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Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 1/3 (Cardo Maximus)
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In this programme, Mary asks not what the Romans did for us, but what the empire did for Rome.

She rides the Via Appia, climbs up to the top seats of the Colosseum, takes a boat to Rome’s port Ostia and takes us into the bowels of Monte Testaccio. She also meets some extraordinary Romans: Eurysaces, an eccentric baker, who made a fortune out of the grain trade and built his tomb in the shape of a giant bread oven; Baricha, Zabda and Achiba, three prisoners of war who became Roman citizens; and Pupius Amicus, the purple dye seller making imperial dye from shellfish imported from Tunisia. This is Rome from the bottom up.

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  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 , 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 , 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  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 ,

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 .

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 s 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.


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, , 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  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.'


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...



and wood.

'There are at least  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 , 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 , 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.


OK, so, I'm now being trusted with the action.

, 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  to  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.

', 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  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.


'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 , 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.


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.


We have a victorious Murmillo.


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 .

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.


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

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