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Auf Wiedersehen, Puella

January 28, 2011

I came late to  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Channel 4’s  attempt to build a Roman villa using only authentic Roman methods seems to offer all the entertainment value of Grand Designs, Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Time Team rolled into one.

Last night’s episode was in some ways less about the villa than about the total collapse and reconstruction of the team’s morale.  I had missed the moment where the archaeologist banned the use of wheelbarrows (‘no evidence for Roman use’), but Channel 4 replayed it so we could see how the builders manfully refrained from punching the archaeologist on the nose.

This week the team of six were still lugging everything around the site in buckets as the summer days grew hotter. The plasterer went down with sunstroke. The carpenter and the plumber argued as they failed to build the sort of Roman-style cart that would have solved their transport problem.  The archaeologist told them to work faster. Cries of  ‘Give them some more slaves!’ and ‘What about a donkey?’ were heard from the Downie sofa.  Futile, of course.

Just as the team seemed to be reaching breaking-point, the archaeologist had a bright idea that could be summed up in a phrase familiar to every writer:   show, don’t tell.  So off they all went to Ephesus.

Amongst the sunlit ruins, a transformation took place. We saw the quality of Roman construction through the eyes of modern builders, who could appreciate both the skills and the time that must have been required.  The archaeologist no longer looked like an harassed slave-driver, but a man delighted to share his vision. There was a magical moment when their host poured water over a mosaic and it sprang to life in all its original colours. There were several less than magical moments on the massage couches as the team ‘enjoyed’ the full  bath-house experience.

Back in Wroxeter, fortune smiled upon the newly-enthused and massaged builders. The authentic Roman cart was finally made to work, then banned on Health and Safety grounds, so wheelbarrows were permitted after all. Several slaves turned up in the shape of (mostly female) volunteers. And wonder of wonders, there was a donkey.

Next week, we’ll see them lifting massive timber frames into place without the use of modern equipment. What could possibly go wrong?

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4 comments

  1. I’m reminded of the Living in the Past series, which I remember watching with interest in the 1970s. Wikipedia says it was shown in 1978; I thought it was earlier than that, but I could be wrong.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_in_the_Past_%28TV_series%29


    • I can’t remember either, but I do recall seeing some of the children from the original series reappear as adults in ‘Living in the Iron Age’. Wasn’t it during the debrief after the first one that a participant said the thing she’d desperately missed from modern life was Wellington boots?


  2. Hi Ruth,

    It’s an interesting and comical programme for us ‘Roman geeks.’ It was good to see the builders change their perspective after the visit to Turkey and seeing the real thing! I’ll have to visit the Villa mmaybe during the Chester Roman Festival!

    PS. I’ve ordered Caveat Emptor through Amazon (US Version) as I can’t wait for the British version and prefer hardbacks. Regards

    John


    • Thanks John – and good point about visiting the Villa: it’s not that far from Chester, is it?



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