Press Centre

Roman Britain From The Air

  • Episode: 

    1 of 1

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Tue 23 Dec 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    8.00pm - 9.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 52 2014 : Sat 20 Dec - Fri 26 Dec
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 9 December 2014.
Roman Britain From The Air
In a unique journey across Britain by helicopter, Christine Bleakley and historian Dr Michael Scott tell the story of what life was like for Romans and Britons 2000 years ago.
The Romans were the first to invade and occupy Britain and their architecture and way of life have left a legacy that’s lasted 1600 years. From Hadrian’s Wall to the 6000 seat Amphitheatre at Caerleon, Britain has some of the most remarkable Roman remains in Europe.
Christine Bleakley takes to the skies in a helicopter to see the Roman remains that are best viewed from the air. Meanwhile, historian Michael Scott tracks down the fine details of Roman Britain on the ground. 
Their journey takes them from London, across to Wales and north to the spectacular Hadrian’s Wall. The programme visits fascinating sites including the best-preserved Roman legionary barracks anywhere in Europe, the best-preserved outdoor Amphitheatre in Britain and Roman town walls that stretch for over a mile.
In 43AD, the Romans landed an invasion army of 40,000 men on the Kent coast. Four years later they started work on a new town called Londinium, where London still stands today.
Christine says: “London was a Roman invention. There was nothing here until the Romans arrived, they built it all from scratch.”
Michael is taken to an underground car park where he sees the remains of the Western wall of a Roman fort, Londinium’s military headquarters. 
The wall was 20 feet high and up to nine feet thick, surrounding London on just three sides, with the fourth boundary being the River Thames.
Enthralled, Michael says: “It’s frankly astonishing, just how much of a Roman London wall is visible in an underground car park. Here we are, amongst the motorbikes and the cars, pretty much the most impressive piece of the Roman wall I’ve ever seen.”
As well as their architectural feats, the Romans have left lots of evidence of their wealth. The biggest collection of Roman luxuries is held at the Museum of London.
Michael and Christine visit the museum to look at some of its rare artifacts, including a jar of cosmetics that, when it was found, was still wet. 
When Christine asks about the fingerprints inside the jar, Caroline McDonald, from the Museum of London, says: “This is what it looked like when it was found, and you can see somebody has scooped a finger in. Everything that women do today – face packs, hair removal, eye brow plucking, it was all done 2000 years ago, nothing is new.”
Michael and Christine then head to the Guildhall in London to find out about the darker side of Roman life.
Incredibly, twenty feet under modern London, is an Amphitheatre. Archaeologist Nick Bateman shows Michael and Christine what remains of the original building. 
Events in the Amphitheatre would range from theatrical experiences, jugglers and tumblers, as well as gladiators. Christine takes to the air to see just how large the arena would have been, and how it would have been a central part of the area it stood in.
Travelling away from London and towards Wales, Christine and Michael visit Caerleon, seeing forts, barracks, spas and the best-preserved Roman Amphitheatre in Britain. 
In Caerwent, Christine and Michael visit the ruins of a ‘Forum’, a big open marketplace where people came to trade and meet socially. 
Michael says: “Increasingly, trade would have been coinage based. Local tribes had been getting used to dealing in coin with the Romans over a long period of time and by the time this place was built, in the 2nd Century AD, they’re fully versed in it.”
Michael is then taken to visit the ruins of a Pagan temple in South Wales built around 330AD. Explaining a related artifact, Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green says: “It’s a curse, a spell. It’s made out of lead and it has an inscription, which is a message to the Goddess Nemesis about somebody who’s stolen someone’s cloak and boots. The prayer is from the victim, saying that the person who’s done this has got to pay for it with his life’s blood.”
Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland is one of the Roman Empire’s greatest architectural and military achievements. Originally 73 miles long, it stretches from Newcastle in the East to Carlisle in the West. 
Walking along the wall, Michael says: “In places, the wall was up to 20 feet high and eight feet thick. It’s said to have taken the man-power of three Roman legions around six years to build.”
From the air, local archaeologist Justin Blake explains to Christine: “The wall was under construction in 122 AD, on the orders of Emperor Hadrian. He basically ring-fences the entire Empire, deciding a complete change of policy from expansion to consolidation.”
Michael then visits Houseteads Fort, on the frontier of Hadrian’s Wall, where he finds a communal Roman toilet. Michael says: “The chaps would come in, sit down on the benches running all the way round here – maybe have a chat, do their business. Then when they were done, they would take a sponge on the end of a stick, dip it in fresh water which would be running around the drains, clean themselves and head off.”
At Vindolanda, built in the first century AD, finds have included Roman coins, beads, brooches, a leather headdress for a horse, and the largest collection of Roman shoes in the world – over 4,500. Christine goes to visit the civilian village, which sprang up outside the fort walls, where a lot of the people who owned these shoes would have come from. 
Michael says: “By the time the Romans left in around 410 AD, they’d put their stamp on this country and changed its character forever.”
At the end of their journey around Roman Britain, Christine says: “Their legacy is everywhere – the Roman roads, the central heating, the Amphitheatre, the forts, all of their letters and coins and shoes – Britain has a fabulous hoard of Roman leftovers.”