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The 3-part series Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities aired on BBC in December, 2013. Simon Sebag Montefiore explores the long and fabled history of the city on the Bosphorus first known as Byzantium, then rechristened Constantinople as the capitol of the Roman Empire, then renamed Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks who ruled the Moslem world for centuries. Official BBC page is here.

Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine was a given a US DVD release on November 15, 2013. The movie was first shown on Italian TV (under the title Sant’Agostino) in 2010 as a 2-part mini-series. The title role is split between Alessandro Preziosi (photo above) and Franco Nero (who plays the Roman African saint at age 75). It’s from the same production company that made Augustus, Nero, and St. Peter. (In 1972, Roberto Rossellini made a move for Italian TV, Agostino d’Ippona/Augustine of Hippo; if you know of any English-language release of that film, please let Steven know!)

Atlantis is a new 13-part BBC series from the folks who brought you Merlin. From the press release: “The city of Atlantis is a mysterious, ancient place; a world of bull leaping, of snake-haired goddesses and of palaces so vast it was said they were built by giants. Into this strange, compelling realm the young Jason arrives and an amazing adventure begins, bringing to life the vast store of Greek myths and legends re-imagined for a new generation.” Atlantis premiered in the UK on September 28, 2013, in Canada on Space on October 12, and in the US on BBC America on November 23. Shown here: the first publicity image for the series, showing cast members Robert Emms, Jack Donnelly and Mark Addy. See a gallery of cast members here.

Britain’s Channel 4 presented the documentary Finding Babylon’s Hanging Garden on November 24, 2013. Filmmakers follow Oxford academic Stephanie Dalley as she travels to Iraq to explore her theory that the elusive gardens did exist, but at Nineveh, not Babylon. Dalley’s book on the subject is The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced. Viewers in the UK may find the show streaming here. If you know of any DVD release or TV broadcast in the US, please let Steven know!

BBC presented the documentary Searching for Exile: Truth or Myth on November 3, 2013. Drawing on the account of Josephus and recent archaeological discoveries. filmmaker Ilan Ziv explores the “myth” of Jewish exile after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, and the subsequent failed revolt of Simon bar Kokhba in A.D. 135. BBC apparently found the material controversial enough to warrant a follow-up program with a roundtable of scholars, Searching for Exile: The Debate. More info here. If you know of any DVD release or TV broadcast in the US, please let Steven know!

If you’ve been holding off on purchasing that all-region DVD player, this might just push you over the edge: The Romans Triple DVD Box Set Presented by Mary Beard, including all three of her recent BBC documentaries: Caligula, Meet the Romans, and Pompeii: Life & Death in a Roman Town. Chances of ever seeing these docs in the US are spotty at best, so why not broaden your horizons with that all-region DVD player and start buying Region 2 DVDs direct from (You’ll also be helping the ailing British economy!) The boxed set comes out October 21, 2013.

[Update: Pompeii Live will be screened in US cinemas on September 25, 2014. Info here.] Coming to a cinema near you on June 18, 2013 (but only in the UK): Pompeii Live from the British Museum, touted as the first live cinema event produced by a museum to coincide with a major exhibit, namely the British Museum’s big Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum running March 28 to September 29. But since this isn’t an opera or other performance, why a live broadcast? Perhaps to tempt the audience with the possibility of seeing stellar presenters like Mary Beard make an on-air goof? For more details and ticket info, go here.

Here’s the strangest item you’re likely to find on this page: Thermae Romae, a Japanese movie based on a graphic novel that’s said to have sold five million copies. The plot involves a time-traveling Roman who finds himself transported to modern Japan; when he returns to Rome and introduces Japanese bathing customs, he attracts great acclaim—and enemies. The image above is a screencap from the movie’s official site. Watch a trailer here. (The film was actually released in 2012, but so non-Japanese visitors to this page won’t miss the notice, Steven is also posting this item on the 2013 page.) There appears to be an all-region DVD with English subtitles available.

2013 has been a very busy year for telegenic scholar Michael Scott; one wonders how he found time to lecture at the University of Warwick. First came the National Geographic Channel’s 2-part Jesus: Rise to Power (US broadcast March 28, UK broadcast March 31). Then, looking more than ever like Gerard Butler’s little brother—and acting more than ever like a totally canned BBC presenter, replete with raised eyebrows, exaggerated excitement, and not much in the way of enlightenment—Scott presented the 2-part BBC documentary Who Were the Greeks? (June 27 and July 4). Scott was back on form in the BBC/Nova doc The Mystery of the X Tombs (UK broadcast July 28), an unspectacular but engrossing look at scientific investigations of ancient mass graves in Rome. He rounded off the year with an excellent review of the origins and functions of drama with the 3-part Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth, which aired on BBC in August and September. What will 2014 bring us from Michael Scott? Stay tuned!

The short film Excelsior, shot in Latin with English subtitles, puts forth the novel notion that survivors of Carthage escaped to the New World. Tagline: Carthago NON delenda est! Filmmaker James Day is currently submitting the film to festivals. Watch a trailer here.

Odysseus, a new 12-hour TV mini-series, debuted on French and German TV on June 13, 2013. Italian actor Alessio Boni stars in the title role, with Niels Schneider as his son, Telemachus. More info (in French) and a cast list can be seen at this page at the site of Arte France, a partner in the multi-national production. Watch a trailer (in French) here or here. A 4-disk Region 2 DVD in French or in German and French is available. If you know of any English-language DVD release, please let Steven know!

On July 29, 2013, Mary Beard gave us her take on the maddest of the mad emperors with the BBC documentary Caligula. Not as crazy as we thought? Even crazier? Or crazy like a fox? If only BBC would show these programs in the US, hundreds of millions of Americans could find out for themselves! More info here. If you know of any DVD release or TV broadcast in the US, please let Steven know!

The 3-part BBC documentary series Mothers, Murderers and Mistresses: Empresses of Ancient Rome debuted in the UK on May 29, 2013, with presenter Catharine Edwards casting a gimlet eye on the notorious female rulers of Rome. Lindsey Davis is briefly interviewed in episode three (about the love of Vespasian and Caenis, the subject of her novel The Course of Honour). For more info on the series, including streaming options in the UK and a mini-essay by Edwards, go here. If you know of any DVD release or TV broadcasts in the US, please let Steven know!

Egypt’s Sunken City: A Legend Revealed premieres on the Arte channel in France and Germany on May 11, 2013. The documentary shows the rediscovery of the lost Egyptian city of Thonis/Heracleion, which became submerged in the Mediterranean Sea over a thousand years ago. French archaeologist Frank Goddio located the ruins in 2001 and has been exploring them ever since. See more info about the doc and about Heracleion at Goddio’s official site. If you know of any DVD release or TV broadcasts in the US or UK, please let Steven know!

The comedy series Plebs premiered on UK’s ITV on March 25, 2013; all six episodes of Season One came out on Region 2 DVD in the UK on April 29, 2013. From the press release: “Rome is traditionally imagined as the home of emperors and senators, generals and gladiators, a dignified theatre of pomp and ceremony. But what about the little guys, the wasters—new to the big city, stuck in office jobs, unable to get the girls? Plebs follows three desperate young men from the suburbs (Marcus, Stylax and their lazy slave with an attitude problem, Grumio) as they try to get laid, hold down jobs and climb the social ladder in the big city—a city that happens to be Ancient Rome.” Watch a couple of short trailers here and here; read more about the series here. [Update: A second season of Plebs is on the way for 2014.]

The mini-series Ben Hur, which aired in Canada in 2010, finally debuted on US television on Ovation on March 31, 2013, with US DVD release on April 30, 2013. Steven says: “While this version won’t take the place of the classic 1959 version in my imagination, it has its virtues, including a good cast and great locations, and in some ways it’s truer to the original Lew Wallace novel.” Seen here: Joseph Morgan in the title role and Miguel Angel Muñoz as Antegua in the galley scene.

The BBC documentary series Archaeology: A Secret History, with presenter Dr. Richard Miles, premiered in the UK on April 30, 2013. Among the revelations: Miles credits Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, with founding the discipline of archaeology when she dug up the cross and nails presumably used in the crucifixion of Jesus—but misses the obvious punch line that archaeologists have been making such inflated claims ever since. Unintentional comedy results from Miles’ uncanny resemblance to “Peep Show” comedian Robert Webb. More info on the series here. (Coincidentally, the BBC online archives now has a page of vintage archaeology programs, including Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s “The Grandeur That Was Rome” from 1960, streaming in the UK here.)

April, 2013 saw the premiere on BBC in the UK of the brief series The Flying Archaeologist, four episodes of 30 minutes each in which archaeologist Ben Robinson explored new insights into Britain’s past. One episode highlighted the first full aerial survey of Hadrian’s Wall, and the growing consensus on the ground that the area along the wall was more densely populated and full of activity than previously thought. More info on the series here.

August 16, 2013 will see the release of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, a sequel to 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on the second book in Rick Riordan’s super-popular YA series of novels about a modern-day son of Poseidon. This time out, Kronos is rising and demigod Percy (Logan Lerman) must go on a quest for the Golden Fleece, lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Watch a trailer here.

To whet our appetites for the humongous Pompeii exhibit that opened March 28, 2013 at the British Museum, the BBC aired two documentaries. In Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time (shown March 27), Dr. Margaret Mountfort takes a closer look at those eerie plaster casts of the victims of Vesuvius. The show is less about history and more about vulcanism and forensic science, though the filmmakers do recreate some Pompeian street scenes, as in this on-location shot. More info here. Then, on April 1, BBC aired The Other Pompeii: Life & Death in Herculaneum, featuring “Britain’s greatest Pompeianist,” Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of Cambridge, who heads the Herculaneum Conservation Porject. More info here.

In the two-part BBC documentary Ancient Egypt: Life & Death in the Valley of the Kings (which premiered March 22, 2013), Dr. Joan Fletcher examines the life, death, and afterlife of royal architect Kha and his wife Merit based on the contents of their tomb, which was discovered intact. Whether gazing at the burial artifacts (now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Turin) or strolling through the Valley of the Kings dressed in black and carrying her trademark black parasol, Fletcher makes an enthusiastic and engaging guide to the world (and afterworld) of the ancients who lived along the Nile. For more info, including clips and streaming and broadcast dates in the UK, go here.

History Channel debuted the 10-hour dramatic mini-series The Bible on March 3, 2013, with DVD and Blu-ray release in April. No arid revisionism here; this show has more miracles than a month of Sundays. Action scenes include an angel with kung-fu moves, and there’s even a tie-in novel—for those too lazy to actually read The Bible? The series was such a hugh hit that a pared-down movie version of the series is in the works, as is a “sequel,” A.D. Beyond the Bible, sold to NBC. (More Bible movies are on the way; see items elsewhere on this page and at the 2014 page regarding film projects about Noah, Moses, and the Virgin Mary.)

Spartacus: War of the Damned, the third full season of the gripping gladiator saga, will also be the last, bringing down the curtain on the epic tale of the slave revolt against Rome. The season began on Starz TV on January 25, 2013. Says series creator Steven S. DeKnight: “Looking at the story in the history books, it’s wave after wave of Roman senators going after Spartacus who are defeated until [Roman general Marcus Crassus] comes in. There are only so many battles you can put a spin on. So let’s pick out the most interesting moments in this struggle and lay out a clear narrative for Spartacus and his rebellion.” Here’s a link to the official site.

Season One of the Spanish TV series Imperium released on Region 2 DVD on February 1, 2013 (Spanish-language only). Imperium is a spin-off of the three-season Spanish blockbuster Hispania la Leyenda; see previous items here and here. In Imperium, Roman officer Marco (played by Jésus Olmedo, above) is stripped of his command and forced to fight as a gladiator. Hmmm, does that plot sound familiar? If you know of any English-language broadcast or DVD release of either series, please let Steven know!)

On display through April 7, 2013 at the Musée Gallo-Romains in Lyon, France: Peplum, a major exhibit on ancient world cinema including film screenings, lectures, and special events. Visit the museum web site here.

One of the most popular sci-fi comedies ever is back for a tenth season‚ and a visit to the Ancient World. In the UK, Red Dwarf X premiered Oct. 4, 2012 on the UK digital channel Dave, but viewers in the US got their first chance to see the series when it releasd on DVD and Blu-ray on January 8, 2013. The third episode, “Lemons,” finds Lister and the crew sent back in time to Britain, AD 23—but before we see a single Druid or Roman soldier, they head for India in search of lemons (don’t ask), where they encounter…Jesus?

But wait—there’s more!

Steven’s International Online Ancient World Film Festival
Watch this collection of mini-movies right here, right now!

Steven’s Wish List
Will we ever see these legendary
movies and TV shows?
Where Are
the Euro Movies?

Movies and TV shows from England & Europe, never shown in the US.


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