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The Roman Empire in the First Century 2001
Description: Two thousand years ago, at the dawn of the first century, the ancient globe was ruled by Rome. Through the experiences, memories and writings of the folks who lived it, this series says the storyline of that time - the emperors and slaves, poets and plebeians, who wrested order from chaos, built the most cosmopolitan society the globe had ever seen and shaped the Roman empire in the first century A.D.
Released: N/A Director: N/A Writers: N/A Actors: Sigourney Weaver Genres: Documentary, History
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The Roman Empire in the First Century Reviews:

This 3½ hour walk through the Roman Empire is surprisingly good. The story is kept interesting by shifting between narating happenings as they unfold, letting experts with unique knowledge say tiny interesting tidbits, and having actors place voices to the writings and stories left behind for soon generations to search - thus shaping the characters and plotting the happenings - all adding to create the 1st century come to life once again.I cannot say whether this documentary is accurate in all aspects, but it says an interesting and emotionally rich storyline of the Roman Empire. I liked it.


While the game refers to a 'First Century', the time period did not extend exactly from 1AD to 101AD but was APPROXIMATELY just before the first century AD--during the time of Julius Caesar's death. And, it ended about 80AD. This isn't really a grip--I just wanted to create it clear that the game was a wee tad deceiving. The series mostly is concerned with both the early emperors of Rome as well as the eventual switch from the dynastic model (where successors are selected simply because of their bloodlines) to one in which a boy is selected because of ability. Most of the present is about the Julian Emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero) but also covers two non-Julians (Vespasian and Trajan). In addition to discussing the merits and deficits of these men, the present chooses necessary non-royal Romans of the time to discuss as well, such as Seneca, Pliny the Elder and Younger, Josephus (a Roman citizen) and Ovid. The narration is very well done by Signorney Weaver and lots of smart professors and voice actors deliever color. The overall experience watching it isn't quite as exciting as watching "I, Claudius" but is still very enlightening and enjoyable. The only quibble I have, and this is real of most stories from the ancient world, is that it is never mentioned that the voracity of the historians is not 100%. In another words, they should have made mistakes OR drew conclusions or made omissions due to political motivations. In another words, a particular emperor might be vilified simply because surviving histories paint him as evil and we just assume this to be fact--which it may or may not be. I am not telling they could have changed what they said--just explained that the accounts in the documentary are based on these sometimes officially sanctioned accounts. Still, it's a remarkably nice series and I would LOVE to see one about Rome in the second, third and fourth centuries, as they are MUCH less likely to be talked about in documentaries.


This PBS-produced documentary, which surveys Rome in the First Century, runs 219 mins in four parts. It is so calm, so respectful, so stately and so dull that it made me wonder if they really were talking about Rome. The tales of the emperors, of course, range from greatness to pederasty, from the building of an intercontinental transportation system to wretched excess, from mutual murder to becoming gods. Rome also is the storyline of nice poets, writers, historians, and builders. The documentary spends a lot of time reminding us of this with quotes read by actors with generically well-bred voices. Even more necessary and interesting is why the Romans were able to make such an empire. What was the force behind a crummy tiny village on the Tiber winding up owning everything from England to Egypt? And who was responsible for the most impressive set of officer's uniforms until the Nazis? Rome is the storyline not just of emperors and poets, but also of engineers and soldiers, of a nice civil service and a slave economy, of an empire-wide free-trade territory and a universal set of laws. Rome might nail you to a cross, but in general if you didn't tell terrible things about the emperor-god you should trust in any another gods that took your fancy. Told Edward Gibbon, "The different modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman World, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord." Tiny of this practical cynicism and do-the-job-right energy comes through in this documentary. I have a nice admiration for Sigourney Weaver as an actress, but her narration is simply too emotionless and too earnest. Does she have any more interest in first century Rome than most of us do? Probably not. She was hired to read the author's narration and she does with placid professionalism. The actors chosen to voice the words of Ovid, Tacitus and the rest of the dead Romans bring even less moxie to the enterprise. Their voices are smooth, professional and uninteresting. This documentary is well intentioned, probably more so than is nice for it. If you gotta watch it for the facts, I'd advise that first you watch I, Claudius for the energy.



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