We are always curious about how the other half lives. Whether it’s your neighbours with the 10 dogs dragging them down the road on a Sunday morning stroll, or the people up the road who’re driving new cars every week. But what happens when you want to know about people who lived thousands of years ago and the secrets that died with them? You tune into National Geographic (DStv 181) from Friday, 11 September at 20:00 and go adventuring with historian Professor Bettany Hughes as she searches for Greatest Treasures of The Ancient World.
“My most memorable place to visit is Egypt. You can be in two eras of time at once. You are travelling through modern Egypt, but it takes you back to the glory days of Ancient Egyptian civilisation,” says Bettany.
Mummy, please may I have more?
Greatest Treasures of The Ancient World S1 zooms in on the Ancient Egyptians – which is perfect for Bettany as she is a student of the world we know so little about. The 6-episode series will take her from the Nile Delta, where Egypt’s farmers flourished, to the Lake Nasser district, where so many of Egypt’s laws were made, and which acted as a second city beside the capitol of Cairo.
Unlike some other experts who have travelled to Egypt, Professor Hughes gets a warm welcome. “It was so wonderful. The people are really friendly. They were inviting us in for breakfast or a meal no matter where we were,” she says. Professor Hughes loves the ancient world and she has written about it in her books – including The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life in 2010. So she is not seen as a treasure hunter, but rather a treasure appreciator who understands the significance of a dull little canopic jar that was used in the mummification process.
Professor Bettany doesn’t believe in starting small, and in episode 1 she gets an up-close personal look at a hieroglyphic-covered wall that tells the story of one of Ancient Egypt’s best-known figures: the last female pharaoh, Cleopatra. It’s hugely significant in the history of Egypt because Cleopatra linked the country to the Roman Empire. Over the years, many films have used Cleopatra as a central theme, yet there is always creative licence. In Greatest Treasures, though, Professor Bettany is getting the real story. She also gets to grips with the mummified remains that are at the centre of a 3,000-year-old mystery and could hold new secrets to the world of Ancient Egypt.
All that glitters
But where is the gold, you might be asking. Episode 2 is so shiny and sparkly that you’ll get an instant tan from the screen – it’s like looking at the Egyptian sun god Ra himself! This isn’t one of those moments where a presenter points towards a pair of 4,000-year-old crusty brown leather sandals that may have been worn by a wealthy pharaoh and claims, “this is the real treasure”. Professor Bettany is looking at real, legit, golden Egyptian treasure. It’s the stuff that Indiana Jones would do backflips for. And if you want to know how artisans were able to make jewellery pieces like the pharaohs’ death masks, which seem identical to their facial features, you won’t be disappointed. Professor Bettany is going to explore these treasures in the minutest detail as she finds out more about how these treasures helped the pharaohs in the afterlife.
It’s not just Egypt where Professor Bettany finds treasures. In episodes 3 and 4, she’s heading to Ancient Rome and Pompeii, the city that was frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79 and covered the city and its people in volcanic ash, preserving them for all time. The host will be exploring an ancient shopping mall, seeing an Pompeii citizen’s remains cowering in a corner in their home, as well as visiting the iconic Menander House and its amphitheatre which belonged to a very important, very well-connected Pompeiian resident.
Watch Greatest Treasures of The Ancient World S1, Fridays from 11 September on National Geographic (DStv 181) at 20:00