Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 1/3 – HD

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 1/3 – HD


This is the Appian Way, one of the roads that took
thousands of Romans in and out of their capital city
every day. Young and old, rich and poor,
clean and dirty. And it’s where I want to start, asking a question
that really interests me. Who were the ancient Romans? Outside the city, it was lined with
thousands and thousands of tombs, so before you got into the city of
Rome, you’d already met the Romans. Dead ones, that is. And the lives of many of them
began or ended a long way from Rome. This is just a tiny
fragment of someone’s tomb. Someone called Eschinus. “Occisus est in Lusitania”. He was murdered in Spain. This lady’s Usia Prima, a priestess of
the Egyptian goddess Isis, and there’s her
little sacred rattle. She’s almost looking at you. I feel like saying,
“Pleased to meet you, Prima.” They come from every walk of life
and every part of the Empire, and a lot of them
had once been slaves. These aren’t the kind of guys
we usually think of when we think of Romans. These Romans all lived
at the centre of a vast Empire that stretched from Spain to Syria, and which dominated the
Western world for over 700 years. Like it or not, ancient Rome
is still all around us, in our roads, laws and architecture. We keep on recreating it
in film and fiction, and every year,
thousands of us trek here to see its monuments up close, and to imagine
the emperors and the armies, the gladiators,
and let’s be honest, the gore. But hidden all over the modern city, in its walls, behind the facades, even under its streets, is something much harder to find
but just as captivating – the forgotten voices
of the ordinary people. They’re still there,
if you know where to look. Calidius Eroticus
means “Mr Hot Sex”. This is a Roman menage a trois. This wasn’t just a mugging. This was mass murder. The Romans didn’t just carve their
names and dates on their tombstones. Keen never to be forgotten, they left their thoughts, their achievements, even entire life
stories chiselled into stone. It’s a unique record
of real Roman lives. I’ve spent most of my life
with the ancient Romans, and not just the big guys –
the emperors, the politicians, the generals, the posh ones. The people I’ve most enjoyed getting
to know are the ordinary ones, who had their own part to play
in the story of this extraordinary city. And what gets to me every time is that we can still have
a conversation with them – even 2,000 years later. In this series, I’m going to get
their voices speaking again, to piece together a very different
story of life in ancient Rome. I’ll step behind the doors
of their homes to meet flesh and blood Roman families
whose lives and possessions can reflect our own
in surprising ways. This is something a bit special. She’s not just Barbie,
she’s Empress Barbie. I’ll go down into the streets,
where the dirt, crime, sex and humour in everyday
Roman life shows us what it was like to live in
an ancient city of a million people. “Baths, wine and sex,”
he said, “ruin your body.” True. But they’re what makes life
really worth living. But I’ll start by telling
the real story of Imperial Rome, looking beyond
the violence and spectacle to find a global city which reached
for talent and treasure from the far ends of the earth – a place where everything and
everyone was from somewhere else. These are the Romans
I’m interested in. Welcome to my Rome. When you arrived in Rome at its
imperial height 2,000 years ago, you found yourself
in a new kind of city. Rome had once been
a small city-state, but in conquest after conquest, it became capital of a vast Empire, a place in which,
for the first time in history, a million people from three
continents managed to live together. One thing we know about Rome is
it wasn’t just a city, it was an Empire, and for us,
that means marauding armies, conquering generals
and bloodthirsty emperors. We tend not to think
about the ordinary people who lived here
at the very heart of it all. For them, the Empire brought them
into contact with a whole world, from Scotland to Afghanistan, and it made this city
a more cosmopolitan place than anywhere had ever
been before or would be again for hundreds of years. And we’re always asking,
“What did the Romans do for us?” I think we should be asking, “What did the Empire do
to the Romans? “And who were those Romans, anyway?” Around the city, there’s more
evidence than you’d think for the impact
that Roman conquest had on the lives
of ordinary people here. All it requires is that we look
from a slightly different angle. One of the most famous
monuments in the forum celebrates the moment when
one conquering army came home. In 71 AD, the city got a day off for the triumphal return of the
emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, who had crushed
a rebellion in Judea. We’ve got here
the victorious general, Titus, driving through the streets of Rome
in his chariot to celebrate his victory… ..and on the other side, we’ve got the booty
that he’s brought home with him. Titus had devastatingly conquered
the Jews, and here we can see the loot that
he has got from the Jewish temple. It’s a grand display, but what I want to do is to try and undercut
the pomposity of it a bit, and to ask
what was it like for the people, the ordinary Romans
who showed up to watch this, left their apartments
and came to see the spectacle? A triumph like this would have been
the first sight the Roman people had of all the things the armies brought
back from their distant victories. The rich spoils, the maps
of the conquered territory, the models of the fighting, even the trees that they’d uprooted
and brought back to Rome. How did people react? Some must have gasped, others
would have jeered the captives. Or maybe their minds
were on other things. One Roman poet recommends
the triumphal procession as a place to pick up a girl. How would you do it? Well, he says, watch the stuff
go past, nudge up to her and say, “Ooh. I think that’s
the Euphrates there, “and that’s the Tigris over there.” You don’t have to know, he says,
you just have to sound confident. And then you’ll make
your own conquest! It’s a good joke. But it also hints at the way
Roman lives could be changed by the spoils coming back
from the Empire. This girl can’t have been
the only person who found all this pretty strange, but also exciting. So what did the Roman armies
bring back from the Empire? The import that made
the biggest impact is one we don’t think about
often enough – human beings. These are forgotten people,
but if we take the time to listen, we can still hear the voices
of some of the millions who followed the Roman armies
into the city for all sorts of different reasons. “This is for my brother,
Habibi Annu from Palmyra. “I’m Germanus,
Regulus’ mule driver.” “This is for Diocles,
champion chariot racer from Spain.” Here we’ve got a young slave girl,
age 17, Phryne, the slave of Tertulla. “Africana”. She came from Africa. This one is put up by a soldier
for his wife Carnuntilla, born near Vienna
in ancient Pannonia. What’s weird is that Carnuntilla
isn’t really a real name. It comes from the name of a town
in Pannonia, Carnuntum. It means, sort of,
“my babe from Carnuntum”. So my guess is, he perhaps bought this girl
as a slave, he freed her, he brought her
back to Rome, he married her. But sadly, his babe from Carnuntum
died when she was just 19. Poignant stories like this
are everywhere in the city. They’re reminders
of the different ways real lives could begin abroad
and end in Rome. But there’s more to it than that. These people weren’t just
brought in to serve the Romans. They were becoming Romans. One of the tombs on the Appian Way gives us the other side
of the story of the Arch of Titus. It’s a tombstone of three guys, one called Baricha,
one called Zabda, and one called Achiba –
typical Jewish names. So the question is, what’s the story
of Baricha, Zabda and Achiba? How did they get here? If they did start out life in Judea, how come they end up
as Roman citizens in Rome? It’s more surprising than you think. To judge from the letters and
how they’re written on this stone, this was carved in
the first century AD, and at that point,
we can put two and two together. I’m almost certain that these
three men must have been part of the Jewish
rebellion against the Romans in the late 60s AD. These men surely came into Rome
with Titus’ army, as prisoners of war. It must have seemed like
the worst moment of their lives – jeered at, catcalls,
people throwing things at them. But perhaps worse was to come. They were auctioned off as slaves and bought by a man called
Lucius Valerius. What their life in slavery was like,
we don’t know, but he freed them, and they become new Roman citizens, with his name, Lucius Valerius, but their Jewish names still asserting their Jewish
sense of identity. This is one of the ways
that Roman conquest works. It does bring slaves,
but it also brings, eventually, new Roman citizens. It’s a fairy-tale happy ending, and a classic Roman story. When guys like this were freed, they didn’t just go back
to their old lives in Judea. They stayed in their new home,
and what’s more, they became Romans,
with all the rights and privileges which came with full
Roman citizenship. But what kept them in Rome?
How many of them were there? And where did
all these new Romans live? To try and make sense of it all, I went to meet a colleague
in Trastevere, which literally means “across the Tiber
from the ancient city centre”. It’s got a reputation as a bit of
an immigrant area in Rome even now. This area, Trastevere,
across the Tiber, was the fringe
of the ancient city of Rome, and this is where we have
the biggest evidence for immigrant communities –
Jews, the Syrians. I guess if you said
to an ancient Roman, “Where’s the biggest immigrant area
of the ancient city of Rome?” They’d have said… Over the river.
Over. On the other side, yeah. Part of the answer to the question of why an area like this
could be so cosmopolitan lies in the story of slaves
like Baricha, Zabda and Achiba. Greeks thought Romans
were really weird for freeing as many slaves
as they did. And making them citizens? Yes. Although it’s very brutal, being a slave can be a kind of stage
in a life, like an apprenticeship. You come in as a German, you get
a Roman name, you learn Latin, or you learn to manage in Latin, you learn some kind of job
that’s useful to your master, your master sets you free,
and there you are – you’re a Roman citizen
with a trade and a Roman name and a bunch of powerful people
you know. Yeah. This is your entry
into Roman society. Now, multiply that by hundreds
and thousands of slaves being freed, and you can see that the whole
ethnic nature of the people who call themselves
Roman citizens is really changing very quickly. Roman is a kind of vocation. It’s a movement into which
other people are drawn. This was a completely new idea. And, in many ways,
the secret of the Empire’s success. “Roman” was no longer a word which
described the city you came from, it was something you could become. Almost everyone in Rome
was descended from someone who arrived from outside. Not just ex-slaves. People coming in to work on
the docks. Builders. Prostitutes. Peasants, who’d come into Rome because they think they can eat
there cos they can’t eat at home. So, this huge, chaotic mix of people
who arrive not knowing anybody. These were journeys
into the unknown, and into a place where there was
no guarantee you would survive. And, oddly, that was one reason
that Rome welcomed people in. Any city the size of Rome
has to have immigration because the number of people
who die in it greatly exceeds the number
who are born. Rome’s a malarial city, in antiquity. So people come here
who don’t have any immunity. They catch the disease.
They’re dead within years. So, just to keep Rome the size it is, it needs to constantly top up
the population. Rome is swallowing people. It’s a city which consumes people. It spews them out, dead. Perhaps we should stop thinking
of Romans as a nation, a master race
who conquered the world, and think instead
of a Babel of rootless people, piled up together,
a long way from home. And, no doubt,
hoping for a brighter future. Because, for foreigners,
Rome wasn’t all doom and gloom. Sometimes, I guess,
people would have come to Rome just to seek their fortunes. This is an epitaph,
written in Greek, of a man who’s said to have been
always laughing, always having a joke
and really good at music. He might have come
as part of a band, I guess. And, actually, the stone tells us that he came, “To the land of Italy, ex-Asiaes”. “From Asia”. That’s modern Turkey. It says he died here
when he was young and it ends up saying, “toy noma Menopholos”, in Greek. “Menopholos” is the name. Now,
Rome might have consumed people. It might have been
a dangerous place. It might have been disease-ridden
and dirty, but I guess,
to a man like Menopholos, the streets must have seemed paved
with gold. And not all immigrants in Rome
were at the bottom of the heap. The Senate and the Imperial Palace were full of people from outside, just like the streets
of Trastevere. Rome was international,
from the bottom to the very top. ACCORDION PLAYS Increasingly, this city belonged
to the likes of Menopholos. As new people arrived, Rome’s population doubled,
then doubled again, till it reached over a million. There was nowhere in Europe bigger,
until Victorian London. We think of Rome as a very old city. But, 2,000 years ago, this place was brand new. It must have been full
of building sites, new high-rise,
of temporary accommodation. It must have felt a bit like Dubai. But there’s a big question. If you’ve got a mass of
a million people, from everywhere, how do you keep them alive?
How do you feed them? How do you keep the vast Roman
multi-cultural show on the road? Feeding a million people was a
completely unprecedented challenge. Bang in the centre
of the modern city is a site which gives you an idea of the colossal scale
of consumption in Ancient Rome. Locals call it Monte Testaccio. That’s “broken pot mountain”. I think it’s one of the most
extraordinary archaeological sites anywhere in the world. Phew! Made it. This is absolutely extraordinary. ‘Each of these fragments ‘was once part
of an Ancient Roman storage jar.’ What is amazing about this, is that you really see here that it is a broken pot mountain. There’s no earth
mixed in with the other stuff. So, you see how,
actually quite neatly, these shards of pottery
have been stacked. It’s a mountain, not a heap. It’s a real hill. But there’s nothing natural
about it. This is a huge,
ancient rubbish dump, composed entirely
of discarded containers – amphorae – that held just one
of the products consumed by Rome. It was olive oil,
which seeped into the jars, and made them go really rancid, so they were the only containers
that couldn’t be recycled. Poor old amphorae had taken off
to be pick-axed up and made into the mountain. And the olive oil
that was in them gets everywhere. It’s the stuff of Roman life. You’d find it being used in cooking. It’s what’s going to help you
make perfume. It’s what the guys in the baths
who are exercising, rubbing themselves, scraping
themselves down, would have used. And in the end, it’s what the poor
little old lady in the garret, who has just got one pottery lamp… What came in this amphora would
have been her only source of light, at night. It’s no exaggeration
to say that Rome ran on olive oil. This place gives archaeologists
a great opportunity to work out how it got here. It came in massive quantities. This must have been what,
originally…? Even larger. Even larger than that? These are 30 kilos
when they’re empty. Empty, yes. My suitcase, when it’s full, is this amphora when it’s empty. ‘And what’s amazing is
that you can often find out ‘exactly where the oil came from.’ We know that it is “A-R-V-A”. Arva is a town called this way in the shores of the Guadalquivir. So, that’s linking
that precise chart to a site in southern Spain. So, Roman town, southern Spain. The guy who is making this amphora is stamping it with his town’s name, saying, “This is a product of Arva”?
Yeah. According to these trademarks, almost all the oil in this mountain
was coming from Spain, and a bit from North Africa. Today, Italy is famous
for its olive oil, but in ancient times, they were importing most of it
from somewhere else. The fascinating thing
about this mountain is the way you can start to piece
together little life stories of these pots and their contents. It gets down to the coast in Spain, gets loaded onto boats. If it’s lucky, it makes it, but there’s lots of shipwrecks
in the ancient Mediterranean. It arrives at the coast.
It’s humped off the boat. It’s put into barges. It’s brought up the Tiber
to the city of Rome itself. Humped off the boat again, put into warehouses, decanted into small containers. The amphorae end up here. It might not look it at first sight, but, in fact, it’s one of the most
impressive monuments to the idea of Rome as
an imperialist, consumer city, bringing in the foodstuffs she needs
from all around the Mediterranean. It wasn’t just olive oil. A short trip down the river Tiber is the seaport, Ostia. ‘Today, Ostia is one of Rome’s
best-kept secrets. ‘And it helps us discover what
Rome was importing, from where.’ ‘Martin Millett
has been excavating near here, ‘and together, we went to explore
an intriguing piazza ‘next to the theatre, which we call,
“The Square of the Corporation”.’ OK, Martin. This is where
I get to do the housework. Never live this down! ‘If you sweep away the pine needles, ‘there are mosaics all around here, ‘advertising companies
importing goods from abroad.’ “Stuppatoresres”. BOTH: Rope-makers! This is the organisation
of fur traders. The Naviculariorum Lignariorum, That’s the wood-traders. So, what we’ve got so far is… Rope, pelts, and wood. ‘There are at least 50
of these mosaics. ‘Most of them give us a place
as well as a product. ‘They add up to one conclusion. ‘Rome was being supplied from all
corners of the Mediterranean.’ Italy’s not big enough
to support the city of Rome. It is a city that’s drawing in
resources from everywhere. This was a new moment
in western history. Rome had become what we now call
“a consumer city”, on a vast scale.
These aren’t luxury products, they’re basic commodities. Wood, leather, oil, wine and, most important by far,
grain. People talk about Rome
being a consumer city, with a population
of about a million. That implies 150,000 metric tonnes
of grain a year. I don’t know how big
those ships are, but you need a lot of ships
like that to bring in 150,000 metric tonnes
of grain. ‘As the city grew, ‘farms in Sicily, Libya,
and then Egypt, ‘were given over to producing wheat
for the people of Rome. When the grain ships
arrived in Italy, the word would pass round Rome. The food had arrived. This was one thing the Empire
did for Rome. It kept them alive. But it did more than that. I want to think about life
in that consumer city. Who were the winners,
and who were the losers? One really interesting thing is
how they used this imported grain. That means thinking about bread.
Not just eating it, but making it. I’m very much
second-in-command here. THEY LAUGH OK, so, I’m now being trusted
with the action. 200,000 Roman citizens,
living in the city of Rome, got, each month,
what was called a corn dole, a free ration of corn, that means about 35 to 40 kilos
of corn. Which was enough to make bread
for a month for about two people. ‘This was an extraordinary privilege
for citizens in Rome. ‘200,000 of them received
free rations from the state. ‘But how did it work? ‘Many of them lived in one-room
apartments with no kitchens. ‘So they relied on the baker
to turn their 40 kilos ‘into something they could eat.’ Ha ha! Are you going to try it? Yeah. Proviamo. Good. Not bad for a first attempt. It’s not bad. And also,
it’s wonderful people’s food, this is…
this is tearing and sharing bread. You don’t even have to own a bread
knife to be able to tuck into this. Good. ‘For poor Romans, this was the
staple food that kept them alive. ‘But they didn’t distribute it
in the way we would expect.’ You’ve got to put out of your mind,
I think, this was some kind of
proto-welfare state. Sure, some of the poor
would have benefited from the grain, but charity wasn’t what was
uppermost in the Emperor’s mind when he put all that time and money
into distributing this grain. What he was concerned about
was the idea that a hungry populace
was a dissatisfied populace, and a dissatisfied populace
was a dangerous one. Also, the fact that distributions
didn’t go to the poorest in Rome, they went only to Roman citizens
themselves – you had to be a citizen
in order to get this grain. And that made it a really important
perk of being a full Roman. In a way, what this tells us
is that being a full citizen of Rome was a privileged status
to which outsiders could aspire. And perks like the grain handout
help you understand why people wanted to be Roman. But it also shows us
that all these things, the Empire, the imports, new citizens,
were all part of the cycle. The bigger Rome got,
the more it consumed, the bigger the Empire had to be
to support it. So, how did Rome’s massive
consumption change life in the city? Well, for one thing,
this was one of the best times
in history to be a baker. And it’s a baker who left one
of the strangest monuments in Rome. Now hidden beneath one
of the main city gates. It’s the tomb monument of a man
called Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces. He is almost certainly an ex-slave, and he was a baker and a contractor. He must have made a whole pile
of money in that job, otherwise he wouldn’t be able
to afford a tomb like this. What Eurysaces has done
is given himself a theme tomb. At the very top,
all around the monument, there were scenes
from the life of the bakery. It’s the kneading, putting the bread
in the oven, weighing the stuff out. And even these rather strange
circles and columns underneath will be instantly recognisable
to a Roman as bakery equipment. The circles are almost certainly
the kneading machines, and the columns are the bins
in which the dough is kneaded. What this says in Latin is,
“This is the tomb of Eurysaces, “the baker and contractor,
‘apparet’.” It’s obvious. Or what I think we’d say, “This is
the monument of the baker, get it?” And I really like the way that,
“get it”, still speaks to us
2,000 years later. Have we got that
this is the tomb of the baker? Yeah. Eurysaces could joke because
things had gone pretty well for him. His name sounds Greek, so,
most likely he came from abroad, but he ended up as one of
a new class of people getting rich on the proceeds of
Empire. I’ve got a tremendous soft spot
for Eurysaces, but I doubt that all Romans
would have felt that way. My guess is that if some old money,
old-fashioned Roman walked past this tomb, he would’ve
thought it was all a bit tacky. A bit like I might feel if some
Premier league football player designed his own tomb in the shape
of a giant football boot. What Eurysaces’ joke reminds us is
that the Empire had a direct effect on how people in Rome
made their living. It was becoming a city of urban
professionals. One of the reasons that ancient Rome
still seems quite familiar to us is that people could do
a whole variety of different jobs,
just like us. But it’s important not to forget that, obvious as that seems, it was actually one of the ways
in which the city of Rome
was radically new and different. In the traditional, small,
ancient city, the idea was that the inhabitants
were, well, all-rounders, that the same men
fought the city’s wars, ploughed the city’s fields
and produced the city’s food. But in Imperial Rome, because of
the huge size of the city, those duties were outsourced. The food now came from overseas. It wasn’t made by local farmers. And the armed forces that were
stationed around the Roman Empire, they weren’t just citizens
doing their military duty, they were making a career
out of the military. The Empire freed,
or you might say forced, Romans to make a living
by specialising. Whether that was being a pearl
trader, a warehouse manager, or even a hairstylist
to the rich and famous. What this did
was create a completely new way of differentiating between people. If you’d asked an Egyptian
or a Greek who they were, they’d have given their father’s
name, or their home town. If you’d ask the average Roman, I bet he would have told you
what he did for a living. They do on their tombstones
at any rate. These guys are working
in the “piperataria”. That’s the pepper market. These are just warehouse men,
“horreoreorum”. And here’s a bloke,
he’s a “sagarius” – a big overcoat maker. A “saga” is an ancient equivalent
of a duffle coat. An accounts manager?! She’s great, she’s a “piscatrix”.
She’s a female fishmonger. And he was a gold worker. And here is an urn, an ash urn, for a lady called Sellia Epyre and she was an “aurivestrix”. She was a very, very, very
upmarket clothes maker. It’s very striking how each one
of these people does tell you on their tombstone
what they did. Now, I think we have to relate that to the sheer size
and potential anonymity of a great, imperial metropolis. In a world without ID cards,
without passports, without birth certificates, how do you know what you are,
who you are? You know that because of your job. I am Sellia Epyre, a luxury clothes maker. How do you make your identity clear?
You say, “This is what I do.” This is where Imperial Rome
gets really fascinating for me. This is not simply a story
of one city getting rich off the back of everywhere else. It’s a story of a place where people
were trying a new way of living. They arrived from across the world, and became a small cog
in this big machine. You maybe didn’t know
your neighbours, and they didn’t know you. Everyone was looking for new ways
to make their mark and stand out. The Empire didn’t only help people
to move up in the world, it helped those who did
to show that they had made it. It created new opportunities
for conspicuous consumption. The Empire gave most people
in western Europe their first experience of pepper,
lemons, and cherries. One po-faced Roman complained that cooking had gone
from a mere function to a high art. The Empire transformed
the sensory experience of the city. There were new smells, new tastes,
new colours. And nowhere is this clearer
than in the elaborate paintings many better-off Romans
put on their walls. In Pompeii is perhaps the most
famous Roman painting of all. Pretty strange scene,
phallus appearing, and some female suckling a goat. But it was probably the colours
that would have dazzled
an ancient visitor, as much as the racy subject matter. Now, you mustn’t make the mistake
of thinking that poor old Romans
lived in black-and-white until they started conquering
the Mediterranean. Of course, there were all kinds
of local minerals and plants that would give them pigments
for paint. But as time went on, they got more and more interested
in the special, bright colours that you could get
from their far-flung territories. Now, this here is one of the best
candidates there is for real red, Spanish vermillion. Lovely, lustrous red. I think we have to imagine
that if you came to dinner here and the generous host
started showing you round, he might have come and said, “Now this lady here is whipping this
one because etcetera, etcetera.” But he might have said, “It’s
a really lovely red, isn’t it? “Actually, it’s Spanish vermillion,
specially imported, “all the way from Spain.
I paid for it as an extra myself.” We live in a world of cheap,
bright, synthetic colours. But the Romans didn’t. In Rome, bright colours smacked of
a kind of luxury
that only came from abroad. And the desire for them created
an even more niche range of jobs for ordinary Romans on the make. This is a guy who was really keen
on what he did. He put up this tombstone
when he was alive, “vivos fecit”, for himself and for his family. He put on it symbols of
the tools of his trade. Now, he worked as a dyer,
in the dying industry. And you’ve got here little flasks
in which his dye went, scales in which he measured out
his ingredients, and the skeins of material
that he dyed. But he wasn’t any old dyer. At the top, he tells us his name. Caius Pupius Amicus. Pupurarius – he was a dyer
of purple. In Rome, purple was special. It came from
the eastern Mediterranean and it was extracted from
tiny shellfish. It looked spectacular
and it didn’t fade. It was not only expensive, it’s use came to be
regulated by law. If you saw a man in the street
wearing a toga with a broad, purple stripe, you’d know that
he must be a senator, one of the political elite. The only person later on
in the Roman Empire who was allowed to wear clothes
completely of purple, was the Roman Emperor himself. It’s kind of colour policing. It’s a bit like as if
Queen Elizabeth II was the only person in the country
who was allowed to wear pink. But it tells you quite a lot
about Rome and the Roman Empire, that this one very visible marker
of political and social status should have been the product
of something that came from the far-eastern side
of the Mediterranean. No wonder Caius Pupius Amicus
was proud of being a pupurarius. The story of colour isn’t just
a story of luxury, it’s a story of identity. The power that
conspicuous consumption had to mark you out as someone special, whether you were supplying them
or consuming them. All these imports helped you
distinguish yourself. Like products and people, even new gods arrive from
far-flung parts of the empire. You could have your own style,
your own taste, your own beliefs. But let’s not get too carried away
by all this exotic stuff that the empire offered up. What the foreign purple
on the senator’s toga tells us is that you could be completely
foreign and absolutely Roman at the same time. The Romans had a way of
thinking about other cultures that is quite unlike our own. We mustn’t make the mistake
of imagining that Rome is a sort of
touchy-feely cultural melting pot. Yes. If you wear the wrong clothes,
they make fun of you, if you speak strangely,
they make fun of you. They’re big conformists.
There’s too many Greeks here, the Jews don’t eat food properly
on the Sabbath, all that sort of stuff. Why don’t they eat pork? How silly! The poet Martial, who is going on
about the puella Romana who hasn’t experienced
a mentula Romana. The Roman chick
who’s never had a Roman dick. You know, it’s crude stuff,
but nasty in its way. ‘The irony is, the man
who wrote this came from Spain. ‘They’re not laughing
at other races, ‘they’re laughing about people
who don’t do things the Roman way.’ Although people come to this city
from all over the world, you don’t end up with
a Chinatown or a Little Italy in the way that we have in
the great metropolitan cities today. These people are ruling the world,
the senators govern Portugal, govern in Egypt,
they govern along the Danube, and they never come back and say, “I had this great meal
the other day.” They’ll talk about ingredients
from all over the world, but you do with it,
the actual cuisine, the cooking, it’s got to end up
proper Roman cookery. They’ve got this city
that is unlike anything that has been created before. It has a much greater diversity of people, of customs, of languages, thousands of languages probably,
hundreds of languages at least, spoken in the city of Rome. But they only write in Greek
and Latin more or less all the time, a tiny bit of Hebrew. What we are seeing here is the most culturally, ethnically, religiously diverse city that there had ever been
in the world, but the way they are
doing multiculturalism is quite different from the way
we do multiculturalism. Yes. There is cultural diversity, but what there isn’t is a diversity of cultures. There’s an ironic logic here. Because Roman culture was in itself
such an amalgam, they simply saw no need for alternative cultures
to exist in parallel, still less to respect them. In Rome, diversity wasn’t
about separateness. There wasn’t a Chinatown
or even a Jewish quarter. In fact, your average Roman
would have been amazed at the way we try to respect
and preserve different cultures. Here, the people were
from everywhere, the food came from everywhere, the gods were from everywhere, but it all went into the blender and it came out Roman. The empire was doing
two things to Rome. They were parading all the exotic
and luxurious strangeness of the outside world. But at the same time,
the distinction between Romans and the subject peoples was dissolving all the time. Eventually, every free adult male
in the empire could call himself a Roman citizen. For me, there’s one place which captures the contradictions
of Imperial Rome… There was a people’s palace here –
it was the Colosseum. It was built and paid for
out of the spoils of the Jewish War as a gift to the Roman people. But one thing’s for sure, some of
them had to climb a lot of stairs! I’m in the only part
of the Colosseum that I’d be allowed to go to. Women, slaves and other undesirables
in the Roman world had to be up on the gods. So what does it look like from
the undesirables’ point of view? Let’s not think for a moment
about the blood and guts – there was certainly plenty of that. Let’s think of it
in terms of Empire. What you had on display
in front of you was all the biggest and best
the Empire could offer. People often compare this
to a football match, but if so, this is not just Premier
League, this is the World Cup. Fantastic combat, weird, exotic creatures, animals you could only
have dreamt of. When this place opened, they even had a rhinoceros
running wild down there. This is one place
we can see the Roman Empire from the ordinary person’s-eye view. This guy is looking at the show
and then… During a pause,
or while he wasn’t looking at it, he’s scratching the scene
that he was seeing in the arena. And what have we got? We can see wild animals,
like a panther… There’s two bears!
..and a couple of bears. Right. And Bestiarius. And Bestiarius.
Look at those muscles in his arm, biceps or whatever they are, a really muscly bloke. I think this is great, because it not only gives us
a spectator’s viewpoint but it also captures that moment
of what it was like to be here. ‘This guy wasn’t alone. ‘The Romans just couldn’t get enough
of drawing the beasts ‘they ogled in the Colosseum.’ ‘When you saw them
for the first time, ‘these exotic animals
must have been breathtaking. ‘The same goes for
the other stars of the show – ‘the human performers.’ This is a fantastic treat for me because it’s a real-live
gladiator’s helmet – or a real-dead gladiators helmet –
from Pompeii. It’s very weird and heavy. If you pick it up, it’s got a great crest on it and a bust of Hercules
just facing out at you, just to scare the opponent. I can’t quite put it on but I can get the feeling
of what it’s like having it on. What it makes you see is
it’s jolly heavy and you get a very,
very difficult view from inside because everything’s kind of
shaded off both by the peak
and by the protective grill. I mean, I don’t quite see how you would know where
the blasted enemy was, honestly. The other thing about it is it looks
to us fantastically weird and I think it would look like that
to the Romans too. The point about these gladiators is that they’re not dressed
in standard Roman army issue. They’re not the kind of
fighters you’d see if you went to fight the Barbarians. These are mad, weird,
exotic foreign costumes, meant to exude
the mysterious outside world and all the violence
that there might be in it. In a way I think, what we’re seeing
here is sort of a fancy dress. I think what you’d get
the sense was… that people would come to see
the costume as much as they’d come
to see you. Margh! Where do I go now? Hard to see! So, when I think about
gladiatorial combat, I know that some of it was
to the death. People did get killed. But more, and more often, it was a show, it was a spectacle,
it was theatre. In my mind, it’s kind of more like
the sort of charade of wrestling than the real-life combat
of boxing. And part of the reason for that
was simply economics. You’ve got hundreds of gladiators,
they’re extremely expensive, you don’t want them killed off
too often. Bit of a disparity of size here
but I’m afraid Thraex is out. Whoops! We have a victorious Murmillo. Congratulations! To the Romans, gladiators
represented a violent fantasy of the outside world
fighting in their midst. But there’s a fascinating irony in the real origins of the men
behind the masks. I’ve got a wonderful drawing,
an old drawing here, the original stone
has long ago been lost, but it’s a tombstone of a man
called Marcus Antonius Exochus, who tells us he came from
Alexandria to fight in some gladiatorial games
put on by the Emperor Trajan. And here’s another text
of a tombstone, put up by a man called Phouskinos, who was a provocateur,
another sort of gladiator. His tombstone’s in Greek and
he tells us that he was an Egyptian. These gladiators came from the same
wildly different backgrounds as everyone else in Rome. But their real stories were
much more mundane than the exotic roles they were
forced to play in the arena. It reveals the kind of smoke
and mirrors aspect of all this because underneath all that, some gladiators were pretty
domestic, or they certainly ended up so. They finished up,
perhaps long retired, longish life, wife and kids. One of the nicest ones is a man here who lived to the age of 45. He’d come from Tungria,
he was a Belgian. But the tombstone is put up to him
by his wife and little Justus, his son. Even Exochus , exotic as he looks, seems to have ended up life,
to judge from his name, as a Roman citizen. He presumably retired and lived out his life
somewhere in suburban Italy. A bit like Marcus Antonius Exochus
of Tunbridge Wells. An Egyptian playing the part
of a Thracian warrior, then settling down
as a Roman family man? To me, that’s Imperial Rome
in a nutshell. The Colosseum dramatised
this frightening, thrilling idea of Rome
and the outside world. It’s all violence,
confrontation and strangeness. The truth is that the real Empire
was not just fighting in the arena, it was sitting in the seats. There are places in the Colosseum
reserved for the Gaditani, the people of Cadiz in Spain, for an African senator
and a Gothic chieftain. In reality, the fearsome barbarians
had become Romans and were watching the action
like everyone else. So, what’s the Colosseum doing then? At one level, it’s showing
the people of the city what they get from Empire. But in a deeper sense,
it’s showing them that they fit in. If the people who were killing
each other in the arena were stereotypical foreigners, then by implication, if you were
watching them, you were a Roman. It’s trying to put everything
in an order that makes sense. The point about the Colosseum is that it was both a microcosm
of the city of Rome and a microcosm
of the Roman Empire and it helps to show how the
boundaries between what was Roman and what was foreign
increasingly broke down. In Rome,
for the first time in history, people from Asia, Africa and Europe could sit together
as citizens of the same state. Rome was the first global city
and it contained in it all the contradictions that global
cities have had ever since. It was diverse
but it wasn’t tolerant. Foreign enemies were crucified, enslaved and forced
to fight in the arena but equally,
foreigners could rise to be emperor. Point is,
the distinction the Empire made was not between
Romans and foreigners but between those who resisted
and those who joined in. The key question in our story is what was it like to live
in the world’s first city where almost everyone
came from somewhere else? There must have been
plenty of people who felt very far from home
and rootless. For some, there were profits
to be made and success to be had and an exciting,
even if bewildering, mixture of new ideas, different
cultures and different religions. Whatever you’d been back home, in
Rome, you could reinvent yourself. It’s not hard to imagine
the fears and anxieties of those ordinary Romans,
wherever they were from. “How do I fit into all this? “Who knows who I am? “Who’s going to remember me
when I’m dead?” Perhaps that’s why
they were so keen to write their stories
onto their tombstones. They’re deliberately speaking
to you and me. This guy’s really having
a conversation. “Stranger,” he says, “hospes”, hang on a minute! “Resiste”, stop here! “Take a look down to your left. “That’s where my bones
are buried,” my ossa. “I was a good man,
I was a kind man,” misericordis, “and I was a lover of the poor,”
amantis pauperis. “Please, traveller,” please, viator, “I beg you,
don’t mess with my tomb.” And the name of the guy is
Gaius Attilius Euhodus, the ex-slave of a man
called Serranis. Euhodus sounds Greek to me
and he tells us what he did. He was a margaritarius,
he was a pearl seller. That’s who’s buried in this tomb. “Traveller”, he says,
viator, “on your way now.” “Goodbye,” vale. Vale. Next time… I’ll descend into the city streets to explore their high-rise
tenements, crime-ridden slums and life in the bars
and the bathhouses. And we’ll find some
very distinctive Roman voices, born from the earthiness
of communal city life. This is how we have to imagine
the ancient city, everyone shitting together. Tunics up, togas up, trousers down,
chatting as they went. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

100 Replies to “Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 1/3 – HD”

  1. No doubt the Romans looked at any individual's origins as just part of their story. Nowadays, the tendency is to consider it their whole story.

  2. she gives an excellent lecture on the normal roman life and times and also quashes many false histories and ludicrous myths which we studied in school …

  3. According to Mary Beard's interpretation Rome was a welcoming city and it was founded by refugees. Rome started as a multicultural melting pot and became the World's powerhouse. Thanks for the good message Mary. Italy again is on its way to become a glorious country . Millions of refugees are waiting for the quick transport to Italy to help built a new Empire.The Phoenix is rising again.

  4. Very Good! Thanks for the upload. My second time here. My opinion on the Romans: I do not envy them or wish myself back in time. If you lived in the city as a free man and were wealthy you got on pretty good. Danger was still possible but it certainly was better than being a captured enemy combatant sold into slavery. Also, more often then not, 'as a slave you were probably working as a miner and never saw any luxuries whatsoever. in the copper & iron ore mines you were fortunate to see the sun more than once or twice a year. Your life expectancy was age 28, and if you happened to die on site you may have become food for the mine's livestock. (Or worse,'your former work buddies!)

  5. I just need to add that in the introduction Mary Beard refers to Roman architecture. What she really means to say is Greek architecture, which the Romans, firstly, copied and then developed.

    Mary Beard has an anti-Greek bias. To rob the Greeks of one of their greatest and lasting influences on the world, Western architecture, is either ignorance or bias.

    She's so smart and erudite. It's a shame she's so ideological.

  6. Got a few wuestions. I thought the gladiators were criminals and slaves (or only criminals? How were the slaves treated in that situation). How come people willingly came from idk Belgium to be gladiators? Also were their suits and helmets "strange" or literally "foreign" imports? The way slaves became normal citizens?

  7. My babe from Carnuntum. :(. So sad. Makes you wonder if the people who lived there were constantly mourning the losses of people.

  8. It took me a bit to get used to Mary Beard and her somewhat eccentric way of presentation, but after a while one really gets to understand and appreciate her obvious enthusiasm for – and love of – Roman civilization and the people who made it what it was – a fascinating multi-cultural world, which in many ways was far more tolerent towards racial differences and religious beliefs than anything the world has since seen. I have always been a great fan of ancient Rome, but now I've also become a great fan of Mary Beard !

  9. Mary,
    SONO italiano.
    Thank you for the passion for my country history..
    I also would like to congratulate you for winning the debate with Boris.
    You destroyed his all theory. .
    Brava professoressa
    Bruno Brizzi Maccaferri

  10. So sad this documentary starts out evenhanded, but then turns into a migrant propaganda piece .So many of these " historic examinations " emphasis Jewish trivia and Judea to such an extent most other facts play second fiddle. Unfortunate! .😄

  11. Listening to this it almost sounds like there were no 'Italians' at all living in Rome.
    Presumably they needed mass immigration to do the jobs italians wouldn't do, like we're told in Britain and Europe.

  12. I was all ready to criticize this for their reference to corn in the grain dole (given that corn is American)… BUT Aapparently the modern word 'corn' derives from the latin word for 'grain' and, as such, the term has been used to refer generally to cereal grains (e.g. the middle english called wheat 'corn')… The more you know.

  13. London, new York are the modern Rome a bundle of humanity trying to make a living from a unbelievably diverse place a patch work cultures into a city population of the nation they're in.

  14. 22:36 well actually A LOT of "Italian" branded oil comes from Spain, they just label it as Italian and there you go, you have the famous Italian olive oil but it is actually Spanish. The predicted olive oil production for 17/18 in Spain is about 1300000 tons, while only 290000 in Italy. Not saying anything against Italian olive oil, they have good production and of great quality, but just like with the Romans, olive oil is still mostly Spanish.

  15. I really thought I'd enjoy the program as I usually enjoy Mary , but the BBC and current political narrative is immigration is good and all who disagree are automatically called racists. Especially by the comments on here.

  16. Cultural preservation is an anti-cultural idea. All ancient cultures thrived precisely because they had no sense of originality, allowing themselves to freely exchange ideas and practices. This is not just Roman approach – this is the true humanist approach. It is our modern commodity fetishism that tries to make a defined, solid object out of a cultural process, because strict categorization into minority groups is the best way of keeping them put, and silencing peoples aspiration towards changes in the status quo of universal ideology, the capitalist open market, the submission to economic theology, and ultimately intelectual and social sterilisation into obedient fully passively reactive tools of the system. A cultural identity is not a cultural concept. Culture is life of the soul, creation and exchange of ideas, not submission to some historical record. So the Romans, Persians, all the empires of the past were far more tolerant to the cultural life of individual, then the modern capitalist multiculturalism.

  17. Why can't she just stick to the facts and stop acting of presumptions that the demographics of accident Rome were on the same wave length as today. It's took a lot a screw ups and modern day aero/shipping to ruin our European culture and demographics, something undoable in accident times.

  18. I never found ancient Roman civilisation particularly interesting, I was far more interested in ancient Egyptian civilisation – but when presented by Mary Beard I suddenly get the intrigue and fascination of the ruins in 'our own backyard'. Brilliantly enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

  19. Why do we take such a sympathetic view of ancient empires relative to our more recent history? Conquest, slavery, and genocide are meant to be causes for existential self-hatred among modern Europeans (and their descendants on other continents), but when it comes to Rome (or non-Western empires) we can gloss over those things and focus on prosperity and glory. Neither approach is correct but it seems the latter is the healthier interpretation

  20. She lost me when she said that it was a happy ending that the three jewish men eventually become citizens of Rome. I can envision three young men, far from home, having to adapt to survive, but a fairy tale ending? Far from home, and relatives? Hardly.

  21. What really touches me is when she read those tombstone inscription, I felt they really spoke to me in person! And I didn't knew the romans got quite a sense of humour. Prof Beard now makes me want to learn Latin!

  22. Lusitania is Portugal, not spain, furthermore I doubt he was murdered, rather he probably was a war casualty. Stoped seeing the documentary because as is usual, english and american media these days are totally inacurate.

  23. Once again, leftists can't just report the facts. They need to inject their ridiculous politics. No, Rome was not a city of immigrants, unless you count slaves. FFS. Rome literally fought wars to keep people out. Full citizenship was by blood. Immigration and divisive diversity fractured the Roman empire and helped kill it in the end.

  24. Where are the sources? https://www.stolenhistory.org/threads/the-history-of-rome-has-no-surviving-sources.158/

  25. 98% of the people of Rome couldn't afford to have a stone tablet carved after their death, or live in proper "homes." Yet, Beard calls these the "ordinary people." I've read her book as well, SPQR, and it is chock full of bourgeois bias and sentiment — especially in the chapter covering the Gracchi.

  26. One of the best documentaries about the Roman empire ever. To my knowledge, the best one to put a human face on the empire and especially on Rome, Bravo!

  27. 15:45 "Any city the size of Rome has to have immigration because the number of people who die in it greatly exceeds the number who are born."  I'm not sure that this must be the case but let us assume that it is for the sake of argument.  If huge imperial cities consume people like a monstrous giant carnivorous plant then perhaps they are not such a good idea.  We might be better off without them, eh?

    16:16  “Perhaps we should stop thinking of Romans as a nation … and think instead of a Babel of rootless people piled up together a long way from home.”

    35:52 “They arrived from across the world and became a small cog in this big machine.”

    Yep.  Imperial cities are plainly something the world could do very nicely without.

  28. I wasn't sure I would like this as I found after 6 minutes I still hadn't learned anything, but my gods I'm so glad I stuck with it, what a wonderful perspective on Roman life, totally scratched my itch

  29. Oh please! You could have saved the “social justice” comments and socialist ideology driven applied thoughts about romans. It turns a fine docummentary into a Frankfurt School endoctrination piece and rewritting history for the people that takes this only grain of information as the truth.

  30. ….Can’t take this PC rewriting of HISTORY….It’s simply NOT TRUE. The vast majority of slaves NEVER became citizens—-and directly led to the FALL OF ROME!!

  31. Very nice documentary apart from a mistake right at the beggining, Lusitania was mainly Portugal, not Spain. We stil call ourselves Lusitanians. The Hispanic tribes were all other ethnic group.

  32. This is a terrible Documentary !!! looks like Miss Mary Beard has a bone to pick with the Romans, she uses facts to then insert her negative opinions and wrong conclusions, nothing but negative … Romans had more freedom and more privileges given by the state than the English Crown, the government and upper classes gave the English people, only recently in their history have the brits enjoyed the freedoms the romans had 2000 years ago, the Brits have had 1500 years of upper class privilege and lower class repression, famine and murder….anyone who knows roman history understand the rubbish of this documentary

  33. one minute in, "…Lusitania, he was murdered in Spain". Dislike plus moving on. Lusitania is a place 2000 years old, located in today's portugal, hence the word Luso-descendent. Spain and Portugal only came to existe somewhat 1000 years later.

  34. Spotted Mary Beard the other day pushing a shopping trolley down Cambridge high street…she was followed by a cloud of flies which undulated in concert with her bobbing gait…..

  35. Mary, you are charming and cheeky. You also remind me of a female Carl Sagan, both of you relatable to us ordinary folks about extraordinary subjects. I could listen to you for hours talk about Roman bits of society like I used to about Carl's billions and billions of stars

  36. Wonderfully impressive depiction of ancient living in Rome. I love it cince it brings these far away poeople somclose to our imagination and heart. Simply marvellous!

  37. Beard is actually a jew….or more accurately a crypto jew…..Jews do this as a strategy of living within other societies…..it has been practiced for centuries and first properly identified and commented apon by the Spanish….hence many Spanish words for crypto Jews…like "Marrano's" or Converso's….or Nuevo Christians.
    Beard actually has a remarkably similar appearance to a well known bag lady in Cambridge….she pushes a Waitrose shopping trolley around.

    As any left-wing chattering classes liberal jew….Beard tries to weave in modern Jewish created multiculturalism into ancient history…..it is a type of propaganda.Actually one of the chief reasons Rome collapsed was because the immigrants eventually outnumbered native Romans….thereby undermining the original spark which created Rome.
    The descendants of modern Britons will witness a similar decline within one hundred years….as the mass of third world immigrants overwhelms Britain's identity…..unfortunately it happens in slow motion so the decline is not readily visible.

  38. I feel she lived there before and her Passion drove her back.. maybe she still learning..to live without . life is a trip enjoy it.👽

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