Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town


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Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town

Pompeii: one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history. People know how its victims died, but this film sets out to answer another question - how did they live?


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This programme contains some strong language.

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In 79AD, this volcano exploded.

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Down below, around the bay of Naples, there were farms, houses,

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luxurious villas, Roman towns.

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The best known is Pompeii.

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The eruption which wiped this ancient town off the Roman map

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is one of the world's most famous disasters,

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but the tragedy has given historians a priceless legacy.

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The inhabitants were overwhelmed by gas, lethal gas, volcanic debris

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and we found their bodies exactly where they died.

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Many have been cast in plaster, frozen in time.

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They've tantalised the world with their last horrific moments of death.

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But they tell us little about their lives.

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Now, in a cellar just two miles outside Pompeii,

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are 54 well-preserved skeletons lying exactly where they died.

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They were hiding from the full force of the volcano.

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2,000 years later, they're about to give up their secrets.

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I'm wondering whether they can tell us something

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about the most interesting question in Pompeii,

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which is not how the people died, we know how they died,

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it's about how the people in Pompeii actually lived.

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For the 25 years I've taught classics at Cambridge

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I've been fascinated by what life was really like day to day in ancient Pompeii.

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I am hoping these skeletons will help take this understanding

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one step further and put my theories to the test.

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I'll explore the opulent and the ordinary.

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Don't have to be rich to wear jewellery.

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In a city of the refined and the rude.

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It looks to me as if the woman is on top of him but sucking his toes.

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I'll see the hardship endured, and the pleasures savoured.

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These guys don't look too pissed yet.

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I can't find where I left my glass.

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I want to see if we can probe a bit deeper and get beneath the skin of this ancient town.

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-You don't get closer to real Rome than being in a cesspit, do you?

-No.

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I am hoping that the people in the cellar will help me discover

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what life was like before Vesuvius forced them to flee.

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Pompeii is the most important archaeological site in the Roman world.

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Nowhere else do we come face to face with antiquity

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up close in quite this personal way.

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These perfectly preserved ruins

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bring millions of us here each year to see a snapshot of Roman life.

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But that's all we see, a snapshot.

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Of a society where it appears the rich enjoyed a life of luxury

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and everyone else, the poor and the slaves, lived lives of drudgery.

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That's always seemed too simple to me.

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It's much more interesting than that.

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I want to bust a few myths about the rich and the poor in Pompeii.

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This was the stretch of coastline where rich Romans,

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I mean really, really rich Romans from the capital,

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used to come for their holidays.

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It was supposed to be particularly popular with the fast set,

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they came here to gamble, to have fun, to have sex.

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Sort of a cross between Las Vegas and Brighton.

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And that's what makes Pompeii so remarkable.

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It was a town where ordinary people lived cheek by jowl

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with the hedonistic rich.

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It had all the essentials of a Roman town, with a forum at one end,

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and at the other an amphitheatre and training ground for gladiators.

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A market, temples, baths, even a brothel.

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Perhaps 12,000 people packed into less than a square mile.

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Pompeii lies between the Mediterranean and Vesuvius.

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It's 17 miles along the coast from Naples, not far from Herculaneum,

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and it's in a suburb of Pompeii,

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Oplontis, where the cellar of skeletons was unearthed.

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It must have seemed a sensible place to come.

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It's partly underground and that would have seemed safe,

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but it's got good access from the road outside.

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It's very hard not to be...

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moved by this site.

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They might be 2,000 years old

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but they're still victims of a terrible human tragedy.

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On the other hand, I can't help wondering

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what these bones might tell us about the life of these people.

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The first thing we can tell from the cellar

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is that these people appear to be divided into two groups.

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On one side they were carrying money and jewels.

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These bodies have been catalogued and tidied away into boxes.

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The others, left where they fell, were found with nothing.

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So how can we explain this divide?

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You could come up with all kinds of theories as to why it might be.

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But for my money the most likely thing is that we're dealing with a distinction in wealth.

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These skeletons are important

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because many of the bones found at Pompeii have simply been jumbled up.

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And the plaster casts, they're very poignant, but are much less useful

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for forensic science because the bones inside get contaminated.

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Remains preserved like those in the cellar

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exactly where the people died are rare.

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For the first time,

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these are going to be analysed by a forensic team, led by Fabian Kanz.

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So far we have found at least 54 individuals here, at least,

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and this gives us a broad cross section of the society

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of the Romans at that time.

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The point is we have a great opportunity here because we have a snapshot of the society.

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We might have slaves, we might have upper class people,

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and we can find out if there have been big differences.

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One of the most complete skeletons is that of a man of about 55.

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Apart from some dental cavities he seems in pretty good nick.

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If you look at the other bones, I noticed this.

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I don't know much about skeletons but that looks to me like

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something that's got a real big muscle attachment.

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Yes, it's the right upper arm,

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and it's the muscle attachment for the brachialis,

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and as you can see on the left side, it's nearly the same.

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And he must be a really strong man.

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He's my age, he's got about as good teeth as me, but he's much stronger.

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These are the rest of his bones, but why are his bones green?

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Yes, you're right. On the whole left side he's green.

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And green comes from metal objects, which means he was wealthy.

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There was some bronze or copper

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or brass objects buried with him.

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He had a considerable amount of metal wealth with him.

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Yes, the acid in the soil is reacting with the metal object

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and that makes him green.

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Nearly all of the so-called rich sample, have been at least one or two bones green.

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So they all have been buried close to something metal.

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Whereas what we call the poor, do any of them have this green?

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No, not at all.

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Carrying no possessions at all, the bones of the people on one side are unmarked.

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But, on the other side of the cellar, the people with green bones

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were discovered with a dazzling array of objects.

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These are now kept in a guarded vault

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at the archaeological museum in Naples.

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For the very first time I've been allowed to get really

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close to this amazing stuff, and actually get my hands on it.

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Look, this is really exciting for me.

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This is the first time I have even touched any jewellery from Pompeii.

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I am going got be very naughty, and put the bracelet on.

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However cynical you are, however much a boring old academic you are,

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it's still exciting to wear the bracelet worn 2,000 years ago.

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Nothing will ever stop me thinking that's exciting.

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I think this is very attractive, actually.

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You pick it up, you can feel instantly it's heavy. This is a solid bangle.

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But what strikes you about it, instantly, is that it's so big.

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It's not only women that wear bracelets,

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this could be man's jewellery, a big hunky man.

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This is really is a very, very delicate piece of jewellery.

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They told specifically that I'm not allowed to try this one on.

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The links are really tiny.

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It's very high-quality workmanship, very nicely done.

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It must've been, it would be very pricey now,

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it must have been pricey then, too.

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There was a vast treasure horde in the cellar.

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Close to the skeleton of the man with green bones,

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was a woman in her early twenties.

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She had with her

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one of the very, very biggest amounts of money found with anybody,

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anywhere in Pompeii.

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In Roman currency, it was 10,000 sesterces.

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What that means is it's about the equivalent

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of 10 year's pay for a legionary Roman soldier.

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These are some of the coins.

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Some were in silver, but a lot were in gold.

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And she had them with her in two separate containers.

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Instantly you can see

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the silver ones are very worn.

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These actually have been

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money in circulation. These are for actually buying things in the Pompeian market place.

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But the gold ones are in absolutely beautiful condition.

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I think what this tells us is these really have been somebody's savings.

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You can imagine very easily what must have happened, that the people were fleeing,

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they wanted to take their valuables with them, they get the purse,

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they stuff what's most important to them, these things.

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They stuff it inside the purse, put it in their pocket and off they go.

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This is what the people in the cellar chose to take with them

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as they tried to escape.

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They sought refuge from the eruption in what was probably an underground storeroom.

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They never made it further than this cellar in Oplontis.

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The building above the cellar appears, at first,

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like a two-storey, residential home.

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But, if you explore a little further,

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you see that much more was going on.

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There's a large building with two floors of storerooms,

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piles of big containers and wheel ruts made by hundreds of carts.

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This was clearly more than somebody's house.

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This is an agricultural depot.

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It's ghostly now.

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In Roman times, it must have been an absolute hub of activity with people

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packing things up, carting things, wheeling them off,

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getting them ready for despatch.

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Whoever owned this place must have been pretty wealthy.

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But he wasn't anything like as wealthy as one of his neighbours,

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because just over there, few yards form this place,

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is one of the most luxurious villas

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ever found in all of the Roman world.

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The cellar is only a stone's throw from this stunning Roman mansion.

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100 rooms, decorated with sumptuous frescos, painted with pigments from

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the farthest corners of the Roman empire.

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And to top it all, an Olympic-size 200-foot-long swimming pool,

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where the guests could let their hair down.

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So, while the rich frolicked at their pool parties,

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what was life like on the streets of Pompeii?

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What I used to...

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Mattia Buondonno's family has lived in Pompeii for generations

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and he's one of the site's most experienced guides.

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He's got a local sense of how this place might once have been.

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What's your sense of what the ancient town was like, the basics, what was life like here?

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Smell!

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Smell of the people, smell of the activities of

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commerciality that was here, smell on everywhere,

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smelling on money.

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And the smell of the animals too, presumably.

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-Yes!

-And just think of the smell of the shit.

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-Yes!

-Awful!

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For them was normal life.

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To get an idea of Pompeii

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as the people in the cellar would have seen it, I've come to Naples.

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Though it's a modern city,

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there are some striking similarities with the ancient town nearby.

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-So, you could feel yourself in Pompeii.

-Here?

-Yes.

-Why?

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Because more or less, the atmosphere, the first floor,

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and the busy town...

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It's easy to forget that Pompeii was a two-storey town.

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People lived above their shops and bars and stairs opened

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right onto the streets, just as they do in Naples today.

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I think people often wonder where all the stuff was in a Pompeian shop or a bar.

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What this tells you is that you can actually hang it from the ceiling...

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Like they did 2,000 years ago, as this painting shows us.

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All around modern Naples are echoes of Pompeii's past.

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From the doors, just like the ones you see in Pompeian frescos.

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-There are things like this in Pompeii, are they?

-Oh yes, they had! They had!

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-Careful, because we don't want the owner to come.

-OK, we can get out.

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To the images they left on their walls.

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I think the graffiti is pretty Pompeian.

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The Pompeian graffiti were better than this.

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Yes, they were wittier. Wittier, I think.

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Ah! That's very Pompeian, is it?

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No, Pompeii was cleaner.

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-Pompeii was cleaner than that?

-Yeah.

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You really think so?

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Mattia, you don't, do you?

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So we can find all kinds of clues

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as to how ancient Pompeians lived in modern Naples.

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But what can the bones from the cellar

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add to the picture of their lives?

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This looks quite ordinary to me. This is the leg bone?

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This is the lower part of the leg bone and if you compare it to

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this bone, it's swollen and you can see all these little holes.

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-And what is that?

-This is an infection of the skin and the bone.

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A possible reason for this might be a cut, is one explanation for it.

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So, you get a cut, you haven't got any antiseptic...

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..you maybe you don't even know exactly what the relationship

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is between dirt and infection,

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so the cut never properly heals and is a kind of

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lifetime infection really.

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Painful or not painful?

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Very painful, very painful.

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So where could this infection have come from?

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After all, we tend to think of Romans as a rather clean lot,

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regularly visiting the baths.

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It's true that bathing was an important part of life,

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as we can see at the baths near the forum in Pompeii.

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They give us a better picture than anywhere else in the world of how Roman bathing actually worked.

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This is where you took your clothes off.

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I think it must have been quite stunning to come in from the hot

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sweaty outside, through the narrow corridor

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into this beautifully decorated room.

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You have to imagine the baths as being a place where someone,

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who's life could be a little bit drab, could come to bright colours,

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twinkling lights, water splashing, everybody with their clothes off.

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The baths were the people's palace.

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Bathing was a great leveller.

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Almost everyone in ancient Rome, rich and poor, men and women

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would have gone to the baths,

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including the people from our cellar.

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These feats of engineering had under-floor heating,

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a series of hot and cold rooms and in Rome itself, they could even have a library attached.

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You get all sorts of things when you come into Roman Baths.

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You get hot and cool, you get rest, but it's also crucial to remember,

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you get wonderful things to look at, too,

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and the ceiling still has some traces of the kinds of

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over-the-top decoration that you expect in a really good Roman bath

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and everybody shares those things.

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We tend to think of these luxurious baths as pristine marble palaces,

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where people came to get clean.

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But is that really the case?

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Here is where I guess you'd have spend your time,

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in this lovely marble pool.

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It's a bit like a Jacuzzi, think California

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or perhaps think rugby club.

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You sit down, the warm water is around your feet,

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this is a great time to relax,

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to talk to your friends, in this lovely setting.

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There is however a nasty surprise in store.

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We can see ever so clearly where the water comes into this pool,

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there is a nice little spout here to bring the water in

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but you can look all around and there isn't a single place where it can go out.

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All this means is there's absolutely no circulation of water

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at all in this pool.

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All people who piss in here, their sweat,

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it all comes into a steaming hot, watery mess.

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Just how healthy is that?

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It's not at all healthy,

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even some Roman doctors realised it wasn't healthy.

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The great Roman doctor called Celsus, who says,

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"Make sure you don't go to the baths if you've got an open wound,

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"because you're likely to die of gangrene if you do."

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Whether the people in the cellar made that connection we don't know.

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But the bones offer an extraordinary revelation about another area

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of the population's health.

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-So these are two different people, are they?

-Yes, two different people.

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10 to 12-year-old children.

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They're both the same age and they both have the same abnormalities on their teeth.

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We think, most probably, they have been twins.

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Same age, same teeth.

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Yes and they had a problem.

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On closer examination of the twin's teeth,

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Fabian's colleague, Maciej Henneberg,

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discovered evidence of a horrible and unexpected disease.

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They must have had a massive illness.

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One possible explanation for it is

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congenital syphilis.

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I am not joking, but...

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I thought syphilis didn't come to Europe until much later than this.

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If this were the case,

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this would be our first Roman case of congenital syphilis.

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-Yes, of course.

-Well, that would be something to find in this cellar, wouldn't it?

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If this is true, it would overturn the idea

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that the disease first arrived in Europe with Columbus' sailors.

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This would be the first recorded case of syphilis by more than 1,400 years.

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But the twins in the cellar

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also tells us about another aspect of ancient Roman life.

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This must have been a really bad and serious illness.

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Somebody had to take care of them,

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very, a lot of care, a lot of healthcare,

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a lot of effort that they made it.

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What strikes me is that they were found in the so-called poor sample,

0:23:010:23:06

but still must have received years of medical care.

0:23:060:23:10

It is interesting because it's going from

0:23:100:23:14

a really nice scientific observation, just to a glimpse of

0:23:140:23:18

a family support network, parents looking after them,

0:23:180:23:23

the very base of their survival is about human care.

0:23:230:23:26

The possibility of a sexually transmitted disease

0:23:300:23:34

might at first sight reinforce a view many people have

0:23:340:23:39

of ancient Rome as a society of debauchery and sexual excess.

0:23:390:23:43

There's willies, big willies everywhere.

0:23:430:23:46

When one object was first first found in a Pompeian bar,

0:23:460:23:50

it was deemed too shocking to be put on public display.

0:23:500:23:54

It's a bronze lamp and all kinds of things dangle off it,

0:23:560:24:01

bells and stuff, a kind of wind chimes for us,

0:24:010:24:04

the Romans would've called it a "Tintinnabulum".

0:24:040:24:08

But the centre of attention was to be this chap here,

0:24:080:24:12

a bronze hunchback pygmy

0:24:120:24:17

with a huge willy, which he is in the process of cutting off.

0:24:170:24:23

I like to think that this shows greater anxiety

0:24:240:24:27

on the part of the Romans about their masculinity, but who knows?

0:24:270:24:31

Maybe it's a strange form of erotica,

0:24:310:24:34

maybe it's a joke on the guys who came to drink in the bar,

0:24:340:24:39

or is it in the end, just a lamp?

0:24:390:24:42

Whatever its function, you only need to stroll around town

0:24:420:24:45

to see the same phallic theme again and again.

0:24:450:24:49

What do they mean?

0:24:490:24:50

What were they for?

0:24:500:24:52

Everybody's had a theory and there have been some pretty mad ones.

0:24:520:24:56

Do they, for example, point to the nearest brothel?

0:24:560:25:00

I'm afraid, not a hope!

0:25:000:25:01

If this were the case, Pompeii would be littered with brothels.

0:25:010:25:07

Some people think it is, but I'm not so sure, if you look carefully

0:25:070:25:12

at this upmarket bath house,

0:25:120:25:15

you see that displays of sex can be interpreted differently.

0:25:150:25:19

The painting on the room you come into,

0:25:190:25:22

features all kinds of sexual positions,

0:25:220:25:27

from back, from the front, with the tongue, you name it, it's here.

0:25:270:25:32

Not just that, each one is given a number.

0:25:320:25:37

This has launched the theory that this bath establishment

0:25:370:25:42

is not just a bath establishment but has, perhaps on the upper floor,

0:25:420:25:48

a brothel attached.

0:25:480:25:50

It's a kind of massage parlour with fringe activities.

0:25:500:25:55

I am afraid the truth about these paintings is a bit more mundane.

0:25:560:26:02

What we have really come into is the changing room.

0:26:020:26:06

You can see along the walls,

0:26:080:26:10

the place where the shelf to hold your clothes would have been put.

0:26:100:26:15

What this paintings are, they are not

0:26:150:26:19

adverts for the sex that might have been going on upstairs, "Please can I have three hours of number four,"

0:26:190:26:24

I think they are a clever way

0:26:240:26:27

of helping you remember where you left your tunic or your toga.

0:26:270:26:33

In fact, if you look rather carefully,

0:26:330:26:35

at what the numbers are written on, they're written on wicker baskets, which I think is what we imagine,

0:26:350:26:43

would be on the shelf below where you left your belongings.

0:26:430:26:47

So the idea would be,

0:26:470:26:50

"I left my toga near the fellatio."

0:26:500:26:53

It's a kind of joke!

0:26:530:26:56

But if you head across town there is one building

0:26:560:26:59

where there is no debate about its intended function.

0:26:590:27:03

As far as I'm concerned this is the town's one and only known brothel.

0:27:030:27:09

This is where you can see that the whole wall

0:27:140:27:18

is covered with the graffiti of the customers.

0:27:180:27:22

They're an interesting multicultural bunch, there's a couple in Greek.

0:27:220:27:26

They're very hard to read, Latin handwriting is absolutely dreadful,

0:27:280:27:32

but this one here is clear and pretty typical.

0:27:320:27:37

"I came along here and I had a good fuck"

0:27:370:27:40

which is about as clear as you can get.

0:27:400:27:42

It's a pretty gloomy place and my heart goes to the prostitutes

0:27:420:27:48

who had to work here.

0:27:480:27:51

The sex here still sells 2,000 years later

0:27:510:27:54

because this is the most popular visitor attraction on the entire site.

0:27:540:28:00

This place is always packed with people because we still have

0:28:030:28:06

a glamorous view of Roman sex and Roman brothels.

0:28:060:28:10

We are also get told a lot of rubbish about it.

0:28:100:28:13

If you listen to what the tour guides are saying here,

0:28:130:28:16

they look at these paintings up above the cubicles and they say

0:28:160:28:21

these are the menu at the brothel,

0:28:210:28:24

you might not be able to speak Latin very well

0:28:240:28:27

but you could always ask like in a bar,

0:28:270:28:30

"Can I have some of that one above that door."

0:28:300:28:33

It's rubbish! It doesn't add up to me.

0:28:330:28:36

I think they are fantasy images about sex.

0:28:360:28:41

This place is bad enough.

0:28:410:28:43

It's dark, it's dingy, the girls are working in prison cells effectively,

0:28:430:28:50

and you don't have to make it worse by pretending you chose sex

0:28:500:28:54

like the way you choose a hamburger.

0:28:540:28:56

Between the frescoes, the phalluses and the brothel,

0:28:560:29:00

you can see how we ended up with the image of Pompeii as a society obsessed with sex.

0:29:000:29:05

But we need to think again about this ancient myth.

0:29:050:29:09

My idea is pretty simple, honestly.

0:29:090:29:13

I don't think that the Romans were more interested in sex than we are.

0:29:130:29:18

I think it's much more to do with male power.

0:29:180:29:21

It's to say, "This is a very masculine culture."

0:29:210:29:27

Roman power is about male power,

0:29:270:29:29

the phallus tells you that Roman power is built on its masculinity.

0:29:290:29:36

We've been too keen to see sex in every corner of Pompeii

0:29:380:29:42

and that may go for another image of Roman life too.

0:29:420:29:45

We picture the rich gorging themselves in gluttonous feasts,

0:29:450:29:50

whilst the poor and the slaves, who serve them, go hungry.

0:29:500:29:54

I wonder if the skeletons in the cellar can give us a different view on that, too.

0:29:540:30:01

Fabian, is there anything that you've been able to discover so far

0:30:010:30:04

which might tell us about the diet of these people?

0:30:040:30:08

From what we can see with the naked eye, we didn't find any signs of malnutrition or lack of minerals.

0:30:080:30:15

There is no significant difference between the two groups.

0:30:150:30:19

-So everybody here was getting enough of what they needed to keep alive and pretty healthy?

-Yes.

0:30:190:30:26

This is remarkable.

0:30:260:30:29

We might expect to see big differences between rich and poor,

0:30:290:30:33

the poor perhaps smaller and showing signs of nutritional deficiency, but not here.

0:30:330:30:39

So can we find out more about what these people had actually been eating?

0:30:390:30:45

Fabian, I noticed when I was looking at some of the teeth, that they seem very worn,

0:30:450:30:51

much more worn down than modern teeth.

0:30:510:30:53

Because mainly the process of milling the grain is completely different

0:30:530:31:00

and in this time there was a lot of stones in the flour.

0:31:000:31:06

So when our Pompeians eat their nice Pompeian bread, they're also eating bits of the millstone and

0:31:060:31:14

-it abrades the teeth.

-Yes.

0:31:140:31:15

Bread was such a staple food that in Pompeii alone there are 30 bakeries.

0:31:190:31:24

One of the biggest is on the town's high street and it gives us

0:31:240:31:28

a vivid picture of how Pompeians baked their daily bread.

0:31:280:31:31

One thing that we can be certain about all the people who ended up in our cellar, rich and poor alike,

0:31:350:31:42

is that they would have eaten bread from the same sort of bakery, maybe even the same bakery.

0:31:420:31:48

Now this is a really typical baking establishment of Pompeii.

0:31:480:31:53

I'm standing now in the area where the corn was ground, mules would have driven these rotating mills,

0:31:530:32:01

the main entrance to the bakery from the street was there

0:32:010:32:05

and this is where the dough was prepared, probably by slaves.

0:32:050:32:10

Flour was brought from this area, round to here, they formed it into loaves as yet unbaked,

0:32:100:32:18

they put those loaves on the shelf here and they whooshed through

0:32:180:32:25

to be picked up and put in the oven here.

0:32:250:32:29

And we know exactly what it looked like.

0:32:310:32:34

A painting from Pompeii shows us round loaves of bread, divided into eight portions.

0:32:340:32:41

In fact, 81 carbonised loaves cooked and ready to be sold

0:32:410:32:46

have been found perfectly preserved in one of the town's many ovens.

0:32:460:32:52

That's not all.

0:32:520:32:54

Archaeologists have found pomegranates, walnuts,

0:32:540:33:00

even eggs preserved for 2,000 years.

0:33:000:33:03

And now, an extraordinary piece of new research

0:33:080:33:12

means we can prove that it wasn't just rich Romans who ate well.

0:33:120:33:17

In Herculaneum, nine miles from Oplontis,

0:33:170:33:20

historian Andrew Wallace-Hadrill is leading the excavation project.

0:33:200:33:24

Herculaneum was buried under more than 50 feet of ash and volcanic debris during the eruption of 79.

0:33:240:33:32

Above this street was an apartment block inhabited,

0:33:320:33:36

not by Rome's super-rich, but by the ordinary people of the town.

0:33:360:33:39

What went into their mouths came out, 15 feet below.

0:33:390:33:44

Let's come down here, Mary, it's not so scary as it looks.

0:33:450:33:48

Down here, the evidence of Roman diet has been perfectly preserved for two millennia.

0:33:480:33:53

I am not great on ladders actually.

0:33:530:33:55

You appear to be disappearing into the bowels of the Earth.

0:33:550:34:00

You can see some very good down pipes here.

0:34:000:34:04

This whole sewer is fed from above, the stuff coming down,

0:34:040:34:08

smears down the wall, generations of stuff, leaves a trail

0:34:080:34:12

and it's still brown - you can see very clearly how brown it is -

0:34:120:34:17

it just leaves this trail of shit.

0:34:170:34:19

It feels real! You don't get closer to real Rome than being in a cesspit, do you?

0:34:190:34:23

-No!

-So, you've got a layer of shit on the floor and then volcanic material covering it.

0:34:230:34:30

Exactly! Beautifully sealing the stuff on the floor.

0:34:300:34:33

-So you take out the volcanic material and get to the shit.

-Yes.

0:34:330:34:36

It's all gone now!

0:34:360:34:38

It's all been removed.

0:34:380:34:40

It was up to our knees roughly.

0:34:400:34:42

It was really, really precious material.

0:34:420:34:44

In archaeological terms, this is gold.

0:34:440:34:47

It's precious because it literally was what had gone through these Roman lavatories.

0:34:470:34:53

Down here was the story of Roman diet, just waiting to be found.

0:34:530:34:58

This is the world's largest archaeological excavation of sewers.

0:34:590:35:06

Over 700 bags of human waste were collected from the sewer floor

0:35:060:35:11

and are being systematically analysed to tell us more about what Romans were eating.

0:35:110:35:16

What have you learnt?

0:35:160:35:18

In terms of diet, the amazing thing about the contents is the variety.

0:35:180:35:24

You've got bones of all sorts, a lot of fish bones.

0:35:240:35:27

We're right by the sea, they had a high fish diet but also chicken and eggs, we've got walnuts,

0:35:270:35:34

a good variety of nuts, so you have a complete mixture between local stuff

0:35:340:35:39

and imported stuff which is so typical of the Roman empire.

0:35:390:35:42

They certainly lived healthy on this.

0:35:440:35:47

What's important is to try and fix who the people were that were living

0:35:470:35:53

above this cesspit and sending their cess into the sewer.

0:35:530:35:57

Yes. There is a series of shops immediately above us,

0:35:570:36:01

so some of them are shopkeepers. definitely and, then above them,

0:36:010:36:06

are two more floors of flats.

0:36:060:36:10

It's terribly tempting to think because they're flats, these must be absolutely dirt poor.

0:36:100:36:16

They're neither dirt poor nor stinking rich, and this is the really hard thing.

0:36:160:36:21

People often think of the Roman world as being these really posh people

0:36:210:36:26

at the top and everyone else is ground down and miserable. No, sorry!

0:36:260:36:31

It's much more complicated than that, these are not really posh people,

0:36:310:36:35

they aren't rich enough to live a life of luxury, they're ordinary people.

0:36:350:36:41

The excavation in the sewers

0:36:410:36:44

supports what we found in the cellar, that rich and poor shared the same basic, healthy diet.

0:36:440:36:50

But let's not kid ourselves, the rich took every chance

0:36:500:36:53

to show off their wealth and where you ate was one way to do that.

0:36:530:36:59

This is a top of the range Roman dining room.

0:37:000:37:05

We might imagine that some of the richest of the skeletons in our cellar,

0:37:050:37:11

even if they didn't own something like this, might once or twice have eaten somewhere like this.

0:37:110:37:18

It's built around the idea of running, trickling, trinkling water.

0:37:180:37:24

Water would rush down from that little niche at the back.

0:37:240:37:29

It would then feed in to this pool here.

0:37:290:37:33

It would feed out over the marble

0:37:330:37:36

and it would end up in another pool with a fountain overlooking a garden beyond.

0:37:360:37:43

The other thing that is quite interesting

0:37:440:37:48

is that it reveals very sharply

0:37:480:37:52

how dependent the rich would be for their display eating on slaves.

0:37:520:37:58

You've got to get up there, to recline. How do you do it? And how would you do it in a toga?

0:37:580:38:04

The answer must be that you were helped by your slaves.

0:38:040:38:09

It's a very nice day-to-day indication

0:38:090:38:12

of how the Roman elite relied on the servant class.

0:38:120:38:17

Let me try and get up.

0:38:170:38:20

It's not easy.

0:38:200:38:22

Whoops!

0:38:230:38:25

Now I suppose that what I do is recline like this

0:38:260:38:32

but I hope to goodness they had some cushions

0:38:320:38:35

because it really isn't very comfortable

0:38:350:38:39

and I'm a bit far from where my wine might be in here.

0:38:390:38:43

Certainly, it seems to me that this is ostentatious dining

0:38:430:38:47

coming at the price of comfort.

0:38:470:38:50

So unlike today when having money means you can eat out,

0:38:510:38:56

if you were rich in Pompeii, you were dining at home, surrounded by opulence.

0:38:560:39:02

But what about ordinary Pompeians who weren't living in luxury, where were they eating?

0:39:020:39:08

Fast food joints are one of the commonest features of the Pompeian street scene.

0:39:080:39:14

There's over 150 of them in the city, there's 20 of them in this section of street alone.

0:39:140:39:21

There's so many of them that they can't possibly have been

0:39:210:39:26

for the rich alone, they probably weren't for the rich at all!

0:39:260:39:28

They were for people who didn't have places to eat at home, for people coming in from the countryside,

0:39:280:39:34

or people coming in from the port who wanted to get a bite to eat.

0:39:340:39:38

You've got two choices if you're a customer at this bar.

0:39:420:39:47

Either you come to the street or to the counter,

0:39:470:39:50

see what they've got on offer on the dishes here,

0:39:500:39:53

choose what you want and take it away.

0:39:530:39:57

Fast food. If you've got more time, and I guess more money,

0:39:570:40:01

it was probably like modern Naples -

0:40:010:40:04

you got charged more if you want to sit down.

0:40:040:40:07

You go into the back room and spend time eating and drinking at a table.

0:40:070:40:12

I imagine it was pretty crowded,

0:40:130:40:15

perhaps six or eight tables with people sitting around and when you got down, at the table,

0:40:150:40:21

sitting on the chairs, at your eye level, are these lovely little scenes of life in the bar.

0:40:210:40:28

From the storerooms of the Naples museum, a fresco found in Pompeii has been brought out for me to see.

0:40:320:40:40

It once decorated the walls of another bar and gives us an idea of a typical Pompeian night out.

0:40:420:40:48

They're very clever, actually,

0:40:480:40:51

because the paintings have got the ancient equivalent of speech bubbles attached to them,

0:40:510:40:57

so a little dialogue, a little story develops.

0:40:570:41:01

And the story is not entirely unfamiliar.

0:41:020:41:05

After a good few drinks, two men get into an argument about a game of dice.

0:41:050:41:11

The upshot of this we see in the sadly bashed-up last scene, but happily the writing still survives.

0:41:120:41:20

One's saying, "You scumbag, I won!"

0:41:200:41:24

And the other is saying, quite literally, "No, you didn't, you cock sucker."

0:41:240:41:30

Just at the right-hand corner,

0:41:300:41:32

it must be the landlord because his speech bubble is saying,

0:41:320:41:37

"Look chaps, if you want to fight, get outside."

0:41:370:41:40

I think it's nice ending this little series of scenes with the landlord

0:41:400:41:46

because it reminds us that bars are not just places where people go and get drunk, gamble and flirt,

0:41:460:41:53

they're actually somebody's business.

0:41:530:41:56

So where rich and poor were eating and drinking was worlds apart,

0:41:570:42:03

but what they ate was for the most part very similar.

0:42:030:42:07

Everybody shared the benefit of food grown in this marvellously fertile region

0:42:070:42:11

and sourced from the plentiful Mediterranean, which in those days was right on their doorstep.

0:42:110:42:19

It's easy to forget that in Roman times, Pompeii was absolutely on the seashore.

0:42:230:42:28

It's only the seismic activity that means it's now inland.

0:42:280:42:32

Pompeii itself had a port and there are other little harbours up and down this coastline.

0:42:320:42:39

Goods came in from abroad, and goods went out from this rich agricultural land.

0:42:390:42:45

It might have looked like a small provincial Italian town by the sea but there is plenty of evidence,

0:42:480:42:55

some of it from the skeletons in the cellar, of just how far Pompeii's international connections stretched.

0:42:550:43:01

What we've got here is a gorgeous, gorgeous necklace.

0:43:030:43:09

It was found near one of the skeletons, the likely candidate is a middle-aged woman.

0:43:090:43:16

It is stunningly modern in its feel.

0:43:180:43:23

It's quite a narrow neck it's going to go round,

0:43:230:43:26

I think it might just go around me, but it's too big to be a bracelet.

0:43:260:43:31

It must have been a choker, going tight around somebody's neck.

0:43:310:43:37

One of the puzzles about these things always

0:43:370:43:40

is where the raw material for them comes from.

0:43:400:43:46

Emeralds aren't found naturally near Pompeii. The likelihood is that they come from Egypt.

0:43:460:43:51

These roughly shaped emeralds belonging to one of the skeletons

0:43:510:43:56

aren't the only evidence we have of Rome's two-way global traffic.

0:43:560:44:01

This is one of the most extraordinary objects ever found in Pompeii.

0:44:010:44:08

What it is...

0:44:080:44:11

is an ivory statuette, and you only have to look at it

0:44:110:44:16

to see this looks Indian and it is Indian,

0:44:160:44:19

that's where it comes from.

0:44:190:44:22

It brings it home to you in an instant that Pompeii and Pompeian inhabitants

0:44:220:44:28

know about what happens in the outside world,

0:44:280:44:32

or they have an awareness of Egypt and Africa and Asia

0:44:320:44:37

and all the other places around the Mediterranean in a way that is quite different

0:44:370:44:43

from what one imagines the global view of an English village might be in the 18th or 19th century.

0:44:430:44:49

So Pompeii was a small town with a world view.

0:44:530:44:56

But how far do our skeletons in the cellar reflect that?

0:44:560:45:00

We know Pompeii is in some ways

0:45:020:45:06

a surprisingly multicultural little place.

0:45:060:45:10

There are foreign objects, foreign imports, it's got a port, it's looking towards the outside world.

0:45:100:45:17

What's always been trickier to pin down is just how far the population was multicultural.

0:45:170:45:24

Have we got any evidence from these skeletons about the make-up of Pompeian society?

0:45:240:45:31

I mean the ethnic or racial make-up?

0:45:310:45:34

We found two skeletons where we are quite sure they are of African ancestry.

0:45:340:45:40

This is from the so-called rich group

0:45:400:45:42

and there is another one, it's a female lying on her belly there, she is of African origin.

0:45:420:45:48

Tell me how you know it's of African origin.

0:45:480:45:51

It's just the shape of the face.

0:45:510:45:54

Are you talking about sub-Saharan African, not North African.

0:45:540:45:58

-Yes, black.

-Black African.

0:45:580:46:00

What you're seeming to suggest, and I think it's a really important point,

0:46:000:46:05

is that there are people living here

0:46:050:46:09

who have an origin really on the other side of the Roman empire.

0:46:090:46:14

That's not the only thing interesting about the African skeleton.

0:46:150:46:19

His skull is green, stained by metal objects

0:46:190:46:24

and he's in the group found with treasure.

0:46:240:46:26

It's possible he was the slave of someone rich, but he might also have been rich himself.

0:46:260:46:34

We can't assume all Africans were slaves.

0:46:340:46:38

Brutal and degrading as Roman slavery could be, it wasn't as straightforward as that.

0:46:380:46:43

In one ancient cemetery outside Pompeii is a tomb that paints a much more complex picture of slavery.

0:46:460:46:52

What you've got here

0:46:540:46:56

is a tomb that holds the ashes of three people.

0:46:560:47:00

And they tell you who they are.

0:47:000:47:02

There is man called Publius Vesonius who is an ex-slave, he tells you he's an ex-slave.

0:47:020:47:10

There is a woman called Vesonia who had actually owned him

0:47:100:47:13

and then freed him, and my guess is they probably then got married.

0:47:130:47:20

And he's also putting it up for the guy on the right, a friend of his.

0:47:200:47:25

The first text says Vesonius put this up for this trio.

0:47:250:47:32

But the text underneath...

0:47:320:47:34

tells the sequel, which isn't so happy.

0:47:340:47:38

"Stop and read this," he says,

0:47:380:47:40

"because that guy on the right who I thought was my friend

0:47:400:47:44

"turned out to be false. In fact," says Vesonius, "he took me to court. We quarrelled

0:47:440:47:51

"and he took me to court, but luckily my innocence and the gods above saved me.

0:47:510:47:57

"But he was a complete bastard."

0:47:570:47:59

We don't know why this man didn't just remove his ex-friend's statue.

0:47:590:48:04

It's what I would have done. But luckily he didn't as this monument tells a fascinating story.

0:48:040:48:10

Here was an ex-slave rich enough to put up this big tomb for three

0:48:100:48:15

and then to go to court to settle a dispute with his former friend.

0:48:150:48:19

The point about Roman slavery is that it isn't always a lifetime sentence.

0:48:190:48:26

Slaves get freed by the people who owned them

0:48:260:48:30

and they sometimes go on to do very well.

0:48:300:48:34

In fact, my guess is the majority of the Pompeian population,

0:48:340:48:39

certainly some of the people in our cellar, would have had slaves somewhere in their ancestry.

0:48:390:48:45

It's been calculated that more than half the population of Herculaneum were descended from slaves.

0:48:450:48:52

Slaves certainly sometimes did what we think of as high status jobs.

0:48:520:48:56

There's evidence for that in a very surpising place.

0:48:560:49:00

Here you have the bog, probably one seat here and then ...

0:49:000:49:06

Yes, you can come and sit by me.

0:49:060:49:08

What's brilliant about this is that the last person to use this loo

0:49:100:49:14

before the eruption happened has left his name.

0:49:140:49:19

It starts with an A.

0:49:190:49:21

-That's right.

-And what he's saying is it's his name... "Apollinaris...

0:49:210:49:28

"Medicus T...T.imp..."

0:49:280:49:33

So "Apollinaris, the doctor of the emperor Titus..."

0:49:330:49:38

Then you can't read this any longer because it's got too faded.

0:49:390:49:43

Hic bene cacavit. He had a good shit here!

0:49:430:49:47

This name Apollinaris - we can't be certain, but is very likely a slave name.

0:49:470:49:53

So the emperor's doctor is a slave.

0:49:530:49:56

We tend to think the slave jobs as being very drudge manual labour,

0:49:560:50:02

some certainly were, but slaves also did, in our terms,

0:50:020:50:08

high-status professional jobs like being doctors.

0:50:080:50:13

That's another reason why slavery is more complicated.

0:50:130:50:16

Also, to be a slave of the Emperor is to be someone quite important.

0:50:160:50:21

In some ways it's better to be the slave of an emperor

0:50:210:50:25

than an ordinary freeborn person with a tiny little shop in Herculaneum.

0:50:250:50:29

I'd much rather be the Emperor Titus's slave doctor

0:50:290:50:32

-than a flower seller in the streets of Pompeii.

-He was on the way up.

0:50:320:50:35

So slavery was a fact of life in Pompeii.

0:50:370:50:40

Almost certainly some of the people in our cellar were slaves,

0:50:430:50:47

they died right next to their masters, as they would have lived.

0:50:470:50:51

At the house of a baker on the main street of Pompeii,

0:50:510:50:55

we find a nice illustration of that closeness in a painting on the dining room wall.

0:50:550:51:00

These guys don't look too pissed yet, although we can imagine what might have happened next,

0:51:000:51:07

but the give-away scene is in the background where that lady is clearly about to keel over

0:51:070:51:13

and she is being propped up by the slave behind her.

0:51:130:51:17

I guess the slaves came pretty handy for this kind of job.

0:51:170:51:20

But it wasn't just slaves and masters living on top of each other.

0:51:220:51:26

Here in the baker's house, right next to the smart dining room,

0:51:260:51:29

there's a stable, and in it, the bones of the animals,

0:51:290:51:34

the ones he used to turn the mills which ground the grain, and no doubt delivered the bread around town too.

0:51:340:51:42

Here we've got the finest room in the baker's residential quarters

0:51:420:51:46

right up next to where the mules lived.

0:51:460:51:51

Just a few yards away is the back end of a really rich house in Pompeii

0:51:510:51:56

that was being given a complete make over at the time of the eruption.

0:51:560:52:02

So the rich are living right next door, right up against the working bakery.

0:52:020:52:09

The baker has his poshest room right next door to his animals.

0:52:090:52:15

That's how Pompeians lived - cheek by jowl.

0:52:150:52:18

And that's how we find the people in the cellar -

0:52:180:52:22

rich and poor, male and female, old and young,

0:52:220:52:26

lying close to each other in death as they would have been in life.

0:52:260:52:30

But in 79AD, that life came to an end.

0:52:350:52:38

Neither they, nor the others in this town, had any idea they lived in the shadow of a volcano.

0:52:390:52:44

The last major eruption had been 1,500 years before.

0:52:440:52:49

Nothing could prepare the population for what happened when Vesuvius exploded.

0:52:580:53:04

The people in the cellar had one choice - to try and escape, or stay and find shelter.

0:53:140:53:20

From out at sea, you get a very good impression

0:53:240:53:28

of how Vesuvius really lours over the whole area.

0:53:280:53:33

But also, you get this slightly uncomfortable sense

0:53:330:53:37

of how very close the volcano is. It makes you realise how difficult it would have been to escape from it.

0:53:370:53:44

Especially if you left it a little bit too late.

0:53:440:53:48

While friends and neighbours fled, our 54 people looked for cover,

0:53:510:53:55

and many took their most precious belongings with them.

0:53:550:53:58

Why most of them stayed put, we can only guess, but in one case, there's a strong clue.

0:54:030:54:11

Fabian, tell me about the remains of this person laid out here.

0:54:120:54:17

This is maybe one of the most dramatic and tragic persons

0:54:170:54:23

we found in this whole sample,

0:54:230:54:27

because these are the bones of a young female and we found with the skeleton this small bone.

0:54:270:54:34

The pelvic bone of a foetus.

0:54:340:54:37

She must have been pregnant.

0:54:390:54:41

If you measure it, you can determine

0:54:420:54:45

it was in the last month of pregnancy and it's quite traumatic.

0:54:450:54:51

The thought of being 8.5 months pregnant and trying to flee for your life from the erupting volcano,

0:54:510:54:58

it's just dreadful.

0:54:580:55:01

Amazingly, an eyewitness account of the eruption survives.

0:55:100:55:15

It describes how on that fateful day you could hear the shrieks of women, the squalling of infants

0:55:150:55:21

and the shouting of men, some calling out for their parents,

0:55:210:55:26

others for their children or wives.

0:55:260:55:28

It was so dark, they could only recognise them by their voices.

0:55:280:55:32

Many pleaded for the help of the gods,

0:55:320:55:35

but more thought that the gods had disappeared, and that the world had been plunged into eternal darkness.

0:55:350:55:42

It must have been pitch black when the volcanic debris started to fall and our people tried to escape.

0:55:490:55:55

Several of them certainly had brought lamps with them.

0:55:550:55:59

This one is quite nice because the centre, just where the oil goes in,

0:55:590:56:04

has got a lovely picture here of the goddess of Rome herself.

0:56:040:56:09

She is sadly broken in half but she is quite recognisable with her helmet on.

0:56:090:56:15

The people in the cellar were sheltering there

0:56:170:56:20

as the eruption intensified outside, plunging them further into darkness.

0:56:200:56:25

Heaven knows how you could have found your way through the streets at night using just one of these.

0:56:280:56:35

It makes me realise how vulnerable the people in this cellar must have felt.

0:56:350:56:41

They fled through the darkness, all trace of the sun has been obliterated by the volcanic debris,

0:56:410:56:48

they've come in here, they're huddled together for shelter and support

0:56:480:56:54

and the only protection against the dark they've got is half a dozen little lamps like this.

0:56:540:56:58

Of course, in the end these people couldn't protect themselves from the same fate as the others in Pompeii.

0:57:010:57:08

But the Romans in the cellar didn't just leave us with evidence of their tragic death

0:57:080:57:14

but of the lives they lived too.

0:57:140:57:16

It may have been a male-dominated world where the rich dined in luxury and exploited the poor,

0:57:160:57:22

but Pompeii was also a place where slaves could earn their freedom, where women could own wealth,

0:57:220:57:28

and the ordinary Roman could eat and drink well.

0:57:280:57:32

It was a place where even the poorest knew something of the world outside.

0:57:320:57:38

The people who died in this cellar helped us to understand that Roman society

0:57:450:57:50

wasn't quite as black and white as we often imagine it to be.

0:57:500:57:55

Sure, these people would had vastly different lifestyles,

0:57:550:58:00

but they lived cheek by jowl and they shared a lot too.

0:58:000:58:04

The smells, the dark, and the dirt.

0:58:040:58:07

Not to mention the wine, the sex, the food and the fun.

0:58:070:58:12

And in the end, of course, they shared the same fate, in the same cellar 2,000 years ago.

0:58:120:58:19

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:300:58:33

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:330:58:36

Pompeii: one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history. We know how its victims died, but this film sets out to answer another question - how did they live? Gleaning evidence from an extraordinary find, Cambridge professor and Pompeii expert Mary Beard provides new insight into the lives of the people who lived in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius before its cataclysmic eruption.

In a dark cellar in Oplontis, just three miles from the centre of Pompeii, 54 skeletons who didn't succumb to the torrent of volcanic ash are about to be put under the microscope. The remains will be submitted to a barrage of tests that will unlock one of the most comprehensive scientific snapshots of Pompeiian life ever produced - and there are some big surprises in store.

Using the latest forensic techniques it is now possible to determine what those who perished in the disaster ate and drank, where they came from, what diseases they suffered, how rich they were and, perhaps even more astonishingly, the details of their sex lives.

The way the remains were found in the cellar already provides an invaluable clue about the lives of the people they belonged to. On one side of the room were individuals buried with one of the most stunning hauls of gold, jewellery and coins ever found in Pompeii. On the other were people buried with nothing. It looked like the stark dividing line of a polarised ancient society - a room partitioned between super-rich and abject poor. But on closer examination the skeletons reveal some surprises about life in Pompeii, of a place where slaves could eat a diet as rich and healthy as their masters, where colour was not a barrier to privilege or success and where even the poor could enjoy a standard of healthcare not realised again for another 18 centuries.

Mary takes us on journey from the cellar to a small ancient town which nevertheless boasted more than 50 fast food joints, dozens of rowdy bars, a 200-foot-long swimming pool and even its own brothel. The film opens the lid on this most famous of ancient towns to reveal Pompeii as it's never been seen before.