BBC Two Orders Documentaries About Napoleon, Ancient Rome

4:00 AM PST 06/27/2013 by Georg Szalai

With Scotland planning a referendum on independence next year, the channel also commissions three hours that will explore the history of its border.

LONDON -- Amid the recent success of historical TV dramas, BBC Two said Thursday that it has ordered several documentaries that will explore some of the great empires and their leaders.

The public broadcaster has commissioned a three-part exploration of Napoleon Bonaparte, a portrait of Roman emperor Caligula and an in-depth look at recently found catacombs in Rome.

With Scotland facing a referendum on independence next year, the network also ordered a series that will explore the history of the border between England and Scotland.

"These thoughtful, dramatic, highly colored views of our past offer great stories, great arguments and great characters," said Martin Davidson, commissioning editor, history and business. "Each of these programs 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."

BBC Two said that the three-hour series Napoleon will look to "shed new light on the emperor as an extraordinary, gifted military commander and a mesmeric leader whose private life was littered with disappointments and betrayals." The show will see historian Andrew Roberts visit former battlefields of Europe and discuss events that helped shape European history.

"The series also paints a controversial portrait of Napoleon, a man demonized as a dictator as ruthless as Hitler," BBC Two said. "But rather than be remembered as the demon of history and a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Napoleon was also the man responsible for securing the success of the French Revolution and who put in place many of the features of the modern state."

Meanwhile, the hour-long Caligula will explore myths and realities of the life of an emperor who ruled Rome for only four years before being assassinated at age 29. "He was said to have made his horse a consul, proclaimed himself a living god and indulged in scandalous orgies -- and not to mention his construction of vast bridges across land and sea, prostituting senators’ wives and killing half the Roman elite seemingly on a whim," BBC Two said.

The network has also ordered the hour-long The Mystery of Rome’s X Tombs, which will explore  tombs recently discovered in one of Rome’s catacombs. The tombs contained more than 2,000 skeletons, more than usual burial places, and were marked as "X" in the Vatican's underground mapping system.

The show will explore who the dead were, with theories pointing to a wealthy immigrant community or members of Ancient Rome's elite.

Finally, BBC Two also ordered three hours entitled The Marches: How a Border Made Us. The documentary series will look at Hadrian’s Wall, which was built in Roman times, and how it has divided and haunted Britain to the present.

The island later split again along the line of the wall into England and Scotland before the border vanished in 1603. With Scotland facing a referendum on independence next year, the U.K. has been debating the old border once again.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com

Twitter: @georgszalai
 

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