HBO’s Rome was a show built for heroes. Based upon one of the most tumultuous times in the entire span of history, Rome covers a period where people rose and fell at the whims of powerful rulers, and one successful battle or scheme could change your destiny. As men scrabbled around in the mud and the blood for the slightest bit of control, the fate of the republic was always hanging in the balance. Pragmatism often won out over honor, but that is how the game was played.
Despite a short run of only two seasons, Rome (which can be streamed on HBO Now) managed to imbue a number of characters, both real and fictional, with both a deep sense of loyalty to the republic and also a seemingly insatiable thirst for power. As they tear the growing empire apart due to their desire to grab a piece, a few characters managed to rise above the fray through whatever means necessary. On a show with a complex view of heroism, here are a few who managed to leave their mark, for better or for worse, ranked from least to most heroic.
10. Atia of the Julii
Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker) was such a malicious schemer, it’s nearly impossible to call her any sort of hero. As she pimped out her children to gain information, secrets, and whatever else she can parlay into power, many viewers were quick to call her monster. When she betrayed Servilia in the most horrific way, the scorn piled on. However, Atia always landed on her feet, which is more than could be said of many on the show. Amoral and manipulative, absolutely, but also constantly climbing the Machiavellian ladder.
9. Mark Antony
Once the mighty right-hand man of Julius Caesar (Ciarán Hinds), Mark Antony (James Purefoy) meets an ignoble end in Egypt after being corrupted by power and lulled into the stupor of debauchery. Antony is the classic example of a great man brought low by his own baser instincts. Instead of filling the power vacuum left by Caesar’s death and helping Rome continue to thrive despite losing its great leader, Antony chose women, opium, and an “easy” life. His death makes it clear that this was the wrong answer.
8. Marcus Junius Brutus
Like many in Rome, Brutus (Tobias Menzies) is ultimately a tragic figure. Young and naive, Brutus is torn between what he believes is best for Rome and the love of Caesar, who was like a father to him. As any student of history knows, Brutus eventually chose the state over familial fondness and is one of the senators to murder Caesar in cold blood when they thought that his personal thirst fame would overshadow the republic. Misguided, yes, but Brutus truly believed that his actions were for the good of the people. As he faces off against Octavian and Antony in season 2, Brutus is met with a cowardly end, one that he unfortunately deserved.
7. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Every leader needs a trusted advisor, and Agrippa (Allen Leech) is there every step of the way to aid Octavian (Simon Woods) on his path to the empire. While he and Octavian have a falling out over Agrippa’s relationship with Octavian’s sister, Octavia (Kerry Condon), he is still Octavian’s closest friend and ally on his path to glory. Without the leadership and armies that came with Agrippa, Octavian may never have found victory in the end.
In a time when women were given few opportunities, there is a quiet dignity in Niobe (Indira Varma). While her indiscretions while her husband Vorenus was at war resulted in a child, Niobe did whatever she could to keep her family afloat. She may not have led armies, but she did the thankless work of keeping everyone fed and clothed while the men fight for the glory of Rome. Unfortunately, she met her end unwittingly at the hands of her husband, sending him on a path of retribution and reconciliation with his children.
5. Servilia of the Junii
They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Servillia (Lindsay Duncan) is further proof of this adage. After being scorned by her lover Caesar, Servillia swears to destroy him, which happens to coincide with the rumblings that Caesar’s reign would ultimately be devastating to the republic. Again, she may be more of an anti-hero than hero, but in the grand scheme of Rome, her ambition and political savvy make her one of the most vibrant and essential characters on the show.
4. Gaius Octavian
Octavian is an odd character to crack. At times he seems like a less capricious Joffrey from Game of Thrones, with a calculating view of people’s value in the scheme of the growing empire. However, while his predilections and personality may be marks against him, he does ultimately want what’s best for his people (and if it works out well for himself, all the better). Octavian is not an easy character to root for, especially in his later years, but flawed people are used by history to do great things all the time. Ultimately, he carried on the work that his uncle, Julius Caesar, started.
3. Gaius Julius Caesar
Caesar is the classic example of a leader undone by the potent combination of his own pride and the jealousy of his opponents. A man of the people instead of the senate, Caesar walked the line between demagogue and folk hero, with the cult of personality often becoming a bigger deal than what’s best for the empire. However, because his reign was cut short by many knives in the back, history will never know what he could have accomplished, or the monster that he could have become. Still, without Caesar, there would be no Rome (or Rome) at all.
2. Lucius Vorenus
Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) may seem like an obvious choice for the number one spot, but his violent temper is a mark against him. Vorenus is torn between his duty as a member of Caesar’s army and what he owes to his family, and because of that war within himself, he is prone to personal failure. However, he is also a man that learns from his mistakes and constantly seeks an honorable path. In a world full of people seeking personal gain through the building of an empire, Vorenus ultimately just wants to live a quiet life with his family. But he will also beat the hell out of you in hand to hand combat.
1. Titus Pullo
As he rose from slave to trusted advisor of Octavian, Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) is the everyman hero who centers all of the madness of Rome. In the early episodes, Pullo was a self-interested reprobate, but as the show progresses, he learns to look outside of his own lusts and find value in aiding both his friends and the growing empire. He may be quick with a quip or a dirty joke, but he is just as quick at taking up arms to aid those he cares about most. In a landscape of larger than life historical figures, Pullo is the proof that even the seemingly insignificant can become truly heroic.