TV

How Historically Accurate Is Ancient Rome TV Show Domina? Completely and Not at All


Domina has claim to being the most historically accurate period drama ever made – even though its characters might be completely unrecognisable to the real people it portrays.

Livia in Sky Atlantic's Domina
Photo: Sky Atlantic

warning: contains (potential historical) spoilers for Domina seasons 1 & 2

Ancient history is a gift to screenwriters, because you can make up most of what’s going on and still claim to be completely historically accurate. Domina takes full advantage of that to produce what might be the most historically accurate period drama ever made, even though it might not bear any resemblance to the actual lives of the actual people portrayed.

Making a TV show about the ancient Roman Empress Livia is not like making a show about, say, Winston Churchill. If you’re writing a screenplay about Churchill, you’ve got access to letters, calendars, portraits, photographs, recordings, diaries, newspaper reports, memoirs… the list goes on and on. That means you have loads of material to use and adapt for your film or TV show, but it also means it is impossible to be completely historically accurate, because you will always need to tweak and adapt things to create a more compelling drama.

Someone writing a screenplay about Livia, on the other hand, has a few statues, a few letters, and some histories and biographies written by ancient authors decades or even centuries after she died, and that’s about it. And those histories and biographies are more interested in her husband and son than in her. So anyone writing a screenplay about her has no choice but to make up most of what we see on screen, no matter how historically accurate they want to be, because we simply don’t know anything beyond the bare facts of her life. But in a way that is a gift for writers, because they can take the bare bones of history and then just make it up – creating a really compelling drama.

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