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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
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Empires - The Roman Empire

SBS/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 220 mins . E . PAL


Empires come and empires go. Some last centuries, while others burn brightly then fade away in a matter of decades. One of the more successful empires was the Holy Roman Empire that began roughly around the time of the birth of Christ, and ended hundreds of years later. As the succession of rulers succumbed to the trappings of power, coupled with their stupidity, ineptitude and the greed of mortal men, it eventually failed miserably. This fall from grace took time, and this DVD in the Empires series looks at the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

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"Hey Biggus, who's this Russell Crowe fellow then?"

When Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, Rome was essentially a city in chaos. Civil unrest was heightened, the Senate was largely corrupt and distrustful, the army was a disorganised rabble and no one man appeared to have the credentials to guide Rome to greatness. Caesar’s appointed (and adopted) heir, Octavian, was not the man for the job, even though he ruled Rome for 13 years until handing power to his chosen heir, Augustus, in 31BC. It was at this time that things changed and Rome began to grow and prosper at last.

Augustus is arguably the most successful and popular emperor Rome had. He was a respected military man who, reluctantly at first, accepted the role of Father of Rome, proclaimed himself Emperor and a god, and saw the Empire grow and expand through Europe and Africa. Social change was a big part of his success, but military conflict was not off the agenda.

Upon his death, power was bestowed upon his successor Tiberius, on through Caligula, Claudius, Nero and the many more that ruled Rome until the 15th century. Few emperors after Augustus had the statesmanship, military nous or social acceptance he enjoyed, and Rome's slide may have been long and drawn out, with many periods of peace and prosperity, but it effectively began with the death of Augustus.

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"I hate camping!"

The four 55-minutes–episodes here present a detailed look at Rome from the time of Augustus through to the crackpot Nero (not that Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius were not also likely insane in their own way) and the beginning of the next dynasty with the first non-Julian Emperor, Vespasian. There are name checks such as the notable historical figures of Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) and Cleopatra, plus historical checkpoints such as the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. It reports firsthand accounts from various scribes and poets, and other artefacts and historical writings to piece together this look at a powerful, and largely corrupt and misunderstood empire. There are also numerous interviews with relevantly qualified historians.

Ultimately, it’s a wonder that some of these empires lasted as long as they did when you learn a little more about the lunatics and megalomaniacs that headed them.


Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but not 16:9 enhanced, this is another fine looking transfer. Sharpness levels are always good and clear, while skin tones and colouring are mostly natural with a hint of over-saturation at times. There are no issues with bleeding or grain, while black levels are mostly good with fair shadow detail.

There are no artefacts or dirt or other smudges to contend with, and even such things as aliasing and shimmer are largely absent. There is no layer change as the four episodes have been spaced evenly over two discs.


The single option of Dolby Digital stereo is quite sufficient for what is mostly a narrated and interview based show. The track itself has a good range of sound, with warm lows and crisp highs. The narration from Sigourney Weaver is loud, clear and balanced between the front channels.

There is not a lot of evidence of stereo separation bar the accompanying score, but there are few chances for it to shine. Synchronisation and volume are good, and there is no evidence of hiss, crackles, pops or other annoyances.


Subtitles and extras that are a series of trailers for the other titles in the Empires series hardly classify as extras in my book.


History has always been a favourite of this writer, and ancient history especially. This is an intriguing look at the ancient Empire of Rome, even if visually it's a little static with little in the way of re-enactment or gripping visuals. If history is also your thing, then get into the <>I>Empires series and enjoy.

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      And I quote...
    "Ancient politics seemed to be all about greed, corruption, sex, scandal, murder, double-dealing, backstabbing, nepotism and sleaze. So what’s changed?"
    - Terry Kemp
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