Caesarion (Rome)

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Rome episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 8
Directed by Steve Shill
Written by William J. MacDonald
Original air date October 16, 2005 (HBO)
December 14, 2005 (BBC)
Setting Ptolemaic Egypt and Rome
Time frame Fall 48 BC through June 47 BC
Episode chronology
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List of Rome episodes

"Caesarion" is the eighth episode of the first season of the television series Rome.


In Rome, Marcus Junius Brutus arrives home, and is somewhat put out to receive only a perfunctory welcome from his mother, Servilia, after his long absence.

Caesar and his Legion arrives in Alexandria in pursuit of Pompey, who unbeknown to him has already been betrayed and murdered while seeking refuge there. Caesar is greeted by the ministers of the young King Ptolemy XIII, led by Ptolemy's regent, the eunuch Pothinus, and his tutor Theodotus. They are dismissive of the dispute over the throne between Ptolemy and his sister/wife, Cleopatra, assuring Caesar there will be no disruption to the Roman grain supply. In private, Posca informs Caesar that the Egyptians are lying, and that the situation is very unstable. Caesar is also clearly irritated by the petulant young king.

Hoping to win Caesar's support in their dynastic dispute, Ptolemy presents him with Pompey's head, but Caesar is outraged that a consul of Rome has been "quartered like some low thief". As recompense for this insult, he demands that Pompey's killer be turned over to him, and the debt owed to Rome by the King's late father be repaid in full, although the Egyptians state that the "seventeen thousand thousand drachma" owed will be impossible to pay.

Caesar decides to remain in Egypt to arbitrate between the various factions, ordering Mark Antony to return to Rome, despite Antony's and Posca's warnings that he will be left with dangerously few men in Egypt, surrounded by hostile factions that could make him into a common enemy, and that Cato the Younger and Scipio are still at large and likely gathering fresh forces.

Vorenus and Pullo are dispatched to the south of the country to find Cleopatra and escort her to Alexandria. Meanwhile, Pothinus and Theodotus persuade Ptolemy to anticipate Caesar's decision by having his sister killed, while she is still under house arrest. They also decide to temporarily placate Caesar by delivering Pompey's assassin, Septimius, asking him to deliver a message to Caesar, in person, which turns out to be his own death warrant. A short time later, Septimius's head is placed on a stake outside the palace.

Vorenus and Pullo wait for Ptolemy's assassins to appear, to guide them to Cleopatra's exact location. When the assassins arrive, the Romans ambush them just as they are about to kill Cleopatra.

As her litter travels to Alexandria, Cleopatra confides in her servant, Charmion, that it is imperative that she seduce Caesar. "If I cannot, then I am dead." She notes that, if she could bear him a son, something his three wives have not done, her position would be much more secure. She also notes that it will be several more days before they reach Alexandria, but now is the perfect time for her to become pregnant, as her "womb is between the flood." To this end, she orders Charmian to invite Vorenus into her tent and orders him to have sex with her. Though tempted, Vorenus refuses and storms out of the tent, instead ordering Pullo to "[r]eport immediately to Princess Cleopatra and do as she says." Confused, Pullo reports for duty, but when he learns what his task is to be, he performs it with gusto. Afterwards, Vorenus warns him never to speak of it, as Caesar will likely have him killed if he finds out.

Vorenus and Pullo smuggle Cleopatra into Alexandria concealed in a sack. The moment she reveals herself, Caesar is immediately smitten with her. She enters the throne room, where her younger brother quails before her. Sweetly, she tells him she does not blame him, but that he has been manipulated by his evil advisers and swiftly demands their deaths. Shortly thereafter, Pothinus and Theodotus's heads join Septimius's on the stakes outside the palace. Angered by this sign of Roman imperialism, a mob begins gathering outside the palace, and Vorenus orders his men to bar the gates and prepare for combat.

Cleopatra swiftly seduces Caesar into making an alliance, sealed by enticing him to have sex with her. Scenes of Cleopatra and Caesar making love are interspersed with scenes of Servilia and Octavia in bed, and scenes of the mob laying siege to the palace.

Almost a year later, in Rome, Cicero meets Brutus in the Senate House. Cicero says that, if Caesar is defeated in Alexandria, then they should do everything possible to keep Antony from assuming power after him. Brutus reminds him that they swore loyalty to Caesar when they surrendered, but Cicero parries that their oath does not extend to Antony, and suggests sending word to Cato and Scipio, who have raised a new army in Numidia. Antony then enters, telling Cicero that he's heard rumors of Cicero's planned treachery, and warns him that, if he ever hears of it again, he will cut off Cicero's "soft, pink hands and nail them to the Senate door." As he is leaving, Antony adds that he came with good news: Caesar is victorious in Alexandria.

In Alexandria, we see Ptolemy floating facedown in a marsh of sedges near the river, dead. The sound of bees buzzing around the body can be heard (a sardonic allusion to his royal title of “he of sedge and bee”). Caesar presents Cleopatra's infant son Caesarion to his soldiers. As the Legion cheers, Vorenus glowers at Pullo, who pauses for a moment, knowing that there's a distinct possibility that the child is his, then goes on cheering proudly.

Historical and cultural background

  • The newsreader lists four noblemen recently returned from Greece who have received Caesar's pardon. With the exception of Cicero, all of them - Brutus, Cassius, and Casca - would take part in the plot to assassinate Caesar.
  • At the time of Caesar's arrival in Egypt, it was undergoing a dynastic dispute among the various siblings of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Ptolemy XIII (who was probably being manipulated by his regent Pothinus), Arsinoe IV and Cleopatra, were all contesting for rulership.
  • The scene where Pompey's head is presented to Caesar is based on an account from Plutarch's Life of Pompey. In similar fashion, Caesar professed to be disgusted by Pompey's murder and wept for the death of his old colleague.
  • Caesar refers to the enormous debt incurred by Ptolemy and Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, when he first came to the throne, of some 6,000 gold talents. To shore up his throne's stability, Auletes paid an enormous bribe to the Roman Senate, in exchange for a formal declaration that he was a Friend and Ally of Rome. In effect, he was bribing the Senate (a large portion of the bribe going straight into Pompey and Caesar's pockets) to endorse his legitimacy as King, and implicitly pledge not to annex the country as another Roman province. Ptolemy was forced to realize this immediate sum by borrowing it from Roman moneylenders, most prominently Gaius Rabirius Postumus, who later also enjoyed an appointment as Egypt's finance minister.
    • Ptolemy expected to pay back the loan (estimated at anywhere between one half or the whole of Egypt's gross national product for a year) with tax revenues from Egypt, but these taxes proved so unpopular that Ptolemy was ousted from his throne, in favor of his daughter, Berenice. Thereafter, Ptolemy paid another, even larger bribe of ten thousand talents, to Pompey's lieutenant, Aulus Gabinius, to lead a Roman army to Egypt to restore him to the throne. It is unclear whether the money Caesar is demanding from Pothinus and Ptolemy includes this latter sum.
  • Caesar calculates the total that Egypt owes as equal to "17 thousand thousand drachma." According to the historical notes, a drachma is roughly equal to one denarius. The total is therefore equal to seventeen million denarii, or sixty-eight million sestertii (for a discussion of the relative value of Roman coinage, see "How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic").
  • The god that Titus Pullo finds so unimpressive, the "bastard with a dog's head on him", is possibly the Egyptian god Anubis (since he is not the only god with a dog's head but the best known). The bit of statuary that Lucius Vorenus is sharpening his sword on while he and Pullo wait, wears the "Double Crown" of Upper and Lower Egypt. This means that it is a depiction of a Pharaoh — presumably a fragment of some long-lost royal monument.
  • The scenes where Cleopatra schemes to give birth to "Caesar"'s child by seducing Vorenus or Pullo, gives color to the historical debate about who Caesarion's true father was. After he was born, Cleopatra openly declared that he was Caesar's child, while several of her political enemies, including Octavian, sought to prove otherwise. According to historian Michael Grant, there is at least one potent argument in favor of each side:
    • On the one hand, the portrayal of Cleopatra as promiscuous or sexually voracious is an invention of later propaganda (much of it from Octavian), and there is no hard evidence that she had relations with any man other than Caesar or Mark Antony.
    • On the other hand, there is speculation that Caesar was infertile - a theory reinforced by the fact that, in the course of three marriages and numerous liaisons with other women, he had produced only one child, his daughter Julia - and thus could not have fathered Caesarion.
    • The series' portrayal of Cleopatra walks a middle path between the two accounts: she is very experienced with sex, and clearly enjoys it, but only seduces men who can further her political aims.
  • The scene where Cleopatra is smuggled into Alexandria rolled up in a carpet is, likewise, based on a story that that was how she first met Caesar, while he was in the royal palace, surrounded by Ptolemy's guards.
  • The enmity between Antony and Cicero was long-standing;
    • according to the historical notes accompanying the episode, Cicero despised Antony (a man of aristocratic birth) for his vulgarity, while Antony was offended that Cicero (a novus homo who had achieved election to the Senate from humble origins) was such a snob.
    • Cicero had been consul during the Catiline Conspiracy, and had a number of suspected conspirators arrested and executed without trial, including Antony's stepfather, whom Antony had great affection for.
    • Years later, after Caesar's assassination, Antony and Octavian proscribed a number of enemies, and Cicero's was one of the first names Antony put down. Antony made good on the threat spoken in the episode: one of Cicero's hands was cut off and nailed to a monument in the forum.
  • Antony has good reason to boast about Caesar's victory in Alexandria: it was one of the narrowest victories of his military career, won with barely 4,000 men against approximately 21,000 commanded by Achillas.


External links

  • "Caesarion" on IMDb
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