By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Roman Empire: Reign of Blood is a 2016 Netflix series based on the life of Emperor Commodus. I must say, this is one of the best series I saw last year. Unfortunately, most producers and scriptwriters think only the Julio-Claudian emperors are worthy of a film or TV series. That’s why most of the general public have never heard of emperors like Galba, Commodus and Marcus Aurelius.
Honestly though, despite my enthusiasm for these later emperors, when I heard that the series was going to focus on Commodus’ life, I was extremely skeptical. All the other movies about him, including the very popular Gladiator, were admittedly entertaining, but also not very good, and often historically inaccurate. I’m happy to say, though, that my doubts were unfounded, and I strongly recommend this series to all Latin and Roman history enthusiasts.
They really seemed to go out of their way to make sure that every details would be historically accurate. In fact, the term “series” may not be appropriate here. Instead, it might be better to call it a “docuseries”, as every episode includes scholars from a variety of universities explaining to viewers what’s happening and how historians interpret the events. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a real ancient historian as a character, Dio Cassius, who witnessed all these events. If you are interested in ancient history, I strongly recommend reading his narrative about Commodus and Marcus Aurelius, but keep in mind that Dio Cassius and Commodus were political enemies, so his writings are considered a little biased.
The tale of Emperor Commodus is a fascinating one, and the series covers his whole career as a ruler, from his early years of being a moderate, respected emperor to his later descent into madness and megalomania, which was enough to make Caligula look like a boy scout! The viewer will learn about the wars against the Germans, Commodus’ ascension to the throne, the plots against his life, his megalomania, the great famine orchestrated by his ex-slave Cleander, and the emperor actually becoming a gladiator! And as I mentioned before, all these events are highlighted by short bits of commentary by real-life scholars.
The only bad point I see in the series is that Commodus, who in real life was strangled by his gladiatorial training partner Narcissus, was instead killed by a sword blow in the series. Perhaps the screenwriters thought viewers would prefer to see him die as described in the gladiator oath: “Uri, vinciri, verberari, ferroque necari patior” (“I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword”).
I think all classics students will love this series, and once they do, will understand why I gave it 5 well-deserved stars!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.