History, Art & Culture Documentaries:

Roman Empire


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Part 1 Timgad Rome in North Africa

Second-century Rome was the result of a long process of territorial expansion. On the death of the first emperor, Augustus, in 14 AD, the Mediterranean basin became a Roman duck pond. The final conquests took place during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), with Arabia added to the Empire in 106 AD and Dacia in 107 AD.

The Roman army was all-powerful. Bas-relief and texts tell us of army of citizen who served for twenty years a well-organised, highly experienced corps of men who played a crucial role in "Romanising" the conquered territories, since they took part in the building of Roman roads, aqueducts and amphitheatres. When they retired, they were given lands and helped found new towns patterned on the Roman model.

The city of Timgad is a perfect illustration of this impressive system of expansion. Timgad is a testimony to the Roman method of cultural domination and assimilation and has many a surprise in store. We take a stroll through the streets of this showpiece city, whose purpose was to make the natives of Mauritania want to become and remain Roman citizens. Timgad was on the very edge of the Roman Empire, and every stone bears witness to an intense, exhilarating lifestyle, like the traces left by games of hopscotch or marbles, or the telling anonymous graffito which reads: "Hunting, bathing, gaming, jesting this is the life".

This journey into the past vividly conveys what it was like to live in a Roman colony and helps us understand the attractions of Roman civilisation. The Empire had become an assimilation machine. 90,000 kilometres of road linked Rome to its most far-flung cities.

Part 2 Pompeii Talking Walls

Part 3 of the series takes the lid off a dazzling society, transporting us to Pompeii, where the eruption of Mount Vesuvius literally fossilised a moment in time. Although the latest excavations provide further proofs of the magnificence of the Roman Empire, they also show how its hedonistic way of life contained the seeds of the moral decay of Rome.

In the latter part of the first century AD, "Romanisation" was based on the use of Latin as the language of the Empire, Emperor-worship, increasing urbanisation and Roman lifestyles. Villas, with their luxurious creature comforts and leisure activities, were all the rage. Latin was more and more widely spoken, as shown by inscriptions. The graffiti on the walls of Pompeii and mosaics like those at the Villa of the Mysteries offer a rich haul of snapshots of daily life.

Eminent citizens played an important part in society. They were expected to prove their devotion to their city by distributing and putting on shows. Circuses had become the chief from of entertainment. The elaborate spectacles staged at the Colosseum, in Rome, were a foretaste of the decadence to come.

Part 3 Northern Outpost Rome in Transition

This episode reveals the vulnerability of an Empire whose glory was ultimately to be short-lived. It soon becomes clear that administering such a vast territory was a difficult, if not impossible task.
Economic and social problems undermined the institutions.

On the fringes of the Empire, personal ambition and aspirations to independence on the part of the conquered territories threatened the central power. The fate of the Roman superpower now depended on its legions: more and more legions were created, and the army became an increasing financial drain on the Empire's resources.

This documentary takes us to the fort of Vindolanda, one of the most important sources of archaeological evidence for the history of this period. In 122 AD, the Emperor Hadrian ordered a wall to be built to protect the Empire's British possessions. Five years later, an imposing stone wall 117 kilometres long and five metres high, with a ditch in front of it, stretched like a giant serpent from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. It symbolised both the greatness and the weakness of an Empire threatened by the "men of the North".

All along this formidable rampart, forts were built for the defence garrisons. For a long time, little was known about the soldiers' way of life, but it has now been painstakingly reconstructed by archaeologists and scholars. Vindolanda was one of these forts. Its story is tragic, like that of the Empire as a whole. It tells of the frighteningly precarious existence of these garrisons, waiting for an end which was bound to come, and sums up the vulnerability and ultimate collapse of the Empire.
Release date NZ
November 14th, 2007
Movie Format
  • DVD
DVD Region
  • Region 4
  • Standard Edition
Aspect Ratio
  • 1.78 : 1
Length (Minutes)
Country of Production
  • France
  • Documentary
Product ID

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