Episode 4 concludes with the fall of the Roman Empire. Mary Beard finds herself walking under the remains of a gatehouse in Germany. Rome was built to last but did not. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire have been on historian’s minds. It is a puzzle. Was it inflation? Was it corruption? Was it barbarian invasions? Was it the lead in pipes? It is a complicated question with no single answer.
Mary finds herself in Northumberland. It is here she starts answering the question “Why did the Roman Empire fall?” She walks along Hadrian's Wall and talks about the fringes of the Empire. Northern Britain/Scotland was a challenge for the Romans. So, rather than deal with the barbarians, they built a wall. Hadrian's Wall is a statement: a statement of Roman power and the Empire has boundaries. The wall demonstrates that the wall has an edge; has a boundary. It was the first time that the Empire was mapped.
The wall kept the barbarians out and entices the people in. Everyone on the wall was a citizen, everyone outside the wall was an outsider. It was turned the empire inside out. Decisions came from the fringes of the empire rather than the center of power: Rome. Emperors received their support from the legions and were deposed by supporters of the next emperor. These emperors only had enough time to put up a statue before being deposed. The propaganda that surrounded the emperors undermined them. It showed how sick the system was.
The Romans tried to reinvent the Empire. They hoped to restore order. They divided the empire into four mini empires, administered by four emperors, and from four mini capital cities. It made the empire manageable and the new cities became administrative centers. With decisions made in the mini capitals, Rome was no longer the center of the Empire. Trier demonstrates that Rome was no longer the center of the Empire. The grand church where the Emperors ruled from rivaled what could be built in Rome.
Another thing that undermined the Roman Empire was the changing beliefs of the people. The Romans believed in many gods. Each of these gods functioned in many different ways. As a result, the Roman landscape is littered with temples. Generals often made promises to their particular in exchange for victory. These promises resulted in the building of a temple once the victorious general returned home. When the temple was built, it was a demonstration to the people of the gods’ favor. It was a demonstration that you needed to keep god’s favor on your side.
The Romans inhabited a world of gods. Mary shows off a collection of figurines of the various gods. It showed religion on a personal level. A Roman could put a god in their pockets and take it with them. Gods did not have one job to do like Venus was only the god of love. A Roman could appeal to a variety of gods for their needs. For example, a Roman could choose to pray to Minerva, Neptune, Hades, or Mercury when they planned on going on a sea voyage. Each god could be approached for a variety of needs. It was a flexible system. Romans could create their religious world.
As the Empire grew, new religions were introduced to Roman life. Some of these religious would challenge the Roman’s religious beliefs.
To continue to learn more about Rome’s fall, continue to watch the documentary.
I rather liked the discussion that Mary had on the various gods Romans worship. This discussion would be a good clip to use in an English class when students are learning about mythology. Roman mythology was not straight forward as you were taught in school.
You can access the YouTube Video here.
Episode 3 finds Mary in a museum examining the skulls of Romans. She then discusses the stereotypes we have of Romans. Romans were from Italy and they wore togas. However, the Roman Mary was examining was from York, England. She was a woman and was of mixed race. Who were the Romans? What did it mean to be a Roman? Beard examines the one invisible factor that made people Romans: their citizenship. What difference did it make to become a Roman? How did you become one?
Beard goes to an industrial site to find a treasure, a small Roman settlement off the beaten tourist track. Carteia looked like an ordinary settlement. It was founded in 171 BC. It was established by descendants of Roman soldiers and Spanish women. They were stateless. They appealed to Rome for something. The Roman politicians gave them Carteia and more importantly, they gave them citizenship. This established a precedent. It was a unique part of the Roman Empire. Now, every free person could become a Roman citizen.
The idea that outsiders could become citizens was radical. It was downright shocking at the time. However, it was the way that Romans brought people into the empire. They did not make people worship the Roman gods, use the Roman calendar or learn Latin. Roman citizenship was a gift. They initially gave citizenship to the elites. Roman citizenship was a gift. This spread to the people and it had its advantages. It protected you legally, it gave you a stake in politics, and you could never be crucified. It was similar to the American dream and it was something people could aspire to. Was it a happy accident or a deliberate plan? There is no evidence either way.
Algeria is an area of the old Roman Empire where the most impressive Roman remains are found. When Algeria was conquered the Romans surprised the local population. They then built cities to further establish the empire. Timgad was built for retired Roman soldiers. It was built in a typical Roman town planning style. Mary is so familiar with the layout, she can find her way easily around town. She discovers the city library. Even though Timgad was a city for retired Roman soldiers, the population and the city expanded. Roman soldiers mixed with the local people. They were committed to Romans and demonstrated this through monument building and their culture. However, these citizens never stepped foot inside Rome.
Being Roman meant belonging. By offering citizenship to the local elites, Romans could get them on their side. The local elites could enforce Roman law on the lower orders. They could also bring Roman culture to the people. These elites embraced their roles in furthering the empire. Mary then traces the story of an Algerian man and his travels. He traveled to Judea as part of the army. He eventually made his way to Britain and was a governor. He was a provincial who became Roman and eventually ruled other provincials.
Britain was territory unknown. It was highly attractive to the Romans as an island to explore. As they explored, stories started to spread about the island. The people had odd customs. It was always cold. It was another world, Mary says to the Romans, going to Britain was the equivalent of going into space…
If you want to learn more about this episode continue to watch.
Mary Beard continues to narrate the story of the Roman Empire. I was surprised to learn that there were some impressive Roman ruins in Algeria. This episode is a good summary of how citizenship united the Romans. It is also a good explanation of Roman citizenship.
You can access the YouTube Video here.
Mary Beard continues her journey through the Roman Empire in Episode 2 of Empire Without Limit. She kicks off the episode talking about Roman rubbish. Ancient Roman trash shows how the Roman Empire worked. The trash heaps show this as much as the ruins of temples.
One leftover from the Roman world comes from ice core samples taken from Arctic ice sheets. The ice core samples from Rome show the impact the empire had an impact on the environment. There was plenty of burning in the Roman Empire and it ties into Roman expansion. It was a shock to the scientists, however, to the historians it showed proof that industry was growing in Rome. It was Roman history melting in Mary’s hands.
Rome transformed the world through conquest. Romans built roads as they conquered the world. There is a road in France that links Spain and France to Rome. It was a shocking idea, that a Roman could start in Rome and end up in Spain or Greece by staying on a single road. These roads eventually spread out like veins in a body and connected the empire.
Even with the roads, the people in the countryside continued life as they did. However, where the roads linked up with cities there were plenty of changes. Beard delightfully describes a cup that describes the Roman routes. Was it a souvenir cup? Perhaps so, it was something that a person could bring with them on their travels and keep track of their progress.
Rome also built plenty of cities, they built aqueducts to provide the cities with drinking water. They built bridges. The building the Romans did demonstrate their power. Beard shares a Medieval Roman map with tourists. It was how the Romans saw their empire. The map might be small, but it demonstrates that the world was joined up. “All roads lead to Rome,” is a true phrase.
Mary Beard spends this episode in Spain and explores what flowed out of Spain to fueled the empire. It was during this time that Spain became an olive farm. Seven million liters of olive oil flowed from Spain to Rome. The Empire ran on olive oil. It was used in cooking, lighting, and soap making. Beard takes a tour of a Spanish olive farm. Olive oil was a job creator: there were growers, pickers, pressers, container makers, etc. It is interesting to see that Rome was an “oil economy.” While oil flowed into Rome, money flowed into Spain.
The money would fuel the political careers of Spanish Romans. Did Emperor Hadrian get his wealth from olive oil? Perhaps he did? It allowed him to fund buildings back in his hometown. He was showing off his wealth by doing all this building.
On top of stamping Roman influence through buildings, Ancient Romans stamped their authorities through laws. Beard shows up tablets that tell the people how to be a Roman city. These tablets governed that officials needed to provide entertainment for the people, how long defendants could speak during their trial, the seating arrangements in a public space, and how much could be spent on an election. Some of these rules seem familiar to us. However, it was micromanagement on a grand scale. Roman officials were micromanagers.
To continue to learn more about Rome and the empire continue to watch the documentary.
Beard continues her delightful narration as well as her travels around the former Roman Empire in Episode 2. She draws you into the store of the Roman Empire and keeps you engaged through the episode.
You can access the YouTube Video here.
A princess gave birth to twin boys. Their uncle, the king, wanting to protect his throne ordered his servants to get rid of the boys. They were set in a basket and put next to the river. Since it was flood season the basket was carried away. Rather than drowning the boys, the basket was carried off and ended up back on the river bank. A wolf found the basket and suckled the boys until they were taken in by a shepherd and his wife. They were raised by the couple and the twins would eventually establish the Roman Empire. Their names were Romulus and Remus.
It was an empire that stretched from the Sahara, the moors of Britain, the Nile River, and the Rhine River. It shaped the European map.
Mary Beard takes us through the history of the Roman Empire through her series Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limits. She begins this series with that story and leads us through the story of the Roman Empire. She ends this series with Rome’s collapse. In this first episode, she covers the myths that surrounded the establishment of the empire.
She goes into the tombs of the early Romans and notes the graffiti that covers the walls. The graffiti and the tombs demonstrate what real Romans thought of themselves. The Tomb of Scipio talks about how he was wise, he was a handsome man, and he conquered South Italy. This epitaph is the first narrative from a Roman. It showed that they were keen on conquest and glory.
The wolf who rescued the twins was a fierce predator. Would this demonstrate that the Romans themselves were the fierce predators of the Roman world? Perhaps? This is also demonstrated by the fact that Romulus killed Remus over the location of the city. Brother killing brother also became part of the founding narrative. After this, Romulus established his city and turned it into a refuge for criminals and runaway slaves. It was a city that welcomed outsiders. Was this the basis of the desire to spread Roman citizenship around the world?
It was a city of men, and they needed women to build a future. Romulus invited a group of women to come to a religious festival. During the party, the Sabine women were kidnapped and taken as wives. The Sabines were not happy with this and fought the Romans. This was one of the first wars the Romans fought. They won against the Sabines and built monuments to the victory. The Ancient Romans were reminded of their mythical origins through these monuments.
Rome was eventually ruled by six kings after Romulus. However, the people got tired of the tyranny and changed their government from a monarchy to a democracy. This did not stop them from conquering their world. Originally, war was considered glorified raiding. Raiding meant that you just took slaves and cattle from the people. Rome took this a step further and incorporated its former enemies. The former enemies were to provide soldiers for the Roman Empire. Building relationships with their former enemies was the way that Rome was different.
Rome eventually would come into conflict with Carthage. An allied city had appealed to Rome for help against a Carthaginian city. Rome intervened with the city and came into conflict with the seafaring Carthaginians. They seized a Carthaginian ship and copied it to be able to battle on the sea. This was the start of the conflict between Carthage and Rome.
To learn more about the Roman Empire, continue to watch Empire Without Limits.
Mary Beard enthusiastically tells the story of Rome. She takes you to the places in the Roman Empire to fully flesh out Rome’s story.
You can access the YouTube video here.
I discovered a new historian who I want to share with the readers of this page. Mary Beard is an expert in ancient Roman history and specializes in the history of Pompeii. She is a lecturer at Cambridge. She is also a terrific narrator and I could listen to her in a classroom all day. After watching this video, you will agree with that assessment yourself. She uses the documentary to bust a few myths about Pompeii. The bones tell the story of Pompeii in a unique way.
Beard explores the poverty and the riches of Pompeii. Ancient Pompeii could be termed a combination of Las Vegas and Brighton. It was the playground of the rich. It was the popular place of the fast set. It was place where rich Romans would take their vacation. It was a place preserved by a volcano. The bodies that were preserved reveal the differences between the rich and poor of Pompeii.
In the cellars of Pompeii, the rich and the poor died together. They lived close together,trying to make their own lives. This was highlighted by the staining on the bones. The poor people had no staining because they did not have wealth to carry with them as they tried to make their escape. The rich people carried their jewelry and their coins. When they died and their bodies rotted away, the jewelry ended up staining their bones over time. The bones found in the cellar provided an opportunity for forensic specialists to study the bones. Bones in plaster casts could not be studied due to contamination.
Beard explores the jewelry that the rich wore at the time of their death. She explains what was found and explores the possibility of the rich taking their life savings with them as they tried to make their escape. Then she explores the comparisons of Pompeii to modern day Naples. Pompeii may have been cleaner than Naples as bathing was a daily part of life. There were a large amount of baths found in Pompeii. It was a great leveler of society. It was a place to escape.
If you want to learn more before you show this to a classroom continue to watch. The bones are the items that really tell the tale of Pompeii. It also shows that studying History may be more complicated than you think it is. You may want to show this documentary to older students as there are some images that are not for younger eyes. There is a discussion of sex and brothels in this documentary. You could use pieces of the documentary in the classroom if you do not want to show it all.
You can highlight, copy, and paste the questions into a Word, GoogleDoc or Google Classroom document for use in school or home school. Format it the way you want to. All questions after formatting should fit onto one page with enough space for the student to write their answers.
You can access the video here.
Pompeii: Life and Death of a City Questions
1. What two cities did Mary Beard compare Pompeii to?
2. Why was the person called "Green Bones" green?
3. Did the poor people of Pompeii have the green staining on them?
4. Where were the bodies found?
5. How long was the swimming pool?
6. What was the name of the volcano Pompeii was next to?
7. What piece of jewelry was Mary told not to wear?
8. Where did people live in Pompeii?
9. What did Pompeii have in common with Naples?
10. What was an important part of life of Pompeii?
Pompeii: Life and Death of a City Answers
1. What two cities did Mary Beard compare Pompeii to? - Las Vegas and Brighton
2. Why was the person called "Green Bones" green? - Stained by copper or bronze
3. Did the poor people of Pompeii have the green staining on them? No
4. Where were the bodies found? - Cellar
5. How long was the swimming pool? - 200 Foot/Olympic sized
6. What was the name of the volcano Pompeii was next to? - Vesuvius
7. What piece of jewelry was Mary told not to wear? - A chain
8. Where did people live in Pompeii? Above the shop
9. What did Pompeii have in common with Naples? Graffiti, Imagery on the street
10. What was an important part of life of Pompeii? Bathing
Here is another video to put into your files for the future. This time, we are exploring the history of Ancient Rome. Mary Beard takes us through the life of Caligula. Was he Rome’s cruelest emperor? Why has he gone down into history as Rome’s Biggest Villains?
Caligula’s story starts in Germany, in the Rhine Valley. His father was Germanicus, he was heir to the throne, and his mother was the granddaughter of the first Roman Emperor. Caligula was born Gaius Caesar Germanicus, it sounds like he was the thrasher of the Germans. Caligula traveled through the German lands while his father was on the campaign. He grew up in a war zone. The most intriguing artifact connected to Caligula’s childhood was a pair of boots, the Caggiula. His mother dressed the young Caligula as a miniature soldier. The soldiers around him nicknamed him Caligula or “little boots” or “bootikins.” It was a nickname he would hate.
In 19 AD, Germanicus suddenly died, while Caligula was seven years old. Romans were grief-stricken with the news of Germanicus' death. Germanicus’ death was possibly ordered by the Emperor and the person who poisoned him committed suicide before the trial. The Emperor was not seen as grieving for his nephew’s death. Germanicus was not given a state funeral when his ashes were returned to Rome. The Emperor made sure that every important city knew that he was not responsible for Germanicus’ death. Caligula’s mother felt the Emperor was responsible. Knowing this Caligula’s mother was exiled.
When Caligula was 19, the emperor summoned the boy to his palace at Capri. Why did the Emperor summon Caligula to Capri? Nobody knows. It could be theorized that the Emperor taught Caligula how to be a dictator. During his time, Caligula’s family was under attack. His mother starved to death and his brothers were violently murdered. Caligula would have learned that anyone close to power was in danger of dying. He also learned never to show any emotion.
When the Emperor died the Roman Senate declared Caligula Rome’s third emperor. When he was declared emperor, Caligula had a young cousin murdered as he was seen as an alternative to his reign. His second act as emperor was to put on a play to demonstrate his family connections and his right to rule Rome. He then had his mother’s ashes brought to Rome and buried her next to his father Germanicus. The coins he minted had his image on them and he would scatter coins out to the people. The coins hammered home the message of Caligula’s bloodline. It also hammered home the message that Caligula had the support of the army.
Caligula started many building projects around Rome. He built aqueducts, the imperial palace, an obelisk was shipped from Egypt. Caligula showed off his wealth. However, there were shadows underneath the Emperor’s show. The only people Caligula was his servants’ and the servants played a role in the palace games. They helped Caligula keep control over the empire. The servants did not represent a direct threat to him. Caligula was a man paranoid about security, especially after what happened with his family.
He was right to be worried, there were people after him. One group came from his family because one of them wanted to be emperor. The second group came from ordinary people who wanted to not have an Emperor. These threats would turn him into a monster.
You could always use clips from this documentary in the classroom as there is some discussion that is targeted at an older audience. Mary Beard is a fantastic narrator of Roman history. You can continue to watch this documentary to find out more about Caligula.
You can access the documentary on YouTube here.
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