Meet The Romans With Mary Beard Review: The Sh*t

MEET THE ROMANS WITH MARY BEARD: Tuesday 17th April, BBC2, 9pm

Have you ever wondered about the communal shitting habits of the ancient Romans? Yes, is surely the answer? Well, Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, a three part BBC series, aims to educate you on such matters, and hopefully a bit more.

With commendable enthusiasm, the scraggily-haired hippy professor sets out to provide viewers with an idea of what life was like for the average person back in ancient Rome—the historical equivalent of people alive today that enjoy reality television and listen to Coldplay. Sure, they were boring back then, but over 2,000 years later, surely they’re interesting enough to warrant their own documentary series. After all, there’s a BBC Three programme devoted to deciphering how fat somebody’s dog is.

Beard spends much of the documentary riding about Rome on a little bicycle and reading ancient gravestones, many of which are surprisingly humorous. In fact, the Romans, we’re told, enjoyed a good laugh. Mary’s even kind enough to tell us an ancient dick joke, which actually seems a little weird coming out of the mouth of a well-spoken, bicycle-riding professor.

As well as being excellent tellers of dirty jokes, we also learn that ancient Rome was surprisingly culturally diverse. Hundreds of languages were spoken within the city, and foreigners were considered just as important as the natives. Not that there wasn’t a place for some casual “Till Death Do Us Partâ€?-style racism. They were more than happy to criticise a couple of Jews or badmouth a Spaniard, but, we learn, it was all merely in the name of comedy.

Beard’s presenting does tend to grate at times, but more often than not, she’s engaging, interesting and uninhibited. The programme’s biggest achievement is that it manages to highlight aspects of life back then that similar series would perhaps overlook (like the dick joke, for example). It examines the day to day workings of ancient Rome in a way that’s uniquely interesting and, dare I say, fun.

The episode ends on a typically high-brow note, of course, as Mary reclines on a communal stone Roman toilet. “This is how we have to imagine the city,â€? she insists, “with everyone shitting together: tunics up, togas down, chatting as they went.â€?

It’s a sure-fire way to ensure that viewers tune into the next episode, although it’s a shame that communal defecation is no longer considered socially acceptable. The professor seems to be having a lot of fun. And who knows, perhaps this archaic pastime was the reason why Roman’s were so culturally diverse—people of all colours and backgrounds shitting into a stone pit and having a nice chat. It’s worth a think.