December 17th, 2010

never there

Ancient Worlds; Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town

We started TV night on Wednesday a little late - I was still writing up our trip to the British Museum, and so there wasn't time to watch anything before Ancient Worlds was on. So only 2 programmes this week, and the first one was the last episode of the Ancient Worlds series. This covered the latter half of the Romans - from Augustus Caesar until the fall of Rome. Miles's theme was that the rise of Christianity answered a need for more spiritual answers than the very secular Roman Empire could provide, and that in turn the concentration of Christianity on the next world rather than success in this world drew people and society away from the functions necessary to keep the Empire running. The first half of the programme looked at the Empire before its Christianisation - looking at how Augustus set himself up as "first among equals", claiming not to be a monarch, but actually being one. And touching on the bizarre behaviours of some of the Emperors (and how being in the elite was a poisoned chalice, driving some senators to suicide). The second half was more about the changes that Christianity brought - one effect was a sort of brain drain, where members of the elite served God instead of serving the state. And once the Emperors were Christian they no longer had the sort of authority that they'd had while they were worshipped as a god as part of the Imperial Cult - does true power lie with an Emperor who can be required by a Bishop to do penance for doing something he deemed necessary for the Empire? Or is it now with the Church.

Ancient Worlds has been a good series, it's a shame it's over now. He covered a lot of history in the 6 programmes, so it was inevitably a birds-eye view but that's not a bad thing, it brings out the themes more strongly than looking at the details does. I might get the book, tho I've a great stack of "improving" books to get to first, so I may wait a while :)

Afterwards we watched Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town, which was a one-off programme shown on Tuesday about (obviously) Pompeii. It was presented by Mary Beard who's a Cambridge academic (at Newnham College, to be precise), and she was talking about what the remains and buildings in Pompeii can tell us about how Romans lived. Among other things she talked about what a group of skeletons found in cellar on the outskirts of the town told us about the health and lifestyles of both rich & poor Pompeiians, and showed us the jewellery and coins that had been found with one group (designated as the "rich" group). She also looked at the buildings, and the graffiti on the buildings (which she wasn't shy about directly translating, even the vulgar bits - refreshingly, even if I've spotted else-web people getting their knickers in a twist about such crass language from a woman *sigh*). And even visited the sewers - in Herculaneum rather than Pompeii - where a team has analysed what was eaten by the (middle-class) Romans in the apartment above, and found that the diet of the non-rich was still pretty varied. The class difference seems to have shown up by where people ate & in what style, rather than what they ate. It was an interesting programme & Beard had a great style - informal and very funny at times, but still informative.
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