Divine Women: Episode two – Handmaids of the Gods (BBC2; 18 April; 9pm)

In this episode, Bettany travels to the island of Lesbos to discover the truth behind the much sensationalized poet Sappho. Best known today for giving us the words sapphic and lesbian, in her own time Sappho fulfilled the important role of a priestess, channelling the power of Aphrodite the goddess of sex.

Then in Athens, the heart of Ancient Greece, Bettany Hughes reveals how religion gave women a vital role in a society which otherwise regarded them as worthless. She then heads to Ancient Rome where the fate of the civilisation lay in the hands of six sacred women – the vestal virgins. She discovers how religion gave this select group of women a life of privilege and luxury, but how their status came at a terrifying price.

Finally, Hughes returns to those crucial early years of Christianity where she finds evidence about the role of women that contradicts centuries of Christian teaching and challenges the belief that women should not be priests.

Find out more about the series and other episodes in our main series page.

If you want to comment, visit our Discussion Hub.

If you missed the first episode, watch it on iPlayer.

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