The Roman Empire reveals how an empire, which seemed destined to rule for 1000 years, would soon be swept away by barbarian hordes. How can such a breakdown be explained? How can we understand what the Roman army in fact was?
The Legions of Rome
The first episode provides a snapshot of what the Roman Empire was like in 100 AD, concentrating on the fort of Vindolanda, on the border of what is now England and Scotland. Archaeologists have uncovered items which throw light on everyday life at the time, and help to explain why the Empire weakened during this period.
It reveals how administering such a vast territory was a difficult, if not impossible task. Economic and social problems undermined the institutions, and personal ambition and the conquered territories aspirations to independence, threatened the central power.
Timgad: the Rome of Africa
The city of Timgad in North Africa is a perfect illustration of the Empire's impressive system of expansion. It is testimony to the Roman method of cultural domination and assimilation. The program takes a look at this showpiece city, whose purpose was to instil in the natives of Mauritania the desire to become, and remain, Roman citizens.
Every stone bears witness to an intense, exhilarating lifestyle, like the traces left by games of hopscotch or marbles, or the telling anonymous graffiti which reads: "Hunting, bathing, gaming, jesting - this is the life".
Grandeur and Decadence
The final episode explores the tragedy of Pompeii, which has provided a rare insight into the lives of its citizens. Although the latest excavations provide further proofs of the magnificence of the Roman Empire, they also show how its hedonistic way of life contained the seeds of Rome's moral decay.
In Rome itself, eminent citizens played an important part in society. They were expected to prove their devotion to their city by distributing and putting on shows. Circuses were the chief form of entertainment. The elaborate spectacles staged at the Colosseum were a foretaste of the decadence to come.
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