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Ancient Pleasures, Modern Spice (1 - 600 AD)

Throughout this week Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, explores the ways in which people sought pleasure around the world 2,000 years ago: from pipe smoking to sex

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Hoxne Pepper Pot

5/5 Neil MacGregor uses a silver pepper pot to tell of the Roman spice trade with India.

Sat 29 May 2010 00:30 BBC Radio 4

See all previous episodes from A History of the World in 100 Objects



    36. The Warren Cup
    37. North American otter pipe
    38. Ceremonial ballgame belt
    39. Admonitions Scroll
    40. Hoxne pepper pot

  • Ancient pleasures, modern spice

    In traditional models of Chinese history decadence and luxury are associated with periods of decline. The collapse of the Han dynasty into the chaotic Period of Disunion was partly blamed on emperors succumbing to the pleasures of court life. Similarly in Rome intellectuals worried that the taste for luxury goods from the east, like pepper, would bankrupt the empire. Attitudes to pleasure, luxury and leisure fluctuate throughout history. For example the relationships between boys and older men tolerated in the Roman Empire would be deemed illegal today. Many of our modern leisure activities have their origins in ancient religions. Tobacco smoking and some of the earliest team sports first occurred in the Americas, where they were used in religious rituals.

Shakespeare's Restless World

Image for Shakespeare's Restless World

Neil MacGregor uncovers Shakespeare's world through twenty objects.

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