Homeschooling Essentials: HBO's "Rome"

Okay, we’ll admit that having our 14 and 12 year old kids watch HBO’s graphic and award-winning “Rome” series as a part of their homeschooling curriculum is a bit unorthodox. Along with online textbooks, workbooks, writing journals, web tutorials and classic novels, we are making them sit through one of the most violent and sexually-explicit series in television history. It’s filled with blood, four-letter words, quite a lot of nudity and several fornication scenes. It’s not that we are extremely permissive parents – we’re not – it’s just that we have found no better way to have the myriad of characters and events of Ancient Rome come alive for our kids’ education.

HBO’s “Rome” series is set during Ancient Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire, starting around the time of Caesar’s invasion of Gaul and ending around the time of Mark Antony’s death and the rise of the first Emperor Augustus. The series started in 2005 and lasted just two seasons. It was a critical and ratings success but ended due to the price tag of the lavish costumes, extensive sets and on-site locations in the Italian capital. The first season alone cost over $100 million.

In order to shield our kids from the gratuitous sex and violence, we simply mute the sound and ask them to cover their eyes. It helps that both my wife and I have already seen both seasons and can therefore anticipate the more explicit scenes. And there are plenty of them. The Los Angeles Times describes a “vivid portrayal of a dirty, cacophonous, amoral metropolis steeped in the tumult of the time. There are graphic depictions of both the city's violence and sex within the first few minutes of the premiere, which features blood-splattered soldiers thrusting fatal blows into their Gallic enemies and the full-frontal nudity of a woman emerging from a post-coitus bath.”

A byproduct of our unique censorship method is a story that gets a bit choppy. We watched the first episode from our Cairo hotel room and my wife and I were prepared to pause the DVD at the first graphic sex scene between Atia (Caesar’s niece) and one of her lovers. As soon as I saw the edge of the bed in the frame, I paused the remote, said “Cover your eyes” and muted the volume. When the inappropriate scene was over, I paused again, un-muted the volume, said “Ok, open them,” then hit the play button. With so much inappropriate material, watching an hour-long episode of “Rome” can take almost two hours, with a lot of wear and tear on the pause button. Hitting the pause button is something that happens a lot when our family watches DVD’s. Oftentimes, my son or daughter will say, “Pause it! Why is Pompey leaving Rome?” which will lead to a short discussion of the politics of his decision. In terms of learning about Rome while avoiding the sex and violence, this isn’t the most elegant educational solution, but we’ve found none better.

About a year ago, knowing that we’d be touring the Mediterranean, I began reading Gibbon’s 3-volume “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." I am usually pretty good at slogging my way through long history books and I even printed out both an event and emperor timeline to begin my assault on the empire. I got about 200 pages into the first volume and had to give up; Gibbon was just too dry and the work covered too many personalities and events that I was unfamiliar with. About 4 months ago my wife and I started watching the “Rome” series and were hooked. After watching Augustus, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Mark Antony, Pompey, Cato and others for 24 episodes, we felt close to the characters and that we had a good understanding of this very important period of history. We hope for the same for our kids…minus the sex and violence.

Read more about kids and travel at the July 2010 Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival at Glennia Campbell's The Silent I blog. Here is the link to the carnival post "Kids Around The World".


  1. we have done the same thing with the Tudors.... make them cover their eyes with blankets, as they tend to peak otherwise.... funny... we are very interested in taking our kids on an extended trip next year and are excited to find blogs such as yours... ... because of course we know they will learn alot .... but will they get behind?? we are researching... have you done any formal homeschooling on line programming with them?? are you working with their schools back at home?? just curious... blessings....

  2. We've been back over a year and the kids have not skipped a beat nor missed anything. My daughter just skipped 7th grade (went from 6th to 8th) and my son delayed entry into high school by a year which was great for him. They di not get behind. Lick on the "homeschooling" link to the right of the page for more posts on the topic. I fyou want more specifics, you can email me at
    Thanks for posting.