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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Releases

BBC to explore our debt of gratitude to the ancient world

The BBC is to provide viewers with a collection of programmes this autumn exploring our links with the ancients and revealing the extent to which their world has helped to shape ours.

The flagship series in the collection is BBC Two's Ancient Worlds, a six-part odyssey from the first cities of Mesopotamia to the Christianisation of the Roman Empire with archaeologist and historian Richard Miles at the helm. The series will tell the story of what Richard argues is mankind's greatest achievement – civilisation.

The strongly authored series offers an epic sweep of history against a panorama of stunning locations and bold propositions about the origins of human society.

Martin Davidson, Commissioning Editor, History and Business, says: "People may quite rightly marvel at the scientific and technological advances that have characterised the modern era, but it's fascinating to think that many of the mainstays of our society – community, democracy, civilisation itself – were forged and fought over in a series of classical cultures, from Babylon to Augustan Rome, from Phoenicia to the ancient city states of Greece. I'm delighted that Dr Richard Miles will bring his dynamism and expertise to the telling of their story."

In the 21st century we might fondly imagine that it is humankind's natural state to live together in communities that extend beyond blood ties. As Ancient Worlds sets out to show, however, no such assumptions were made by the first clan chiefs who decided to form communities in southern Iraq in 4500 BC. There is nothing natural about the city, and its founders understood that its very survival relied on compromise, ruthlessness, sacrifice and toil.

In the West we have consigned the term 'civilisation' to the museum display case. Embarrassed by its chauvinistic and elitist connotations, we have increasingly taken refuge in more politically correct and soft-focused terms such as 'culture' to explain our origins. This series seeks to rescue civilisation from its enforced retirement and celebrate such a hard-fought invention.

Alongside Ancient Worlds, Dr Michael Scott will argue in BBC Four's Delphi that this Greek sanctuary city is the perfect historical microcosm through which to unlock the secrets of the ancient world. From Alexander the Great to Nero and Hadrian, this town offers up a wealth of fascinating documentary and archaeological evidence. With each pace through Delphi, Michael will take us through some of the most vicious and bloodthirsty periods in world history.

As Michael will show, the town is not just about the famous Delphic Oracle. Tourists flocked to Delphi from all corners of the ancient world to show off their riches and to boast about their latest victories in battle. Delphi was the ancient world's notice board – if you had news to share, you came to Delphi. It became a melting pot of great cultures, the tourist Mecca of the classical world.

Although Delphi is often associated with the major historical cornerstones of the ancient world, the town also provides us with a rare glimpse of the ordinary lives of the ancients. It reveals clues about how they lived and travelled, right down to the nitty-gritty of how they built their towns.

And, switching focus from the residents of one famous town to another, Cambridge Professor of Classics Mary Beard will front Pompeii, a one-off documentary on BBC Two providing viewers with a fascinating new insight into the people who lived in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius before its cataclysmic eruption. We know from the preserved remains how the people of Pompeii died, but how did they live?

In a dark cellar in Oplontis, a suburb of ancient Pompeii, the remains of more than 50 victims of the eruption are about to be put under the microscope of forensic science. The remains will be submitted to a barrage of tests that, together with a fresh look at other finds in the city, will unlock a valuable scientific snapshot of Pompeian life – and there are some surprises in store.

We often imagine that the Romans were much shorter than we are and that they all died young. These skeletons will help us to reconstruct a very different story.


Information for viewers

More content about Ancient Worlds; Delphi; and Pompeii will be published, as transmission approaches, on:;;

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