Time Travels - Twists of Fate
Tony Robinson continues his Time Travels in Twists of Fate. He explores the plague that turned up in Queensland, the coincidence of a gun fired in both World Wars, and the discovery of the biggest natural harbor.
Townsville was a thriving community at the turn of the 20th Century. It had been a frontier settlement and eventually grew into an international port. It would have been shocking for the locals to discover that the Black Death would enter the town. The Black Death would have come as a shock to the locals. The Plague came aboard ships on the back of the rats. There would have been no proper sewage treatment. Townsville would have been a playground for the rats.
Why would a Medieval Plague be found in Modern Australia? In 1894, the Black Death was discovered in Canton. With Australia’s closeness to Asia, it would have only been a matter of time before the Black Death arrived. In 1900, 24 people got the Black Death and nine people died. The government officials denied that it was the Black Death. Perhaps they did this to not cause panic among the population. Many rats were killed to prevent the spread.
However, the greatest fear month for the locals was being separated from their families. Quarantine hospitals were set up and these families would often time never see their loved ones again. One man refused to send his son to a plague hospital. Eventually, more police were called and the man was forced to stand down. Over 500 people died from the Black Death and it would only go away in the 1920s with better sanitation and rat control.
Tony goes back to the 1780’s next. This story will highly impact the discovery of one city had on the world. In 1787, a social experiment started: Australia was founded as a Penal Colony. Botany Bay was marked as a perfect place to start a settlement. The Leader of the original settlement was discouraged with what he found. The water was brackish, the wood was hard, and the soil was sandy. Eventually, the largest natural harbor in the world was discovered. The harbor was claimed in the name of England.
The next site Tony visits are Brisbane City Hall. He is looking for a wall. During World War II, the men would sign the walls in the bathroom. This was discovered when the City Hall was being renovated. Today, the wall is preserved behind glass and Tony looks at the names on the wall. The men who signed the wall, all came back to Australia alive. This wall was a snapshot of what the soldiers went through before they went off to war.
Finally, Tony visits a site that was built in 1914. This site has a gun that was fired in both World War I and World War II. He talks about a series of events so bizarre that nobody could have predicted. Who was the man behind the event? What was this event? Was this the site where the first shot of World War I went off? How does this event tie into World War II? Tune into this episode to find out more.
Unfortunately, this episode was not divided into easy time stamped pieces. The story on the Black Death was fascinating and would be something interesting to share with a science class. The section on Botany Bay and the Penal Colony would be a good section to show to a geography class. For a funny story, then you can show the last section to a class on World War I and World War II.
Good morning, we are back with Tony Robinson and Time Travels. This time he looks at inventions and how they changed history. Who invented the light bulb? How did one soldier invent a gun? How did one desert change tea time? What did one man do to bring fresh water to a growing community that needed it? Was the first airplane created in Australia? Tony starts up in Lithgow. When the Australians and their states joined together they started forming their defenses for the nation, they had to come up with ways to defend themselves. They did not want to buy weapons from Britain. In 1899, the Australians went off to the Boar War. The Lithgow Small Farms factory was created.
Tony discovers the Owen Gun. The gun was invented by an Australian during World War I in a soldier’s backyard. The British government balked at the gun, and the soldier was sent to the front lines. A neighbor discovered the gun, recognized its genius, and the soldier was recalled back. The gun was then manufactured and it went off to war. The Owen gun was reliable and was loved by the soldiers. At the end of the war, 45,000 guns were produced. Only 120 guns remain.
The next invention Tony discovers is the Perth Pipeline. Boulder Kalgoorlie, an Australian city, sprung up after gold was discovered. The population of West Australia moved there. Unfortunately, after the miners dug the gold, they were struck down with an illness. There was no fresh water available. CY O’Connor was charged with fixing the water crisis. His solution was the longest freshwater pipeline that the world had ever seen. Two dams were built to help push the water up to Kalgoorlie. After years of conflict and building, Kalgoorlie has fresh water.
Tony then heads to London and explores the lightbulb. The lightbulb proved to be a bit of a challenge to invent. The light did not last long. Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan eventually came up with a solution. The problem was that they came up with the same solution at the same time. Edison and Swan would eventually create a company to avoid a protracted court battle. Professor Ambrose Fleming was eventually called in to figure out why the lightbulbs went dark. The diode valve was invented to prevent this. It was the first time that the electrons could be controlled.
In 1901, the Lamington Cake was invented. It was a culinary invention that revolutionized high tea. It was invented in Australia. It was named after Lord Lamington and he was a governor in Australia. It used coconut and vanilla sponge. The people went wild for the cake. Lord Lamington was not impressed with the desert.
The last invention Tony looks at is the Airplane. Australia is a huge island with communities isolated from each other. Even today with roads, the communities are still isolated. What solution could happen to help people move between communities? The Solution was the airplane. Tony meets up with a recreating group to recreate Australia’s first flight. This flight happened at the Dungians' property. Two brothers built a plane based on postcards. It was the first man-made plane built in Australia. Will this recreation be successful? Tune into this documentary to find out!
This was a cool episode to watch and learn about the different inventions. I would show the section on Thomas Edison and the Lightbulb in a history class. Absolute History channel divided the documentary into separate sections for easy finding. Apart from the Lamington Cake section, this would be a good episode to show for STEM and STEAM classes.
Tony Robinson hosts the series Time Travels. He looks for the men and women who made a difference in history. These were moments when history changed forever. These are bits that the victors leave out. Travels around Australia to discover history’s hidden stories. He talks with historians and ordinary people to tease out the details. This is a fascinating series and Tony brings his Time Team experience and enthusiasm to each story.
In Secrets of the State, Tony Robinson explores the history-changing moments that the authorities do not want you to know about. In this episode, Tony starts in Australia. He goes back to World War II and a secret that was suppressed by the US Government. Australia was in the sites of Japan. Singapore had fallen and most of Indonesia was invaded. Would Australia be able to withstand a Japanese invasion?
The Australian coast was a valuable place for the Allies. The Americans started funneling supplies to Townsville. Eventually, soldiers made their way to Australia as well. Townsville population tripled. This was a segregated US Army. Black soldiers could go into town and mix with Australians. They could go to the movies and sit in front of taxis. They had more freedom in Australia than they had in America. Eventually, the white officers clamped down on these activities.
Finally, a mutiny exploded between the black soldiers and the white officers. The men machine-gunned the tents and set fire to the ammunition dumps. They demanded a white officer be returned to the men. The army met the soldiers' demands. Congressman Lyndon Johnson was sent to Australia to investigate the mutiny. A report was taken down. Johnson summarized the report to Roosevelt. The report was eventually buried.
Tony then goes back 200 years for another secret. This secret would determine the fate of empires. It was kicked off with a celestial event. King George III wanted this event to be observed and so sent scientists out to the South Pacific. James Cook was sent out to lead the expedition. He took the scientists to Tahiti.
This ship also had a secret agenda: they were going to find Australia. The British were going to build their empire on this rumored southland. In the King’s mind, there had to be a large continent to balance out North America. New Zealand was discovered and claimed for the British Empire. Finally, in 1770, the expedition found Australia. Cook and the scientists were the first people to see the east coast of Australia. Cook claimed Australia in the name of George III. Australia would eventually bring Britain great wealth.
So Tony goes from the 1770s to the 1960s to learn about a man who was impacted by the Cold War. He meets up with Philip Geri. Philip encountered this man, who was a spy. The Cold War came to Australia. This man was out recruiting young agents. Philip was given papers for his parents to sign. Philip would become a spy himself. After 23 years, his service ended and he was paid off.
So where else does Tony travel during this episode? What else does Tony learn about history’s forgotten stories? Tune into this episode to find out more.
Time Travels runs about thirty minutes and each section could be broken up into little sections for easy viewing or to incorporate into a lecture. Tony proves to be a delightful and cheeky narrator for this series and enjoys what he learns. Each section would be good to show in a history class depending on the subject discussed. Or if you wanted something fun to show as a brain break for students, then this series should be added to your arsenal.
Good morning we will conclude the Dark Ages: An Age of Light series with the Vikings. Were the Vikings misunderstood people? Why were the Vikings misunderstood? Waldemar explores the Viking impact on Europe. He starts at Lindisfarne. The island was home to a monastery. The monks here isolated themselves purposely to create something out of nothing. The monks here created beautiful books as well.
Waldemar starts with the Carolingians and the Vikings. He also has an Anglo-Saxon jewel recreated during the series. The Vikings were excellent craftsmen. In the end, he explores Anglo-Saxon art.
First, the Vikings, another warrior nation of the Dark Ages. They had a fearsome reputation. They did not wear horned helmets, an invention for the Wagner operas. The Vikings stayed in the windy north. They were a link to the European past. The Vikings started as farmers, however, due to the presence of water, they became sailors. Sailing was one of their greatest achievements. Their art was the second greatest Viking achievement.
Waldemar makes his way to the Oslo Ship Museum and talked about the ship that was discovered. He talks about the artifacts that were found in the buried ships. He talks about the carvings on the ship. Then he tours a field and looks at Rune Stones. Waldemar carves his name in Rune Stones. Originally there were 22 letters but when the Vikings conquered Britain they added Runes because of the new sounds they were encountering. Waldemar continues to explore the Rune letters.
The Vikings were the last barbarian nation to convert to Christianity. So the Vikings incorporated their paganism into Christianity. “It is hard to see where paganism ends and Christianity begins,” Waldemar comments. Harald Bluetooth converted the Danes to Christianity. When the Vikings started invading Britain, they encountered good jewelers. In Sutton Hoo, there was a great treasure of jewelry discovered. This treasure hoard was discovered before World War II. After the war, the Treasure was properly studied.
After Waldemar explores the Vikings, he then goes to France and explores the Carolingians and the Frankish Empire. He talks about Charlemagne. He had the largest empire since the Romans. Charlemagne built a chapel in Aachen. It was from here he would rule the Holy Roman Empire.
Christianity came through Britain in three different ways. St. Augustine sent monks to Britain from the south. There were local Christians as well. Finally, Christianity spread from the north through Irish Monks.
Eventually, Waldemar checks in on the man recreating an Anglo-Saxon brooch and returns to Britain to explore Anglo-Saxon Britain. Silver is melted down and poured into cuttlefish bones. Using the cuttlefish bones was an ancient technique to make silver bars. The craftsmen discuss the techniques that were used to hammer the silver.
Waldemar then talks about the Anglo-Saxon of burying the dead with something the dead would use in the afterlife. Eventually, this custom was ended. So the Anglo-Saxons came up with a new tradition. Marking graves with stones. These stones could be considered eternal and a connection to the pagan past. They may have been beautifully carved, but there seems to be a reminder of the pagan past. This type of artwork could be found in the books the monks created. To continue to learn more about the Anglo-Saxons continue to watch this episode.
This would be an episode that can be easily divided between the Frankish section, Anglo-Saxon section, and the Viking section, so you do not need to show this all at once. The Frankish section was too short. The one thing interesting about the episode was how Waldemar worked to get the brooches recreated or recreated the knotty art of the manuscripts. This is not an episode that you need to show at one time.
Good morning, we will continue to look at the Dark Ages as an Age of Light. Today Waldemar Januszczak looks at the art of Islam. He starts in Cordoba, Spain, and talks about the astrolabe. First, he goes back in time to explore the art of Islam and its beginnings. He starts in Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock. After Muhammad’s death, Islam was preoccupied with conquest. It was dramatic, rapid, and remarkable. Islam started small and then grew.
Waldemar tours Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock. Muslims looked to the stars and nature for their inspiration in their artwork. One caliph took inspiration from circular churches for their architecture. Islamic art evokes a sense of paradise, a green and lush paradise. Being surrounded by deserts made Muslims dream of green land. Waldemar then tours the Damascus Mosque. Here a description of paradise is found. Waldemar states that it is a dramatic vision of paradise. The Paradise in Islam promises a grand life.
Waldemar then goes on to tour a desert palace. The Caliphs retreated here to get away from the city and the pressures of the ruling. This palace is built in a desert wadi. There were a variety of contraptions to bring water to the palace. There is a bathhouse on the site. Inside the bathhouse, there are floor-to-ceiling mosaics. Were these signs of what was available in paradise? Other palaces are scattered through the desert display a variety of mosaics.
In 1987, an Islamic brazier was discovered. It was used to heat the room and burn incense. It would be wheeled from room to room, spreading the scent throughout the palace. It was high-quality metalwork.
When joy was called for, the art expressed joy. When sobriety was called for Islamic art reflected sobriety. In 879 AD, a mosque was built in Egypt and the mosque reflects this seriousness. The city was destroyed leaving the mosque behind. Each mosque took inspiration from the Prophet Muhammed’s house. The courtyard was built to keep the outside world at bay. There were simple shelters built to protect the followers from the sun. People could meet together to discuss community affairs. There was a prayer hall, based on the Prophet’s home.
Waldemar continues to Islam and the Islamic world through this documentary. He talks about how one man calculated the circumference of the earth. Then he explores an outpost of the Islamic empire. He talks about how water impacted Islamic architecture and how it inspired city planning. A new mosque was built in the city. To continue to learn about Islam and architecture watch the rest of this documentary.
Waldemar went gung-ho on the mosques and did not focus too much on the inventions as he hinted at the start of the episode. It made the documentary feel incomplete like he could not find anything else to talk about besides mosques and architecture. By the time Waldemar talked about the arts and crafts of Islam, it felt a bit too little, too late. I mean, at about 40:00 minutes he finally talked about rock crystal and the use Muslims had for it. Additionally, why did he not address trade through the Islamic empire? What about the Islamic impact on Europe? At times his presentation style felt bizarre because it was over the top. It was a bit of a challenge to write this review because the episode was so awful. Honestly, who researched this episode? Who wrote this episode? I would like to know.
This would be a documentary to show if you had time to explore Islam in the Dark Ages. Otherwise, you can give this documentary a pass.
Was the Dark Ages an age of light and enlightenment? Why did the Barbarians gain their reputation? Waldemar Januszczak seeks to smash the myths of the barbarians. He plans on leaping to the defense of the Barbarians. It was the barbarians that invented trousers because it was easier to ride a horse. Waldemar looks at how the words Barbarians, Vandals, and Huns changed over time.
Barbarians came from the original Greek, meaning foreigner, meaning someone you could not understand. If someone spoke a foreign language you were a barbarian. In Roman times, barbarians meant you came from the non-Roman world. Vandals was another word that was distorted. The Vandals were creative and made things. However, Vandals was turned into something dark. The Goths were creators and the Huns were also a group trashed. Nobody had a good thing to say about the Huns. The Huns were a demonized group, used for propaganda purposes.
However, when one looks at the Hun’s art, it tells a different story. Nobody knows where the Huns came from. One suggestion is that they came from the Eurasian step. The Roman’s first encounter with the Huns came when the Visigoths sought shelter from the Romans. The Huns had invaded. They were a nomadic group, traveling in small groups with their horses and goats. Cauldrons created by the Huns are preserved and they would use them to cook their coats. The Huns also loved gold and gold was found in the grave of Huns. Gold had a magical presence and the Huns loved it. They were gold crazy.
The Huns had a relationship with nature because they moved around. Their artwork took inspiration from nature. Through their art, the Huns looked to commune with nature, perhaps capturing nature’s power to use for themselves. The Wolf and the eagle were dear to the Huns and inspired gold making. Eagles were the symbols of power and beauty together. Eagle brooches were popular. The Hun also took inspiration from their horses, making sure they looked splendid too. Horses were decked out with horse ornaments. The Huns were a creative force and a rival to the Roman Empire.
Atilla the Hun was the most famous of the Huns. Although history paints him as a cruel and sadistic ruler, the records show someone completely different. Atilla had a rich palace and treated his guests to a rich banquet. He dressed simply. He spoke eight languages. Hungarians believe that Atilla was a hero. He ran a federation of barbarians against Rome. Waldemar talks about the barbarians as groups of migrants moving their way across Europe to search for a new life.
The next group Waldemar tackles are the Vandals. They were farmers in Europe, at least until the Huns pushed them out. They then moved to Spain and then the Goths pushed them out. Eventually, they settled in North Africa. The Vandals were a kingdom on the move looking for a new home. Eventually, they made their way to Carthage and they conquered the city, shocking the Roman Empire. Instead of destroying what they found, they saved what they could and created their art. To continue to learn more about the barbarian groups watch the rest of this episode.
This was a much better episode in this series. Waldemar told an excellent story of each of the barbarian groups: Huns, Vandals, and Goths. I followed along really easily with his pace and enjoyed learning about each of the barbarian groups. This episode made me want to have three separate shows on each of the groups. This would be one episode I would show to a classroom. You can break up this episode into pieces easily as well, so you can show this episode to students one barbarian group at a time.
Was the Dark Ages an Age of Light? What happened when the Roman Empire collapsed? This shocking question is one that historian Waldemar Januszczak will answer. He travels around Europe, Africa, and Asia to discover the hidden secrets of the Dark Ages. Waldemar makes the argument that the Dark Ages were an age of light and artistry. The art never lies, the Dark Ages were not an age of darkness but an age of light.
In episode one, the Lost Christian Masterpieces of the Dark Ages, Waldemar Januszczak looks at artwork to dispel the myths that the Dark Ages were dark. The Dark Ages began with the collapse of the Roman Empire. However, in the artistic collapse others filled in the gap. Waldemar examines Christianity and its impact on the creative impact of the dark ages.
Waldemar starts in Pompeii and shows learns about the early touches of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Rotas squares were discovered and Waldemar explores how code breakers solved the mystery of the enigmatic phrase on the Rotas square. If one was able to rearrange the squares, one could see a cross and signify that the household members were Christians. Art on the surface, the Romans had beautiful art. However, beneath the surface, in the catacombs, early Christian art could be found. Early Christians communicated through signs and symbols. Waldemar comments about how few images were found in the catacombs.
Then 300 years after the birth of Christ, images of Christ start appearing. In one tomb, there were images of animals and people. Even sculptures were created during this period. Jonah was a popular subject in images and sculptures. Waldemar continues to explore the Roman catacombs and the early artwork of Christians. He looks at the Shroud of Turin and finally discovers artwork depictions of Jesus. He discusses the evolution of the image of Christ over the years.
Waldemar explores how different groups of people came together and swapped other ideas. Artists borrowed from other artists to create their artwork. Eventually, churches were established and Christians could put their artwork in those churches. With Constantine’s full support, Christians were able to build churches and create worships sites. Places, where maytrs were buried, became attractive sites as well for early Christians. Early Christians wanted to be buried close to martyrs. Constantine’s daughter built a burial site because she wanted to be buried near a martyr.
Towards the end of this episode, almost as if it was an afterthought, Waldemar explores why the Roman Empire ended and what eventually lead to its collapse.
This would be an appropriate documentary to show in an Art History class. This first episode does not make the argument for the Dark Ages is an age of light. It was really slow going and a challenge follows the argument that he made at the start of the episode. Writing a review for this episode was a challenge. This episode would not be worth showing to a history class nor would it be worth sharing with an independent study student. As a substitute teacher, I would not be showing this episode in a classroom.
Unfortunately, Waldemar heavily focuses on the Roman Empire and the emergence of art and not the start of the dark ages. Some of his discussion was overkill and not worth listening to. Why did he not focus on the collapse of the Roman Empire and then talk about religious art? The argument he made at the start of the episode about the dark ages being an age of light falls flat. I hope that future episodes will get better because I was not impressed with this narrator.
Chinese Treasure Fleet
Six hundred years ago, China had an unstoppable fleet. It was led by Zhen, a long-forgotten admiral. He was one of the most accomplished sailors in history. He commanded an unrivaled fleet, a fleet known as the Treasure Fleet. A modern-day adventurer recreated one of his ships and is setting the theory of this fleet to practice. This documentary drama is the story of this grand fleet.
At the time when Europe was torn by war and the black death, the Chinese have an empire. The Ming Dynasty was in command. The Emperor orders the construction of a fleet and will execute anyone who stands in his way. Timbers are floated on the Yangzi River. Seven dry docks are built and the shipbuilding commences. Within three years, sixteen hundred ships have been refitted or built. The largest ships had nine sails. These ships could have rivaled the battleships of World War II. How could this be possible?
These ships were constructed with watertight compartments and could hold over 2,000 tons of cargo. The Emperor was looking for prestige. The Emperor’s fleet was larger than the Spanish Armada and was larger than the combined fleets of Europe. Zheng was appointed to be admiral of the fleet. With everything in place, the fleet was ready to follow the Emperor’s orders. Rex Warner discovered Zheng He and the treasure fleet. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Zheng. So he found an ocean-going junk and assembled a crew. Will he discover the traces of the treasure fleet?
Rex first has to have his ship refitted. His first mate oversees the refit. The ship, the Precious Dragon will be run by a crew of five. They will be sailing in the stormy and pirate-infested South China Sea. What will Rex and the crew discover about the treasure fleet? The Precious Dragon sets sail and looks forward to rediscovering the past.
The Admiral was originally captured by the first emperor. Zheng was castrated and made a slave of the Emperor’s son. He and the son became friends. He would eventually prove his loyalty to the Emperor. The Emperor appointed him a naval admiral. Zheng was able to issue orders on behalf of the Emperor. His appointment may have been a way for the Emperor to hunt down the Emperor’s rival, however, it was a way for the Emperor to show his power. It had a psychological impact on those who saw the fleet.
Flash forward to the trip of the Precious Dragon. It has been two and a half days since the ship left. They are sailing due south and encountering storms. To help retrace the Treasure Fleet, Rex is using the two records that survive. There was a map and a written record left behind. After a difficult crossing, they make their way into port. After four days in port, the crew moves to land to learn more about Admiral Zheng. The Precious Dragon sails down the South China Sea. They will encounter the same threat that Admiral Zheng faced: pirates.
How will the Precious Dragon Crew handle this pirate threat? How did Admiral Zheng handle this threat? Will the Precious Dragon successfully recreate the voyage of the Treasure Fleet? What will Rex learn about Admiral Zheng? Tune into this documentary to find out more.
This was an interesting documentary on a topic that you never learned about in school: how the Chinese explored the South China Sea and beyond. If you want something different to introduce to your students, then I would recommend this documentary. If you have an independent study student, then they could watch this documentary as well
This docu-drama tells the story of Confucius. His ideas were radical and only adopted after his death by the Emperors. His teachings were the foundation of Chinese education for 2,000 years. He taught obedience, meritocracy, and morality. Rituals and etiquette were tools to unite the people. His ideas still govern everything in China. This documentary is the story of Confucius and his legacy.
Confucius’ story was written in the Han Dynasty, 400 years after his death. After centuries of civil war, peace was finally achieved in China. It was during this time there were great achievements in China. One historian devoted his life to writing the history of China. It was this historian who wrote the first biography of Confucius. It was a mixture of fact, oral history, and imagination and was the main story of his life. This document told the struggles of Confucius and how he worked to get his ideas into real life.
The biography started with Confucius’ birth. His father had daughters, a son born with a clubbed foot, and he was looking for a healthy son. At age 60 he took a young wife. They went on a journey to a sacred mountain to pray to conceive a son. According to legend, Confucius’ mother was visited by a mythical creature. This creature heralded the arrival of a great event. Eventually, Confucius was born.
After his father died, Confucius was brought up in extreme poverty and political chaos. He took different jobs to support his mother. Even though he was impoverished, he was allowed an education. Eventually, he opened up a school and it was here he would gain a reputation for being a philosopher. He would teach over 2,000 students. The Analects would be developed over the years and these were Confucius’ sayings. Finally, his words were put to stone and this stone became the foundation of the Chinese education system.
Amidst the chaos, Confucius looked to the past to find stability. He looked back to past rulers who took care of their nations with kindness and compassion. It was a period of peace and stability that had rituals and ceremonies. Customs and practices, Confucius believed were the glue that held society together. The ancient rulers documented these customs and rituals, so Confucius went on a journey to learn more about them.
He learned about the ancient ancestral rites that were supposed to keep the world in harmony. He learned about the objects used in these rituals. Eventually, he concluded that the hands that made weapons of war could make objects of beauty. He tried to install this belief even as China devolved into war. Social harmony could be brought back and reinforced by small rituals. These rituals would develop a sense of community and care.
At the age of 50, Confucius entered the government, becoming the minister of crime. It would be this position that would allow him to put his ideas into practice. He corrected people by ritual and not punishments. To continue to learn more about Confucius and his continued impact on China watch the rest of this documentary.
At first, I thought this documentary was narrated by Bettany Hughes. When I realized that it was not her, I was a bit disappointed. That said, this documentary was well produced and well thought out. This documentary did a deep dive into Confucius, China, and should be shown in the classroom. It would be an excellent tool to add to a teacher’s documentary arsenal and very appropriate for high school history classes or a class biography project. If you need a filler for a sub, then allow them to show this documentary.
Today, we will conclude the Meet the Romans series with Mary Beard will go behind the closed doors of Roman Houses. Mary provides an intimate look inside the Roman home. How did the Roman family live? Beard starts in Pompeii and the house of a rich man. She walks through the introducing each of the rooms in the house. The typical story of the Roman family is of a husband, wife, children, and slaves. However, underneath that surface, the story of the Roman family is much more complex. The story of the Roman family can be told through statues and a few lines of script.
Beard then looks at Roman marriage. The tombstones provide a classic image of a Roman married couple, a husband and wife holding hands. The stonemasons were quite willing to churn out these types of statues. It showed a picture of equal marriage. The husband ruled the household and the wife spun and wove wool for cloth. Even the Emperor’s wife could be seen in the palace making togas for her husband. So is there additional evidence to help tell the story of the Roman marriage?
In the British Museum, there are rings from the Roman period. Mary examines the rings. These rings have imagery of clasped hands, however, there are examples where the husband professed his love for his wife on his ring. These statements highlight the underlying passions of the Roman people. The tombstones highlight some of these passions. In one tombstone, the husband wrote of his wife that not only did she have a sweet personality but she had a wild personality. Another tombstone highlights the dark side of Roman marriage. The husband of one Roman wife threw her into the Tiber River.
Beard then discovers another tombstone which was strange in the description of one man’s wife. She was the typical Roman wife. However, her body was described, and had two additional lovers under one household. This tombstone highlights how messy relationships could have been in the Roman world.
What does this tell us about the Roman home? Like relationships, the Roman home came in all shapes and sizes. The people could live in small apartments or grand houses. Beard explores the furniture that would have decorated the home. This furniture was preserved when Mount Vesuvius exploded and carbonized the furniture. Tables, cabinets, and even a cradle were preserved. The cradle held the remains of a baby who was sleeping when Mount Vesuvius exploded.
After examining the cradle, Beard looks at childhood and looks at the records of the children who lived in Rome. The records highlight that child mortality was high. The dead children were remembered fondly through their tombstones. What happened to the children who did survive? Bones were discovered around Rome and the bones tell the story of the children that survived. They would be doing hard manual hard. However, if you were higher up the social scale you were spared from hard work.
Children, especially boys, could be sent to school. Here they would discover poetry and public speaking. Education was a way for parents to climb the social ranks. The parents would push their children to do well. Beard discovers a tombstone of a schoolboy who had died from “too much studying.” What about the girls? There were raised to get married, have children, and run the household. To continue to learn more about the Roman family watch this episode. Beard explores the lives of Roman women and slaves at the end.
I would show this final episode to a classroom on Roman history in high school. This would also be an excellent episode to mine for clips for a lecture.
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