A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
(Courtesy of The History Channel)
How do you interest the average 20-something male in ancient history? Why not combine antiquity with ... cars? This seems to have been the high concept behind Drive Through History, a baffling and strangely sanitized new series on The History Channel, hosted with goofball energy by Dave Stotts.
The premise is that Stotts will speed us around the most fabled Mediterranean sites, starting with Rome. The auto motif allows the producers to include a speedometer that shows centuries instead of miles and throw in NASCAR footage when Stotts visits the Circus Maximus.
Nothing is more subjective than humor, and I leave it to the viewer to decide the merits of Stotts's reenactment of Rome's mythical founding using two baby figurines to represent Romulus and Remus and a moth-eaten stuffed she-wolf doll. "This is good stuff!" squeaks the suckling baby Romulus of the lupine milk. "Is it 2 percent?"
In the world of short attention spans, speed is clearly of the essence, but Stotts's archaeological pit-stops--ha, ha--soon start to seem unevenly paced. In the first episode, the Forum is given a cursory once-over, while the Arch of Titus is used as the jumping-off point for an exhaustive account of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. En route, we are treated to grim archival footage from Ausch-witz, while learning that the next 1,900 years "would not be an easy time for the Jewish people."
The second episode offers an elaborate account of Nero's persecution of the Christians. Instead of Stotts's goofy antics, we get somber readings from the New Testament by someone with a plummy British accent. A pattern emerges: Church history and Bible references really muscle the poor old pagans aside. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the series previously aired on a small Christian cable network called TBN, Trinity Broadcasting Network, or that Stotts is a graduate of Abilene Christian University.
Pedants may raise their eyebrows at some of the fine details, like the suggestion that Augustus, having defeated "a guy named Mark Antony," genuinely wanted to restore the Roman Republic. But why be a spoilsport? Maybe the series will inspire viewers to visit a bookstore.
Tony Perrottet is the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of the Ancient Roman Tourists.
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