The Stolen Eagle

Rome episode
title=The Stolen Eagle


caption=Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, the two main protagonists of the show.
season=1 (2005)
episode=1 (HBO; see BBC editing)
air_date=August 28, 2005 (HBO)
November 2, 2005 (BBC)
writer=Bruno Heller
director=Michael Apted
setting=Rome, Gallia Narbonensis (near Vasio), Cisalpine Gaul (near Ravenna)
time_frame=Late 52 BC, starting at, or around, the Siege of Alesia.
link= [http://www.hbo.com/rome/episode/season1/episode01.html HBO episode summary]
prev=None
next=How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic

"The Stolen Eagle" is the pilot episode of the television series "Rome".

As the wars in Gaul finally come to an end, Caesar is faced with both triumph and tribulation. On the heels of his victory comes news of his daughter's death. Awarded with the adulation of the people, he also garners the enmity of powerful opponents and former friends. In Rome, Pompey the Great must balance honor and politics as he is urged to betray an ancient rival and recent friend. Atia of the Julii tries to steer her family on the dangerous path between the growing divisions of power, and in the Gallic countryside, two unlikely allies must reclaim that which Caesar has lost.

Plot summary

"400 years after the last king was driven from the city, the Republic of Rome rules many nations, but cannot rule itself "

The episode opens with a brief exposition, explaining the political situation in Rome: for 400 years since the expulsion of the Monarchs, Rome has been a republic, but tensions between the Patrician and Plebian classes have mounted steadily. Order is maintained by a sharing of power between two men, Gaius Julius Caesar, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Pompey was once acknowledged by all to be the greater man, but Caesar's eight-year Gallic Wars have made him increasingly rich and popular. Caesar's growing popular support causes the Patricians to grow more and more fearful. With his patrician pedigree, and his enormous army, wealth, and popular support, Caesar might make himself king.

The scene opens in 52 BC, during the Siege of Alesia. In the front lines of the 13th Legion, Centurion Lucius Vorenus commands his men as Nervii warriors to fall on his line. In contrast to the Nervii's chaotic charge, the Roman files fight with machine-like precision – until one Legionary, Titus Pullo, breaks ranks and wades into the crowd of Nervii, hacking them down. Vorenus angrily orders him back into formation, and then orders a small detachment to follow him to rescue the surrounded Pullo. A drunken Pullo is not appreciative of the efforts of his comrades, and floors Vorenus with a right hook before being knocked to the ground and dragged back into the lines by the other legionaries. (This scene has "some" parallels with the story of L.Vorenus and T.Pullo in Julius Caesar's "Commentarii de Bello Gallico")

In the encampment of the 13th Legion, the assembled soldiers watch as Pullo is flogged, and condemned to death for striking an officer, despite his valorous service record. An amused Mark Antony looks on.

The day after the siege, Vercingetorix, "King of all the Gauls," is brought before Caesar, stripped, forced to kneel, and made to kiss the "Aquila" of the 13th Legion. The eight years of the Gallic Wars are over. But later, as the slave traders divvy up the captives, a message comes from Pompey in Rome, informing Caesar that Julia, Caesar's daughter and Pompey's latest wife, has died in childbirth. Pompey is genuinely heartbroken, but Caesar is pensive, knowing that Julia's death has severed the last real connection of loyalty between himself and Pompey.

In Rome, several representatives of the aristocratic party – Cato and Scipio among them – watch with scorn as Caesar's representative scatters largesse to the people. Elsewhere, a hireling named Timon delivers a prize white stallion to Caesar's niece, Atia of the Julii and, in what appears to be a customary arrangement, takes his payment by having sex with her. Atia informs her son, Octavian, that she plans to make Caesar a gift of the horse, and to ensure that he remembers them above all other well-wishers, orders Octavian to deliver the horse straight to Caesar in Gaul.

In the Roman Senate, Cato moves that Caesar be stripped of his command and recalled to Rome to answer charges of misusing his office and illegal warmongering. Pompey, as sole Consul, vetoes the motion, insisting that Caesar is his friend.
Cicero, attempting to straddle the fence, decries Cato as too extreme, but equally decries Pompey as too conciliatory. The attempt does not go over well, and Pompey ridicules him.

At the theatre, Scipio introduces his daughter Cornelia Metella as a prospective new bride, while Cato warns him that he must ally with the Patricians against Caesar before it is too late.

Privately, Pompey is troubled and vexed by Caesar's rising prestige and power. He is especially irked when he learns that the prize white stallion, which he wanted to buy himself, has already been bought by Atia. He tells one of his slaves to "kill two birds with one stone" during a planned trip to Gaul.

At night in the encampment of the 13th Legion, the Aquila is stolen by brigands. To avoid a potentially disastrous drop in morale, Antony orders Vorenus to retrieve it. On Vorenus's orders, captives from each tribe in Gaul are crucified until one of them reveals that the thieves were "Blue Spaniards" headed to a distant corner of Gaul. Feeling his mission to track them down is doomed to failure, Vorenus has the already-doomed Pullo released from the stockade to assist him.

In camp, Caesar welcomes Marcus Brutus, a sort of unofficial stepson, since his mother is Caesar's lover, Servilia of the Junii. Once back in Rome, Servilia eagerly presses her son for news from Caesar. At a party thrown by her, Brutus confides to Pompey that the loss of the eagle has made Caesar unusually vulnerable – to hear Brutus tell it, his men are on the brink of mutiny, and Caesar himself is demoralized.

On the road to Caesar's camp in Gaul, Octavian's party is ambushed by thugs, who massacre everyone else in the party and take Octavian and the prize horse captive.

Caesar writes to Atia, instructing her to find a suitable female from their family to replace Julia as Pompey's wife. In short order, Atia instructs her daughter, Octavia to divorce her husband, Glabius, despite Octavia's protests that they are deeply in love with each other. Atia then presents Octavia to Pompey at a party, and even offers her for pre-marital relations, an offer Pompey takes advantage of.

Vorenus and Pullo set off in search of the eagle. But Pullo falls asleep while on watch and their horses are stolen from them during the night. Grumbling and hiking horseless through the woods, the pair encounter the pack of thugs with Octavian and the stolen horse and kill them all.

When Vorenus explains who they are, Octavian shows himself to be much more shrewd and devious than either he or Pullo. He explains that their mission is only a gesture, since the theft of the eagle is actually a blessing in disguise to Caesar: now that Julia is dead, civil war between Caesar and Pompey is inevitable, but Caesar needs Pompey to make the first move so as not to appear the aggressor; now Pompey is likely to do just that if he believes that Caesar's soldiers are on the verge of deserting him.

But no sooner has Octavian said that Caesar would prefer the eagle to remain lost, that Vorenus and Pullo find a vessel of blue skin dye in the thugs' cart, along with Pompey's slave, who dies clutching the stolen eagle in his hands.

The trio returns in triumph to camp, where a surprised yet grateful Caesar takes stock. He has the eagle back, but more than adequate proof of Pompey's hostility. He sends the head of Pompey's slave back to its master and informs Pompey of his next move: to winter the Legion at Ravenna, on the border with Italy, in preparation for pressing his rights to the Consulship.

Pompey breaks off all ties with Caesar and takes Cornelia as his wife. Octavia, humiliated at being used by Pompey and heartbroken over her now-pointless divorce, says she wants him dead. Atia, if anything, seems pleased that her daughter has developed a taste for other men's blood.

Historical/Cultural background

*Caesar's eight-years-long Gallic Wars end as the series starts. While it is not named, the battle shown near the beginning of the episode leads to the surrender/capture of Vercingetorix. This would make it one of the last engagements of the Siege of Alesia, setting the episode in late 52 BC. It is unlikely that the battle depicted is an earlier battle in the Gallic Wars. The Aquila is definitely stolen "after" the surrender of Vercingetorix. Titus Pullo is still in the stockade to be "volunteered" to retrieve it. If it had been any earlier "major" battle depicted, it would mean Titus Pullo would be awaiting his execution for "months" in the stockade - very unlike the Roman legions. Even if the depicted battle were a minor skirmish, it still could not have been that much before or after the Siege of Alesia, as it had to occur "before" the surrender of Vercingetorix, but not "so" much before that it would be likely that Pullo would be executed before the Aquila would be stolen.
*The brief view of Legio XIII Gemina engaging the Gauls is illustrative of the reason that Roman armies were so "effective" at conquering other nations. The organized, disciplined, almost mechanically precise battlefield organization and method of fighting of the Legion is shown in sharp contrast to hordes of "Gallic Tribesmen". It can be argued there are good reasons for each approach: Gallic warriors of the time were more concerned with personal honor, bravery, and "face" in battle, while the Roman soldier was subsumed into the Legion, and only really cared about "killing the enemy".
* The polytheistic nature of Roman religious beliefs is brought home in this episode: Atia of the Julii is shown taking part in a Taurobolium (the sacrifice of a bull to Magna Mater) so as to ensure Octavian's safety in Gaul ; Titus Pullo is seen entreating Forculus, Roman god of the door, to allow him out of his jail cell, and later Pullo also offers up the men slain in battle to Mars, Roman God of War.
*The battle scene depicts Roman infantry fighting techniques including the tightly-packed wall of shields, gladius thrusting techniques above and below the "shield wall", and the rotation of troops through the front lines every 30-45 seconds.

Inaccuracies and errors

*Cato the Younger and Scipio are heard decrying the noise made by the "plebs". It is unlikely, to say the least, that Cato or Scipio would have said such a thing: the Porcius Cato family was itself plebeian, and though Scipio was born into the patrician "gens Cornelia" he was adopted into the plebian "gens Caecilia", making him plebian as well. By the 1st century BC, the distinction between "plebeian" and "patrician" was not along class lines as we understand it, but was an old distinction between the few ancient noble clans who had been "fathers" ("patri") of Rome since time immemorial, and the rest of the population, some of whom were also nobles. Indeed, most of the nobles in the "Rome" cast are plebeian: Mark Antony, Pompey and Cicero. One who was firmly a patrician, like Scipio of one of the oldest noble families, was Julius Caesar of the "gens Julia".
*Brutus was described as being "pox-scarred", with his face covered with acne; however, in the series, his face is unusually devoid of such features.
*Julia (Caesar's daughter, and Pompey's wife) died in childbirth in 54 BC, years before the events of this episode. It seems unlikely it would take the letter "two years" to reach Caesar.
*Octavian is depicted as an adolescent 13 or 14 years of age (though seeming older due to his powerful intellect). He was actually 11 at the time Caesar won his Gallic wars (Octavian was born September 23, 63 BC; Vercingetorix surrendered after the siege of Alesia in September of 52 BC). The historical Atia was over-protective and unlikely to allow her young son Octavian to journey into a region of the world in which war had been ongoing for 8 years, even if accompanied by a trusted slave. But his harrowing capture and subsequent welcome by Caesar do, however, resonate with the historical episode in which he was shipwrecked and made his way to Caesar through hostile territory in Spain at age 17.
* Lucius Vorenus says that he married "by special dispensation". Nevertheless, while legionaries were forbidden to marry in "Imperial" times (this rule seems to have been instituted under Claudius), it seems that in republican times, either soldiers were allowed to marry, or it was a "law observed more in the breach than the observance". See "Commentarii de Bello Civili", : "The forces under Achillas did not seem despicable, either for number, spirit, or military experience; for he had twenty thousand men under arms. They consisted partly of Gabinius's soldiers, who were now become habituated to the licentious mode of living at Alexandria, and had forgotten the name and discipline of the Roman people, "and had married wives there", by whom the greatest part of them had children."
*Metellus Scipio and Pompey were joint consuls of Rome at this time, not - as it is implied, if not stated outright - Pompey and "Caesar". (See: List of Republican Roman Consuls, 52 BC).
** In fact, the genesis of the war between Caesar and the Republic came about over a dispute concerning Caesar's being allowed to stand for Consular elections immediately after laying down his imperium, shielding him from numerous lawsuits and prosecutions the "optimates" planned to bring forward at the earliest opportunity.
* The scene of Vercingetorix's surrender is wrong on several levels. He is shown being stripped naked by soldiers, then made to kneel and forced to kiss the "Aquila". While this is a good way to humiliate a common captive, it is not the way of receiving submission from the losing chief, and not the way Romans did it.
** During the surrender ceremony, the losing commander would not have been handled by soldiers, as a common prisoner, but expected to be under his own power. He would be expected to divest himself of his military paraphernalia, as sign of submission to the victor, and of cessation of hostilities.
**Stripping naked might have been used on prisoners "after" the submission was done, and as they were carted off to slavery, but during the act of submission proper, they would have kept basic clothing.
** Kneeling is not the Roman way, they would not expect a man bend the knee, but the neck, this was usually done by making losers pass under the yoke.
** Kissing was, and still is an intensely personal gesture, one a barbarian taking Roman service might have performed, but not a vanquished enemy.
** Kissing the Legion's "Aquila" might be interpreted as submitting to the legion "itself" and to its commanding officer "personally", but not to Rome as a state. The Eagle might have stood beside the yoke, but bending the neck while passing under the yoke itself would have been the principal gesture.
*Given the swift, and often "brutal" discipline of the Roman Legion, it seems unlikely that Titus Pullo would be flogged, sentenced to death, and then locked up in the stockade for a time. Given the nature of his crime, it seems likely that he would have been sentenced to "fustuarium", and instead of being flogged in front of his Cohort, they would be beating him to death with the "fustis".
*Sleeping on guard duty is another crime that was punished with "fustuarium". Vorenus seems overly forgiving of Pullo, even though he allowed local children to steal their horses. Since Vorenus still needed Pullo (the two were alone in hostile country) and the latter was already under a death sentence, he probably decided that further punishment would be unnecessary.
*Octavia of the Julii, who is based on the personage of Octavia Thurina Minor, divorces her husband at Atia's demand - and will remain unmarried throughout the first season (at least). Historically, Octavia Minor married Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor in 54 BC (two years before the first season begins), having three children by him in the years from 44 BC (the year of Caesar's assassination) to 42 BC. They would remain married until his death in 40 BC (four years after the first season ends).
*The name Octavian is incorrect, and should be Gaius Octavius instead. In Latin the suffix '-ianus' indicates the original family name after an adoption, as a result of which the adoptive son received the full name of the adoptive father. Accordingly, C. Octavius changed his name to C. Iulius Caesar Octavianus after being adopted and made sole heir in his grand uncle's will (44 BC). As a matter of fact, the future emperor did not like and never himself used the epithet Octavianus, as it pointed at his not being born a patrician.
*Julius Caesar, at this point in history, was known to be partially bald, whereas in the series he sports a full head of hair. It was remarked in classical times that he enjoyed wearing the victor's laurel wreath in order to hide the top of his head.
*The last years of the Roman Republic were dominated by three men, not two. Marcus Licinius Crassus, a noted general of Pompey's generation, had shared power with Pompey and Caesar. His vainglorious death at the disastrous Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC had removed him from the scene, and by the decision of the scriptwriters, from all mention in this series as well. In fact, he had acted as an important counterweight to the other two men. Crassus's death was arguably the proximate cause for the deterioration of the balance of power, not the death of Julia in childbirth a year earlier.
*Marc Antony is referred to by Brutus as being of "low birth". Actually, the Antonii were a respected noble plebeian family: His grandfather Marcus Antonius Orator was Rome's best lawyer of his generation and was both Consul and Censor. Marc Antony's father Marcus Antonius Creticus and uncle Gaius Antonius Hybrida were respectively Praetor and Consul. Ironically, both their destinies echo Antony's. The uncle was then disgraced for corruption and the father died after losing a battle, making Marc Antony head of his household and responsible for his two younger brothers at an early age. Marc Antony's mother was a patrician Julia Antonia, a cousin of Caesar, but unlike Octavian Antony did not need to emphasise that patrician conexion since his plebeian ancestors were distinguished enough. This fact did, however, ensure that Antony was short-listed as one of Caesar's heirs, hence his disappointment when everything went to Octavian.

Character notes

* Mark Antony comments to Vorenus that the Tribunes have noted him for his intelligence. Given the positions of the Tribunes (in this case probably the "Tribuni Angusticlavii") within the legion, this meant that Vorenus had not only caught the attention of his commanding officer, but of mid-level senior officers ("Tribuni Angusticlavii" being roughly the equivalent of a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Military). Vorenus must be a superlative officer.
*Lucius Vorenus's plan to capture and crucify members of all the Gallic tribes until someone talks about the theft of the Aquila seems quite horrific by modern sensibilities. This callous attitude may be a comment on Vorenus, or it may be a comment on the cheapness of life in the Roman world - or perhaps simply the low value placed on the lives of non-Roman peoples. However, as Vorenus is generally portrayed as a just man, and is visibly surprised when Mark Antony actually orders him to execute the plan, it more likely demonstrates his tact in dealing with his superiors, and reflects Antony's brutal nature.

Plot notes

*The title of the episode comes from the theft of the battle standard, or Aquila of the 13th Legion ("Legio XIII Gemina"). It was considered a great shame for a Legion's standard to be lost in battle, and it doesn't seem that losing one to thieves in a fortified camp would be much better.
*Brutus makes the tongue-in-cheek statement that the Senate would be more "interesting" if they settled political disputes with swords and daggers in the style of the German custom of settling political disputes in single combat to the death. This is ironic foreshadowing, as he is one of the conspirators who will stab Caesar to death in the Senate.

Episode characters

"possibly incomplete"
See also: Character appearances in Rome

Main cast

Guest stars

External links

*imdb episode|episode=The Stolen Eagle|id=0688358
* [http://www.tv.com/rome/the-stolen-eagle/episode/291012/recap.html Plot Summary] at [http://www.tv.com/ TV.com]
* [http://www.hbo.com/rome/episode/season1/episode01.html Plot Summary] at [http://www.hbo.com/ HBO]


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