Mary Beard has a lively way with words when describing Caligula (Picture: BBC/Lion TV/Caterina Turroni)

My heart sinks when I see a gaggle of tourists at an historical landmark being talked at by an expert. It’s much the feeling I get when confronted by documentaries fronted by learned academics pointing at busts and reading inscriptions. So Caligula With Mary Beard (BBC2) had an uphill struggle on its hands.

To her credit, Beard looks the real deal, a proper old-school professor, not a clone from TV presenting school. And she has a lively way with words, describing Caligula as a ‘template for tyranny’ and chortling that his name means ‘Little Boots’. Little Boots has to call her next album Caligula.

But for all that, as Beard set about debunking all the interesting bits about Caligula – he didn’t sleep with his sisters, his palace wasn’t a brothel – it was a hard grind without much of a bump to get you by. Everything was prefaced with a ‘probably’,
because there’s so little hard evidence from Caligula’s time.

He could have been anything from a sodomising loon to a born-again saint, for all the studies can actually prove. I’ll stick with the former, it’s more fun.

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