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The waiting time for a decent builder can be quite a while so imagine the double takes when passers by in Wroxeter, Shropshire, spotted an authentic Roman villa being constructed by half a dozen labourers?

The waiting time for a decent builder can be quite a while so imagine the double takes when passers by in Wroxeter, Shropshire, spotted an authentic Roman villa being constructed by half a dozen labourers?

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day (C4, 9pm) is a sort of Boys from the BC Stuff meets a 2000 year old version of successful television series Grand Design.

Series supervisor Professor Dai Morgan Evans admits he was sceptical about the idea when approached by a tv producer about it.

“I thought the idea of doing it using a gang of British workmen equipped with only the tools of the time was barmy,” he says. “And that was before I found out they wouldn’t be using skilled craftsmen, but ordinary builders.”

Two thousand years ago a typical Roman town house would have taken a legion of slaves and a troupe of artisans and specialists (stonemasons, tilers, fresco painters etc) at least two years to construct.

In this archaeological experiment the six builders were given just six months to build the villa from scratch at what used to be Viroconium, the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, complete with a plunge pool, under floor heating, frescoes and mosaics.

It was Evans’ job to rummage through the team’s tool bags and remove anything a Roman worker wouldn’t have recognised – and then explain to his six workers there wouldn’t be any cranes, breeze blocks, power tools or even wheelbarrows.

Yes, the Romans might have conquered the world and invented a lot of things but the first Latin word for wheelbarrow doesn’t crop up until the seventh century.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Romans, said Jim Blackham who took on the role of foreman – and had to tell his team they’d be lugging their own raw materials. “They must have been really fit blokes. We all lost weight on this job, I lost nearly three stone.”

Evans, a visiting archaeology professor at the University of Chester, did make the occasional concession.

“When there were masses of daub and mortar to be mixed I allowed several “slaves” in the form of a concrete mixer to be introduced,” he said.”Otherwise it would have been torture.”

Fortunately they weren’t working completely in the dark – they had a manual on Roman building, albeit written in 25BC by Vitruvius! Sounds like the one some labourers still use when working out their estimates.