Roman Empire: Reign of Blood (2016) s01e04 Episode Script

Rome is Burning

1 [applause] This is for the Senate! Bring him to the palace alive.
It's fine.
Let him through! Commodus.
Thank the Gods, you're alright.
They came for you too? We stopped at the brothel on our way to the Coliseum.
They ambushed us.
Saoterus? They moved too quickly.
I managed to hold them off, but Saoterus Find out who was behind this.
It doesn't matter what it takes.
With pleasure.
[theme music playing] [narrator] For Commodus, the attempt on his life and the murder of his closest advisor shakes the foundation of his reign.
Clifford Ando] When you think about somebody like Commodus growing up and coming into a position of enormous responsibility.
It's not simply that they're an individual of great wealth and everybody's gonna be jealous.
One can suppose that they must have felt enormously isolated.
The number of people whom they felt they could trust must be extraordinarily small.
[narrator] Cleander knows that to keep the trust of the Emperor and eliminate any ties to the murder of Saoterus, he'll have to cover his tracks.
Starting with the Senate member who aided in the plot Quintianus.
I've waited a long time for this.
Convince Commodus to spare my life.
If you do that, I won't say anything.
You have my word.
That's one option.
Wait No, wait [gurgling] Finish him.
[sword slicing] [Quintianus screams] [narrator] After the failed attempt on her brother's life, Lucilla knows her efforts have gone to waste and her connection to the plot could be exposed at any moment.
He talked.
I'll hear it for myself.
I'm afraid that won't be possible.
So he's dead.
Who else was involved? There's one more.
Who? Your sister.
Bring her to me.
Aaron Irvin] If you were Emperor, you would be the individual upon which millions of people depended on a day-to-day basis.
But of course, it's far more than any one individual can pull off.
You have to delegate.
You need assistance.
You have to find other people.
But Roman society is incredibly competitive.
Who do you trust? Bring her in.
Senator Quintianus tried to kill me.
He failed.
[Lucilla] So I've heard.
Ask your question, brother.
You are supposed to be the most powerful man in the world.
Emperor of Rome.
Is that why your playmate is not in chains beside me? Would it be too difficult for you? It always amazes me the lengths a woman will go to to cover up well, anything really.
I see you've a cut, Cleander.
Is that from Saoterus's knife? Enough! Lies will get you nowhere.
Just because you can't handle the answers doesn't make them lies.
If you want to know why your sister wanted you dead, all you need do is ask.
I've done nothing to you.
You were born.
And from the moment you entered this world, I've been pushed aside, forgotten, sold into marriage.
All for the greater glory of Commodus.
I never asked for any of that.
And I never asked to be born a woman.
To have our father turn his back on a century of tradition.
To have no control over anything that happens to me.
But here we are.
You tried to kill me.
You've taken my life, brother.
I only thought it fair I do the same to you.
Always the strong one, eh, Commodus? It seems your Emperor cares more for your family than you do.
He will spare your life, but your time here in Rome is at an end.
I must admit, Cleander, I am impressed.
Irvin] With her conspiracy, Lucilla was working directly with members of that inner circle.
These were incredibly important people.
This was not simply a minor plot, but this was essentially the inner workings of the state moving against itself.
[narrator] Cleander has successfully eliminated his competition and any trace to his involvement in the plot.
Commodus orders his sister to the Island of Capri, more than 100 miles from Rome where she's forced to live in exile.
[gasping] [yelping] [Jerry Toner] Commodus has her murdered.
This isn't surprising.
What else would you do with someone who has tried to assassinate you? With a member of your own family who has betrayed you? It's too risky to have them alive.
[narrator] After ordering the execution of his own sister, Commodus begins to distance himself from the throne and Cleander sees the opportunity he's been waiting for.
It's finished then.
There were more on the list.
If we don't act now, there will be others.
They'll see it as an opening.
Brother do we want to be seen as weak? No I can't have this happen again.
You can count on me.
Cleander I won't forget this.
[narrator] By deceiving Commodus, Cleander continues to gain his trust and is soon given the position he's always wanted, Chief Advisor to the Roman Emperor.
Irvin] This is the biggest problem that Commodus faces.
He is easily manipulated.
He's easily manipulated by the various groups around him.
And rather than taking a leadership position as the Emperor, he allows himself to be led.
He allows himself to be put aside.
And he allows individuals like Cleander to take up a leadership position.
Commodus, it's late.
It's not good for you to sit here drinking all night I know it's been difficult, but this isn't going Done! Just Enough.
Just come to bed with me.
And what would be the purpose of that? You have one job, and you have failed me again and again.
Tell me, dear wife, where is my son? Please Marcia, clean up my husband's mess.
[Anthony Everitt] Crispina didn't produce any children.
What a woman had to do was not be sexually attractive, but she must be able to have children.
She must produce sons.
Provided she did that, that was her main task.
If she didn't do that, then that was potentially quite serious.
[pouring] [narrator] As Commodus grows further detached from his role as Emperor, Cleander begins to consolidate his power.
Corey Brennan] One of the most important figures for understanding the role of the Emperor Commodus is the figure of Cleander.
Cleander was the second freedman that Commodus put enormous trust in.
And Commodus had checked out at this point and was not interested in the serious business of governing.
So what happens is Cleander, in particular we're told, sought to enrich himself.
[narrator] With his power cemented, Cleander can set in motion his ultimate plan.
Determined to win favor among the Roman people, and amass a fortune of his own, Cleander begins selling off high-ranking positions in the Empire starting with seats in the Roman Senate.
Something the matter, Dio? I have never heard the Senate so silent.
I wouldn't enjoy it too much.
It's the sound of betrayal, after all.
[Dio] Or the absence of it.
For these few who remain are as loyal as you and I, are they not? Perhaps, but wise men know things are not always as they appear.
You speak the truth, Cleander.
You know, it really is quite impressive, all you've accomplished, and there is much more to come, I have no doubt.
But for now, the business of the Senate awaits us old wise men.
You forget yourself, Dio.
Not all of the Senate are here.
[narrator] By removing the old guard, and selling seats to his allies, Cleander has secured the Senate's loyalty and has disturbed the balance of an institution that has governed for nearly 700 years.
Since the founding of the republic, seats of the Senate have been reserved for the elite.
[Tom Holland] Traditionally, to be in the Senate was to attain the very pinnacle of status within the Roman state.
It took its name from the Latin for "old man", senex.
It embodied the great and the good of the city.
[narrator] Only those from Senate lineage are eligible for service.
[Toner] To be a Senator in Rome, your father had to be a Senator.
So it was largely hereditary.
Cassius Dio, he was a Senator and later a consul, and his father had been a Senator.
So he's very much from the aristocratic part of Roman society.
[narrator] With the Senate in his pocket, Cleander now looks to the Roman people, and believes there's only one way to guarantee their support.
Cleander knows the masses are a powerful force in the Empire.
and he can solidify their dependence, and gain their favor, by threatening their food supply.
For centuries, the survival of the Empire has depended on imported grain.
[Toner] The city of Rome was probably over one million people strong.
It's an enormous city by preindustrial standards.
Because of that, they ship huge quantities of grain in from North Africa and above all, from Egypt, and they give it to every Roman citizen.
It probably accounts for something like 40 or 50 percent of the family food requirement in each year.
So it's a very significant perk of being a Roman citizen.
[narrator] But in Rome, grain does more than just feed the people.
As those in power have used rations and shortages to keep control of the lower classes.
[Holland] Rome had vastly outgrown the capacity to feed those who lived in it.
So, ambitious Roman politicians had begun to recognize that a way to entrench power was to provide the mass of common citizens in the city with a bread dole.
But if they did not supply bread to the Roman people, then their own survival might well be at stake.
[narrator] Determined to gain the favor of the Roman people, Cleander devises a sophisticated plan.
He believes if he can manipulate the grain supply, he can create a food crisis in Rome.
Take this to the Senate.
Irvin] Cleander looks at his position as a way for him to gain his own power and gain his own popularity.
The rumors being of course that Cleander takes stores of food and keeps them, and then purposely creates a famine within the city so that he can come out as the hero, and popular among the people.
[narrator] While Cleander continues his campaign for power, Commodus returns to his reckless ways.
Marcia is a slave in the royal palace.
But after catching the eye of the Emperor, she becomes his personal servant and mistress, known in Rome as a concubine.
In the palace, the Emperor has his choice of attractive slaves servants available for pleasure day and night.
[Holland] To be sure, Emperors, by and large, slept with as many people as they wanted, used as many people as they wanted.
Provided that they were not of citizen status.
David Levene] There was a provision in Roman law that any Roman, not just an Emperor, could indeed have a concubine.
Concubinage was a status under Roman law, but it was less common for an Emperor to do it quite as openly as Commodus took Marcia.
[narrator] But while Marcia begins spending more time with the Emperor, she's still a servant in the palace alongside her husband, Eclectus.
Hey, I thought you were done for the night.
The Emperor required me, but I'm going to bed now.
Please sit down.
You're leaving Rome.
Where are we going? [Commodus] You'll go to the country estate.
It'll be safe there, away from the plague.
You'll follow later, then.
My place is in Rome.
How long will I be gone for? I'll send for you when I think it's safe to return.
- But I don't want to leave - It's best you leave immediately.
- Marcia, let's go.
- No.
Marcia and Eclectus will stay with me.
You'll let me know when wish me to return? As soon as it's safe.
[narrator] For Commodus, the Empress has failed one of the most important roles in the palace.
Unable to give him an heir, she's banished to Capri, never to return to Rome.
The Emperor's focus continues to drift, allowing Cleander to continue with his ruthless scheme.
But news of the grain shortage soon reaches high-ranking members of the Senate.
[Cleander] Now go see to it.
[Dio] You seem to have taken to the managing of the city well.
All it takes is a firm hand.
I've never lacked for that.
I'm sure you already have a plan to deal with the grain shortage.
Well, it's certainly strange.
All shipments from Alexandria have stopped, but no one knows why.
[Cleander] I'm aware of the grain shortage.
And do you intend to do anything about it? I intend to manage it.
Well, within the week, the mills at the Aqua Traiana will have nothing to produce, and then a few days after that, all distribution in the city will cease.
People will starve.
And I'm sure the Senate would resolve this through endless discussion.
No, Dio.
You may talk as much as you wish.
The palace will act.
Oh, so the Emperor is aware of the danger to his beloved city? The Emperor is not to be bothered with trivialities.
[narrator] Cleander has redirected shipments of grain from Egypt, stashing them away for just the right moment.
But what he fails to predict, is that the food shortage, and spreading famine, create the perfect conditions for the return of the plague.
Try the wine.
It's delicious.
[narrator] Throughout Rome, thousands fall ill as the plague wreaks havoc on the Roman people.
[Everitt] Large cities, like Rome, had poor sort of health systems.
And so, they were sinks of germs and diseases of one sort or another.
And it took a very long time for that to be shaken off.
[narrator] With riots breaking out around the city, word of starvation and disease reaches the palace.
[crowd clamoring] Cleander, thank you for coming.
Would you mind filling my cup? Certainly.
The plague.
What are we doing about it? All that we can, of course.
We are disposing of the bodies as quickly as possible, setting up quarantines and sick tents outside the city.
Don't worry.
We'll have it taken care of in no time.
Why am I hearing that my people are starving? We're having issues with the grain shipments.
Hungry people get sick.
Sick people die.
People need food.
I'm afraid it's not as easy as it sounds.
Double the subsidies.
The shipments will straighten themselves out.
In the meantime, the people need food.
Of course.
You're right.
I'll double the grain shipments now.
Is there anything else my Emperor requires? Perhaps some time alone.
[chuckles] [narrator] With his advisor at the helm, Commodus continues to avoid his obligations.
But what he doesn't realize is that in the hands of his trusted advisor, the fate of his beloved city is in danger.
The streets of Rome have turned to chaos.
But Cleander is determined to stick to his plan, believing he still has time to release his grain supply and save the Empire.
But before he can act, the masses begin to blame the royal palace and voice their frustrations on the city walls.
Used as a means of communication, graffiti is a powerful tool of the Roman people.
[Toner] Graffiti was very commonplace in the Roman Empire.
If you look at the city of Pompeii, there are 13,000 examples of it that survive in a town that had a population of probably only that size.
Mostly the graffiti is about politics.
It's saying, "Vote for so-and-so in the upcoming election.
" Or they are criticizing other people.
Or many of them are just names scratched onto the surfaces.
[murmuring] [narrator] As anger spreads, the Roman people demand answers and begin to call for the man Commodus trusted with the food supply Cleander.
[murmuring] [crowd chatter] [man] That's him! That's Cleander.
[crowd yells] Get away from me! You I want two guards on every door.
No one is to enter the palace! [distant crowd yells] Commodus! [crowd yelling] The whole city's gone mad.
They attacked me in the streets! I'm lucky to have gotten back here alive.
Why would they attack you? Why are my people calling for your head? Cleander, what did you do? What did you do? [theme song playing]