An Owl in a Thornbush

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"An Owl in a Thornbush"
Rome episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 3
Directed by Michael Apted
Written by Bruno Heller
Original air date September 11, 2005 (HBO)
November 9, 2005 (BBC)
Setting Rome and Italia
Time frame Jan. 10 – Feb. 30, 49 BC
Episode chronology
← Previous
"How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic"
Next →
"Stealing from Saturn"
List of Rome episodes

"An Owl in a Thornbush" is the third episode of the first season of the television series Rome.


At the opening, Caesar, at the head of his still advancing army, is sending Vorenus and Pullo, along with the Ubian cavalry for reinforcement, ahead to Rome on a scouting mission for Pompey's defenses with the strict mandate to advance only until resistance is met and, if civilians are met along the way, they are to give Caesar's proclamation to them and to instruct them to return to Rome and have it read in the forum. Mark Antony tells Vorenus that if no resistance is met and they encounter no civilians, he is to take the proclamation and nail it to the door of the Senate house. Caesar is curious as to why Vorenus is so morose and asks Antony. Antony reveals that Vorenus is a strict Catonian and believes what Caesar is doing is a "terrible sacrilege" to which Caesar responds that he is only seeking his legitimate right.

Meanwhile, in Rome, a man enters Vorenus' home as Niobe is preparing food and walks straight to the baby's crib, telling Niobe that he just wants to see his son. Niobe tells him to leave but as he makes to do so, he turns back to face Niobe to try to persuade her to love him again. She resists for a moment but slowly starts to give in, but just as the two are about to exchange a kiss, Vorena the Elder enters the door and interrupts them. Niobe quickly makes the man leave. Vorena believes that if Niobe were to tell Vorenus the truth about the baby and that she thought he was dead, Vorenus would forgive her and everything would be fine, but Niobe knows full well that if Vorenus were to learn the truth, he would then have the legal right and moral obligation to kill her and his children.

As the scouting mission camps for the night, Vorenus asks Pullo for advice on how to get Niobe to love him again since he's been away at war in Gaul for eight years and knows virtually nothing about women. Pullo, being the self declared consummate authority on women, jumps at the chance to tell Vorenus everything he knows.

Back in Rome, Pompey, Cicero, Cato and Scipio all discuss options as they receive word of Caesar's advancement only being thirty miles from the city. Though they have four legions in Rome, they are either untrained conscripts (a unit of which is wiped out by Vorenus's scouts) or are veterans of the Gallic Wars whose loyalty can't be counted upon. They decide a tactical retreat to Corfinium is the best plan of action so that they can rally their legions and retake the city when all is ready.

As Atia is holding a dinner with Servilia and Brutus in a show of unity, Pompeian supporters outside the house begin to cause a small riot and beat on the doors with a small battering ram while shouting insults through the open atrium ceiling.

Meanwhile, Pompey and his family are making final preparations for their retreat from the city, during which Cornelia reminds Pompey of the treasury gold, who in turn tells his man Durio that he and a small detachment of men must go to the Capitoline vaults, which are only to be touched in cases of extreme peril, and get as much of the gold as they can. The task complete, the detachment begins to make their way from the city, but when Durio tells the driver that he's going the wrong way from the Appian gate, the man tells him they're not going to the Appian gate and proceeds to stab Durio and throw him from the ox cart. Later, as the soldiers with the stolen gold are making their way from the city, we are introduced to Eirene. She is walking down the road as the soldiers are passing and before she knows it, a legionary unceremoniously whisks her up onto the back of his horse, to inevitably become his slave.

Brutus and Servilia discuss their predicament. Brutus knows that if he stays in the city because of his friendship with Caesar, he effectively declares for Caesar and rebellion. If he leaves with the Senate, he declares for them and the preservation of the Republic. Ultimately, he decides to go with Pompey and the Senate because of his family's history with the politics of Rome (his ancestors drove out the last Etruscan king). Servilia, on the other hand, is of a different mind. She wants to stay in Rome to be there when Caesar returns in order to rekindle their romance.

Back on the road to Rome, Vorenus and Pullo, still unable to figure out why they're meeting no resistance, cross paths with the soldiers and the stolen treasury gold, along with Eirene being led along tied to the wagon by her bound wrists. The soldiers explain that the lack of resistance is because Pompey and the Senate have left the city, thereby permitting Vorenus and the scouting party to proceed without caution. When Vorenus questions the lead man about the cart, he's told that it's just a grain wagon. But when Vorenus points out that they're all wearing soldiers' sandals and that soldiers would have no business guarding a grain wagon, a fight ensues and all the men but the driver, who has taken refuge in the woods, are driven off and killed while Eirene remains tied to the wagon.

While Atia holds court for plebeians seeking the support of the Julii, Vorenus, Pullo and the scouting party finally enter Rome and make their way to the Forum, where Vorenus nails Caesar's proclamation to the Senate door. He then heads to his home telling Pullo that he's done what was asked of him and he will sin no more. Pullo, on the other hand, still intrigued with Eirene, goes back to find the wagon. When he locates it, he finds Eirene lying on the ground with her wrists still bound to the wagon. Upon discovering she is still alive, he unties her and sets her up in the wagon before he checks to see what exactly is in it. He opens one box, takes one look and shuts it quickly, breathing heavily. He looks in the next box with the same reaction. Then he pulls back the covering to see exactly how many boxes are in the wagon and gasps at, what he thinks is, his newfound wealth. As he's surmising the situation, he hears the trumpets of Caesar's army approaching and quickly makes a getaway before they arrive.

Historical and cultural background

In this episode, Atia is seen to be "holding court"; obviously wealthy—but presumably plebeian—people coming to her, as Caesar's Legion approaches. This practice was a custom of the Roman nobility known as clientela. It seems likely that wealthy plebs would seek the "protection" of the Julii clan as "clients" (clientes) with Atia as their patrona, and thus protect themselves from the "ravages of the Legions" should Caesar actually sack Rome. Of course, this would not happen, but they could not know this. It is quite clear that Atia is not above extorting people for her dubious "protection", demanding 5,000 denarii.

Episode characters

Main cast

Lucius Vorenus Titus Pullo Atia of the Julii
Pompey Magnus Porcius Cato Gaius Octavian

Guest stars

played by Andrea Bruschi
Arena Hackler
played by Cesare Cremonini
Daughter of Pompey
played by Eliza Darby
played by Anna Francolini
played by Andrew Greenough
Gaius Julius Caesar
played by Ciarán Hinds
played by Chiara Mastalli
played by Matt Patresi
played by Anna Patrick
Mark Antony
played by James Purefoy
played by Roberto Purvis
Legionary #1
played by Gabriele Ragusa
played by Stuart M. Rosen
played by Alessandra Stordy
Ubian #1
played by Massimiliano Ubaldi
Quintus Pompey
played by Rick Warden


External links

  • "An Owl in a Thornbush" on IMDb
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