Eight Days that Made Rome DVD (Spirit Entertainment Limited, £24.99) The history of Rome, argues Bettany Hughes, was profoundly shaped in “single critical moments”. She’s talking about moments such as Hannibal’s defeat at the battle of Zama in 202 BC, Julius Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon, and Constantine the Great’s baptism as a Christian – a deathbed spiritual declaration with profound effects.
In this series, first shown on Channel 5, Hughes uses these events – and as the title suggests, five other episodes – as starting points to tell the wider tale of how Roman civilisation developed. As you might expect, it’s a frequently gory story. Hughes explores battlefields where no quarter was asked for or given – yet there’s also much here about Rome’s art and architecture and, reflecting her abiding interest in the history of ideas, its influence even now on how we see the world. As a result, Hughes covers a lot of ground, but the series never comes across as skimpy or simplistic. Rather, as the historian unearths telling details to highlight, it once again demonstrates her enviable ability to make the classical world accessible from the perspective of the 21st century.
Bettany Hughes tells the story of Rome via key events in its history