We still live in the shadow of Ancient Rome – a city at the heart of a vast Empire that stretched from Scotland to Afghanistan, dominating the West for over 700 years.
Prof Mary Beard takes a completely fresh look at Ancient Rome
It was the world’s first city of 1 million people, but how did it operate? What was family life like? And who were the Romans anyway? By decoding epitaphs and piecing together the evidence from objects and archaeology, Mary explores the stories of barmen, prostitutes, children, sailors, slaves and even gladiators. This is Rome from the bottom up.
Episode 1 – All Roads Lead to Rome
All roads lead to Rome… but this isn’t the tale of trading might and imperial power, but a portrait of the world’s first global metropolis as seen through the eyes of the ordinary Roman on the street. Mary rides the Via Appia, climbs up to the top seats of the Colosseum, takes a boat to Rome’s famous port Ostia and takes us into the bowels of Monte Testaccio (broken-pot mountain).
She’ll also meet Eurysaces, ex-slave and eccentric baker, who made a fortune out of the grain trade (building his tomb in the shape of a giant bread-oven), Baricha, Zabda and Achiba (three prisoners of war who went on to become Roman citizens), and Pupius Amicus, the purple-dye seller making imperial dye from murex shellfish imported from Tunisia.
Episode 2 – Highrise City
Mary descends down into the city streets to discover the dirt, crime, sex and slum conditions in the world’s first highrise city. This Rome is not the marble Rome we know, but a vast, messy metropolis, with little urban planning, where most Romans lived in high-rise apartment blocks with little space, light, even sanitation. Forced outdoors into the city streets, she reveals where they went to hang out, get drunk, have sex and get clean; she’ll look at the Forum as a place of gamblers, dentists and thieves.
Finally, exploring law and order from the view of bottom up, Mary will explore how this city really worked. We’ll meet Ancarenus Nothus, an apartment dweller who lived in fear of the rent collector, ‘Notorious’ Primus, who wrote about his three great pleasures in life (‘baths, wine and sex’) and ‘Unlucky’ Doris, a seven year old girl killed in one of Rome’s many fires.
Episode 3 – House and Home
In this final episode, Prof. Mary Beard delves even deeper into ordinary Roman life by going behind the closed doors of their homes. Here, she’ll meet an extraordinary cast of characters - drunken housewives, teenage brides, bullied children and runaway slaves – and paint a more dynamic, lusty picture of Roman family life. She’ll uncover their preserved beds, furniture and cradles, try on Roman wedding rings and meet some eccentric wives like Glyconis (praised by her husband for liking a drink or two) and Allia Potestas (who lived in a Roman ménage a trois). She’ll explore Roman parenting, childbirth and children, including Sulpicius Maximus, an 11-year old schoolboy (worked to death by his pushy parents) and Geminia Mater, a 5-year-old tomboy.
Finally, she’ll paint a more nuanced picture of Roman slavery and ask why if it was such a brutal institution did many Romans choose to be buried with their servants – living cheek by jowl in death, as in life. This is a portrait of the Roman familia as you have never seen it before.
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