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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 11:50 GMT
Epic Roman drama unveiled
I, Claudius
The BBC's 1970s epic I, Claudius was set in ancient Rome
An epic multi-million pound TV drama set in ancient Rome is being produced by the BBC and US cable network HBO.

It will follow the lives of two ordinary Roman soldiers and their families during the last years of Caesar's reign.

Production on the $60m (35m) project is scheduled to begin next year.

Based at Rome's Cinecitta Studios, with location shoots in Europe and North America, the 12-episode series is expected to air in 2005 on BBC Two.

The project follows the success of the BBC and HBO's co-production of the Emmy Award-winning World War II saga Band of Brothers.

This is one of the most ambitious projects I have come across and its epic scale is inspiring
Jana Bennett, BBC director of programmes
HBO bosses are also said to be fans of the BBC's previous epic series about ancient Rome, the 1970s hit I, Claudius.

TV executives are hailing the drama as a potential small-screen classic.

"Audiences around the world can look forward to a landmark piece of great television," said BBC director of programmes Jana Bennett.

"This is one of the most ambitious projects I have come across and its epic scale is inspiring."

Ancient Rome was successfully dramatised in the movie Gladiator
The BBC will be hoping for a boost to its drama ratings - recent figures show that nine out of the 10 top drama programmes on British TV this year were ITV shows.

The series begins in 51BC as Caesar is at the end of a string of military successes in Gaul, Germany and Britain.

It follows the fortunes of soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, who are rewarded by Caesar for their loyalty and given access to the luxury life of the upper class.

"The audience will be able to experience what life was like in ancient Rome from all points of view," said HBO executive Anne Thomopoulos. "It's historical but highly entertaining."

The project began more than three years ago when producers William J MacDonald and John Milius pitched the idea to HBO as a mini-series.

The US network brought in a writer and, after reading three one-hour scripts, opted to make the project as a series. HBO is best known for dramas such as The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under.

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