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Netflix's recent series, called "Roman Empire", has this miniature for the Portuguese language: Netflix card

We can recognise this as a map of the Roman Empire, especially during the early Principate times, due to the absence of Northwest Africa as territory and how far east it is extending into Anatolia.

However, what are the two branching line that seem to come from Russia into the Balkans, passing through modern-day Belarus and Ukraine? Are those trade routes, something to do the Silk Road, peaceful settlements or something else entirely? Is the Netflix map based on any real map?

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    Assuming that red indicates the extent of the empire, it would appear to be dated before the reign of Claudius, as Britain is not colored. Oddly, neither Corsica nor Sardinia are colored, and they were controlled by Rome much earlier. But the two lines trailing off into Siberia belong to no era of the Roman Empire at all. (Nor do they indicate any silk roads that actually existed -- not that Rome ever controlled more than the western ends of any real Silk Road, anyway.) And they seem to give Rome some unlikely possessions in the Middle East. The map appears to be partly imaginary.
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 31, 2023 at 1:07
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    besides the errors Mark Olson tell, caucasus almost into Baku, spain but no andaluzia, galia but no coast, no cyprus, crete. No sense. Black spots do not follow mountain ranges correctly. Guess: it does not mean anything except a big scary blood stain.
    – Luiz
    Jan 31, 2023 at 2:08
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    @MarkOlson Britain is not relevant for the analysis, as it could also be from the late Empire. The big tells really are Anatolia and Africa. However, as you said, the absence of Sardinia really is strange. Luiz must be right, and the map is nonsense.
    – Elederete
    Jan 31, 2023 at 12:52
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    @MarkOlson - I'd say there's more than enough meat in your comment to make a proper answer out of. I could do it if you really want, but seems like you ought to get the rep for it.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 31, 2023 at 14:01
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    Is there any way we can get more info about the context of this map? A link (even to the Portugese-language page) would be helpful. I'd be particularly interested in seeing if its promoting the whole series, or just one season (and if the later, which season), and what the promotional text around it says. Did a quick search online, and the only thing like this map I could find anywhere was what looked like a small part of it on someone's blog.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 31, 2023 at 20:23

3 Answers 3

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Assuming that the red area indicates the extent of the empire, we can look for a period that fits. To start with, it would appear to be dated before the reign of Claudius or during the final years of the Western Empire, as Britain is not colored.

Oddly, neither are Corsica nor Sardinia colored, and they were acquired by Rome during Republican days (Corsica at the end of the second Punic War and Sardinia a generation earlier).

So far, the map is either real early or real late. But real early can be ruled out by the extensive red in the East which Rome didn't pick up until centuries after those those islands.

And those two lines trailing off into Siberia belong to no era of the Roman Empire at all! (Nor do they match any silk roads that actually existed -- not that Rome ever controlled more than the western ends of any real Silk Road, anyway.)

As the OP noted, the state of Africa is hard to fit into any era.

Finally, the map seems to give Rome some unlikely possessions in the Middle East.

So, the days of the Western Empire are ruled out. What about the Eastern Empire, say under Justinian? That, too, is ruled out by the extensive holdings in Gaul.

The map appears to be partly imaginary or rather careless. (I'm betting on the latter...)

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  • As I explained on the comment, Britain is completely useless to the analysis chronologically. But I would be lying if I said I do not know the reason why you insist on bringing up the least important big Roman province.
    – Elederete
    Feb 1, 2023 at 14:36
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    The thing that drew my eye was Gaul. It was conquered in the late Republic days (so the title would arguably be an anachronism), and the period of time where all of it was conquered bar the channel coast would have been quite brief. Perhaps 58BC? From what I can see of the show, it covers 3 periods (one each season). The second season (Julius Caesar) it would work for I suppose, but of course the East looked nothing like that at the time.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:07
  • @T.E.D. I prove the map is anachronistic in my answer. And I also bring up what the lines into Siberia could be based on.
    – Elederete
    Feb 2, 2023 at 1:55
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The map is fictional, based on an anachronistic mix of Roman territories and supposedly some trade routes.

The colouring of Armenia and Mesopotamia hints at Trajan's time. However, at this same time, Northwest Africa was under Roman control and it is not coloured. Northwest Africa was only not under Roman control before the 2nd century AD and during the Western's half's collapse (despite being briefly reacquired by the Eastern half during the Middle Ages). The map is therefore fictional as before the 2nd century AD Armenia was not under Roman control.

Other inconsistencies are Southern Hispania not coloured despite being conquered much before Northern Spain, the absence of Sardinia and Consirca (conquered during the war against Phoenicians, though it could have been a graphical oversight), and the absence of Northern Gallia.

The string going into Russia also does not match any real life fact, only loosely resembling a mix of the Amber Road, which went to the Baltics, not Russia, and the supposed Steppe Road, which connected China to Eastern Europe.

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About those branching lines, I see 3 possibilities

  1. Trade Routes

There were certainly land trade routes running between the Roman Empire and the far east. However, most depictions of "the Silk Road" show it running South of the Caspian Sea, with an occasional one wrapping over its north shore, whereas both of these lines run far North of it. What trade there was coming from the northeast (eastern Europe) appears to have been largely trading in locally-collected slaves.

There were some split/join in the route, somewhat like depicted in the map, but it was going both ways around the first the Aral Sea, then the Taklamakan Desert, just north of Tibet. Both are considerably south and east of the split on the map.

Roman-Chinese trade links

So if trade routes was the concept, its very representational, and nowhere near geographically accurate.

  1. Barbarian invasion routes

Invasions of the Roman Empire

This one would make a bit more representational sense, as those lines are close-ish to the invasion routes taken into the empire by the Huns and Goths. The problem here is it doesn't make much sense in the context of that show, as all three seasons happened centuries before that period (the map says 100AD, but it should be more like 300).

So I think this theory is unlikely.

  1. Artistic Bloodspatter

enter image description here

As suggested by multiple people (particularly justCal in the comments yesterday), another possibility is that this was just an artistic creation of graphic designers who had no real concern for history, but just wanted to depict Rome as a giant bloodspatter on a map. In this case, those lines are just meant to be rivulets of blood, not any serious geographical item.

This theory would make the most sense if that map were generated for the purposes of promoting Season 1, which has the sanguine title of "Commodus: Reign of Blood". Sadly, I've been unable to dig up any further contextual information on this map, so its tough to say.

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  • Personally, I think @justCal has the right of it, but it would be nice to have more contextual information (and it seems like that ought to be doable).
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 1, 2023 at 16:59
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    Blood looks kind of obvious to me. Actually surprised to see so many "serious" answers here.
    – Jan
    Feb 1, 2023 at 17:40
  • @Jan It doesn't really look like blood either. It honestly doesn't look like much of anything, much less anything good.
    – cmw
    Feb 1, 2023 at 18:37
  • The string could be based on (if anything at all) the ancient Steppe Road and/or Amber Road. Check my answer.
    – Elederete
    Feb 2, 2023 at 1:55

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