With roughly a month left until the September 3rd release of Total War: Rome II, what are you doing to prepare? Have you picked your starting faction or memorized the interactive map? Have you given up your usual drinking fare for bottles of vinum Graecum? Have you been thrown out of the public baths for dousing yourself in olive oil and scraping it off with a strigil? Did vigiles drag you away to the magistrate for “public drunkenness and indecent exposure” while you shouted, “Roma Victor”? If so, you’re in similar company, citizen! If not, you don’t need to spend a night on the cold floor of a holding cell in order to experience the glory that was Rome. Thanks to the r/TotalWar and TWCenter communities I’ve managed to find a few more lawful things to help keep myself occupied until September 3rd and the eventual court date.
Shows & Documentaries
While generally viewed as somewhat dry, in the last several years advances in digital wizardry and production techniques have led to a more visually appealing television series. The scenes of an old white guy touring ruins or sitting in a book filled office are still present. However, the shows feel less like a lecture and at times are even engaging. These are some of the best I've found with information about the Classical World that Rome came to dominate.
Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire is arguably the best documentary series on Rome. This 2008 History Channel production is splendid, with 14 episodes covering a large portion of Roman history from the Marian reforms during the decline of the Republic through the fall of the Western Empire. With informative commentary and good production quality, it focuses on conflicts along the Northern border including those with the Gauls, the Germans, the Britons, and the Dacians, before turning its gaze on the factors that undermined the Empire from within and caused its collapse. The series has a fairly coherent and focused narrative that keeps you engaged across episodes. The series does peter out a little bit at the end, but even then it is fairly solid.
Decisive Battles originally aired on the History Channel, with 13 episodes that blended scenes from Rome: Total War and historian commentary. Centering on several significant ancient battles, the series is a bit dated, dull, but deserves mention in that it uses video game footage.
While it falls out of Rome II's timeframe, Battle of Thermopylae – Last Stand of the 300 Spartans is still worth a gander. Airing at the same time that the movie 300 was in theaters, it was probably an attempt to cash in. The battle sequences are campy, and the low budget shows. However, it does provide a fair amount of historic background on a battle that helped determine the course of Western civilization. It does a decent job of touching on everything, from the geographic features of the battlefield to the weapons of war equipping each side.
The True Story of Alexander The Great is very similar. It too was released at roughly the same time as a major motion picture, 2004's Alexander, and is also probably an attempt to cash in. However, if you're interested in one of history's greatest conquerors, this broadcast from the History Channel is worth viewing. It covers Alexander's whole life, from his brilliant victories, vices, and the aftermath of his death. In the context of Rome II, you'll find he casts a long shadow. He was an inspiration to many, with Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Augustus visiting his tomb in Alexandria. His successor kingdoms are present in the game, with two of them - Egypt and Macedon - being playable on release.