James Erwin, an encyclopedia writer and two-time Jeopardy Champ from Des Moines, Iowa, was browsing Reddit on his lunch break one day when he spotted a thread that peaked his interest: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU?

Erwin, who had just finished reading The Encyclopedia of U.S. Military Actions (Through Facts on File), wasn’t satisfied by the responses he saw in the thread, so he spent the remainder of his lunch writing up a brief 350 word story that set out to tell the fictitious tale of the 35th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) disappearing from operations in Kabul and reappearing on the Tiber River in 23 B.C.  When his lunch break was over, he clicked post and returned to his day, unaware that his story had immediately found an audience composed of thousands of Redditors.

Nelson now believes something more terrible has occurred – a nuclear war and EMP which has left his unit completely isolated. Only a few men have realized that the rest of Bagram has vanished, but that will soon become apparent as the transport helos begin circling the 35th’s location.

Erwin wrote in his brief story that would come to make him famous.

By the time he got home that evening, he was already inundated with requests to add to his story.  Overwhelmed by the positive response, Erwin set about writing more, adding to the tale of the imaginary MEU’s war with the Roman legions throughout the evening.  The next day, Erwin was contacted by the Los Angeles based talent management firm, Madhouse Entertainment.  Within a week, Erwin’s story had ballooned to more than 3,500 words – and Warner Brothers Studios contacted him to purchase the rights to make his Reddit posts into a feature-length film.

Erwin titled the story, “Rome, Sweet Rome,” and its popularity on Reddit continued to grow, soon gaining its own subreddit devoted to fan music and art.  His story also received a fair amount of criticism from both historians and real Marines, however.

“You can definitely tell that the story was something that I dashed out on my lunch hour without doing a lot of research beforehand,” Erwin told Popular Mechanics. “Any Marine is going to see mistakes in it, and I’m sure if there were Romans around, they’d say the same thing.”  Erwin intends to remedy this issue as he writes the feature-length screenplay by devoting himself to intensive technical research along the way, intent on doing the United States Marine Corps and their opponents in the Roman legion justice.

While the average Marine Corps MEU is composed of around 2,200 Marines and Sailors, the Roman empire was capable of fielding an army of hundreds of thousands – and while one might think the advanced technology of the modern-day would allow the Marines to make short work of their historical opponents, an inability to resupply with fuel for their vehicles, ammunition, or power sources would soon render the Marines weapon systems and equipment useless.

Roman military expert and author Adrian Goldsworthy believes the Marines real advantage would be their knowledge of history and military tactics, allowing them to engage the Roman army in guerrilla warfare to counter their superior numbers.

“In the short-term and in the open, modern infantry could massacre any ancient soldiers at little risk to themselves,” Goldsworthy said. “But you could not support modern infantry. So all of these weapons and vehicles could make a brief, dramatic, and even devastating appearance, but would very quickly become useless. Probably in a matter of days.”

“Marines are the best warriors ever trained,” he added. “But they can’t fight an endless wave of soldiers. No one can.”

Just how the battle will play out when Warner Brothers begins filming is a secret Erwin is keeping to himself, but the technical writer turned Hollywood script maker says he intends to try his best to do the subject matter justice in a way that makes for an engaging film.

Caesar returns to the Senate, where Murena and a few men exchange knowing glances. “My fellow Romans,” he says simply, “those were machines, not creatures. I’ve seen enough campaigns to know the difference.” Grizzled military veterans in his audience are smart enough not to dwell long on the difference between their field experience and his.

“It appears, gentlemen of the Senate, that we have a war on our hands.”


Image courtesy of Screen Rant