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Pompeii: Life & Death in a Roman Town (2010)

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?


Paul Elston


Paul Elston


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Complete credited cast:
Mary Beard ... Herself - Presenter (as Professor Mary Beard)
Fabian Kanz Fabian Kanz ... Himself - Forensic Anthropologist, Medical University of Vienna (as Dr Fabian Kanz)
Mattia Buondonno Mattia Buondonno ... Himself - Guide, Soprintendenza di Pompei
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill ... Himself - Master, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (as Prof. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill)


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?

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Release Date:

14 December 2010 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Mary Beard: Pompeya, la vida antes de la muerte See more »

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Entertaining Retread Through Ancient History
20 November 2014 | by l_rawjalaurenceSee all my reviews

Aided by fellow-archaeologist Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and bone specialist Fabian Kanz, Mary Beard trawls through some of the remains of the people buried alive in the volcanic eruption to discover something about their lives. Some of the conclusions are fascinating: rich and poor lived cheek-by-jowl to one another, eating similar diets of fish, chicken and eggs, and using the same public facilities such as baths. Their lifestyles might have been very different (the rich were especially fond of taking exotic baths attended by slaves), but there was a sense of community conspicuously absent from modern cities. Together with Wallace-Hadrill, Beard enters the ancient sewers underneath Pompeii to discover the Cass-pits: from the excreta left by the citizens (which has remained perfectly preserved for two thousand years) it is possible to discover more about their diets and lifestyles. Never has a load of dung been put to better use.

Beard is an entertaining guide through ancient history; she knows a lot about her subject, and takes great pleasure in translating the ancient inscriptions on various tablets into English. On the other hand this program gives her license to use language not normally characteristic of historical documentaries, especially that relating to human waste products. She delivers her script with relish and encourages scholars like Wallace-Hadrill to do the same. We get the sense that whereas this program is offering genuine historical investigation into the ancient past, it is also great fun for program-makers and presenters alike.

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