Lost Treasures of Rome – Channel 4

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Back in the day, when we “did” Pompeii at school via the Cambridge Latin Course, we had to draw pencil-and-ruler diagrams showing the layout of the Stabian baths.  Kids today, however, have got programmes like this, which use computer generated images of Romans wandering round the bathing complex (er, suitably covered to preserve their modesty 😄) and using strigils.  How much cooler is that than a boring old diagram?!  Also, the Cambridge Latin Course made it sound as if the baths were mainly for men, whereas this programme told us that there were hot tubs (well, hot baths) where groups of women would sit and gossip.

Don’t get me wrong: I have fond memories of the Cambridge Latin Course.  But my 11-year-old self would have loved all the CGI Romans wandering across the screen during this programme 😄.  And I’m sure that the Roman Life sections of the textbooks never mentioned the ladies’ spa.

There was an awful lot of digital reconstruction in this programme, of everything from funerals to slave markets to animal sacrifices.  There was even CGI food.  But there was a lot of proper archaeology as well, with cavers being brought in to assist … and we learned that, when they weren’t in the hot tubs or using the strigils, Pompeiians spent a lot of time eating street food, going to sporting or musical events and drinking locally-produced wine.  It sounds like some sort of paradise 😄!

Amazingly, around a third of Pompeii still hasn’t been uncovered, even after all these years of work – and there’s so much there that archaeologists are able to try to piece together individual life stories, such as that of a slave who obtained his freedom and became a wealthy man.   The technology used by the Pompeiians themselves was impressive, too, especially when it came to heating the baths.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an archaeological programme use so much CGI before!   It seemed a bit odd seeing all these cartoon-ish type characters trotting around in the middle of a serious documentary, but it was certainly entertaining, and I hope that this series makes its way into schools because I think it’ll really bring things to life for pupils studying either Latin, ancient history or classical civilisation, especially younger kids.   CGI Romans – whatever next?!

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