Beneath starched Shakespearean togas and the pungent fug of gladiator sweat there are real Romans waiting to be discovered. To know what it was to be Roman you need to gather the scattered clues until they form a living, breathing human, witness to the highs and horrors of Europe’s greatest empire.
Mary Beard, Britain’s best-selling historian of the ancient world, rebuilds the lives of six citizens of the Roman Empire, from a slave to an emperor. Her investigations reveal the stressful reality of Roman childhood, the rights of women and rules of migration, but it’s the thoughts and feelings of individual Romans she’s really interested in.
In the bloody chaos of civil war, a young bride witnesses the savage murder of her parents, fights for her inheritance and funds her husband’s flight from the brutal gangsters carving up the empire. On Hadrian’s Wall a Hertfordshire slave girl marries a Syrian trader. Is it a cross-cultural love story or a brutal tale of trafficking and sexual abuse?
An eleven year old boy steps on stage to perform his poetry to a baying crowd of 7000 and the Emperor himself. The political and financial future of his entire family will be decided in the next few stanzas.
Across six episodes Mary Beard travels the Empire and gathers first-hand testimony and expert comment, creating an extraordinarily vivid sense of Being Roman.
In the first episode we meet Marcus Aurelius, the very model of the ideal Roman Emperor. Strong and masculine, but a deep thinker with wise words for every occasion. Richard Harris played him in the film Gladiator as a great leader of men, determined that loyal Russell Crowe inherit the Empire rather than his treacherous son, Joaquin Phoenix.
As Mary discovers, Marcus proves much more complicated- and interesting- than his image in popular culture. Letters to his beloved tutor reveal a naïve, sweet and dangerously flirtatious nature, while his record of campaigning and persecution under his rule shows an Emperor as comfortable with brutal violence as stoic philosophy.
Producer: Alasdair Cross
Expert Contributors: Amy Richlin, UCLA and Elizabeth Fentress
Cast: Marcus played by Josh Bryant-Jones and Fronto played by Tyler Cameron