Alastair Sooke charts the decline and fall of the Roman Empire through some of its hidden and most magical artistic treasures. He travels to Leptis Magna in Libya, shortly after the overthrow of Gaddafi, and finds one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world and the cradle of later Roman art. Sooke discovers glorious mosaics which have never been filmed before but also finds evidence of shocking neglect of Libya's Roman heritage by the Gaddafi regime. His artistic tour takes him to Egypt and the northern frontiers of the empire where he encounters stunning mummy paintings and exquisite silver and glassware. As Rome careered from one crisis to another, official art became more hard boiled and militaristic and an obscure cult called Christianity rose up to seize the mantle of Western art for centuries to come.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius is renowned for its decimation of Pompeii, but nearby, an equally impressive Roman settlement known as Herculaneum was lost to history. Today, the latest in technology is opening a wind to the past, as scientists digitally "unravel" the Herculaneum Scrolls.
In the opening episode of the series, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill takes us on a journey across stunning locations in Greece and Italy to find out how Athens gave birth to the idea of a city run by free citizens 2,500 years ago. Every aspect of daily life from defence to waste disposal was controlled not by a king, but by the Athenians themselves. Ultimately, this radical new system would define a way of life and the Athenians would give it a name.
In 1944 America and Britain in the West and Russia in the East began to close their pincer around Germany. But even now, the outcome was in the balance. The film explores the Allied disaster at Arnhem and the tragedy of the Warsaw uprising, when Polish freedom fighters were abandoned to their fate by Stalin. It tells the shocking story of the Liberation of the death camps, when the full extent of the Holocaust became clear for the first time. The film ends with Hitler's last great gamble, as he threw all his last reserves against the oncoming Allied forces in the Ardennes.