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  • This is the Appian Way,

  • one of the roads that took thousands of Romans

  • in and out of their capital city every day.

  • Young and old, rich and poor, clean and dirty.

  • And it's where I want to start,

  • asking a question that really interests me.

  • Who were the ancient Romans?

  • Outside the city, it was lined with thousands and thousands of tombs,

  • so before you got into the city of Rome, you'd already met the Romans.

  • Dead ones, that is.

  • And the lives of many of them began or ended a long way from Rome.

  • This is just a tiny fragment of someone's tomb.

  • Someone called Eschinus.

  • "Occisus est in Lusitania".

  • He was murdered in Spain.

  • This lady's Usia Prima,

  • a priestess of the Egyptian goddess Isis,

  • and there's her little sacred rattle.

  • She's almost looking at you.

  • I feel like saying, "Pleased to meet you, Prima."

  • They come from every walk of life and every part of the Empire,

  • and a lot of them had once been slaves.

  • These aren't the kind of guys we usually think of

  • when we think of Romans.

  • These Romans all lived at the centre of a vast Empire

  • that stretched from Spain to Syria,

  • and which dominated the Western world for over 700 years.

  • Like it or not, ancient Rome is still all around us,

  • in our roads, laws and architecture.

  • We keep on recreating it in film and fiction,

  • and every year, thousands of us trek here

  • to see its monuments up close,

  • and to imagine the emperors and the armies,

  • the gladiators, and let's be honest, the gore.

  • But hidden all over the modern city,

  • in its walls, behind the facades,

  • even under its streets,

  • is something much harder to find but just as captivating -

  • the forgotten voices of the ordinary people.

  • They're still there, if you know where to look.

  • Calidius Eroticus means "Mr Hot Sex".

  • This is a Roman menage a trois.

  • This wasn't just a mugging.

  • This was mass murder.

  • The Romans didn't just carve their names and dates on their tombstones.

  • Keen never to be forgotten,

  • they left their thoughts,

  • their achievements, even entire life stories chiselled into stone.

  • It's a unique record of real Roman lives.

  • I've spent most of my life with the ancient Romans,

  • and not just the big guys - the emperors, the politicians,

  • the generals, the posh ones.

  • The people I've most enjoyed getting to know are the ordinary ones,

  • who had their own part to play in the story

  • of this extraordinary city.

  • And what gets to me every time

  • is that we can still have a conversation with them -

  • even 2,000 years later.

  • In this series, I'm going to get their voices speaking again,

  • to piece together a very different story of life in ancient Rome.

  • I'll step behind the doors of their homes to meet

  • flesh and blood Roman families whose lives and possessions

  • can reflect our own in surprising ways.

  • This is something a bit special.

  • She's not just Barbie, she's Empress Barbie.

  • I'll go down into the streets, where the dirt, crime,

  • sex and humour in everyday Roman life shows us

  • what it was like to live in an ancient city of a million people.

  • "Baths, wine and sex," he said, "ruin your body."

  • True. But they're what makes life really worth living.

  • But I'll start by telling the real story of Imperial Rome,

  • looking beyond the violence and spectacle

  • to find a global city which reached for talent and treasure

  • from the far ends of the earth -

  • a place where everything and everyone was from somewhere else.

  • These are the Romans I'm interested in.

  • Welcome to my Rome.

  • When you arrived in Rome at its imperial height 2,000 years ago,

  • you found yourself in a new kind of city.

  • Rome had once been a small city-state,

  • but in conquest after conquest,

  • it became capital of a vast Empire,

  • a place in which, for the first time in history,

  • a million people from three continents managed to live together.

  • One thing we know about Rome is it wasn't just a city,

  • it was an Empire,

  • and for us, that means marauding armies,

  • conquering generals and bloodthirsty emperors.

  • We tend not to think about the ordinary people

  • who lived here at the very heart of it all.

  • For them, the Empire brought them into contact with a whole world,

  • from Scotland to Afghanistan,

  • and it made this city a more cosmopolitan place

  • than anywhere had ever been before or would be again

  • for hundreds of years.

  • And we're always asking, "What did the Romans do for us?"

  • I think we should be asking,

  • "What did the Empire do to the Romans?

  • "And who were those Romans, anyway?"

  • Around the city, there's more evidence than you'd think

  • for the impact that Roman conquest had

  • on the lives of ordinary people here.

  • All it requires is that we look from a slightly different angle.

  • One of the most famous monuments in the forum

  • celebrates the moment when one conquering army came home.

  • In 71 AD, the city got a day off

  • for the triumphal return of the emperor Vespasian and his son Titus,

  • who had crushed a rebellion in Judea.

  • We've got here the victorious general, Titus,

  • driving through the streets of Rome in his chariot

  • to celebrate his victory...

  • ..and on the other side,

  • we've got the booty that he's brought home with him.

  • Titus had devastatingly conquered the Jews,

  • and here we can see the loot that he has got from the Jewish temple.

  • It's a grand display,

  • but what I want to do is

  • to try and undercut the pomposity of it a bit,

  • and to ask what was it like for the people,

  • the ordinary Romans who showed up to watch this,

  • left their apartments and came to see the spectacle?

  • A triumph like this would have been the first sight the Roman people had

  • of all the things the armies brought back from their distant victories.

  • The rich spoils, the maps of the conquered territory,

  • the models of the fighting,

  • even the trees that they'd uprooted and brought back to Rome.

  • How did people react?

  • Some must have gasped, others would have jeered the captives.

  • Or maybe their minds were on other things.

  • One Roman poet recommends the triumphal procession

  • as a place to pick up a girl.

  • How would you do it?

  • Well, he says, watch the stuff go past, nudge up to her and say,

  • "Ooh. I think that's the Euphrates there,

  • "and that's the Tigris over there."

  • You don't have to know, he says, you just have to sound confident.

  • And then you'll make your own conquest!

  • It's a good joke.

  • But it also hints at the way Roman lives could be changed

  • by the spoils coming back from the Empire.

  • This girl can't have been the only person who found all this

  • pretty strange, but also exciting.

  • So what did the Roman armies bring back from the Empire?

  • The import that made the biggest impact

  • is one we don't think about often enough - human beings.

  • These are forgotten people, but if we take the time to listen,

  • we can still hear the voices of some of the millions

  • who followed the Roman armies into the city

  • for all sorts of different reasons.

  • "This is for my brother, Habibi Annu from Palmyra.

  • "I'm Germanus, Regulus' mule driver."

  • "This is for Diocles, champion chariot racer from Spain."

  • Here we've got a young slave girl, age 17,

  • Phryne, the slave of Tertulla.

  • "Africana". She came from Africa.

  • This one is put up by a soldier for his wife Carnuntilla,

  • born near Vienna in ancient Pannonia.

  • What's weird is that Carnuntilla isn't really a real name.

  • It comes from the name of a town in Pannonia, Carnuntum.

  • It means, sort of, "my babe from Carnuntum".

  • So my guess is,

  • he perhaps bought this girl as a slave,

  • he freed her, he brought her back to Rome, he married her.

  • But sadly, his babe from Carnuntum died when she was just 19.

  • Poignant stories like this are everywhere in the city.

  • They're reminders of the different ways

  • real lives could begin abroad and end in Rome.

  • But there's more to it than that.

  • These people weren't just brought in to serve the Romans.

  • They were becoming Romans.

  • One of the tombs on the Appian Way

  • gives us the other side of the story of the Arch of Titus.

  • It's a tombstone of three guys,

  • one called Baricha, one called Zabda,

  • and one called Achiba - typical Jewish names.

  • So the question is, what's the story of Baricha, Zabda and Achiba?

  • How did they get here?

  • If they did start out life in Judea,

  • how come they end up as Roman citizens in Rome?

  • It's more surprising than you think.

  • To judge from the letters and how they're written on this stone,

  • this was carved in the first century AD,

  • and at that point, we can put two and two together.

  • I'm almost certain that these three men

  • must have been part of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans

  • in the late 60s AD.

  • These men surely came into Rome with Titus' army,

  • as prisoners of war.

  • It must have seemed like the worst moment of their lives -

  • jeered at, catcalls, people throwing things at them.

  • But perhaps worse was to come.

  • They were auctioned off as slaves

  • and bought by a man called Lucius Valerius.

  • What their life in slavery was like, we don't know, but he freed them,

  • and they become new Roman citizens,

  • with his name, Lucius Valerius,

  • but their Jewish names

  • still asserting their Jewish sense of identity.

  • This is one of the ways that Roman conquest works.

  • It does bring slaves, but it also brings,

  • eventually, new Roman citizens.

  • It's a fairy-tale happy ending,

  • and a classic Roman story.

  • When guys like this were freed,

  • they didn't just go back to their old lives in Judea.

  • They stayed in their new home, and what's more,

  • they became Romans, with all the rights and privileges

  • which came with full Roman citizenship.

  • But what kept them in Rome? How many of them were there?

  • And where did all these new Romans live?

  • To try and make sense of it all,

  • I went to meet a colleague in Trastevere, which literally means

  • "across the Tiber from the ancient city centre".

  • It's got a reputation as a bit of an immigrant area in Rome even now.

  • This area, Trastevere, across the Tiber,

  • was the fringe of the ancient city of Rome,

  • and this is where we have the biggest evidence

  • for immigrant communities - Jews, the Syrians.

  • I guess if you said to an ancient Roman,

  • "Where's the biggest immigrant area of the ancient city of Rome?"

  • They'd have said... Over the river. Over. On the other side, yeah.

  • Part of the answer to the question

  • of why an area like this could be so cosmopolitan

  • lies in the story of slaves like Baricha, Zabda and Achiba.

  • Greeks thought Romans were really weird

  • for freeing as many slaves as they did.

  • And making them citizens? Yes.

  • Although it's very brutal,

  • being a slave can be a kind of stage in a life, like an apprenticeship.

  • You come in as a German, you get a Roman name, you learn Latin,

  • or you learn to manage in Latin,

  • you learn some kind of job that's useful to your master,

  • your master sets you free, and there you are -

  • you're a Roman citizen with a trade and a Roman name

  • and a bunch of powerful people you know.

  • Yeah. This is your entry into Roman society.

  • Now, multiply that by hundreds and thousands of slaves being freed,

  • and you can see that the whole ethnic nature

  • of the people who call themselves Roman citizens

  • is really changing very quickly.

  • Roman is a kind of vocation.

  • It's a movement into which other people are drawn.

  • This was a completely new idea.

  • And, in many ways, the secret of the Empire's success.

  • "Roman" was no longer a word which described the city you came from,

  • it was something you could become.

  • Almost everyone in Rome was descended from someone

  • who arrived from outside.

  • Not just ex-slaves.

  • People coming in to work on the docks. Builders. Prostitutes.

  • Peasants, who'd come into Rome

  • because they think they can eat there cos they can't eat at home.

  • So, this huge, chaotic mix of people who arrive not knowing anybody.

  • These were journeys into the unknown,

  • and into a place where there was no