Image for Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman TownNot currently available on BBC iPlayer

Duration: 1 hour

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 Pompeian 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 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.

Last on

Thu 19 Jul 2012 21:00 BBC Two except Scotland

  • Photo: Skeleton

    Photo: Skeleton

    One of the 54 skeletons ready for examination.

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Credits

Presenter
Mary Beard
Writer
Paul Elston
Director
Paul Elston

Broadcasts

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