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.
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