5 Ancient Stories That Would Make Good TV Shows
A few weeks ago, PK and I posted our top 5 picks of what we thought would make great medieval TV shows – things that often get overlooked but really should get a chance on the small screen. Here are my picks of ancient stories that I believe would make for decent TV.
Forget Rome and Sparta, the reign of the first Christian ruler would make excellent TV. Constantine (February 27, 272 AD – May 22, 337 AD) was the son of a Roman officer. Taking his father’s lead, Constantine also rose up through the ranks and served in the Roman army under the emperors Diocletian and Galerius. Constantine’s life and rule is chock-full of story lines for a series with many seasons. Constantine put a lot under his belt during his reign: The Edict of Milan (313) that ended religious persecution of Christians, the First Council of Nicea (325) where Christian issues of worship were resolved, and the Nicene Creed was created, the founding of Constantinople in 324, and the creation of the solidus, a gold coin that was used as currency well into the Middle Ages. I’d also love to see a story around his dark past: the execution of his second wife, Fausta, and his son, Crispus. Constantine suddenly condemned them to death; Fausta was suffocated in an over-heated bath, and Crispus was cruelly executed. Constantine also had their names eradicated from history: damnatio memoriae, what the Romans bestowed upon traitors so they would be erased from all public record. What were their crimes? There’s a lot of conjecture, a rumour of possible adultery between Crispus and his step-mother, or something even more heinous, all in all, it could make for some great TV. Pretty dark stuff indeed.
Why no one has come along and done a show on the Ancient Egyptians baffles me. People are fascinated by Ancient Egypt and there is ample material here to make a few decent series. I was considering a show that was based around a ruler from Pre-Dynastic Egypt, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom along with a season dedicated to the Late Period, specifically, Ptolemaic Egypt. Then, I’d like to take a popular Pharaoh from each period and devote and entire season to them. I’d kick off season one with either Narmer (Menes) the first Pharaoh of unified Egypt, or his successor, Hor-Aha who was known for his tomb full of retainer sacrifices! For the Old Kingdom, I’d do a season on Cheops (Khufu) who commissioned the Pyramid of Giza and whose popularity stretched well into the Middle and New Kingdoms. For the Middle Kingdom, I’d pick Sobekneferu,’the beauty of Sobek’, the first confirmed female Phaoroah of Ancient Egypt, who ruled for almost 4 years after the death of her brother, Amenemhat IV. The New Kingdom has so many potential picks, but I think I’d stick with either: Amenhotep III who ruled during the peak of Egypt’s power, Tutankhamun (‘KingTut’), or the biblical Ramses II. For Ptolemaic Egypt, the obvious choice would be Cleopatra, but it would also be nice to continue with the brief rule of her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarian. Another alternate TV show option might be to do a show based on Egyptian women rulers like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, or Cleopatra.
Alexander the Great
Oliver Stone made a movie about Alexander’s life in 2005, starring Colin Farrell as Alexander and Jared Leto as his bestie, Hephaestion, but I’d love to see Alexander’s story stretched out over a few seasons on TV. I think a show devoted to this famous ruler would be very well received. Taught by Aristotle, ruler by age 20, conqueror of nations, and victor of every battle, he is surely worthy of a few seasons. This is a show I’d love to see HBO take on, or AMC, and make it really gritty. People are often more interested in Rome and Sparta because they think that Ancient Greece is just a bunch of old philosophers running around in togas asking questions, but here we have an amazing warrior who spread Greek culture across a vast empire in a matter of ten short years, and had no fewer than 20 cities named after him. Alexander (July 21, 356 BC – June 11, 323 BC) was a force to be reckoned with and his life and rule definitely merit air time. There would be plenty of guts n’ glory for those who like battle and blood in the retelling of Alexander’s tale. I’d probably start of with his tutelage under Aristotle, and his upbringing up to the point he becomes ruler at age 20. The second season would be his conquests, Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, and Persia. I’d like to also explore the controversial side of his personal life, the idea that he may have been romantically involved with his best friend, general, and second-in-command, Hephaestion. They grew up together and were extremely close. Although Alexander married and produced an heir later in life, no one was closer to him than Hephaestion. It’s an issue that has generated much debate among scholars and it would be interesting to see it play out onscreen.
Infamous for his tyranny, notorious for his sexual depravity, and remembered for his cruelty, Caligula’s life would definitely make for a good TV show. A well known member of the Julio-Claudia dynasty, Caligula (August 31, 12 AD – January 24, 41 AD) was accused of having a God-complex, i.e., he wanted to be worshipped as a living God., of an insatiable sexual appetite, he was accused of incest with his sister, sleeping with men’s wives and turning his palace into a brothel. Last, but not least, Caligula was accused of killing people for sport. There is a reported incident where Caligula ordered an entire section of a crowd into an arena with dangerous animals because he was bored. Rumour had it he also tried to give his horse, Incitatus, a role in Roman government as a consul. Caligula made many enemies with his outrageous behaviour and was assassinated in 41 AD, along with his wife, and daughter. Caligula was clearly not in his right mind, but he’s definitely right for TV. Although there was a made for TV movie about Caligula in 1975, and I, Claudius in 1976, I’d still really like to see a reboot and have it stretch into several seasons, and potentially tying in with my final TV show suggestion…Nero.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this case. Nephew of Caligula and the last of the Julio-Claudian rulers, Nero (December 15, 37 AD – June 9, 68 AD) was also infamous for his tyranny, excess, and depravity (there’s a theme here, I’m sure of it…). Nero was the “Emperor of Executions”, he executed his mother, executed his first wife, poisoned his step-brother, and set Christians on fire for fun. Sounds like an upstanding guy, right? Uncle Caligula took all of Nero’s inheritance and exiled his sister, Nero’s mother, Agrippina after her husband died. After Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD, Agrippina returned from exile and married her uncle, Emperor Claudius. He adopted Nero, allowing him to be in the running as heir. Nero was clever and got his brother out of the picture and married his step-sister, Claudia Octavia. He didn’t fancy her, so he had her executed and married his mistress, Poppaea Sabina. She fared no better after Nero reportedly kicked her to death while pregnant. He married a third time, Statilia Messalina, who luckily, was boring enough to survive him. She’s Rome’s Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr. Nero, meanwhile, decided castrate and marry a young freedman named Sporus who he treated as his wife. He also married another freedman named Pythagoras, who he supposedly treated as his husband. After all that – is there any doubt that this would be TV gold? There could always be the option of combining Nero and Caligula into a series as a spin off.