Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles This is the Appian Way, one of the roads that took thousands of Romans in and out of their capital city every day. Young and old, rich and poor, clean and dirty. And it's where I want to start, asking a question that really interests me. Who were the ancient Romans? Outside the city, it was lined with thousands and thousands of tombs, so before you got into the city of Rome, you'd already met the Romans. Dead ones, that is. And the lives of many of them began or ended a long way from Rome. This is just a tiny fragment of someone's tomb. Someone called Eschinus. "Occisus est in Lusitania". He was murdered in Spain. This lady's Usia Prima, a priestess of the Egyptian goddess Isis, and there's her little sacred rattle. She's almost looking at you. I feel like saying, "Pleased to meet you, Prima." They come from every walk of life and every part of the Empire, and a lot of them had once been slaves. These aren't the kind of guys we usually think of when we think of Romans. These Romans all lived at the centre of a vast Empire that stretched from Spain to Syria, and which dominated the Western world for over 700 years. Like it or not, ancient Rome is still all around us, in our roads, laws and architecture. We keep on recreating it in film and fiction, and every year, thousands of us trek here to see its monuments up close, and to imagine the emperors and the armies, the gladiators, and let's be honest, the gore. But hidden all over the modern city, in its walls, behind the facades, even under its streets, is something much harder to find but just as captivating - the forgotten voices of the ordinary people. They're still there, if you know where to look. Calidius Eroticus means "Mr Hot Sex". This is a Roman menage a trois. This wasn't just a mugging. This was mass murder. The Romans didn't just carve their names and dates on their tombstones. Keen never to be forgotten, they left their thoughts, their achievements, even entire life stories chiselled into stone. It's a unique record of real Roman lives. I've spent most of my life with the ancient Romans, and not just the big guys - the emperors, the politicians, the generals, the posh ones. The people I've most enjoyed getting to know are the ordinary ones, who had their own part to play in the story of this extraordinary city. And what gets to me every time is that we can still have a conversation with them - even 2,000 years later. In this series, I'm going to get their voices speaking again, to piece together a very different story of life in ancient Rome. I'll step behind the doors of their homes to meet flesh and blood Roman families whose lives and possessions can reflect our own in surprising ways. This is something a bit special. She's not just Barbie, she's Empress Barbie. I'll go down into the streets, where the dirt, crime, sex and humour in everyday Roman life shows us what it was like to live in an ancient city of a million people. "Baths, wine and sex," he said, "ruin your body." True. But they're what makes life really worth living. But I'll start by telling the real story of Imperial Rome, looking beyond the violence and spectacle to find a global city which reached for talent and treasure from the far ends of the earth - a place where everything and everyone was from somewhere else. These are the Romans I'm interested in. Welcome to my Rome. When you arrived in Rome at its imperial height 2,000 years ago, you found yourself in a new kind of city. Rome had once been a small city-state, but in conquest after conquest, it became capital of a vast Empire, a place in which, for the first time in history, a million people from three continents managed to live together. One thing we know about Rome is it wasn't just a city, it was an Empire, and for us, that means marauding armies, conquering generals and bloodthirsty emperors. We tend not to think about the ordinary people who lived here at the very heart of it all. For them, the Empire brought them into contact with a whole world, from Scotland to Afghanistan, and it made this city a more cosmopolitan place than anywhere had ever been before or would be again for hundreds of years. And we're always asking, "What did the Romans do for us?" I think we should be asking, "What did the Empire do to the Romans? "And who were those Romans, anyway?" Around the city, there's more evidence than you'd think for the impact that Roman conquest had on the lives of ordinary people here. All it requires is that we look from a slightly different angle. One of the most famous monuments in the forum celebrates the moment when one conquering army came home. In 71 AD, the city got a day off for the triumphal return of the emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, who had crushed a rebellion in Judea. We've got here the victorious general, Titus, driving through the streets of Rome in his chariot to celebrate his victory... ..and on the other side, we've got the booty that he's brought home with him. Titus had devastatingly conquered the Jews, and here we can see the loot that he has got from the Jewish temple. It's a grand display, but what I want to do is to try and undercut the pomposity of it a bit, and to ask what was it like for the people, the ordinary Romans who showed up to watch this, left their apartments and came to see the spectacle? A triumph like this would have been the first sight the Roman people had of all the things the armies brought back from their distant victories. The rich spoils, the maps of the conquered territory, the models of the fighting, even the trees that they'd uprooted and brought back to Rome. How did people react? Some must have gasped, others would have jeered the captives. Or maybe their minds were on other things. One Roman poet recommends the triumphal procession as a place to pick up a girl. How would you do it? Well, he says, watch the stuff go past, nudge up to her and say, "Ooh. I think that's the Euphrates there, "and that's the Tigris over there." You don't have to know, he says, you just have to sound confident. And then you'll make your own conquest! It's a good joke. But it also hints at the way Roman lives could be changed by the spoils coming back from the Empire. This girl can't have been the only person who found all this pretty strange, but also exciting. So what did the Roman armies bring back from the Empire? The import that made the biggest impact is one we don't think about often enough - human beings. These are forgotten people, but if we take the time to listen, we can still hear the voices of some of the millions who followed the Roman armies into the city for all sorts of different reasons. "This is for my brother, Habibi Annu from Palmyra. "I'm Germanus, Regulus' mule driver." "This is for Diocles, champion chariot racer from Spain." Here we've got a young slave girl, age 17, Phryne, the slave of Tertulla. "Africana". She came from Africa. This one is put up by a soldier for his wife Carnuntilla, born near Vienna in ancient Pannonia. What's weird is that Carnuntilla isn't really a real name. It comes from the name of a town in Pannonia, Carnuntum. It means, sort of, "my babe from Carnuntum". So my guess is, he perhaps bought this girl as a slave, he freed her, he brought her back to Rome, he married her. But sadly, his babe from Carnuntum died when she was just 19. Poignant stories like this are everywhere in the city. They're reminders of the different ways real lives could begin abroad and end in Rome. But there's more to it than that. These people weren't just brought in to serve the Romans. They were becoming Romans. One of the tombs on the Appian Way gives us the other side of the story of the Arch of Titus. It's a tombstone of three guys, one called Baricha, one called Zabda, and one called Achiba - typical Jewish names. So the question is, what's the story of Baricha, Zabda and Achiba? How did they get here? If they did start out life in Judea, how come they end up as Roman citizens in Rome? It's more surprising than you think. To judge from the letters and how they're written on this stone, this was carved in the first century AD, and at that point, we can put two and two together. I'm almost certain that these three men must have been part of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans in the late 60s AD. These men surely came into Rome with Titus' army, as prisoners of war. It must have seemed like the worst moment of their lives - jeered at, catcalls, people throwing things at them. But perhaps worse was to come. They were auctioned off as slaves and bought by a man called Lucius Valerius. What their life in slavery was like, we don't know, but he freed them, and they become new Roman citizens, with his name, Lucius Valerius, but their Jewish names still asserting their Jewish sense of identity. This is one of the ways that Roman conquest works. It does bring slaves, but it also brings, eventually, new Roman citizens. It's a fairy-tale happy ending, and a classic Roman story. When guys like this were freed, they didn't just go back to their old lives in Judea. They stayed in their new home, and what's more, they became Romans, with all the rights and privileges which came with full Roman citizenship. But what kept them in Rome? How many of them were there? And where did all these new Romans live? To try and make sense of it all, I went to meet a colleague in Trastevere, which literally means "across the Tiber from the ancient city centre". It's got a reputation as a bit of an immigrant area in Rome even now. This area, Trastevere, across the Tiber, was the fringe of the ancient city of Rome, and this is where we have the biggest evidence for immigrant communities - Jews, the Syrians. I guess if you said to an ancient Roman, "Where's the biggest immigrant area of the ancient city of Rome?" They'd have said... Over the river. Over. On the other side, yeah. Part of the answer to the question of why an area like this could be so cosmopolitan lies in the story of slaves like Baricha, Zabda and Achiba. Greeks thought Romans were really weird for freeing as many slaves as they did. And making them citizens? Yes. Although it's very brutal, being a slave can be a kind of stage in a life, like an apprenticeship. You come in as a German, you get a Roman name, you learn Latin, or you learn to manage in Latin, you learn some kind of job that's useful to your master, your master sets you free, and there you are - you're a Roman citizen with a trade and a Roman name and a bunch of powerful people you know. Yeah. This is your entry into Roman society. Now, multiply that by hundreds and thousands of slaves being freed, and you can see that the whole ethnic nature of the people who call themselves Roman citizens is really changing very quickly. Roman is a kind of vocation. It's a movement into which other people are drawn. This was a completely new idea. And, in many ways, the secret of the Empire's success.