If you ever happened to catch HBO’s big-budget period drama series aptly titled Rome or, you know, flicked through a history book at any point in your life, chances are you know a little about the great, almost impossibly rich history of the Roman Empire.
Even if you're unfamiliar with this massive chunk of human history, new eight-part doco series 8 Days That Made Rome provides a thorough, exciting adventure into the annals of Roman history, placing focus on the days that shaped its legacy.
Meet Bettany Hughes, our big-brained host
Hughes is a historian, broadcaster and non-fiction author. Her list of television credits span two decades, ranging from deep-dives into the Spartans, Atlantis, ancient sexual practices, Jesus and, of course, the development of the Roman empire.
This history connoisseur has accumulated numerous awards for her contribution to broadcasting, including the Naomi Sargant Special Award for excellence in educational broadcasting and the 2012 Norton Medlicott Award for services to history by the Historical Association. In other words, you’re in more than capable hands.
Who the heck came up with "Rome wasn’t built in a day"?
Contrary to popular belief, the old adage that claims great things take time to implement didn’t originate in Ancient Rome. In fact, Rome played no part in coining the iconic phrase. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” originated in France.
In medieval times, the collection Li Proverbe au Vilain (circa 1190) was the first publication to mention the proverb. It read as “Rome ne fu pas faite toute en un jour”, and didn’t make the leap into an English proverb until a John Heywood publication in 1953.
So what’s the deal with this “eight day” business?
OK, so we can all sigh in collective disappointment that Rome wasn’t actually built in eight successive days, which isn’t overly surprising considering the legendary city is slightly more elaborate than a Starbucks store.
Rather, Hughes has hand-picked eight days from throughout Roman history that defined its development, traversing bloody battles, tense diplomatic power struggles and hard-fought colonisation.
Why are these eight days so special?
The first episode casts its gaze onto Hannibal’s last stand in 202 BC, when the famed leader led an army in modern-day Tunisia against Carthage in what came to be known as the Battle of Zama. This is the single event that sparked the Roman empire’s ascent to worldwide notoriety.
Other episodes take us from 735 BC, when Spartacus abandoned his status as a slave and led an underclass revolt, to the events leading up to the downfall and death of emperor Nero in 68 AD. We learn about the construction and towering significance of the great Colosseum, we experience the tumultuous task of Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon and we explore the monumental event in 337 AD when Constantine the Great broke Rome free of its pagan past by being baptised a Christian.
With each of these eight historic events, new and surprising light is shed on the formation and transformation of the great Roman Empire, and it’s a marvel to behold.
8 Days That Made Rome airs Sundays at 7:35pm on SBS. Missed the first episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand: