FIRST DRAFT REVISED
April 4, 1998
EXT. NEAR THE GERMAN FRONT - 180 A.D. - DAWN
The rising sun unveils steep hills and luxuriant mountains untouched by man. Snow flurries dart in the frigid air and on the horizon CROWS gather.
EXT. DIRT ROAD
A column of Praetorian Cavalry flank two enclosed wagons as they rattle along a rock and log accordion road. On all sides a forest rises like some kind of primordial soul: limitless and dark. With every step 'steam' whooshes from the nostrils of the horses.
The first wagon halts as a Praetorian Guard jogs back. He straightens his tunic and helmet and raps on the wooden door as the second wagon stops behind. The door swings aside and another Praetorian Guard leans out.
1ST PRAETORIAN GUARD
Sir, we must be getting near.
INT. FIRST WAGON
LUCIUS AELIUS AURELIUS COMMODUS huddles in the back of the wagon: Dark hair, handsome, beard; as Commodus rises we see he's a large, powerfully built young man and though barely twenty years old he already has the caution and arrogance of a Caesar.
Opposite A GAUNT MAN climbs from a heap of blankets: GALEN of PERGAMUM, probably the most frozen, unhappy man on earth. The wagon is lined with pillows and blankets. Baskets of bread and dried fruit are stacked in one corner and an oil lamp hangs from a pivoting cleat like the swinging lamp in a ship.
2ND PRAETORIAN GUARD
Caesar, we're nearly there.
Commodus steps down and pulls his cape up against the bitter cold. Galen follows, curiously overcoming his natural hatred of discomfort. TRIBUUS, burly Praetorian Guard commander salutes Commodus and leads him to the edge of a gully. Tribuus is an old-timer for whom Commodus is just another royal pain-in-the-ass.
THE GULLY IS BLACK WITH CROWS -- with their endless "CAW- CAW-CAW" they feast on corpses and in the shadows below ROMAN SOLDIERS bury dead comrades. Compared with the burnished perfection of the Praetorian Guards these typical infantry grunts are grizzled and battered.
Soldier! What happened here!
A legionnaire stops working, spits, leans on his shovel so he can shout up toward Tribuus and Commodus. Galen squats beside a corpse, fascinated.
We had a battle!
I can see that. You leave your dead
on the field?
General Narcissus beat the Germans
here and now the whole army is
moving fast! No time to let them
THE SECOND WAGON --
as a twenty-five year old ATTRACTIVE YOUNG WOMAN opens the door. She is LUCILLA -- Commodus' sister. Lucilla pulls her coat tight against the wind.
Where are we now, Commodus? Can you
see the camp? My Gods! The air is
turning into ice!
We're nearly there, Lucilla.
That's what you told me two days
Will you please get back in your
wagon? And stay there?
I'm tired of being stuck in that
Embarrassed by Commodus' childish spat with is sister, Tribuus gestures to the 2nd Praetorian.
Soldier, help the Emperor's sister.
As a soldier jogs back up toward Lucilla Commodus looks down at the legionnaire leaning on his shovel.
Where is my father?
Where is the emperor and the army,
The legionnaire points up the road. Commodus and Tribuus return to the wagon. Galen rolls the dead soldier over and sticks his finger into a gaping chest wound, then notices the legionnaire glaring at him.
I'm a doctor.
The legionnaire studies him a second, then the corpse as if giving a second opinion.
Well, you're too late.
Galen pulls back in revulsion at his impudence. He scrambles to follow Commodus. The legionnaire spits and gets back to work.
EXT. DIRT ROAD - DAWN
The wagon crests a hill with a precipitous view of the valley and torches that seem to fill the lingering dark far below. The wagon makes straight for them.
Riding on a seat on the front of the wagon, wrapped to his chin in a bearskin blanket -- absolutely set on catching up with the army.
EXT. GERMAN FRONT - VINDOBONA - 182 A.D. - NIGHT
On the edge of a forest sixty year old EMPEROR MARCUS AURELIUS stands in the back of an unharnessed supply wagon surrounded by a dark so black it's barely moved by blazing torches.
A WOLF -- living symbol of Rome -- stand before the wagon held on a leash by a battle-hardened SENIOR CENTURION: SERVIS.
Marcus wears the purple robe of imperial power over his leather and copper segmented upper body armor (LORICA SEGMENTATA). His breath clouds in the bitter cold; the man is tired to the bone.
OPPOSITE STANDS THE ROMAN ARMY
This is the mighty army of the Danube, yet it seems like these men -- buried in the shadows and as frozen and worn as their leader -- have come to the very edge of the world to be swallowed by this wilderness.
NUMIDIAN ARCHERS, tall Africans, out of place in this freezing land, stand behind their leader -- JUBA -- who has the whip-like body of a dancer. Each carries his recurve bow as if it were a delicate musical instrument. Quivers of brightly colored arrows hang from their backs.
Field commanders -- CONTUBERNIUM -- stand by each row of soldiers. Less numerous, and above the Contubernium, are the CENTURIONS, and at the front line of the mass of cohorts are four TRIBUNES.
BEFORE THE ENTIRE ARMY
mounted on magnificent grey horses, are two LEGATE, the overall commanding generals, wearing ornate lorica segmentata. The first Legatus is QUINTUS CLARUS, Rome Army General: fair-haired, fit, forty. He has the face of a boy.
The second is NARCISSUS MERIDAS, General, Spanish Gemina Felix VII Army: dark hair, proud and though about Quintus' age his face is like a map of a soldiers's hard life. Narcissus' eyes are locked on Marcus like the eyes of a long-suffering pilgrim on the icon of his single hope.
Just before Marcus is about to speak, Commodus steps into the wagon looking out of breath. Surprised, Marcus embraces him and then Commodus stands behind his father wrapped tightly in his bearskin robe. He's trying to look tough but unlike his father he's not used to this rigorous life.
NARCISSUS & QUINTUS
swap looks as if Commodus were the last person they were expecting...
Marcus' voice booms out tough and firm as if defying the cold and dark.
Today may be the last day in the
life of Rome... For nine hundred
years Rome has lived! For nine
hundred years architects,
mathematicians, poets, and
philosophers have fled within her
arms sheltered from superstition,
prejudice, hate, and every form of
human cruelty. We Romans have
become a light in the barbarian
No trace of feeling, just his breath slowly clouding in the frigid air.
Seeming to look at each legionnaire as he speaks.
For nine hundred years this one
heart of humankind has been defended
by the likes of Pompeii, Mark
Anthony, Julius Caesar, The Divine
Augustus, Claudius, Trajan,
Hadrian, and my own father Antoninus
Pius. Now, it has come down to us!
It has come down to this one day...
He leans forward on the rail of the wagon, a gesture that seems to bring him closer to the men.
Five years we've lived together, you
and I, in a state of total war. We
have shared cold, rain, heat,
bitterly watched the deaths of
beloved friends. We are not alone.
Look around you! Consuls and
Senators have forsworn the luxuries
of home and moved with us to the
front to ensure that the
administration of our government
radiates from the source of her
OUTSIDE A FIELD TENT
Stand SENATOR GAIUS and SENATOR FALCO wrapped to their chins against the staggering cold.
Both men are in advanced middle age. Gaius looks like a stoic: impassive, plainly dressed. Falco wears an expensive fur trimmed robe with gold and asbestos. Flanking them are CONSULS and various OFFICIALS. Lucilla stands by Gaius and a very stately, attractive NUMIDIAN WOMAN, MELA, Juba's wife.
MARCUS AURELIUS (O.S.)
The link between us and Rome is a
solid chain of unbroken purpose!
For nine hundred years the Roman
Senate has stood one with the army
in dignity and resolve!
watching the troops, seeming to weigh any response with the utmost calculation.
eyes dead-ahead on the troops.
But on this day I ask you to put
those nine centuries down -- they're
too heavy for us to carry into
battle again! So, we'll leave them
here for the Senators to guard for
allows himself a smile as the troops grin and laugh. He looks across at Narcissus who manages the faintest of smiles -- a very serious man...
This day I want you to fight for the
cold and the heat and the filth --
and for all those friends who will
never feel the sun on their faces
again! I want you to fight for you!
For at the moment of battle you and
you alone are Rome!
Rank after disciplined rank: not one sideways look, not one sound...
As his eyes pass from cohort to cohort.
How quickly all things sordid and
perishable in the universe
disappear. Yet throughout time the
remembrance of great deeds grows
only fresher bringing life again to
those who dare perform them...
Legate Narcissus Meridas and Legate
Quintus Clarus, I must ask you and
your legions for one more day out of
nine centuries! Will you give it to
The troops HOWL their support. Marcus pulls his sword and half turns aiming it behind him.
There is the enemy of Rome!
Commodus steps forward to join his father and the uproar grows.
removes his helmet as a sign of respect. Now the stoic veneer of his face cracks into a mixture of reverence and perhaps even love for the emperor.
taking every single bit of this in. He seems particularly interested in Narcissus.
NARCISSUS & QUINTUS
Move their horses close and dismount.
I see the emperor's little boy has
finally caught up with the army.
Let's hope he doesn't start giving
Servis approaches and salutes. It starts to RAIN.
At your command, sir.
EXT. FOREST - EARLY MORNING
In a howling RAINSTORM Felix Division breaks through the dense woods like a moving human wall behind their rectangular shields.
They're in the midst of MASS COMBAT -- spears, arrows and stones crash off shields, taking out soldiers.
The ZING of arrows and WHOOSH of spears saturate the air. Because there are no explosives EVERY SCREAM and ARROW SHOT is HEARD.
leads his troops on foot in the thick of battle. A CONTUBERNIUM walks beside Narcissus tugged on by the leashed WOLF MASCOT as painted GERMAN WARRIORS dart out of the woods hurling spears. NARCISSUS YELLS OVER THE SOUNDS OF BATTLE, WIND AND RAIN.
Tribune! The right flank is falling
back! If we lose the flank we're
The Tribune salutes and dashes off and Servis rushes in from another direction.
Sir! There's a fortification ahead!
The Germans are waiting for us!
Should we slow the men down?
Juba leads his Numidians in a fluid, disorderly formation into the thickest part of the forest. Just before he dodges into the woods Juba locks eyes with Narcissus -- and he's GONE.
jerks his shield up in time to stop an ARROW. But a LEGIONNAIRE is SLAMMED IN THE CHEST by another as sniper- shots whiz in.
Now, from the distance comes the rolling roar of DRUMS and HOWLS. Then a horrendous THUNDERCLAP and a bolt of lightning tears the lead grey sky.
Come on, Servis! Forward!
Servis turns and runs down the front line as the storm becomes more intense. The YELLING and DRUMMING get LOUDER...
THE GERMAN FORTIFICATION
A chaos of interlocked logs rimmed at the top with sharpened stakes. GERMAN WARRIORS SHOUT WAVING SPEARS AND CLUBS.
THE FELIX DIVISION
scatters the German snipers and rearguard before it, closing on the fortification.
Where the hell are the damned
Don't worry about Juba; just keep
our own damned troops moving!
German warriors loose an avalanche of rocks and spears.
Tortoise! Form a tortoise!
As the call echoes legionnaires furiously overlap their shields on all sides and overhead forming a perfect BOX just as the stones and spears crash against them...
INSIDE THE TORTOISE
rocks slam the wall of interlocked shields with ear-splitting resonance. But the tortoise holds.
soon as the barrage stops the Germans unleash FIGHTING MASTIFFS. The dogs tear into the legionnaires. One leaps at Narcissus and he kills it with a single chop of his Spatha sword.
Here they come!
German warriors charge the shields as the legionnaires level their spears. Singing and screaming the warriors IMPALE THEMSELVES ON THE SPEARS and grasp the shafts. A SECOND WAVE charges the line on the heels of the first.
THE LEGIONNAIRES --
In a well rehearsed movement twist their spears releasing the tips. As the dying warriors drop with the quick-release spear tips embedded in their bodies, the Romans reverse their spears over the top and -- no problem: Roman spears have points on BOTH ENDS. So the German second wave is met by an intact position.
Still they power into the line chopping at the Roman shields with axes.
a legionnaire blows a piercing note on a brass horn and a second, thin line of legionnaires APPEARS OUT OF THE FOREST. Narcissus turns, yelling to a contubernium behind him.
Answer that signal!
A red 'flag' on a long pole goes up answering the trumpet, and the line of the fresh cohort parts in segments revealing ONAGERS -- portable catapults -- and SCORPIONS -- powerful precision-fire crossbows that launch javelins.
THE ARTILLERY FIRES...
cannonball-size shot driven at a hundred miles an hour rip over the heads of Narcissus' troopers and slam against the ort walls.
reload with incredible speed from wagons filled with hand-picked rocks -- some bear SCRAWLED EPITHETS essentially the Latin equivalent of "EAT THIS HANS!" Onagers launch barrage after barrage, their backs leaping off the ground like recoiling 45 millimeter field guns.
picks their targets. The Germans are leveled by a sheet of scorpion javelins as their crude log fortification splinters under the onager barrage. The Germans are being pulverized by superior technology.
THE WHOLE GERMAN ARMY --
led by tall GREY BEARDED MAN, pours from the log blockade and hurls itself against the Roman line.
Again the Romans are staggered as the Germans collapse more of their shields, battering through the front line with clubs and axes.
fights desperately refusing to give ground. A German rears up from behind and slams Narcissus in the back with a club and HE GOES DOWN.
Narcissus is nearly trampled as another GERMAN WARRIOR throws himself on Narcissus holding his sword arm about to kill him with a club -- there's a blur of fur and blood as the ROMAN WOLF LEAPS INTO THE WARRIOR'S FACE.
Narcissus lurches back to his feet and seeing he's in the midst of the whole German army he goes wild. Yelling and slashing out with his sword and the knife-edge top of his shield, in seconds he's drenched with blood.
LIKE SOME FANTASTIC ROMANTIC PAINTING --
Narcissus climbs onto a HEAP OF BODIES flashing his sword with the snarling Wolf of Rome at his side.
CENTURIONS AND LEGIONNAIRES --
see this supernatural vision of their leader battling for life --
Romulus! The gods of Rome are
fighting with general Narcissus!
Others join the cry as more legionnaires turn and there's an irresistible surge of the army back toward Narcissus.
joined by Servis, then another, then two Contubernium, then ten legionnaires... the legionnaires fight desperately to hold their ground around Narcissus.
Then with a sound of a hundred out-of-tune violins the Germans are SWEPT FROM BEHIND BY ARROWS.
line the edge of the forest four deep pouring arrows into the Germans. Juba stands on a log in front shouting PIERCING SING-SONG ORDERS easily heard over the screams of battle.
NARCISSUS & HIS TROOPS
DIVE behind their shields for cover from the cloudburst of arrows.
Arrows fired by almighty recurve bows hit the Germans with the power of .44 magnum rounds: arms splinter like twigs; shields are nailed to chests; skulls explode.
The Germans turn and charge the Numidians but they may as well hurl themselves against a machine gun nest as they're mowed-down in whole lines. They hurtle back in disorder into the forest.
lower their shields. Narcissus catches a fast smile from Juba, then jumps to his feet...
Come on men! Forward!
The retreating German army spills out of the forest following their leader into a shallow narrows, Narcissus and his division on their heels.
on the opposite bank is a single Roman on horse back. It's Quintus. He draws his sword and spurs ahead -- then right behind him rush his fresh ROME COHORTS.
THE TWO ROMAN ARMIES --
crash into the Germans in the middle of the river -- throwing aside his shield and holding his sword with two hands Narcissus chops his way into the enemy with a fury.
Wild chaos of horrendous fighting in knee-deep water -- spray, blood, flashing swords and flying spears as men desperately kill to stay alive.
Then the two Roman armies close like a fist and the surviving Germans squeeze through the fingers in disarray.
NARCISSUS & QUINTUS
meet in the middle of the river and at that moment the legionnaires realize they've won. They howl and stab at the heavens with their swords to intimidate the gods.
Narcissus pulls off his lorica segmentata which literally drools blood and heaves it into the water. Then in the vortex of the cheering cohorts, he and Quintus embrace.
The Danube runs RED...
EXT. ROMAN CAMP - VINDOBONA - NEAR DUSK
Surrounded by cheering legions Narcissus rides his grey horse slowly into camp. Servis walks ahead leading the beloved wolf mascot on a leash. Quintus rides beside Narcissus, but it's clear all this adulation is for Narcissus.
Narcissus dismounts and finally the crowd parts revealing Commodus outside the Roman headquarters flanked by slaves and Praetorian Guard. Commodus strides forward and embraces him as a cheer goes up from the soldiers.
Welcome back from your great triumph
Narcissus Meridas. My father sends
his heart felt praise. Sadly,
Marcus is in dark humors -- nothing
to worry about, but he needs rest.
Likely just the weather.
Respectfully Caesar, Quintus and I
Of course, but not now. However, if
he continues to be unwell, you may
report to me.
A challenging look from Commodus -- clearly Narcissus is not in the mood to report to this boy. Quintus steps in.
Gladly, Caesar. And, if you'd like
we can take you for a tour of the
front at first light.
I'm certain father will be in better
humors by then. Now, honor us with
your presence at dinner. I'll join
you as soon as I see my father's
For a second Commodus eyes the shouting army... it makes him NERVOUS. Then he turns to enter the building.
What the hell was all that about?
What the hell do you think it was
about? There's nothing an unproved
heir to the throne likes less than
glaring competence in others.
Why don't we try to keep politics
out of the conversation.
Well, we can try...
INT. ROMAN HQ - EARLY MORNING
Inside the single large building at the Vindobona central base, a wraith-like FORTUNE TELLER stands with her eyes closed, hand on Falco's head.
TRIBUNES and high ranking HANGERS-ON bask near a blazing hearth like over-fed dogs. Senator Gaius sits apart near Juba and his wife Mela. All are fixated on Falco.
... a great man: great of birth --
great of girth!
(laughs all around)
Your fate in flame and bronze is
wrought... the rest in haze is
Smoke from the fire no doubt!
She opens her eyes and Falco hands her a coin.
Fire and bronze -- symbols of strong
All turn toward Narcissus and Quintus.
General Narcissus, it's your turn!
Everyone in this room would love to
know your future. Go on, ask him if
he'll stand for the Senate!
Applause as Narcissus catches a smirk from Quintus.
No future-telling, please, I've been
terrified enough for one day.
Narcissus! Terrified? You? The
only thing he's scared of is me.
Lucilla greets Narcissus with an embarrassingly intimate embrace. Looks like she's been hitting the sauce pretty good.
Slave! Wine and meat for our
generals! The saviors of Rome!
Judging from your adoring troops and
what we heard, Narcissus, you are
personally responsible for our
Lucilla hangs onto Narcissus' hand taking him around the room like he was her date.
You know our two most senior
Senators: Gaius Cantus and Falco
Only from a distance.
Well let's not be so distant,
general. Now that this war is
ending Rome needs good men off the
battlefield as well.
The Wolf of Rome fought beside him.
I saw it with my own eyes.
Narcissus looks at Juba as if to say 'thanks a lot.'
You see? The Gods favor you for
greatness! Tell us about it -- all
Yes/Tell us/Tell all!
The truth is I got into a little
trouble and when the army came to
rescue me the German counterattack
broke around us. An example of
being in precisely the wrong place
at exactly the right time.
(off their laughs)
It was Juba and his archers who
finally got them running. Then
Quintus arrived with the Rome
legions just in time to cut off
Commodus and Galen suddenly step into the light; it's unclear how long Commodus may have been listening in the doorway. Everyone rises...
Narcissus Meridas, you win the
battle and deny you had any hand it
it. But if we had lost, you would
have taken complete responsibility.
Senators, Rome needs more such
models of humility and courage.
My father sends regrets that he will
not join us after all as he
continues to be unwell.
Commodus reaches over to fill Lucilla's cup which is nearly brimming.
More wine, sister? Surely you can
drink more than that.
I was suddenly thinking about going
(that was an order)
Don't you want to join the chorus of
praises for Narcissus' glory? Just
remember, he is a married man.
Do you expect Marcus to be well
enough by morning for an audience?
That's difficult to say, general.
Perhaps, Master Galen, you may say.
It's difficult to name a time...
May I remind everyone that Master
Galen is the finest medical
philosopher in the Empire and his
detailed assessment of the Emperor
is delicate and confidential and is
the business of the immediate family
I would venture, with all respect:
the Emperor's health is the business
of every soul in the empire.
Yes! The days of Imperial
Prerogative and disdain for the
Senate are over -- thanks to your
father! Now report to the Senate,
Master Galen: what is Marcus'
Report, Master Galen, by all means.
The Senate demands it...
We are talking simply about a
disturbance of the hues. Nothing
more. In precisely one hour I will
analyze the Emperor's bile and then
my assistants and I will stand by in
an unfailing vigil until his fever
breaks. Now with your permission
Caesar, Senators? I must return to
Commodus gestures him out as if he were just amused.
One doctor now knows his place in
the empire. Congratulations,
general, your victory seems to
inspire courage everywhere.
Quintus stops flirting with Lucilla's slaves and starts paying close attention to the developing dynamics.
The battle was won, today, and I
prefer to believe it was a gift of
Janus, the eldest God of Rome. God
of my ancestors.
God of passages and changes?
I believe we are arriving in an
enlightened age; an age of peace
that will bring Rome her greatest
glory. Thanks to Marcus Aurelius.
You know, general, there is a Gate
of Janus in Rome which is only
closed in time of peace. Sadly, it
has remained open for three hundred
I've read of it.
But have never been?
My only visits to Rome, Senator,
have been through books. But the
war's over, time to close the door
of war once and for all.
Then you'd be out of a job.
Or perhaps into a new one. But
here's to your God and the courage
of our legions...
And the man who gives them this
Gaius stands and raises his cup. But Quintus is amused to see him get as close to Narcissus as he can -- nearly hiding behind him.
Quite so. Narcissus and his
courageous men; may they live long
to serve Rome...
And Caesar! Let's not forget to
Falco in turn moves to stand near Commodus.
They are one and the same my lady.
Which is why we senior Senators have
chosen to be here on the front to
share the hardships of our
courageous Emperor -- Marcus
Aurelius and his son -- may the gods
Oh, yes, my father is a raving
genius -- poet, essayist,
philosopher, warrior... It's a
wonder he doesn't drift off like a
cloud he's so damned ethereal.
'Marcus Aurelius Etherealus'... But
he should cast his divine eyes
earthward once in a while and see
how fallible some of his decisions
have been! Of course I don't mean
you, Commodus -- gods know you're
perfect. As far as sharing in his
glory and suffering -- well, I
certainly didn't want to be here.
Isn't that true, darling brother?
Commodus, I believe, was afraid that
if I stayed in Rome I might foment a
rebellion! Seize power for myself!
Commodus glares at Lucilla as she trails off in laughter. Mela decides it's time to rescue Lucilla from herself. She rises and crosses to sit beside her.
If you men are going to talk
politics leave us out of it.
She's not so bashful about politics
when we're alone.
Only when it concerns Numidia. And,
we're far from home so I'll play the
good Roman woman and listen --
perhaps Lucilla we could play that
What do you say, Narcissus? Where
are you in this great new balance
between the Emperor or the Senate?
Are you for the Senate, Narcissus
Meridas? Or do you back the
I back Rome against all her enemies
-- if that answer disappoints you,
I'm not a politician...
Oh, but with the army behind you,
you could become extremely
political. Not a Republican by any
Be as brave here as you are on the
In the presence of such fearless
senators there's little need for
loyal soldiers to speculate on
Ah, Quintus famous for his perfect
timing. But we want to know what
the hero of the Danube thinks.
Dead silence. Every face in the room turns to Narcissus.
A republican is a man who strives
to create equality among all
classes. At the core he's a man who
believes in doing what's right.
The trouble is defining exactly what
We all know what right is, Senator.
I would say there's nothing more
dangerous than a man who knows what
The dangerous man, Caesar, is the
man who doesn't care.
Stony silence. A SLAVE enters.
The emperor is awake. He asks to
see his generals.
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