This week we’re going to take a long look at Expeditions: Rome, a turn-based tactics RPG by developer Logic Artists, set in the first century BC Late Roman Republic. In particular, we’re going to look at how the game both constructs and uses its historical setting.
This is a particularly important topic to discuss because of a steady shift in how popular culture products attempt to use historical settings, a phenomenon I have taken to calling ‘historical verisimilitude.’ Put bluntly, it has become pretty clear that a veneer of historical accuracy or realism is a valuable marketing tool to set a work apart from the crowd. At the same time, the combination of cheaper CGI and easier online research has made accomplishing this through visual accuracy – making things look right – easier than it has ever been.
The result is a lot of pop-culture products that at least market themselves as rooted in history, from historically placed modern prestige products like HBO’s Rome or Netflix’s Outlaw King, to video games like, yes, Expeditions: Rome but also the Assassin’s Creed series and Age of Empires. The danger here is that the effort ends up only skin deep, historical versimilitude instead of historical accuracy, a product that looks right while being wrong.
And unfortunately, Expeditions: Rome makes an excellent case-study in the perils of historical verisimilitude.
Now I want to be clear at the beginning of this: this is an analysis of how a game (or any cultural product really – you could apply this same approach to a historically based film or book) uses its historical setting. It is not a review. For those looking for a review of the game, mine would run thusly: Expeditions: Rome is capable turn-based tactics RPG hybrid which efforts to use its historical setting to rise above its individual elements, which, though they are solidly serviceable, none are best in class. The turn-based combat here is good, but never quite matches either the depth of the XCom reboots, Battle Brothers or Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus, but also lack the simple elegance of The Banner Saga. Meanwhile the RPG elements, while still good and set with interesting characters, lack the depth or storytelling skill of Tyranny, Pillars of Eternity or Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. That’s not to say there’s no fun to be had here: fans of both genres will find a lot to like and the technical execution here is good: the graphics work, the voice acting is uncommonly good for a title of this scale and there’s plenty enough game to be had (about 50 hours), though the last third of those hours drags terribly as the game overstays its welcome in Gaul (much like Caesar did). Expeditions: Rome is thus solidly good but not great game (though given the glut of games right now, I would perhaps not advise it at full price, especially if one has not exhausted some of the titles listed above); its aim at greatness comes from the claim of accuracy to the historical setting, which is – in my view – badly fumbled, as I’ll spend the rest of this very long post discussing.
I should also note that I played this game at release. There have been a few patches since then (mostly minor things) and a DLC for the game just dropped; I have not played the DLC. I did play through the entire campaign all the way to the end credits; it took me 49 hours according to Steam, so I think I have enough time spent here to comment. I should also note that I am not going to spare spoilers nor warn about them except here. For the sake of clarity, I have generally avoided referring to fictional characters by name, reserving that for historical characters, mostly so the descriptions here didn’t get too bogged down with names.
And with that out of the way, I hope we can move on to how Expeditions: Rome uses its historical setting and falls into the perils of verisimilitude.
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Making a Claim
Those of you who read my discussion of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla may recall that I started with the opening statement which all Assassin’s Creed games featured because I think that statement makes a claim about the game that follows and about the supposed care with which those games treat their historical inspiration. That element of a claim is important: many games make no real claim, either explicitly or in their presentation, to any sort of accuracy or care. If the latest Halo game doesn’t resemble real warfare or Stardew Valley doesn’t simulate the real economics of farming, that isn’t a problem because those games never really claimed to do that. To provide a blunt contrast, the Mount and Blade series does not claim at any point to simulate medieval fighting or society to any real degree; by contrast, Kingdom Come: Deliverance does make that claim, both at times explicitly and also implicitly in its presentation and marketing.1
And the existence of that claim to some form of historical accuracy or ‘realism’ affects how, as a historian, I am going to assess a cultural product because we assess such products largely against the degree to which they achieved their objectives (and then also the degree to which those objectives were worth striving towards). I cannot fault a game for failing at something it never tried to do.
Thus it is important to begin with this: Expeditions: Rome is making a clear claim to historical realism, on which much of its marketing and presentation rely. And that claim that the game is making to a degree of historical accuracy and thus realism is worth assessing.
A lot of the weight of this is carried by the games presentation, particularly its use of language. A lot of Latin terms, even ones with direct and uncomplicated English translations are left untranslated: servus is used instead of slave, legionarii for legionaries, legatus for legate, archers are sagittarii, helmets are galeae and on and on.2 Moreover, these terms are pronounced following the mainstream scholarly reconstruction of Classical Latin: servus is thus ser-wus, Asia Minor as Az-ee-a Mee-nor and Cicero is pronounced Ki-ker-oh rather than See-ser-oh as common in English. And I do want to note here that the pronunciation is on the mark: the developers say they had a Latin professor provide a complete pronunciation guide and I believe them. Keeping all of the voice actors on target with all of the Classical Latin pronunciation must have been hard and they do a surprisingly good job of it.
Meanwhile, especially with the Roman equipment of the early parts of the game, there is an effort for visual verisimilitude. The game’s artists were clearly working from real Roman exemplars in terms of arms and armor, rather than lamely copying ‘Hollywood Roman’ as is so often done. The oft-neglected lorica hamata (Roman mail armor) is prominent, as appropriate for the period, as are forms of the Montefortino-type helmet. Now we’ll come back to the accuracy of armor a little later, but the clear effect of this kind of work is again to impress the player with the historical realness of the game. That effort at visual verisimilitude extends to a lot of the sets and other equipment, which at least looks historical (even when it isn’t).
And of course you meet a lot of Wikipedia searchable historical figures: Lucius Licinius Lucullus, Gaius Julius Caesar, Mithridates VI, Cleopatra VII Philopater, Marcus Porcius Cato Minor (‘the Younger’), Marcus Tullius Cicero, Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) and so on. Some of these are the sort most people might vaguely remember from their history classes, but others – Lucullus in particular – are obscure enough to, I suspect, impress most people who might rush to Wiki-walk this figure they’ve never heard of to find that he was a real historical person of some note. Likewise, the three acts are modeled on three wars of the Late Roman Republic: The Third Mithridatic War (73-63), Caesar’s War in Egypt (47) and Caesar’s Gallic Wars (58-50), albeit awkwardly out of order. In short, the game features the kinds of historical details that are easy for a casual player to confirm and thus be led to suppose the rest of the history in the game is similarly accurate.
And the claim being made here isn’t simply one of silent presentation, the game’s steam page promises “a historically inspired story of political intrigue.” And the reviewers have clearly noticed! Leanna Hafer at IGN praised the game for going “out of its way to get a lot of the small details rights” while Robert Zak at PCGamer declared that “where Expeditions: Rome really shines is in its attention to historical detail.” The message of the marketing and presentation was heard, loud and clear!
The developers and their game are thus telling the players that they can trust that there is some real history going on in this game, something deeper than just the names and funny accents. And the reviewers at major outlets are reinforcing that impression. Judging by steam reviews, many players have also accepted this as a historically rooted presentation, rich with accurate details about the Roman world.
Which is why it is so unfortunate that it isn’t true.
(A quick stop before we go forward on chronology terms. This game takes place from 74-62BC; we’ll get to why I can be so accurate later. That places it squarely in the Late Republic (133-31BC); I will also occasionally reference the earlier Middle Republic (280-133BC).)
Domi et militiae (or domi militiaeque) is a common Latin phrase meaning ‘at home and in military service,’ which in practice meant ‘in peace and war’ – both a way of saying ‘everywhere’ but also a potent expression of the conceptual division the Romans imposed on their world: Romans were either at home (domi) or abroad in military service (militiae). Expeditions: Rome doesn’t name-check this idea that I could find, but it follows it in its basic structure (albeit in reverse order): the game is broken into three acts, each of which begins with a military campaign and then when that is done concludes with a short act in the city of Rome dealing with the political fallout of that campaign and setting up the next one. We thus go from the Third Mithridatic War to Rome to a war in Egypt to Rome to a war in Gaul to Rome and then the credits roll. So rather than taking the game in chronological order in all three acts it seemed reasonable to break it up by these two categories to begin with.
The campaign sections are split into essentially two parts. On the one hand, you are in control of one and later two legions which you order around the map to fight other enemy armies and on the other hand you yourself move around with your elite praetorians to do the sort of small-unit tactical fights that the Expeditions series is well-known for. Now part of the problem is here is that this isn’t actually the sort of thing praetorians got up to (or speculatores, scouts, for that matter) – Roman armies did not have ‘special forces’ in the modern sense and by the Late Republic the smallest detached unit was the cohort, not an elite body of a dozen but a chunky formation of around 480 heavy infantrymen. Still, the various adventures your main character gets up to are all quite pardonable given the genre of game we’re working with, though it really does speak to the degree to which the Expeditions format is not a good fit for Roman warfare.
The senior figures under your command in the legion make decent enough sense: you are always a legate (legatus), your direct subordinate is a centurion primus pilus and your camp has a praefectus (clearly intended to be the praefectus castrorum). As a legate, you are never commanding in your own right (in theory) but subordinate to someone else. We’ll come back to this in the next section on politics because this becomes a problem at points; in practice the prominence here of assignments as a legatus is a bit unusual. It’s not that legates were unknown in the Middle or Late Republic, but legates with the kind of command independence you enjoy were unusual (and often required special permission). When distributed command was required, it was more common to assign military tribunes or the commander’s quaestor (both figures who do not appear much in the game, though they ought to be very important and prominent figures).
From this point though, things begin to come apart. Even when you have command of two legions, they are separate units that never fight together. This is a common misconception in the public, that the ‘legion’ was essentially the Roman word for ‘army.’ It wasn’t (that word was exercitus); the legion was, by the Middle Republic, almost always a component of a larger army. Indeed the standard Roman (consular) army was two legions (each 4800 strong), plus two equivalent allied detachments (alae or wings because they formed on the flanks) of equal size; a total force of notionally 19,200. Armies could be larger (and by the Late Republic, the allies are no longer deployed in alae, but now having Roman citizenship are recruited directly into the legions); Caesar had 11 legions in Gaul by the end, for instance. Indeed, a single legion was the standard size of a foraging party for the larger army (Caes. BGall. 4.32; App. BCiv. 4.122; Plut. Luc. 17; Plut. Sert. 13.6). So the fact that you maneuver two legions independently and that they never fight together is very strange. Other games do this too (looking at you, Total War: Rome II) and it never ceases to frustrate me.
Other organizational elements are also odd. Your legions never operate with supporting allied forces despite the fact that this was fairly standard practice in this period (to be clear, I don’t mean socii, but rather allied units of non-Italians from the campaign theater or from other states allied with Rome), to the point that Roman armies in this period frequently didn’t seem to supply their own cavalry at all. Meanwhile, characters repeatedly remark that ‘service brings citizenship’ which is simply not true of the Roman army of this period and won’t be true until Augustus.3
The battles between your legions and enemy forces also fail to represent Roman warfare of this, or any, period well. You army is represented by an array of icons presumably meant to represent its component units (see the picture below) with units represented by swords, round shields, bows-and-arrows and horses. I am utterly at a loss as to what this could represent; by the Late Republic, a Roman citizen legion had at most two troop types: ‘post-Marian’ Roman heavy infantry (mail armor, the scutum rectangular or oval shield, two pila heavy javelins and a gladius) and sometimes also Roman cavalry (mail armor, the clipeus round shield, a spear and a gladius). The legion had no organic force of archers in any period and in this period no type of soldier that used a round shield on foot (earlier legions had the velites, light infantry skirmishers that used the parma small shield, but this troop-type is long extinct by the time our game takes place). And being a legion, we should have ten component elements: the cohorts. But as you can see in the picture, for some reason I have 24 units of infantry. And they’re arrayed in four lines, which is not a standard Roman formation either.
The baffling thing here is that these battle graphics are basically window-dressing. All you do is choose an attack plan in each phase (from a choice of three) and then the battle plays out until the next phase (a total of four phases); if you’ve played a space battle in Endless Space you’ve got a good sense of how it works. But precisely because this visual display is non-functional there should have been little difficulty in making it accurate!
The overall campaign map itself also doesn’t go a great job of expressing what a Roman army on campaign does very well. Your praetorians eat food, but your legion doesn’t, so while you have to have your legion forage for food, it isn’t the sort of pressing, continual regular sort of task it would be for an actual legion. You are not, as Caesar was, constantly breaking off cohorts to go deal with provocative locals or gather supplies, nor, as noted, do you concentrate several legions together for major field-battles. So not only do your legions not fight with Roman tactics, they also don’t perform Roman operations either.
There is also the matter of your camp. We are almost preposterously well-informed about the layout of Roman camps. It is good the game represents your soldiers constructing a field camp wherever they go, but the camp they build (which is also reused as the camp structure for other legions not under your command) doesn’t resemble actual Roman camps at all. The command section (the principia in which was the praetorium) isn’t centered in the camp (and oddly has a secondary vallum to defend it), the via principalis and via praetoria (or decumana) and don’t structure the camp itself and the defenses, which should be (as we’ve discussed!) an agger (earthwork rampart) and fossa (ditch) topped with a vallum (wall of stakes) is replaced with a wooden palisade. The Roman baffle-gate (the titulum and clavicula) are gone and instead the game is dug down into the earth to provide a height advantage for defenders, which is not how the Romans did their entry-point defense. Getting this right doesn’t seem like it should have been hard, though as we’ll see a lot of the ‘set’ dressing in the game is quite off.
There are yet more problems in the game’s class system, since each of your praetorians has to fit into a specific RPG-class; Expeditions: Rome commandeers Roman terminology for these classes but smashes the terms to fit standard tactics classes. The princeps is your heavily armored sword-and-scutum soldier, which is good and correct. But then your triarius is a two-handed spear support trooper, which is wrong in a few ways: first in the Middle Republic when the triarii did fight with a spear, it was a one-handed spear used with the scutum (large oval shield) not a two-handed pike and second by the 70s BC when the game takes place the triarii had dropped their spear entirely and were equipped exactly the same as the princeps.
Next, is the veles class, presented as a fast, light infantry melee-damage class, wrong twice over. First, the actual velites were lightly-armored javelin skirmish troops, not shock troops and certainly not duel-wielding ‘melee dps.’ But also, by the first century the velites have vanished from our sources so your army shouldn’t have any of them at all!4 And then the last class is sagittarius. On the one hand, sagittarius is the Latin for ‘archer’ and this is the archer class, but on the other hand there were never any sagittarii in the legions at all: the Romans from the Early Republic through the High Empire seem always to have relied on non-citizen mercenaries and auxiliaries to make up their archer units (and yet it is one of the Roman-citizen-Italians in your party who has this role, not the Roman citizen from Mauretania, nor the Greek, nor the Scythian woman from a people famous for their mounted woman archers. Real missed opportunity there to make the woman archer a woman from a culture known for woman archers.).
I understand the need in a game like this to allow the player some build-diversity; a squad entirely of slower, heavily armored sword-shield-and-javelin guys (the accurate loadout for a group of Romans in this period) would have gotten boring. But there was a real missed opportunity to express something about the structure of Roman armies and their heavy reliance on non-Roman allies and auxiliaries in this period by, for instance, having all of the Romans kitted out as legionaries and filling in the other roles (spear trooper, light trooper, ranged trooper) with non-Romans serving in an auxiliary capacity. Instead, everyone except your ‘triarius’ is a Roman citizen (the party’s starting triarius is Syneros, an enslaved Greek man, which could have worked as him fighting as a phalangite if the phalangite’s pike-and-shield loadout was even possible in this game, which it isn’t) and your recruited centurions – all clearly Roman – can be any class.
Fortunately the Roman equipment is mostly fine. Everyone can wear the period-correct lorica hamata (mail armor), which for build-diversity’s sake the game divides into light, medium and heavy varieties (there’s no evidence for such a division), along with Montefortino-type helmets. The main swords and shields also look correct; frankly a lot of the equipment in the game looks to have been modeled off of real-world museum pieces and in many cases I think I may even know which ones. There are some issues here, presumably arising out of the desire to give some visual variety: the so-called lorica segmentata5 shows up several decades too early and the Roman pectoral (a plate chest-protector) shows up probably at least a half-century too late.
The same cannot be said for the equipment of your enemies: the developers fall into the trap here of ‘playing the hits’ regardless of time period. Thus the Greek match to your principes are hoplites, with Corinthian helmet, aspis and dory almost straight out of the fifth century BCE – these fellows should mostly be phalangites with pikes, the ochane-strap aspis (a loadout that is not possible in the game’s rules) and the smaller pilos or konos helmet types (which are in the game, so point there). Missing entirely are the absolutely ubiquitous Greek skirmishing infantry of the period, the thureophoros, who would have been equipped much like the Romans with an oval shield (the thureos6), a xiphos (or probably by this point, a gladius!) and possibly javelins or a dory. Some thureophoroi wore armor (our sources call them thorakitai, ‘armored ones’), but most didn’t except for a helmet. Macedonian-style phalangites, the mainstay of Hellenistic armies, don’t appear at all, as far as I could see. The lack of these fellows (there’s a picture of a thureophoros thorakites from the Siden stele below) is really striking because these fellows were absolutely everywhere in Hellenistic armies of the second and early first centuries.
All of which pales in comparison to the Rome: Total War (the first one) style disaster that is the Egyptian troops, who more resemble the troops of the Egyptian New Kingdom, 1550-1077 BC (oblong shields, loin-cloths and bare chests) than they do the troops of Hellenistic Egypt. Stunningly, some Egyptian enemies wield kopeshes, a weapon that was nearly a full millennium out of practical use by the time the Romans showed up. Historically Egypt had been conquered by Alexander and his successors two centuries earlier and they had imposed a Macedonian-style military system where much (but not all) of the manpower was itself ethnically Greek or Macedonian. Consequently while we might see some local fashion, the equipment of Egyptian troops should be quite similar to that of the Greeks: heavy phalangites with pikes and lighter thureophoroi with oval thureoi shields. To be clear on the disconnect, this is the equivalent of putting William the Conqueror’s knights and archers in a movie about the U.S. War in Afghanistan. Choosing to exoticize Egyptian armies like this is an incredibly frustrating choice and one that, as we’ll see, the game indulges in with its story and characters too.
It’s worth remember that the Great Pyramid of Egypt was as old to Cleopatra (inexplicably in this game, see below) as Cleopatra is to us. There is an enormous chronological separation between the Bronze Age that is evoked by a lot of the visuals and the late Hellenistic period the game actually takes place in. Mercifully, for the last chapter, in Gaul, ‘the hits’ are the time period we’re in and so the equipment is mostly on target.
Finally and perhaps most unfortunately, the brutality of Roman warfare and conquest is underplayed, mostly because you as the player, are the one doing it. The game frequently gives you decisions on how to treat defeated foes and most players are going to pick the ‘nice’ answer. At no point do characters really push back on you for this; no centurion demands the customary looting, murder and rape upon the capture of a fortified city by storm, for instance (there is one centurion who keeps trying to pilfer things off of the locals, but you keep stopping him). Polybius describes the custom of how the Romans capture a city:
When Scipio thought that a sufficient number of troops had entered he sent most of them, as is the Roman custom, against the inhabitants of the city with orders to kill all they encountered, sparing none, and not to start pillaging until the signal was given. They do this, I think, to inspire terror, so that when towns are taken by the Romans one may often see not only the corpses of human beings, but dogs cut in half, and the dismembered limbs of other animals, and on this occasion such scenes were very many owing to the numbers of those in the place. Scipio himself, with about a thousand men, proceeded to the citadel. On his approach Mago at first attempted to resist, but afterwards, when he saw that the city had undoubtedly been captured, he sent a message begging for his life and surrendered the citadel. After this, upon the signal being given, the massacre ceased and they began pillaging. (Plb. 10.15.4-8)
Likewise the mass enslavement of captives isn’t really dealt with, at least not with the sort of moral horror it ought to inspire. This ‘soft touch’ leads to oddities where, for instance, as part of the main quest line in Gaul you forge alliances with two different groups of Gallic druidic religious leaders, which is absolutely bizarre given that this is a religious practice that the actual historical Romans brutally exterminated. There is some discomforting moments of imperialism; soldiers extort locals, for instance, but for a player following the ‘good’ choices, they’re likely to have an epilogue implying that they left their conquered provinces better than when they found them, with little to no reference to the catastrophic trauma that often accompanied Roman conquest. At no point are you engaging in mass violence against civilians, despite the fact that mass violence against civilians was a clear and regular part of Roman warfare. This is a problem in a game presenting itself as historically accurate which is about Roman imperialism.
So how well does this game reflect the Roman military system of the Late Republic or – frankly – any period at all? Not very well at all. Clearly a lot of effort was put into verisimilitude – the appearance of being real or true (what for a hot second got jokingly labeled ‘truthiness’ rather than truth) – but in the actual historical details, the game fumbles almost everything else to some greater or lesser degree, from organization to leadership to equipment to the camp to battle tactics themselves.
And the worst part is…this is as good as it gets.
The situation when it comes to affairs in Rome is if anything somewhat worse. The three military campaigns you are on are tied together with a political intrigue plot that incorporates both a number of historical figures (Lucullus, Cicero, Cato and Pompey most notably) along with two villains invented for the game (indeed, the game suggests in one of its loading screens that the deviations from historical events should be attributed to the actions of these two a-historical villains, though as we’ll see there are bigger problems than this).
And once again the signifiers of historical accuracy are present in abundance. The game provides a map of Rome with some of the major landmarks labeled in Latin and all in roughly the right place, though looking closely at the drawing of the map already we run into problems because we are actually somewhat well informed about the basic layout of Rome in this period. The wall circuit drawn on the map are the Aurelian Walls of Rome (built in the 270s AD) not the period-correct Servian Walls (which did not encompass the Campus Martius, the Janiculum, and only part of the Caelian and Aventine hills). Key landmarks aren’t really represented or represented well: the Capitoline is one big temple, but the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus which is obviously intended here did not stretch the whole hill. The Circus Maximus is entirely missing (odd, it would have been by far the largest landmark in the Rome of the Late Republic) and the visual representation of the Forum Romanum doesn’t really evoke much of the actual layout of the forum. The map is also quite flat, something that Rome is not, as anyone who has been there will attest, but this may just be a stylistic choice.
More of an issue is that while we get a lot of Latin terms again: consuls, praetors, quaestors, lictors (that is, consules, praetores, quaestores and lictores, because again these are spelled and pronounced as in Classical Latin), both the fussy details of how the Roman government works and also the more important broad principles by which it works are frequently wrong.
We can start with some of the fussy details by way of example. A trial is proposed at the end for a sitting consul and/or dictator, a thing which cannot legally happen: under Roman law, holders of imperium – the power to command armies and organize law courts (essentially the power of the king) – were immune to prosecution while they held that imperium. This is not a minor fact: it is in fact the crucial fact that motivates the January crisis of 49 that results in Caesar crossing the Rubicon and ending the Republic! And then that trial is held in the Senate, a body which could not hold trials in this period. When earlier a sitting consul runs amok everyone else looks up helplessly, despite the fact that one of the player’s allies is the other consul who could thus veto all of the actions of his colleague (failing that, surely someone could find one of the ten tribunes of the plebs who also had that power). While the game stops to open the Senate with a ritual address and a mention of the auguries, the rest of Senate procedure – particularly the speaking in seniority order – is not followed; instead very junior senators (mostly Cato the Younger, who was never very senior in the Senate but this early was fundamentally inconsequential – his first notable political event is actually December of 63) chime in right at the start. The player can suggest that they be given a pro-consular command prior to having held any magistracy. This did happen once (Pompey, naturally) but would have been extremely irregular to a degree that surely someone should have pointed out, but instead the suggestion is treated as a legitimate one.
And then there is the appointment of a dictator. In the third act (remember, I warned about spoilers!) the villain contrives to get himself appointed dictator and just about everything about the procedure is wrong. First, he dispenses with the auguries for the meeting, which would be an incredibly foolish thing to do since it would legally and religiously invalidate everything else that happens; the Romans were a religious people and they cared about this sort of thing. Then, he proposes that the Senate elects him dictator, which is – as we’ve discussed – not how the process works. Instead the Senate suggests a dictator be nominated and then it is up to the consuls to nominate one. In any event, the villain then nominates the only person he cannot nominate, himself. This was a restriction observed even by Sulla and Caesar despite their otherwise manifest lawlessness; the villain needs his co-consul to nominate him (but good luck, his colleague in office is Cicero). Then a vote to confirm the nomination is held in the Senate, a thing the Senate did not do, and the appointment is held to be permanent, a thing that was only done in 44 BC less than two months before the fool that did it was stabbed 23 times in a meeting of 60 of his closest friends.
Cicero, despite being the co-consul stands by helplessly as this happens, despite the fact that he could use his power of veto to kill the motion, or his power of iustitium to shut down the Senate, or his position as both consul and an augur to declare the omens were bad, or the fact that as the other consul he could nominate literally anyone to deadlock the process thus forcing the two consuls to literally draw straws to decide who got to nominate someone. In short, Cicero has about a half-dozen ways to effortlessly shut down this sinister attempt at a coup that he knows is a sinister attempt at a coup and yet does none of them. And before anyone says it is because Cicero might be squeamish, let me remind you all that historically this was the very year Cicero had five members of Catiline’s sinister attempt at a coup strangled to death without trial and then calmly informed the people of Rome that, ‘Vixere’ – ‘they have lived.’7
We can actually date this fictional event (and the rest of the game) pretty securely. The game begins – we are told – in the consulship of Lucullus (and Cotta), which was 74 BC. The final act begins in the year of the consulship of Cicero (and the villain, who I suppose beat out Gaius Antonius Hybrida for the second slot) which was 63. There’s little wiggle-room on this second date, by the by: Cicero held his consulship (as he never ceases to remind us) in suo anno – in the first year he was eligible – and Pompey is pointedly not in the Senate for this vote (he doesn’t return to Rome from the East until 62) so we have to be somewhere between January, 63 and the winter of 62; this is a fairly narrow range we can date to. And that more or lesslines up with the very vague date-ranges we are given for the time-skips between campaigns, with some obvious fudging since the developers cannot know how fast the player will finish each campaign section.
And the larger problem there is that all of this happens amidst a Senate that, while panicked, is not being held at sword-point. Remember that, by 63, the last time a dictator was appointed voluntarily by the Senate according to the customary system was in 202; the customary dictatorship has been by this point a dead office for 139 years. That had not been a period without crises, but the Senate had gotten in the habit of responding to crises with different commands (mostly pro-consular ones). Instead, what everyone would remember is that Sulla made himself dictator at sword-point in 82 and then proceeded to butcher all of his political opponents including much of the Senate. The only other subsequent dictator would, of course, be Caesar, also appointed to the office with a knife at the neck of the Senate. The Senate of 63 would probably have assumed that any new dictator would begin by violently culling the Senate, since that is what the last dictator did. The notion that the Senate of the first century could be panicked into appointing a dictator like this is more than a little absurd and it speaks to the very historical fumble we talked about with the dictatorship: the failure to recognize the long chronological break between the customary dictatorship and the irregular one and to thus assume that the dictatorship was a ‘live’ office in the first century when it wasn’t.
Now were it only the fussy details I wouldn’t be so upset: no game I have ever played has gotten close to getting Roman politics right. But there are also some fairly major problems here where flat statements about the nature of the Republic are made which are both wrong, historically speaking, but also wildly out of character for the characters saying them. In short, the game presents the Republic as a representative democracy and it was no such thing.
I first suspected we might be in for a degree of trouble when the tooltip for the Campus Martius describes it as, “Every year, the fields of Mars are host to the entire population of Rome as everyone comes together to vote for the Senate.” Almost every part of that sentence is wrong somehow. Roman elections took place (depending on the office being elected) in three assemblies, only one of which (the comitia centuriata) traditionally met on the Campus Martius; the other two (the comitia tributa and the concilium plebis) traditionally, at least, met in the comitium. The notion that ‘the entire population’ of Rome voted is also wrong: adult citizen males were the only qualified voters and moreover even a fairly casual glance at the logistics of doing in-person elections in these spaces would suggest that turnout was very low (even more so for Romans who lived outside of Rome).8 And finally and most catastrophically:
The Senate was not elected.
Not directly, anyway. Romans in those three assemblies voted for the annual magistrates (different assemblies elected different magistrates). Holding one of the senior magistracies (the quaestors and up) entitled an individual to a lifetime seat in the Senate, although this had to be actually confirmed by a pair of magistrates, the censors, who were elected once every five years and who kept the Senate rolls. A system in which anyone who manages to get elected to the quaestorship ever sits on the Senate for life is not a system in which the Senate is elected annually. Indeed, the Senate was not directly elected at all and it seems worth noting that whatever the people thought, the two censors, if they agreed could eject any senator for moral failings whether the voters wanted it or not. There is a huge difference between actually electing the Senate every year and a system where any idiot who can win one of the by-this-point-twenty quaestorships every year gets to sit in the Senate forever with effectively no way for the voters to remove them.
All of which makes it even more frustrating when, in talking to Cicero, your character hears him say this, “None but the citizens can know what’s best for them. Public servants fulfill their needs and wishes. Senators should represent [emphasis original] the people, not rule them.” I hollered at this line with sufficient volume that I startled poor Percy and my better half came to check what was wrong.
The first problem with that line is that it is incorrect about the nature of the Republic. Roman magistrates and senators were not representatives, they did not have constituents. They did not represent districts or neighborhoods nor were they expected to represent the interests of anyone in particular. They were elected by the people but once in office not beholden to them (remember, membership in the Senate is for life) and elite Roman politicians were expected to make their decisions based on their own wisdom and virtue, not to reflect or represent the will or wishes of the public. Reflecting the wishes of the public was what the assemblies were for and more often than not the assemblies and the magistrates were imagined to be opposed institutions, since the former was dominated by Rome’s landholding small-farmer class and the later by Rome’s ultra-rich magnate elite. Indeed, as Polybius expressly points out, the Senate was the aristocratic element of the Roman constitution (compared to the democratic assemblies and quasi-monarchic consuls) (Plb. 6.11.11-13). So as a description of the actual Roman political system, this statement is badly misleading.
It is even worse as an expression of Cicero‘s opinion of the structure of the Republic. Cicero wrote extensively both about the politics of his day and his notion of the ideal of Roman politics; we are very, very well informed about what Cicero believed about politics. And in Cicero’s mind, the anti-representative nature of the Roman Republic was a virtue; Cicero is open and proud about how the structure of Roman voting bodies disenfranchises the poor: he thinks that’s good because he’s a snob that thinks poor people make bad decisions. He is equally blunt about how the Senate was and was supposed to be insulated from the whims of the people. Cicero, like most Roman elites, thought democracy was bad and were open about this belief.
Finally, the game’s approach to the collapse of the Republic is unsophisticated at best. When I play RPGs, I tend to bring in characters from my own pen-and-paper games and make decisions as they would; for this game I brought in a character that we might broadly classify as patriotic ‘lawful good’ and made my decisions accordingly. As a result, at the end of the game he selflessly laid down his command and prosecuted the villains in court; as a result in the ending splash screen I was informed that he later held the consulship and had effectively ‘saved the Republic.’
This isn’t the time or place to get into why the republic fell; that’s a survey-course sized question. But one point I make in my survey course treatment of that question is that the collapse of the Republic was not simply the result of the ambition of any one man. It had substantial structural factors motivating it, from military reforms that disconnected the interests of soldiers from the interests of voters to the general inability of a political system designed for a city-state of 250,000 to cope with being the government of 3.5 million Italians ruling over an empire of 50 million to the spectacular increases in inequality brought on by the virtual flood of wealth into Italy. At best the game hints that the Senate has become slow and bureaucratic (which is not quite the right way to explain the frequent political deadlocks of the Late Republic either; stubborn intransigence by an entrenched elite is not the same as bureaucratic slowness – the Roman Senate was not the Galactic Senate of Star Wars), but not much of the rest of those many causes show up. Certainly none of them – none of them at all – would be solved by beating the villain and laying down power (a point that ought to be obvious because several Romans – by their own lights – do exactly this, most notably Sulla and Pompey). But I suppose for a game that doesn’t understand the Republic very well, it can be little shock that it also doesn’t understand why it collapsed.
If there is one failing, I think, in the whole game’s approach to the historical Rome that frustrates me the most, this is it: the player of this game who assumes because of the reviews and the pretty Latin that this game expresses something real about the structure of Roman politics ends up knowing less than nothing.9 And it is more frustrating because this is an on-rails RPG (few of the choices you make matter until the ending ‘how everyone ended up’ splash screen) so it ought to have been possible to actually express some of the real complexity of the Late Republic’s political system because you don’t have to try to model the damn thing. It certainly wasn’t necessary, from a story perspective, to get it this wrong.
Buildings and Places
With the two big topics out of the way, we can move into a collection of smaller topics that, while smaller, I think also add up to bring problems. We can start with places.
In the design of the ‘sets’ and architecture in the game, the common trend is towards space much larger, more open and generally grander than historically accurate. In some cases, especially in areas that need to accommodate the game’s turn-based tactical battles, this is understandable to create interesting and layered combat arenas, but the approach is extended into generally non-combat areas too. The Curia Hostilia, the Senate house until it was burned down in 52 BC, features in the game and is presented as a large, lavishly decorated marble structure. But what we know about the layout of the forum suggests that the Curia Hostilia wasn’t that big and probably also wasn’t that lavishly decorated. The eventual replacement Curia, the Curia Julia (completed in 29) is the obvious inspiration for the Curia we see in the game, but even that structure is substantially smaller and more austere than the game’s version, only 25.2m by 17.6m and build in brick rather than marble. Filled with notionally six hundred senators, it would have been a very cramped space indeed, not the massive, spacious area we see in the game. The developers did absolutely nail the floor-tiling of the Curia Julia, but that bit of careful accuracy strikes me as odd because of course it belongs to a building that won’t exist for decades after the game concludes, built by a figure the game unceremoniously kills off in the introduction. Still, if they had carefully recreated the Curia Julia I wouldn’t mind so much, rather than making space that is clearly much larger and more lavish than even that later structure.
The player’s city house (their domus) is likewise absurdly lavish, an absolutely massive structure apparently on the Velian Ridge that projects north of the Palatine in the center of the city. The house is three stories tall, occupies an entire city block, easily larger and more heavily decorated than even the preposterously lavish House of the Faun in Pompeii; it is likewise a fair bit bigger and more lavish than the Domus Augusti on the Palatine that Augustus built as emperor. Oddly, it does not follow some of the building conventions of a domus either. The front facade is colonnaded and has a large street-facing garden, which Roman city domi do not; the street-facing side of a elite domus was taken up by shop-space which could be rented. The house also exists as an island, surrounded by streets on all sides with garden spaces between it and the roads, which even elite Roman domi generally did not do; they tended to share external walls with other buildings and were in any case shaped to be flush with the streets – space was expensive in a city center (none more so than Rome) so you used all of it. The interior decoration is mostly stonework with lots of marble (including a bas-relief frieze of a cavarly battle that runs the sides of the peristylium, a fantastic over-the-top bit of decoration) rather than cheaper and far, far more common plaster with painted frescoes or mosaic. Heavy decorative stonework was generally a feature of temples, not houses. While there are elements of the standard Roman domus here, the house is hardly a good guide to what an elite Roman house would look like and it also threw me a bit for the plot: the extravagance of a mansion like this in the center of Rome really implies that the player character’s family has much, much more wealth and power than you seem to.
A much more frustrating problem is the game’s use of polychromy – that is, the multicolored painting of Greek and Roman statues – or more correctly, its failure in this regard. Historians and archaeologists have long known that Greek and Roman statues were almost always painted, typically very bright, bold colors. That point has become politically contentious in recent years for frankly unserious and silly (and sometimes odious) reasons but the evidence is very clear: Greek and Roman statues were painted. ‘Marble white’ was not the intended color of the figures being presented. But Expeditions: Rome opts to leave nearly all of its statues unpainted (though colored marble is occasionally used) which is just a baffling choice given the amount of attention this particular issue has received. It’s particularly frustrating because this issue dovetails with a point that other parts of the game are actually quite good with: showing the diversity of the Roman world.
So let’s start with the good here. The player’s party has a range of individuals from all over the Mediterranean. I should at the outset that the game plays fast and loose with gender – the player character can be female and two of your party members are women. This is, to put it lightly, a stretch albeit an understandable one. The Romans did not have any ‘Molly Pitcher‘ or Hua Mulan figures. We have no evidence of women fighting in any Roman army in this or any period. But as with other games, I understand the design imperative here and the game at least signals how unusual this is, with female characters occasionally having to hide their identities. I don’t think any modern players will be meaningfully misled by this fudge and so it doesn’t bother me.
On the flip side, I am actually mostly pleased by how ethnic diversity is treated in the game. The party includes both a Mauretainian freedman and a Scythian freedwoman and in both cases notes that, having been freed by Romans, both became Roman citizens, which is accurate. The party also includes and enslaved Greek man, which would not have been at all unusual to see in the retinue of a Roman elite. Among the randomly generated centurions you can recruit, the full range of Mediterranean skin tones are represented, though the actual historical named Romans do fall into the trap of all being very fair; the problem to be clear is not that some Romans were fair-skinned but that these are Italians – you are going to have many elite Romans who are pretty darn tan, as we’ve discussed before. We ought to see a range and mostly don’t.
The game’s treatment of slavery and enslaved characters is more checkered. As I’ve said before, I have a lot of grace for any game willing to actually put historical slavery institutions on screen because so many simply erase them; Expeditions: Rome makes a real effort here. I will say I found the decision to always use servus for ‘slave’ a little grating, mostly because it seemed to take the ‘edge’ off of what is, in English, a very ugly word, but this is mere personal preference. Still, the game is not perfect in this regard either: the main trap is that it presents Roman slavery as an institution whose morality depends on the enslaver. ‘Good’ characters – like Lucullus and possibly your own character – treat their slaves ‘well’ and get love and loyalty in return. This is particularly evidence with Syneros, the player’s enslaved tutor and scribe, who ends up feeling uncomfortably like the ‘loyal slave‘ trope and willingly sacrifices himself for you towards the end. The thing is, even the behavior of moderate Roman slave-holders would shock the conscience of most modern players (there was a reason ancient elites generally considered death preferable to any form of slavery at all) and there is value to putting that on screen. At no point do any of the ‘good’ characters act dismissive or cruel towards the people they hold in bondage and that simply isn’t accurate to how slavery as a Roman institution worked (one may compare the plays of Plautus (late third/early second century BC) where even the slaves of ‘good’ masters fear beatings and even execution by torture should they make mistakes; Plautus plays this mostly for laughs).
And then there is Cleopatra. Cleopatra in this game is such a mess of problems it is hard to know where to begin. We can start with chronology. As we’ve noted, Act II, which takes place in Egypt, can’t take place any later than 64 BC; in practice the game’s internal chronology suggests it should be happening around 68. The Act is modeled in a loose way off of Caesar’s own brief campaign in Egypt to unseat Ptolemy XIII and put Cleopatra on the throne in 47 BC, so this is a fairly large chronological fudge. Assuming the best case scenario and Act II happens in 64, Cleopatra should be about five years old;10 her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes should still be alive and indeed should continue to be alive for more than another decade (he dies in 51). The fact that Vercingetorix appears in the Gaul campaign set in the 60s instead of the 50s introduces similar problems, but Cleopatra is easily the most extreme example of this chronological issue.11
And then there is the visual presentation. The game opts to show Cleopatra like this:
The decision was clearly made to lean into the pop-culture image of Cleopatra, the ‘sultry, exotic Eastern queen’ rather than actually reflect any of the things we actually know about Cleopatra. Of course they have indulged in Cleopatra the ‘sex symbol,’ but what we’re told about the actual Cleopatra is that it was less her physical beauty and more her wit and persuasiveness which Caesar and Antony found attractive (Plut. Caes. 49.3; Plut. Ant. 25.2, 27.2); here the character is flattened to her physical attributes and the richness of the historical figure is lost (she most certainly does not come across as witty or charming; her character was mostly rude and imperious in dialogue and she is never very politically clever).
Meanwhile everything about her dress and appearance here is wrong. While Cleopatra sometimes represented herself in Egyptian religious contexts as Isis in traditional Egyptian style (which was very formulaic and had remained substantially constant for centuries) we have a lot of artwork from other contexts (coins, sculpture, etc.) which reflect her as she would likely actually dress: as an elite Macedonian woman.12
So starting from the top and moving downward: the crown is wrong. The ‘diadem’ of Hellenistic rulers was an embroidered silk ribbon with two fringed strips that draped down, not a metal crown. Cleopatra wore her hair long, not short (though typically up in the fashionable knot or nodus hairstyle) in all of her artwork, religious and otherwise, and it was wavy, not tightly curled. Paintings of her do not include any heavy eye-shadow of this sort, but do include what is probably skin-whitening cosmetics (possibly white lead); unsurprising as fair skin was fashionable for women in the Hellenistic world as a sign of wealth (since only the very wealthy could avoid a tan). And she dressed in Greek fashion which was by modern standards quite conservative: floor length dresses often in multiple layers. What they have her in here is a ‘network’ dress, a style of elite Egyptian dress from the bronze age. No part of this costume is correct, all of it is exoticizing nonsense, chosen for and placed over a character portrait built for the male gaze.
Once again, the unwary player assuming some of this is based in history – however embellished – will come away knowing less than nothing, for they will have learned many things which are not so. This is especially true on this point, given the way that the a-historical depiction of Cleopatra reinforces popular misconceptions, deployed along side visual styling in the soldiers and architecture (Alexandria, in particular, looks very New Kingdom Egyptian when it should look quite Greek).
Less consequential is that the attire of many of the Roman civilians is also wrong. For some reason the game’s character artists seem incapable of rendering the senator’s toga virilis, repeatedly putting Roman men who ought to be togate in a variety of not-quite-a-toga mantles and cloaks. Meanwhile, and this is the nittiest of nitpicks, but that’s what we do here, Lucullus is depicted in a muscle cuirass despite the fact that we actually know from Plutarch that on this very campaign (against Mithridates beginning in 74) he wore a brilliant coat of iron scales (Plut. Luc. 28.1). I also have to say generally the character artist does not seem to have tried to nail the appearance of characters to their known historical counterparts. Cicero is given a quite lean face when we know from sculpture he was a bit rounder and fuller (he also isn’t balding and should be) and Pompey also doesn’t have his characteristic plump face nor distinctive Alexander-the-Great imitating curls.
Even the Latin – the source of the game’s reputation for historical care – has odd flaws to it. Not in the pronunciation, mind you, which is shockingly well done (the voice acting, in general, in this game is very good, especially for a game with such a limited budget), but the actual words used and their context. The language issues come down to a difficult point, what gets called in Latin latine – an adverb meaning “in good Latin” – and in English sometimes goes by ‘Latinity.’ This is the ability to grasp not merely the formal structure but also informal usages of Classical Latin; not merely how the Romans could say something, but how they would say something. This was never my strength and yet still some of the usages in the game just stuck my ear wrong.
The example that jumped out at me first was the game’s insistence on referring to common Roman soldiers as legionarii basically all the time. You send some legionarii out to do this or detach some legionarii out to do that. But legionarius is almost never used this way in Late Republican Latin. Ancient writers will instead use milites (‘soldiers’) in basically all of these contexts and if, for some odd reason, one needed to specify legionary soldiers, it gets used as an adjective, legionairii milites, (‘legionary soldiers’), though even this is uncommon.
Likewise at several points in the game dominus or domina are used much as English would use ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ politely, even by characters of a high social status being polite to characters of a much lower social status. But dominus/domina are really charged words in Latin because their root meaning is ‘the master of a slave;’ they could be used as a term of respect but this was an extreme gesture (and more common in the imperial period). There is no universe in which Cicero is going to call a low-status Roman woman domina just to be polite (as he does in the screenshot below). Latin doesn’t really have a casual equivalent to Mr./Ms. or even really Sir/Ma’am and I’ve always been a bit frustrated by modern fictional treatments of Rome (looking at you, HBO’s Rome) importing a lot of English honorifics (which are a product of medieval and early modern social structures) into a language where they aren’t really at home.
Likewise, there’s a lot of care put into place names, but it doesn’t always go off right. The Roman province of Asia (site of Act I) is referred to as Asia Minor. This might be for clarity but the pronunciation is Latin – you can hear the italics as they say it Azz-ee-ah Mee-nor. But the name of the province was Asia, not Asia Minor and the term ‘Asia Minor’ wouldn’t be coined for another four centuries. In Act II we get the same problem with Africa Proconsularis; the name of the province in this period was Africa or occasionally Africa Vetus (‘Old Africa’). Proconsularis, ‘ruled by a proconsul,’ was only a necessary clarification in the imperial period when it came to be that some provinces were governed by proconsuls and propraetors in the traditional republican manner while others were governed by imperial legates (legati Augusti). In the context of the 60s BC, the clarification of proconsular Africa would have been nonsensical; there was no other sort of Africa to be referring to.
Again, most of the Latin is right here, but I was struck by how many of these mistakes are the sort that might be harder for a Latin philologist (that is, a language expert) to catch – though many would – but easier for a Roman historian to catch, leaving me to wonder if they consulted a philologist (good) but not a historian (bad). Perhaps they assumed, like so many people seem to, that being a historian doesn’t require any particular skills or expertise; if so, they rather proved my point that it does quite brilliantly.
And all of this apparent nitpicking (though believe it or not this is merely the highlights of my notes and there are more nits left unpicked even now) finally brings us to the point: the perils of verisimilitude. The rub here is that making a game verisimilitudinous – making it seem accurate – imposes an increasing obligation to be accurate lest you mislead your players.
If this game was merely vaguely Roman themed, the way that, say, the Elder Scrolls series uses Roman imagery to signal the Empire, I’d have few complaints. Or if this game existed in a more clearly fictionalized context: say set in the Late Republic, but about clearly fictional wars in fictional Mediterranean places. Or even, frankly, if the game had its historical setting, but made little effort to present itself as conforming to the history much at all.
But Expeditions: Rome doesn’t do that. I cannot stress this enough how much the game wants players to understand it as historically responsible storytelling, rooted in real facts about the ancient world – and to be clear, at the appearance of that, they succeeded. Scroll up to see the major reviewing outlets successfully suckered into buying the game’s self-presentation.
Early in the game, the designers make a point of introducing and then killing off Gaius Julius Caesar in a move that seems clearly intended to signal that this is the ‘butterfly event’ that ripples through the story to change the details; as noted a later loading screen suggests the presence of the made-up villains has this effect. But the things that are wrong here go way beyond that – they are structural differences embedded in centuries-old institutions, not the result of the premature death of one figure.
It places the narratives in the context of real wars (albeit two of them pulled out of chronology, but in ways that many players may not realize) and puts a lot of energy into convincing the player of its historical rootedness. The equipment is lovingly modeled (even when it is centuries out of date). The characters use lots of untranslated Latin terms pronounced in Latin. The game stops to explain the Senate, patricians, plebeians, the Republic, consuls, praetors, quaestors, lictors, the pomerium, the cursus honorum, pro-consular appointments and so on.13 The point is a player who sees this game stopping its narrative to offer a brief mini-lecture on these topics is going to assume the lecture is substantively right – why else give it?
But the result is a historical presentation that is either incompetent or irresponsible. On the one hand, if the goal here was a narrative embedded in Roman history in a real and deep way, the game exposes a grasp of Roman history on the level of a garbled undergraduate course half-remembered a decade later. Some of the details are right, but major concepts, like the structure and nature of the Republic, the structure and function of Roman armies, the nature of Roman imperialism, the appearance and ethnic identity of the Ptolemaic dynasty and the causes of the collapse of the Republic are badly wrong. These are not small points but major through-lines to understanding what actually happened in this period, far more important than getting the precise pronunciation of contubernium right. When it comes to the actual history, the game fares substantially worse than even a quite indifferent student at the end of one of my entry-level survey courses.
On the other hand, if the goal here was merely to use the appearance of historical accuracy – historical verisimilitude – as a marketing tool without ever caring very much about getting any of the details right, then the approach was evidently successful but deeply irresponsible. It creates a product almost tailor-made to mislead, to both convince the player that they are getting some real history here and then hand them a broken mess of anachronism, exoticism and simple errors. It is built to make almost all of the most common student errors worse and to amplify rather than reduce some of the most harmful common public misconceptions.
In either case, the result is a game that is just close enough to truth to be dangerous without ever getting close enough to be valuable. Again, as a tactics RPG, the game is solidly serviceable, but it was supposed to be elevated by its historical context; instead it is sunk by it. And that makes me sad because I don’t think that a more accurate game would have been any harder to make – it would have just required different decisions to be made in the writing and artwork, along with perhaps some very minor adaptations of some of the tactics gameplay. I wanted so much to like this game, to be able to have it as an example of how a narrative-driven video game could make good use of a historical setting. Alas, Fortuna did not smile on this.
And that is the peril of historical verisimilitude: the developers of Expeditions: Rome put tremendous effort into making sure the game would look accurate, but not into making sure the game would be accurate. As a result, they crafted a game weighed down rather than elevated by its historical subject matter, more likely to mislead and deceive than to inform.
- And some other day we can have a separate argument about how KC:D uses that claim, particularly in some of the culture-war battles it seems to be picking. Though probably no time soon. I’d have to replay the game to remember it all and KC:D‘s early game is so relentlessly miserable that the mere thought of it fills me with dread, which is unfortunate because the combat gameplay is good after you’ve slogged through several hours of getting kicked around apparently for the amusement of the developers
- The developers appear to have learned from experts in Rome that we sometimes leave terms untranslated. They do not appear to have learned why.
- And even then there are questions and complications on this point, see I. Haynes, Blood of the Provinces (2013)
- Mostly because the existence of the velites was as a way to allow poorer Romans to serve in an inexpensive way – the equipment was much cheaper – and by the first century equipment was state issued (or at least state paid for) and so there was no need to have a role specifically for soldiers who couldn’t afford heavy equipment.
- The name is modern, not ancient. We do not know what the Romans called this iconic armor.
- All of these oval shields, the Gallic one, the Italian scutum and the Greek thureos are related shield-types and quite similar, though the scutum is generally larger and the thureos generally smaller. All are generally assumed to be descendants of the standard early Gallic oval-shield.
- In an utterly bizarre twist later in the game, Cicero is the voice of ‘no, don’t just kill the bad guys, they have to be tried according to the law’ which is very much not how the actual Cicero of 63 rolled.
- On these sorts of questions see H. Mouritsen, Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (2001) and R. Morstein-Marx, Mass Oratory and Political Power in the Late Roman Republic (2004)
- Included in this is the way the game treats the distinction between patrician and plebeian as it was politically meaningful in the first century when it wasn’t and hadn’t been since the third century. Cato is presented as the ‘defender of the patricians’ which is a remarkable thing given that Cato himself is a plebeian, as is Cicero, Lucullus and Pompey! As a member of the gens Fabia, my character is just about the only patrician here!
- And lest there be any ‘but maybe it is a different Cleopatra’ – for one, it clearly isn’t, but also in several scenes the game helpfully labels her as Cleopatra VII Philopator, which helpfully removes any doubt.
- Note that the game defends itself on this point in a loading screen noting that while events may not be proceeding historically, history didn’t have the two made-up villains to speed things along…which hardly explains how Cleopatra ended up apparently two decades older than she was.
- At no point did the Ptolemaic royal family ever intermarry with the locals, so at least as far as we know, Cleopatra was almost entirely Macedonian, with the only exception being her great-great-great grandmother Laodice III, who had some Persian ancestry.
- Mind you, it gets many of these things wrong. For instance the player is made to lay down their command at the edge of Rome – the pomerium – which would have been right for the second century but not the first, since Sulla made it a legal requirement for generals with a provincial command to lay down that command before entering Italy itself (so those conversations should happen at the Rubicon, not the Tiber).