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.
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