Documentary of the Day: Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome (2004)

As always, not sure how long this one will stay up:

Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome (IMDB)

This documentary is not bad/pretty good and looks at the Circus Maximus, Trajan’s Forum and Market, Aqueducts, the Baths of Caracalla, Roman Roads, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. When it is just talking about the buildings and their construction, it is very good, but in obvious places it tends towards sensationalism and seems obsessed with the idea that assorted emperors were doing these things to mend tarnished reputations with the people. There is an obsession, it seems, with ‘impressive statistics’, the sources of which are unclear to me. It also is kind of ‘blurry’ chronologically at times.

Despite that, there is a good list of talking heads:

My random notes as I watched:

Circus Maximus

- focus on Trajan and the spina (“the broken back of Rome’s enemies”)

- “newly discovered miracle building material” (!)

- assorted events

- 50 died every year (source?)

- charioteer celebrities, e.g. Scorpus, colours, and betting

Trajan’s Forum and Market … first the Forum

- Apollodorus the architect

- funded by the Dacian campaign

… then the Market

- construction methods (brick, rubble, concrete)

- corn dole on the 5th floor (source?)


- 900 million litres of water to Rome a day

- Vitruvius, Frontinus

- 416 km network; purification tanks

- all about the arch and how it was made

Baths of Caracalla

- built to reverse a failing image

- soundbite from the psychiatrist declaring Caracalla a “genuine psychopath”

- a big list of statistics; not sure where they’re from

- strange shots of Pompeii frescoes under water when talking about mosaics in the baths

-  the hypocaust system

- what folks did there


- Appian Way

- 288,000 km network, eventually

- claim that 1/2 a km a day was being built at one time

- “core of Roman communication system” (but not explained)

- how road was built


- built by Hadrian (no mention of Agrippa!)

- Hadrian’s architectural obsession (including his villa)

- repeated mention that we don’t really know the Pantheon’s function

- five types of cement

- Hadrian and Apollodorus didn’t get along (executed)


- “the most infamous building in the world”

- Vespasian had to win back public support after Nero (?)

- usual stuff about building, seating, the awning

- V dies before completion; Titus’ opening games (usual)

- usual gladiatorial stuff; claim that 700,000 died there

Some good potential excerpts on Roman construction techniques, but not one which you’d probably show in its entirety to a class ..

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem x kalendas septembres

ante diem x kalendas septembres

Carin Green on Tutulina, Sessia, and Messia

A vestal virgin, detail of an engraving by Sir...
Image via Wikipedia

I think this will be the last one from the Toledo series that I post today … one could kill a lot of time with these:

The Circus Maximus is generally considered a place of spectacle where emperors indulged an impotent public with displays of power and largess to ensure public complacency. Romans gave up their freedom for “bread and circuses” Juvenal famously says. It makes good copy (or Juvenal would not have said it), but it overlooks the importance of the goddesses whose place on the spina, the central spine of the Circus, put them at the heart of the drama, both in the races and in the theater, that took place there. Three goddesses, the protectress Tutulina and her companions Sessia and Messia, goddesses of Rome’s vitality and wealth, and the goddess Victory, all had shrines on the spina, which, not coincidentally, marked the sacred boundary of Rome. Rituals and ritual drama of crisis, sacrifice, and triumph, performed by the Vestal Virgins, among others, throughout the year at these shrines taught the audience about the power these goddesses had to defend Rome. The significance of the Circus as the place in which protection and safety were reified by divine power in feminine form was so much part of Roman culture that even after non-Christian rites were officially suppressed in Rome (ca. AD 380), Romans turned to it in times of crisis. Both St. Augustine and Pope Leo bitterly lament the fact that when the Goths sacked Rome in 410, and for decades after, the Romans sought the reassurance of the Circus at the times of the old rituals, rather than attending to the martyrs’ churches. Interestingly, the earliest martyrs’ churches in Rome seem to have been built in imitation of the layout of the Circus.

Carin M. C. Green is Professor and Chair of Classics at the University of Iowa. She received a B.A. in Latin from San Jose State College, an M.A. in Latin from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Virginia. She teaches courses in Latin composition, Augustan poetry, Roman religion, Lucan, and Greek prose. Her book, Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. She is currently—when not occupied with departmental administration—working on a monograph about the Roman deity Consus and the Vestal Virgins.

via Dr. Carin Green | ”Women, the Circus and the Defense of Rome” | March 20, 2010 | Toledo Museum of Art.