Bravo’s The Real Housewives is my Roman Empire. I mean, the Roman Empire is also my Roman Empire, as a classics student. One way or another, I love and am obsessed with The Real Housewives and history.
For some reason though, when I tell people this, they look at me like I grew a second head. Unless of course they have seen the show — then their eyes sparkle. Because honestly, The Real Housewives and history have more in common than you would think.
They are both gossip.
History is gossip mostly written down by men, about men studied by men. In my opinion, The Real Housewives is gossip told by women viewed mainly by women, and is about women.
Both illustrate events, themes and lessons that we can learn from. Both discuss alliances, marriages, affairs, divorces, prejudices, religion, frauds, lies, declarations of war and more.
These similarities pervade The Real Housewives, especially in specific relationships or events.
Take The Real Housewives of New York City (RHONY) for instance. The show reminds me of the evolution of the Roman Empire. The Roman monarchy lays out the general vibe of the future empire with the Books of Sibylline, which supposedly predicted the future, while the first seasons of RHONY lay out some of the raw craziness to come. Specifically, the season three cast trip, nicknamed “Scary Island.”
This cast trip is one of the most dramatic trips in the early seasons and comes with some still-iconic lines in RHONY. The ladies take a vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Housewife Kelly Bensimon becomes “cuckoo for cocoa puffs” and believes fellow Housewife Bethenny Frankel is out to kill her. All the while, Housewife Ramona Singer is trying to escape for some fun “turtle time.”
The following seasons lay out who Bravo will follow through storylines and who will lead the show. This is similar to the Patricians, the ruling class group of families, that were impactful in the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
While RHONY has Housewife Aviva Drescher lose the plot and scream, “the only fake thing about me is this!” while throwing her prosthetic leg onto the table in the season six finale, “The Last Leg,” the Romans have the Punic Wars, in which Hannibal crossed the Alps in 16 days with his army of 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 war elephants, followed later by Hannibal’s tactical masterpiece against the Romans at the Battle of Cannae.
Both of these events marked pivotal moments for the show and state, respectively. Drescher finally left the show, fan-favourites “the countess” Luann de Lesseps and Frankel returned and Dorinda Medley joined the cast. Meanwhile, Rome finally got control over long-time enemy Carthage and Roman hegemony over the western Mediterranean.
The Roman Empire holds some of the most iconic and truly insane moments in history, as does RHONY seasons eight through eleven.
De Lesseps is truly on par with the entire Julio-Claudian family for the insanity she instigates. Caligula planned to name his favourite horse a consul, de Lesseps wiggles her way out of handcuffs in an attempt to escape arrest from the Palm Beach police. Nero ignored his responsibilities as emperor to be a musician while Rome was burning, de Lesseps ignored Frankel’s concerns over her then-fiancé’s cheating even when faced with photos and multiple eyewitnesses.
There, of course, is the downfall. For Rome, it began in late antiquity with the crisis of the late third century, which was plagued by enemies, illnesses and economic downturn. In RHONY, the age differences between the audience and the women catches up to them. Specifically in seasons 12 and 13, when the women seem only satiated by exorbitant amounts of alcohol and make multiple racist comments toward Housewife Eboni K. Williams, the first Black Housewife in RHONY history.
Both however get a bit of a revamp. RHONY completely scraps the cast to bring on a group of younger, hip and more diverse women, while the Roman Empire scraps itself to become the Holy Roman Empire. Same name, but completely new group of players and a vibe change.
The similarities between the franchise and history don’t stop just at major themes, but also iconic sayings. The Roman Republic has the phrase “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” Latin for “The Senate and People of Rome.” The Real Housewives have their opening statements for every intro to an episode. One of my favourites being Singer’s tagline in season 9, “I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me, acquire some taste!”
Beyond the realm of phrases consistently used in the show or empire, there are still the iconic one-liners.
One of the most well-known from The Real Housewives is from the season nine reunion of The Real Housewives of Orange County. In the episode, Housewife Tamra Judge goes from zero to ten thousand while discussing Vicki Gunvalson’s then-boyfriend Brooks Ayers, suddenly screaming “That’s my opinion!” across the couches.
Although the Roman ones might have had less screaming, it doesn’t make them any less iconic. Such as “Veni, vidi, vici” translated in English to “I came, I saw, I conquered” said by Julius Caesar after winning a battle in Asia Minor.
Even if you don’t realize it, these themes and sayings have made an impact on our modern society from the way we interact to the sayings we use. Everything can be seen in a larger lens through ancient history or reality TV shows such as The Real Housewives.