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BIRDS CALL, OARS SWEEP
DAVID DIMBLEBY: A cold winter's morning before daybreak
on the River Thames.
On a day like this, in 1834,
a lost treasure was to re-emerge.
A gang of workers were starting another day
on the banks of the Thames.
It was dirty, unappealing work.
Their job was to demolish the old London Bridge
and clearing away all this sludge and muck.
Filthy work at the best of times.
But on this particular day,
they made an astonishing discovery.
What they had discovered, to their amazement,
was a bronze head of the Roman Emperor Hadrian,
part of a great statue of the emperor...
..all its fine detail beautifully preserved.
The hair, the eyebrows, the eyes, this great nose
and the chin,
part of a beautiful statue.
And this is where our story begins.
From the Roman occupation of 2,000 years ago
to our own day...
..the story of Britain is revealed through art.
These are the greatest treasures of our nation,
objects of beauty which give a glimpse into the British soul.
Many treasures will be familiar.
But others are hidden.
Some have even left our shores,
scattered to the four corners of the earth.
This is the story of the Seven Ages of Britain.
The heart of the mighty empire that conquered nearly all Europe.
It was Rome that would bring order
to the barbarian chaos of the British Isles.
TRANSLATION FROM ITALIAN:
Fish and chips!
The Romans first invaded Britain in 55 BC.
But it would be another 90 years
before there was a full-scale conquest,
under the Emperor Claudius.
Among all the glorious monuments in Rome
celebrating the great conquests of the Roman Empire,
there's only one trace left of the conquest of Britain.
And it's this tiny fragment
of a big inscription which was put up on a triumphal arch
to commemorate Claudius's taking the surrender of 11 British kings.
You can just see the word "Reges Brit".
And it cuts off there. 11 British kings.
And saying that he brought the barbarians from across the ocean -
that's the English Channel -
he brought the barbarians from across the ocean
under the authority of Rome.
The Roman Empire was all about using power to impose order.
Nothing captures the Roman vision better than the Pantheon,
a temple to all the gods.
This is the finest example of Roman art still standing in the city.
One of the reasons the Romans had such a huge impact on Britain
was that they, for the first time, gave us a sense of identity
by becoming part of the Roman Empire.
Every conquered territory had a female figure to represent it,
and we had Britannia for Britain.
And the coins of the second century AD
had this portrait of Britannia on one side.
Some say she's in mourning after defeat at the hands of the Romans.
Some say she's at peace.
But there it is - the enduring image of Britannia,
which turns up, lo and behold, on our own 50 pence piece today.
The Queen's head on one side
and, on the other, Britannia.
A rather different Britannia, this one.
This is Britannia ruling the waves with her trident and her shield.
One early and almost forgotten sculpture of Britannia
can be found in what was once the eastern corner
of the Roman Empire.
In the first century AD,
the city of Aphrodisias was famous for the brilliance of its artists.
The fine marble quarried nearby allowed sculptors
to capture the beauty of the human form.
This is a stupendous collection of sculptures,
all very lively, of Roman myths, of gods and goddesses.
But the one I've come to see is this one over here.
This is the story of how Rome conquered Britain
told here, hundreds of miles away from Britain,
as a way of demonstrating to everybody that Rome ruled us
and had defeated us.
This is the figure of Britannia.
And we know it because it says over on the right there in Greek letters
And on this side,
"Tiberius Claudius Caesar" - the Emperor Claudius.
Britannia is shown in despair, perhaps pleading for her life,
knowing she's about to be slaughtered,
looking like a barbarian, her hair all straggling round,
her face looking miserable, bare-breasted.
He, on the other hand, the conqueror with his helmet,
his right hand raised.
There would have been a sword probably in the right hand.
His left hand pulling her hair back,
as though to cut her throat.
He's got his fist there on her hair, pulling it back.
And, important, his knee resting on her thigh,
pinning her down to the ground.
She's the victim, either about to be raped or to be killed.
In any event, that is Britain, defeated by Rome.
So much for "Britons never, never shall be slaves."
This is how Britannia began - under the heel of the Roman Empire.
It's not immediately obvious what Britain - cold and wet -
had to offer Romans from the warm Mediterranean.
But one attraction was our buried treasure.
Where the Romans thought there was wealth to be found,
they plundered to the far limits of their empire.
This is Dolaucothi in West Wales,
and with that ingenuity and energy for which they were famous,
the Romans actually built here a seven-mile aqueduct,
right across these hills.
You can still just trace the line of it going into the woods there.
And over there, there was a huge cistern
that held up to 2,000,000 gallons of water.
And when it was full, they opened the gates, the water
flooded down into the valley, sweeping away trees and bushes
and all the earth, and uncovering what they were really looking for.
Quartz. Quartz, which contained gold.
Some of the old Roman mining tunnels remain deep under the hillside.
They're beautifully cut, these tunnels.
Very damp, dripping all the time with water.
They had to get the water out so they didn't flood.
Slaves would have done the work, of course, not the Romans themselves.
And you can see here, they say,
the marks where they've cut the rock with chisels, chiselled it away -
there we are, the marks there - to open up the space.
Because what they were looking for were these seams of quartz,
here is one, this whiter rock there.
It runs up here, see, right the way up there,
and disappears up into the roof of the cave.
And the technique they used was very ingenious, very simple.
It was to build fires.
And here, on this bit of rock here, they say these are the scorch marks
left by the fires that were built to extract the quartz.
They built fires until it was really hot
and then suddenly dashed water onto it, so that it burst, split open.
They could then take the quartz away.
Dangerous work. I wouldn't want to do it.
A ton of good quality quartz produced under an ounce of gold.
But it was valuable, because of course gold doesn't deteriorate,
and the Romans wanted it to make coins and make jewellery.
In fact, in the 1880s,
they found - this is a replica of it -
they found this very beautiful little brooch made from gold from here,
because it's got a slightly pinkish colour that distinguishes Welsh gold.
All that effort, those hundreds of people working, just to produce this.
Over the centuries,
hundreds of treasures from Roman Britain have been uncovered.
And the best have ended up here.
Sometimes, it's quite by chance that things are discovered that
give us an idea of what life was like under the Romans.
This great collection of silver was
found by a farmer during the Second World War ploughing his field.
He literally struck a piece of silver and discovered all this.
He took it back to his farmhouse,
and it's said he even used to eat his Christmas dinner off it.
It wasn't until just after the war that he finally revealed
he had it and it came here to the British Museum.
And this is the great centrepiece of it all, the Oceanus Dish,
a wonderful celebration of life and pleasure and enjoyment and music.
At the heart of it, Oceanus, the god of the oceans,
with his dolphins in his hair and a beard made of seaweed
and various figures around of a seafaring kind.
But the real party begins beyond.
This was obviously used for celebration.
All the way round, figures dancing. There is Pan.
With his pipes. Wicked Pan.
And over here, Hercules, you can see him with his club.
And everywhere there are swirling, dancing men and women really having
a ball, celebrating and drinking and dancing, and beautifully done, these
swirling clothes, up on their toes, men with their hands in the air.
Full of life and vitality and vivacity.
This is absolutely singing with life.
The Romans changed the face of England.
They introduced a way of life imported from Italy.
Luxurious villas decorated with beautiful mosaics.
Nothing's left of the walls or the ceiling of the villa,
but that doesn't matter
because what really counts here at Bignor are the floors -
made 1,700 years ago, tiny pieces of stone put together.
And they are by far the best mosaics in Britain
and, according to experts, among the most magnificent in the Roman world.
This scene is of gladiators fighting or practising fighting
with an umpire or a teacher.
And they could've seen the real thing at the Roman city of Chichester.
And if you look here, there's one gladiator
who has the trident and the dagger,
and the other with a sword and a shield.
And the reason it's so fine
is because the actual pieces of mosaic are tiny.
They're made either of stone or of clay or of glass.
And the frieze is supporting this most beautiful Venus.
Wonderful, subtle colours.
A lovely piece of work.
It's interesting that this villa wasn't lived in by Romans.
It was lived in by British people, British farmers.
Rich, of course -
prosperous people aping the habits of the conqueror.
And they got all the advantages.
They got central heating.
They got baths.
But, I mean, who on earth would live
in an Italian villa in the British climate?
Nobody does these days.
There is one rather interesting concession to the British weather
and that's this mosaic of winter.
You can tell it's winter
because of the leafless branch of the tree there.
And the figure is wearing - and this is what's curious -
what's called "birrus Britannicus",
a special kind of British-made cloak of heavy, oiled wool
which at this time had become so popular
it was sold all over the Roman Empire.
And the Emperor actually put a fixed price on it
and charged tax on it.
Well, you wouldn't want to go out in a British winter, would you,
without a birrus Britannicus on. You'd be very stupid.
At the start of the 5th century,
the Roman Empire began to disintegrate.
Britain found herself undefended, open to attack.
And attacks came quickly,
not just by one people,
but by many.
"We Gardena in geardagum,
"peodcyninga, prym gefrunon, hu oa aepelingas ellen fremedon."
I'm trying to speak Anglo-Saxon.
It was the language spoken 1,500 years ago here in England
and it forms the basis of the English we speak today.
And those lines are taken
from one of the great Anglo-Saxon poems, Beowulf -
not a love story, but a story of great warriors and battles,
the kind of tale you'd tell round a blazing fire
in the great hall on a dark night.
Anglo-Saxon tales are often set
in the sort of frozen wastes of the wintry north,
because it was from Denmark and Germany
that these new invaders came.
The Anglo-Saxons were the next powerful influence on our country
after the Romans.
They gave us our language,
and a kind of stubbornness of attitude, perhaps,
which still forms part of our national character today.
In the 6th century,
the River Deben was the heartland of a powerful Anglo-Saxon king.
On his death, the fields of Sutton Hoo above the river
were turned into his royal burial ground.
This is a beautiful spot,
this golden heathland under this great East Anglian sky.
But you need to use a bit of imagination to bring it alive.
We're up above the River Deben here,
that highway of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.
And it was up here that they dragged a boat from the river,
laid the king to rest
surrounded by his household goods and precious jewels,
everything that he'd need in the afterlife.
What a great place to bury a king.
In 1938, work began excavating the burial ground.
The finds were astonishing.
-Look at that.
-Beautiful, isn't it?
'Molly Bevan's family owned the land
'and she was here during the dig.
'Even at 102, she remembers it well.'
It was absolutely amazing.
You couldn't believe it, because it looked so huge.
There were quite a lot of people, I don't know how many,
I couldn't tell you now,
digging or brushing. In fact,
I saw one fellow with a toothbrush doing something.
I used to spend most of the day there
just being amazed to see what they would find next.
DAVID: It looks rather crumpled there, doesn't it?
It does, yes.
Did everything come up rather crumpled and dirty?
Everything came up with mud all over it.
So you never saw real gold?
No, I never saw it until I went to the British Museum.
-Did they look good?
-They looked all right!
-It's tantalising, seeing it like this.
It's a funny business, because this is all happening
just as we were about to go to war, wasn't it?
Yes, it was 1939, and war was talked of all the time.
This is the king's helmet,
which has become the most powerful symbol of the Anglo-Saxon era.
It's very, very fine and subtle
because the nose and the eyebrows are actually a bird.
The eyebrows are the wings.
The tail of the bird makes this very neat little moustache,
and if you look underneath,
there are two holes, two nostrils,
so the person wearing it could actually breathe.
The bird's head is here,
and he's facing this dragon,
which makes the crest of the helmet, with these wonderful teeth.
For my money, though, these are really, really beautiful.
They're so fine, delicate, intricate.
This is a shoulder clasp.
It had a pin that went through the middle.
So that would be on one side of a cloak, that on the other.
It would hold the two parts of a cloak together.
This is made of blue glass
and garnets that were probably imported
from Afghanistan or India.
Not only that, the gold is actually itself cut in a kind of crisscross,
so you get this pattern showing through the garnets.
And then there's this. This is a belt buckle.
Very simple - you can see the buckle-end here
and an intricate abstract pattern.
When you look very closely,
you can see serpents writhing within it.
Anglo-Saxons were very keen on their animals,
and, my goodness, there are animals on this.
Now, this is the top of a purse. It was a leather purse.
And here there's a figure of a man,
and he's fending off two wolves.
All three of them look as if they could've been made 100 years ago.
They're in such perfect condition.
In the year 563, Christianity arrived in Britain.
The new faith, which had briefly flourished under the Romans,
would transform art.
Pick it up there on the starboard side.
OK, keep it together there, folks.
St Columba, an Irish monk,
sailed across the Irish Sea with 12 disciples
in a boat made from animal skins.
OK, keep it together there, folks.
We've got a wind against us.
Today, Captain Ivor and his crew make that trip in homage to Columba.
How long would it have taken him, that journey across from Ireland?
Well, it's 100 miles, so, rowing and stopping,
you would be looking at three or four days, given good weather.
At the time, was it a very daring passage to make?
Was there a lot of traffic between Ireland and Scotland?
There would have been a lot of traffic.
The sea to a lot of people nowadays would be a forbidding place,
but in those times, it was a highway.
It was more dangerous to travel inland because, well, certainly
in Ireland, the thick wooded areas, and I suppose bandits etc.
So the highway was the seaway.
And are you religious people, or do you do it for fun?
Some of us would be religious people.
We still do it for fun, even though we're religious!
St Columba and his monks chose to settle here,
on the island of Iona.
Thank you very much indeed. That was wonderful.
St Columba was such a powerful inspiration
that Christianity spread from here across Scotland
and into Northern England.
And wherever it went,
it's left behind this powerful symbol of the stone cross.
This one is from the 8th century.
Now, new religions often build on the old.
And some say that this circle, which is typical of the Celtic cross,
actually is sending a message out about the power of the sun,
an old pagan message.
Round the front...
It's very, very faded, this. It's rather difficult to see.
But then, it is very, very old.
In the top there, the Virgin and child.
Below that, what's said to be David playing a harp
and another figure playing a flute.
Four more figures that nobody knows what they are.
And then more decoration down here.
But what's really moving, striking, about crosses like this
is that they were a focal point for the new religion.
They stood often in wild places
where there were no churches, no monasteries,
just this cross, standing as a place
to pray, to worship,
maybe to have sermons read.
But wherever they went, they stood as symbols of the new religion.
As Columba's monks, preaching conversion, headed south,
St Augustine arrived in England and worked his way north.
The two missions met in Northumbria,
which would become a centre of monastic learning
renowned throughout Europe.
Nowadays, we think of monasteries as places to retreat from the world.
But in the 7th century, monasteries were the world.
They were rich and powerful,
they had a lot of land, they had political influence.
They admittedly looked after the poor and were places to pray,
but they were also centres of knowledge.
They had libraries, books.
This one, Wearmouth-Jarrow, was among the most famous.
It was here that one of Britain's greatest treasures was created -
the work of many monks over many years,
an object lost from English history,
because no sooner was it completed
than it was sent away from these shores.
BELLS RING IN DISTANCE
OPERATIC ARIA PLAYS
In AD 716,
the abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow started on a journey to Italy
to deliver in person
a gift to the Pope in Rome.
But the abbot died en route.
And today his gift is one of the most precious objects
in Renaissance Florence.
THEY SPEAK ITALIAN
This is the oldest complete Bible in the world.
And it was made in England by the monks of Wearmouth-Jarrow.
The cover's new. The thing is huge, almost a foot deep.
It weighs 75 pounds.
And if I can open it...
..this beautiful text in columns,
one, two...four columns.
Written on skin.
500 sheep to make this Bible.
And here, diagrams showing how the whole Bible is laid out,
the pattern they've used.
And then, at the very front,
If I can turn it very delicately...
This beautiful illuminated painting
of a scribe sitting in his study,
writing the Bible...
..with books behind him, with his inkwell there...
..with a knife for making corrections.
And the whole thing is most wonderfully painted.
The colours are alive still.
The pink of the books,
the deep mahogany colour of the library cupboard, the shelves there.
His robe in a red, with green.
The gold of the halo.
All done by craftsmen in Northumberland.
700 or so pages later,
you come towards the end of the Old Testament
and arrive at the New Testament, and, once again...
..this beautiful page, illuminated, of Christ in majesty,
with two angels,
and with the evangelists - Matthew, Mark, with the lion, Luke and John.
And the whole thing is singing, coming out of the page,
as though it was freshly done yesterday.
The lovely turquoise, the darker blue inside, the pattern around.
The extraordinary thing is that, for centuries,
they thought this work was done by Italian artists, that it
was inconceivable it could have been done by English artists.
But the experts are all now agreed that this is indeed English work.
This is a fine example of Britain being part of Europe,
part of the culture of Europe,
1,300 years ago.
The British Isles was emerging
as a cultural force in its own right.
But at the end of the 8th century, it all came under threat.
Nordic invaders - the Vikings -
sailed across the North Sea to plunder Britain's riches.
The Vikings spread out across a terrified land,
raping, pillaging, burning as they went.
The monks of Iona all murdered.
The kings of Northumberland and East Anglia captured
and their lungs ripped from their living bodies.
The King of Mercia so terrified he fled.
Only the kingdom of Wessex,
which stretched from here in Oxford right down to the West Country,
was still just about safe.
At this moment, a new prince came to the throne.
His name was Alfred of Wessex, Alfred the Great.
Inside the Ashmolean Museum,
there's a tiny treasure that reveals Alfred's brilliance as a leader
and the loyalty he inspired.
This beautiful object is the Alfred Jewel.
It's the most exquisite object.
It's in the shape of a beast at the front here,
and then this lozenge shape which has got crystal on the top.
And inside, the figure of a sort of man holding two flowers,
symbolising sight -
clarity of vision, if you like.
And the beast symbolising the dangers that face Britain.
And round it, the words, "Alfred ordered me to be made."
Now, what on earth would he have done that for?
The answer is that these, it's thought,
were given to people in his kingdom
as tokens of loyalty,
of their loyalty to him and his to them,
to try and restore a kind of balance and order
against the marauding Vikings.
As an object, it could've just been a jewel given as a token and kept.
Some say it could've had a stick coming out of here
and be used as a pointer for reading books.
Whatever the use of the jewel, it's clearly a sign
of considerable political nous on Alfred's part,
because this was a token of his loyalty to you
if you were prepared to give loyalty back to him.
Under Alfred's leadership, the Viking threat was contained.
But peace could only be preserved
if people were willing to learn from the past.
Alfred may have saved his kingdom,
but he was in despair about the sorry state into which it had fallen.
He was particularly worried
that learning had gone into complete decline.
He said in the old days people used to read Latin,
they could understand the important books
that, in his words, it was needful for people to know,
and he was determined to do something about it.
And he took radical action.
We know all this because of this book.
This is the oldest book in the English language
and it's a translation by Alfred himself
of a book written by Pope Gregory called Pastoral Care.
It's written in Old English
and, actually, it's incomprehensible, except to the expert.
I can't read even a word of it.
It's a sort of tract about leadership.
It explains how, if you're a leader, you should behave,
how you should deal with problems, how you shouldn't become arrogant,
how you should be humble - all those sort of things.
He was very worried that people in the past had had wisdom
and somehow it had got lost.
He starts it, if I can just turn - I have to be very careful here -
to this front page.
He starts with this introduction,
and what he's saying is, "I want this distributed to all the bishops
"and I want it read to the people.
"I want people to learn and understand."
'Alfred's peace was not to last.
'England was to be conquered one last time.'
Normandy was the domain of a powerful duke,
William the Bastard,
known to us today as William the Conqueror.
1066 is one of the easier dates to remember in British history -
William the Conqueror's invasion of England.
But what kind of man was it
who undertook such an extraordinary enterprise?
He wasn't like Alfred the Great -
he wasn't interested in literature and fine jewellery.
No, his passion is defined by something quite different.
And not just any old stone,
but the very special stone that comes from his home town of Caen.
When the young William became Duke of Normandy,
he set about rebuilding Caen.
He built a vast castle.
And he built churches and abbeys...
..all with the easy-to-cut, cream-coloured stone of Caen.
But the most impressive of William's buildings
is the Abbaye aux Hommes - the Abbey for Men.
The style of this building is called Romanesque -
literally, like the architecture of ancient Rome,
with its great monumental pillars, the arches on the top.
What William was using it for was to say, "In all its magnificence,
"it shows I have taken charge of Normandy, built here a great state."
In the summer of the fateful year of 1066,
this abbey had been consecrated, an abbot appointed here, freeing
William to focus on what was to be the boldest enterprise of his reign.
Perhaps we in England were a little bit distracted
by attacks from across the North Sea to fully understand
the meaning of buildings like this.
If we had, we'd have had some inkling of what was about to hit us.
This is the Bayeux tapestry.
It was commissioned to celebrate William's conquest of England.
And it begins with the events that led up to it.
The death of Edward the Confessor, King of England,
and the succession of a new king, Harold.
It's magical to be taken back 1,000 years
in this dark chamber,
to see history spelt out for you.
70 metres long, right down to the end, right round and the back,
and the story very vividly told.
But at the same time, along the friezes, top and bottom,
wonderfully vivid pictures,
some of them of Aesop's fables, some of little stories,
some nobody knows what they are.
Little details of farming life here -
and a man killing birds with a sling.
It's not strictly speaking a tapestry.
It's actually needlework, sewn with wool onto linen.
I suppose the story that we know best
begins with the death of Edward the Confessor
and his burial in Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey here with the hand of God blessing it.
And here, Harold receiving the crown, with his orb and his sceptre.
People looking on.
And then spies come across and explain to William in Normandy
what's happened in England - that Harold has seized the crown.
And here he orders ships to be built for an invasion,
so the first thing, to cut down the trees
and start building the ships.
Putting aboard suits of chain mail, needing two men to carry them.
And spears, arrows.
And the last stage is to get the horses on board these longships.
Very tricky, and they don't look particularly happy.
The boats set sail, they cross over to Pevensey...
..land safely at Pevensey, go ashore,
and then the real task begins.
But first the army has to be fed.
There's a tureen there being boiled,
they're sort of chicken kebabs, they look like,
and here, William feasting with his men.
And then they're preparing for war.
They build a castle of wood at Hastings.
William's followers set light to some of the Anglo-Saxon houses.
A woman leading her child away from her burning house.
And then battle commences - quite slowly to start with,
with the cavalry charging against Harold's forces.
Heads chopped off, hands chopped off,
and the battle rages all day long.
In the confusion of the battle,
as swords and axes clang against shields,
a dangerous rumour sweeps William's army that he has been killed.
So what does he do?
He turns round in his saddle, lifts his helmet off
and shows himself to his troops,
and the battle goes on.
And then we come to the famous design of Harold with the arrow in his eye.
Nobody quite knows whether that is what happened.
And here, slaughtered.
I've seen this many times. Every time I see it, I have to say,
it just brings the whole story of William's invasion of England alive.
You really feel here... Because this was done by people
living only a few years after the event,
you really feel the power and the passion that went into it.
It's a completely magical work of art.
'It used to be thought that the Bayeux Tapestry was
'made by craftsmen from Normandy.
'But it is now generally accepted that it was
'made by nuns in Canterbury, working on the orders of their new masters.'
HE SPEAKS FRENCH
Merci. Au revoir, merci.
William's rule would transform England.
The customs and habits of Normandy swept away the Anglo-Saxon past.
French would become the language of power and influence.
And to stamp his authority from the first,
William began building,
just as he had in Normandy.
The White Tower in London, one of our most famous buildings.
It's come to symbolise Britain and Britishness,
but it began life as nothing of the sort.
This was a symbol of Norman conquest,
an astonishing building on a scale that hadn't been seen
since the Roman conquest 1,000 years before.
The message -
"Here we are. Here we stay. Resistance is futile."
This is William's chapel at the heart of the tower.
It's more like a prison keep than a church.
But the interesting thing is the stone it's built of,
which is used right through the tower, this white stone,
easily carved, good for making these tops to the columns...
This is William's favourite stone, brought from Caen in Normandy.
It's not enough just to accept
Norman nobility, Norman clergy, the French language -
William was insisting we accepted his buildings too,
and even the very materials they were made of.
It's not much fun being conquered, and for Anglo-Saxon England,
the effect of the Norman conquest was devastating.
It was the end of life as they knew it. It wasn't just having
to give up all their land, learn a different language,
adopt a different style.
It was that everything that went before was treated as inferior,
and we know now that that wasn't true.
We've seen a thousand years of treasures,
everything from helmets and shields
to jewels and illuminated manuscripts,
a time of ingenuity and originality and imagination -
an era to celebrate.
In the next age - knights in shining armour.
Saints and miracles.
It's the age of worship.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd