvin] Cassius declared himself Emperor.
Egypt declared him to be the Emperor as well.
Two of the legions located within Egypt declared Cassius for Emperor.
And then, it was gradually revealed that Marcus Aurelius was still alive.
That he hadn't passed away after all, that the messages had been incorrectly interpreted.
And now, we have two rival Emperors.
We have a potential civil war within the Empire.
[narrator] As news of Aurelius' recovery reaches Egypt, Empress Faustina knows she must face her husband in Germania.
While Avidius Cassius chooses to continue his campaign for the throne.
[Levene] Avidius Cassius, I think, had little choice but to continue with his campaign.
If he backed away at that point, then everybody's going to know, including Marcus, is going to know that he was ready to seize the power from Marcus's own son, who was the closest person in line for the succession.
[general] Avidius Cassius has raised seven legions already.
Three in Syria, two in Judaea, one in Arabia, and one in Egypt.
So only Cappadocia and Bithynia have remained loyal.
[general] If we split our forces in half, we send ten legions across the Mediterranean to Alexandria No, no.
Ten legions are not enough to hold the front here.
Our men would be spread as far as Vetera.
They'd be practically useless.
With all due respect, Emperor, - your wife has put Rome - My wife has nothing to do with it.
Mother? She's involved? No.
Rumors only, nothing more.
Listen, if we move the fifteenth north, to Dacia.
We take the twelfth [narrator] After inadvertently starting a war for the throne, Faustina knows she must return to her husband and try to maintain her place as Empress.
[Irvin] Faustina, unfortunately, overplayed her hand.
The great women in Roman society always supported their men, elevated their men, pushed the men that they represented into greater positions of power, greater positions of competition, and helped to drive them forward.
We can see this playing out, of course, directly in the case of Avidius Cassius.
Where she clearly trusted him and had every reason to believe that he would make a fantastic emperor.
Unfortunately, of course, we have a miscommunication that ends up backfiring on that entire situation.
I need to talk to my mother.
The generals in there want you dead.
By the Gods, how has this gotten so out of control? I never intended this.
Well is it true? Did you betray us? I thought your father was dead.
I knew what that meant, how they would come for us.
I was only trying to protect us, to protect you.
So it was a misunderstanding.
So tell Father that.
He'll never believe me.
It's the truth.
Of course he'll believe you.
The truth He'll understand.
He has to.
Is it true? - You know me better than that.
- That is not an answer.
You think I'd betray my own family? My husband? I think someone can be driven to do anything, when their life's in jeopardy.
And some things are beyond even imagining.
Tell me the truth.
- I don't know what you want.
- I need the truth! You tell me plainly.
I've been faithful to you.
And these stories, concerning you and Avidius Cassius? They're lies.
It's rumors If there is one thing that's true, it's that I love you.
And I would not do anything to hurt you.
Anything else is a lie.
I just needed to hear it from your own lips.
Protect Commodus.
Sir [Toner] Being a Roman Emperor was a difficult job.
You are atop of a system that managed one of the largest empires the world had ever known.
But there were also problems of loyalty.
In such a big empire, you need to delegate.
But who can you trust? Can you trust even members of your own family? Often, sadly, not.
[groans] [gurgling] Mother [theme music playing]