Mary Beard to present documentary on Caligula as BBC2 commissions new history offerings

A one-off documentary about the notorious Roman Emperor heads a raft of new commissions also including a series on Napolean and programmes about Hadrian's Wall and a hidden Roman tomb

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Mary Beard to present documentary on Caligula as BBC2 commissions new history offerings
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Ben Dowell

Mary Beard, presenter of BBC2’s Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town, is to front a new documentary for the channel on infamous Roman Emperor Caligula. The one-off programme will see her travel across the ruler's former Empire in an attempt to separate myth from reality concerning Caligula’s four-year reign.

Beard will examine evidence for the many familiar stories about his life including his love of orgies, his reckless killing of half of Rome’s elite, the decision to make his horse a consul, the prostitution of his colleagues’ wives and the killing of children in front of their parents.

Scheduled for a likely broadcast late next month, the programme forms part of a raft of new BBC2 history commissons, which also include a three-part series on the Emperor Napoleon fronted by historian Andrew Roberts.

In the series, Roberts walks the major battlefields of Europe, including Waterloo, to detail key turning points which helped shape European history. 

A three-part series on Hadrian’s Wall – The Marches: How a Border Made Us – will explore the Roman physical division of Britain two millennia ago.

Another one-off documentary given the nod is The Mystery of Rome’s X Tombs in which historian Dr Michael Scott unlocks the secrets of a mysterious tomb recently discovered in one of Rome’s catacombs.

Found by accident following a roof collapse, the tomb contains over 2,000 skeletons piled on top of one another – evidence of a mass death in the late 1st century AD which some suggest could be the bodies of Christian martyrs or a wealthy immigrant community from North Africa.

Martin Davidson, the BBC’s commissioning editor for history and business, said of the new programmes: “These thoughtful, dramatic, highly coloured views of our past offer great stories, great arguments and great characters. Each of these programmes takes audiences on a fascinating journey and along the way they’ll shed a new light on periods of history we think we know so well.”

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