The compelling PBS Empires
series explores the first hundred years of the Roman Empire in this fascinating documentary. The story begins with the ascent of Augustus, who almost single-handedly rescued Rome from the chaos of civil war and forged a collection of colonies into an empire. Augustus was a shrewd statesman, and his manipulation of the common people allowed him to begin a dynasty that would eventually endanger everything he had created. After the death of Augustus in A.D. 14 the Roman Empire continued to expand even as the imperial family fell into turmoil. Augustus's successor was Tiberius, who was then followed by the notorious Caligula, but it fell to Claudius, who came reluctantly to power after Caligula's murder, to further Augustus's imperial ambitions. Under Claudius Rome finally occupied the distant island of Britain, and letters from the period offer fascinating glimpses into everyday life at the edge of the world. Claudius was followed by Nero, who brought the empire to the point of collapse. His death, which ended the Augustan dynasty, was followed by years of infighting between rival factions. The final episode of this film shows how the empire survived political chaos and natural disasters like the destruction of Pompeii to end the first century in a position of strength.
The Roman Empire in the First Century is filled with information about everyday life in the Roman Empire, and interviews with historians are supported with eyewitness accounts by dozens of Romans, from the poet Ovid to unknown soldiers in the forests of Germania. This gives great depth to the story of imperial ambition, which forms the backbone of the documentary, to make this the most successful installment in the Empires series. --Simon Leake