Submitting Institution

University of Cambridge

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

As a result of her outstanding research in Roman history and archaeology, Beard was invited to work with a TV production company to develop two programmes for BBC2. The first was a one-off programme specifically linked to her book Pompeii (2008), the second a series (Meet the Romans, 2011) related to her research on Pompeii and to her research on Roman social history and inscriptions. Recognised as landmark broadcasts (Pompeii gained 3.4 million viewers, the largest audience for a factual BBC2 programme in 2010, and was shortlisted for a BAFTA), both have led to widespread public engagement and (with major overseas sales) to considerable economic and cultural benefit to the UK.

Underpinning research

Mary Beard has been on the academic staff since 1984; and Professor of Classics since 2004. The main underpinning research is represented by Pompeii: Life of a Roman Town (below 1). Pompeii was an attempt to consolidate and develop recent work on the archaeology of Pompeii within a more radical framework of recent advances in Roman social history, to ask explicitly what contribution the material evidence makes and to engage a wider audience with the history of the city. This was augmented by a longstanding research interest in Roman social and cultural history, and a series of papers on Roman epigraphy (4,5,6). These have combined high-level technical expertise with a more nuanced, literary reading of Roman tombstones and other epigraphic material, to demonstrate the sophistication and complexity of these documents.

Pompeii was distinctive in uniting big research questions in Roman history (the nature of slavery, of the Roman house, of urban social structures) with a presentation that warmly welcomed a more general audience. It asked directly how we understand the life of the ancient city and with what difficulties; and how convincingly the material remains can ever deliver conclusions on the major issues of Roman social history. This was innovative in bringing together research into technical archaeological issues on Pompeii with broader questions about ancient life. In addition, Beard's epigraphical work has consistently tried to integrate the most recent discoveries and re- interpretations into mainstream ancient history and critical theory. One central concern of this work has been exactly how to read Roman inscriptions, and this was developed within the series Meet the Romans.

All this has been augmented by Beard's work on the modern reception of the Vesuvian sites, which has shown how crucial it is to reflect on the history of modern engagements with the story of Pompeii and Herculaneum in order to understand their ancient history (2,3). This aspect of Beard's work was itself underpinned by a Leverhulme research programme grant (of which she was a joint PI) on "Past versus Present in Victorian Britain".

References to the research

1. M Beard, Pompeii: Life of a Roman Town (London: Profile Books, 2008).


2. M Beard, `Taste and the Antique: Visiting Pompeii in the nineteenth century', in C. Mattusch (ed.) Rediscovering Antiquity on the Bay of Naples, 1710-1890 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) 205-228.

3. M Beard, `Dirty Little Secrets: changing displays of Pompeian "erotica"', in V. C. Gardner Coates (ed.) The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum Catalogue, 2012) 60-69.

4. M Beard, `Vita inscripta', in La biographie antique, Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique, Fondation Hardt 44 (1998) 83-118.

5. R. Gordon, M. Beard et al., `Roman Inscriptions, 1986-90', JRS 83 (1993) 131-158.


6. R. Gordon, J. Reynolds, M. Beard, C. Roueché, `Roman Inscriptions, 1991-95', JRS 87 (1997) 203-240.



S. D. Goldhill, M. Beard, P. Mandler (joint PIs), "Past versus Present in Victorian Britain: Abandoning the Past in an Age of Progress", Leverhulme research programme grant; start date, 1 October 2006; end date, 1 April 2012; value, £1,179,459.

All outputs can be supplied by the University of Cambridge on request.

Details of the impact

This research has led to impact in many forms and media:

1) The book itself has been widely read, reviewed and cited, and won the Wolfson Prize for History (2009) (section 5:1).

2) BBC2 programme, Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town (first broadcast, December 2010). This programme, for which Beard was presenter and script consultant, gained a UK audience on first broadcast of 3.4 million viewers (making it the top-rating BBC2 history programme of the year); the consolidated audience with two repeats amounted to 6 million viewers (5:2). It was reviewed very positively: `Here at last was a history presenter who knew her subject inside out and couldn't wait to share it. The antithesis of the TV-trained academic ... her uncluttered enthusiasm shone like a beacon across the centuries' (Metro; 5:3). The programme was short-listed for a BAFTA (specialist factual), has been reissued as a DVD and has been sold to (and broadcast in) over 100 countries overseas (from Australia to Thailand, Finland to Egypt and Papua New Guinea) (5:2).

3) BBC2 three-part series, Meet the Romans, first broadcast in April 2012 (audience averaged at over 2 million per programme in the UK), with repeated, dubbed or subtitled versions sold to over 60 countries worldwide, in five continents (export fees for Australia, Canada & Sweden alone amounting to c £86,000, 5:4). In addition to the overall viewing figures, there were very positive reviews (`Wherever she went, Beard broke a site apart and let knowledge flood out.' L. Mangan, Guardian; 5:5) and the series was shortlisted for a Broadcasting Press Guild Award, 2013 (for the best documentary series). Beard has received hundreds of emails and letters that confirm the impact of the programmes on the learning of Latin; for example: `I am a first-year sixth-form student... and I absolutely love Classics. I felt incredibly inspired [by the programmes]...' (5:6). A recent letter confirms that a UK prisoner has been brought to learn Latin thanks to the programmes. Beard's article for the Daily Telegraph on visiting ancient Rome tied into the series, won an ENIT (Italian Tourist Board) award for the best travel article on Italy in a newspaper, 2012 (5:7). Beard has been nominated for a 2013 Grierson award ("the Oscars of the documentary world") for Meet the Romans (5:8).

4) Various digital versions of outreach material: including BBC website "tie-in" discussion of a featured inscription (372,614 page-views on first day; 5:9), BBC blog discussing Meet the Romans (`Mary, if I had my time again, I would wish to come back as one of your classics students'; 5.10); and British Museum blogs relating to BM objects in the programme, directing people to them (`Fascinating! I will definitely go along and look for this'; 5:11).

5) Later spin-off materials, including BBC Radio 4 broadcast "A Point of View", on rich and poor in ancient Rome (first broadcast 9 November, 2012, but also 64,200 page views on first full day of web-posting, 11 November, 2012; 5:12), and, in the same series, on Pompeian "dead bodies" (broadcast 23 November 2012, and 521,000 pages views on first two days on BBC website).

6) The research led directly to Beard's involvement with exhibitions of Pompeian material at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, for which she wrote a catalogue essay and recorded part of the audio guide, and at the J Paul Getty Museum California, for which she wrote a catalogue essay (section 3:3), recorded part of the audio guide and was involved in planning. For the 2013 British Museum exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, she was co-curator of outreach events (all of them sold out), contributed to the multimedia guide, and was a lead contributor to the first ever live-streaming to cinemas of a BM exhibition (over 280 in the UK, and over 1000 worldwide; section 5:13).

7) This work has led directly to other forms of impact, including appearances teaching Latin on Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 series Dream School (2011). This had its own effect: e.g. `I have always loved studying Classical Greek and Rome but family and work have left me with little free time to pursue my interest. However, that all changed when I saw you on the television series about Jamie Oliver and his Dream School. I signed up with the Open University to complete my BA History and have also taken the plunge to start my MA in Classics' (5:14). It was also followed by an appearance at the House of Commons Education Select Committee, in which the impact of Latin in the curriculum was discussed (5:15).

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Reviews quoted at
  2. e-mail from person 1 (managing director Lion TV) (production company; incorporating BBC data), 26 April 2013
  3. Metro 14 December 2010;
  4. Sales summary All3 Media for sales of Meet the Romans to Australia, Canada and Sweden. COMMERCIALLY CONFIDENTIAL
  5. L. Mangan, Guardian 17 April 2012;
  6. e-mail from person 2 (sixth-form student, Longsands Academy), 2 May 2012
  7. Article Daily Telegraph, 20 April 2012
  9. e-mail from person 3 (Assistant Editor, BBC), 18 April 2012
  12. e-mail from person 4 (Producer, BBC) 14 November 2012
  14. e-mail from person 5, 4 December 2012
  15. House of Commons Education Committee, Jamie's dream School, Oral Evidence, 21 June 2011: