Good Morning! Mary Beard is back in episode two of Meet the Romans. This time, she is looking at the ancient slums. She starts off the episode looking at a model of Roman. The model may hint at the size of Rome, but does not answer the basic questions about ordinary people. What was it like to live in the city? What was it like for kids in the city? Where did you go to the bathroom? Where did you go for medical attention? Mary Beard hopes to answer these questions.
Beard looks at the tombstones of the Ancient Romans. These tombstones tell individual stories. Both the rich and the poor were represented in these tombstones. Beard reads a tombstone from a poor member of Roman Society. The man’s tombstone speaks of his relief that he no longer has to starve and no longer has to worry about rent. He is going to enjoy the afterlife. The man’s wife and daughter erected the tombstone and his daughter noted that her father spoiled her. This man’s tombstone highlights the plight of the Roman poor and the fear of the rent collector.
Next, Beard looks at the remnants of the ancient Roman high-rise apartment blog. These apartments would house the poorest people. She explores the remains of the apartments. On the first floor, there would be shops and then above the stores, there would be apartments. The second level would be bigger flats for the shopkeepers. The farther up you went, the apartments grew smaller and the light would disappear. Six people could be occupying those apartments at once. The apartments were a tight fit. The Roman attitude was to pack them in and pack them high. The higher you went up, the worse the apartments were. Beard quips “it was social climbing backward.”
Beard then explores a communal tomb. Everyone could be buried here and there were hundreds of tombs. It was a place where you could find every occupation. There was a bodyguard, a barber, a midwife, and others. All of Roman life was there. Not only did Romans live stacked up, but they were also buried stacked up. These tombs give a glimpse of ordinary Roman life.
A Roman map was discovered and Mary Beard explores this map. This map shows how the city was laid out. A few remnants survive on the map and at the time it was a huge map. The map shows the streets and apartment blocks. It showed where the ordinary people lived. There was no city plan and Roman grew up chaotically. The streets were narrow and places where you did not want to get caught in at night. It was joked that no one should walk on the street without making a will. A thirteen-year-old tourist was killed by a piece of flying roof tile!
Apartments were mainly used for sleeping. You had to go out for the basic necessities. Nothing could be done at home due to the size of the apartment. Life was done in the outdoors. Everything else could be done in public. The people used public toilets. There were public baths. Going to the bathroom and going to the baths were social activities. One man noted that going to the baths was “a great privilege of life.” The baths were the center of life. They were noisy places where people met.
This was an excellent documentary that looked into how the Romans lived with a focus on the slums. It was an education on how crowded Ancient Rome was. This would be a good episode to mine for clips, especially the discussion on the public baths.
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