We may be living through living through the era of “peak TV”, but there remains a wealth of engaging stories from history that have never been adapted for the small screen, with the coverage of many periods still surprisingly sparse. Over the last few years, we’ve seen numerous series based on Rome of every minute of the Second World War, but what about Carthage or Islamic Spain?
The life and times of Carthaginian general and statesman Hannibal Barca are the stuff of legend and yet to date no studio has brought his story to our screens. Back in 2013, The Hollywood Reporter reported that there were rumours of a Halle Berry-produced mini-series being in production with Oscar-nominated scribe Jeffrey Caine penning the project back in 2013, but the series appears to have been shelved.
Hannibal is widely considered one of the greatest military tacticians in history, and it would be interesting to see an adaptation of another society that vied for supremacy around the Mediterranean in the third century BC. Roman historians considered Hannibal the greatest enemy Rome had ever faced, and a dramatic adaptation of a man’s life and opposition to Rome could enthral viewers for a number of seasons.
Umayyad Empire in Spain
The Umayyads were the ruling family of al-Andalus, otherwise known as Islamic Spain, between 756 and 1031. During a period most think of as the “Dark Ages”, al-Andalus was a centre of culture and science that saw major advances in trigonometry, astronomy, and medicine, and home to a multicultural society where Muslims, Christians, and Jews could peacefully coexist.
A series based on Islamic Spain could trace the history of the Umayyad involvement in Europe, from the bloody battles and struggles that defined the early decades, through the years of peaceful progress, and to its eventual bloody end.
Few major TV series have focused on Spain’s medieval history and fewer still on the Umayyads, but with the popularity of shows set around the Enlightenment from Catherine the Great to Casanova, a series highlighting scientific progress a multicultural society during the Umayyad Empire in al-Andalus could provide some fascinating viewing.
Surprising as it may seem for a civilisation that stretched over more than five millennia, depictions of ancient Egypt on the small screen have been few and far between. There have been two miniseries set in ancient Egypt in recent years, Cleopatra (1999) and Tut (2015), but for a time period that has such popular interest there has been surprisingly little recent attention from the world of TV.
Ancient Egypt has been a popular source of inspiration for everything from pop songs like The Bangles 1986 hit ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ to video games like Ubisoft’s cross-platform Assassins Creed Origins, which recreates the history and drama of the era during the Ptolemaic period (49–44 BC). The popularity of the era has even extended into other areas of entertainment including the online casino industry, with the Cleopatra slot available at sites such as Betway being an example of this, but television studios have not greenlit a full-length series about Egypt for decades.
The supposed curse of Tutankhamun’s tomb has been the basis of numerous tabloid articles, books, films, and TV shows over the years. However, these stories tend to be focused on how the curse affected Howard Carter and his associates in the 1920s after they found Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus rather than what happened to the pharaoh or his predecessors. This is a shame, as a historical dive into the 18th Dynasty, would also include other fascinating characters, from Thutmose I, under whose reign Egypt’s borders reached their greatest expanse, to Amenhotep III, who oversaw Egypt at its most prosperous and progressive.
A new series on Egypt could focus on already well-known figures such as Cleopatra or Tutankhamun, both of whom remain some of the most popular exhibits in museums around the world. However, with ancient Egyptian societies facing many challenges, from plagues that some believed would herald the apocalypse to despotic rules and palace intrigue. And with new discoveries being unearthed archaeologists every year, writers would never be lost for new material.
These three areas are all fascinating areas of history that deserve the attention more recognised periods have received in TV shows, so hopefully some of the production companies take a punt on at least one of these in the near future and provide some more variety to an already exciting age of TV.