Professor Mary Beard takes a look beyond the stories of emperors, armies and gore in ancient Rome, a city at the heart of a vast and dominating empire — in order to meet the everyday people at the heart of the empire. The program draws a portrait of the first global metropolis as seen through the eyes of an ordinary Roman living during the period. In each episode, Beard travels through the land to visit sites like the Colosseum and the excavations at Monte Testaccio (Broken Pot Mountain, made of…shards and shards of broken pottery). Beard takes viewers on a tour of Rome, from the bottom up.
I was a bit late to this party but hell, I still enjoyed myself enormously! Mary Beard can infect you with her passion for all things Roman, proving that history shouldn’t be a tedious, dry list of names, dates, battles and invasions. History is, and can be, fun, it’s enough to know where to look.
She also shows that changing your approach means something more than just focusing on a different part of an era. Her narration is clear and simple, something even a primary school child would understand. Still simple doesn’t mean simplistic; it is rather about being courageous enough to show how deeply you care about the topic being presented. It’s a real challenge, showing all those emotions while handling with loving care and trying on a Roman gold bangle or touching precious objects, not necessarily objects of art, as if they were your personal family heirloom. Reading tombstones’ inscriptions as if they told you a story concerning your own good friends. Mourning children who had died centuries ago. Not every professor would dare that much.
Still there was one scene which, if I didn’t like the series at the beginning (I did) would truly win me over. In the second part dedicated to the street life of ancient Rome, Mary Beard is wandering around the Forum Romanum. What could be more cliche, you might think – going where every average tourist goes. Still our professor uncannily finds an original feature – strange, round indentations in marble slabs which she thinks were used as a kind of board game. Hmmm…how to find out how the ordinary Romans amused themselves while kicking their heels near Basilica Aemilia? Easy – she takes out her little drawstring bag (flower-patterned!) full of marbles and tiddlywinks and, like any curious child, conducts an experiment. Soon enough it becomes obvious the marbles are too tricky to manipulate as they tend to roll over so she says with a wry smile: “I am losing my marbles!” Believe me or not I roared with laughter but I was so impressed all the same! There isn’t a bigger proof of your own self-assertion than joking about yourself – publicly!
It was refreshing, interesting and fun. It was awesome. If there were more programmes like that I would certainly watch more tv. I have been an Antiquity fan since primary school so my praise is obviously skewed; still I think Mary Beard and her series might interest even the most obstructive students who claim they hate history, no matter what era they have to read about.