Rated 5 out of 5 by MisterDarcy Scholarship Beyond Compare!
The preferred nickname for the Roman emperor Caracalla was “The Beast.” The dark side of these powerful rulers has fuelled the popular imagination about the Roman emperors for centuries. And the gossip begins with the earliest Roman historians. In this course, the complexities of the emperors are sorted out in a search for the truth about the colorful rulers of the Roman Empire.
Professor Garrett G. Fagan covers the panorama of the life stories of the emperors from Augustus to Constantine. The scholarship is impeccable, as the lecturer provides careful analysis based on primary sources. The ancient Romans had a notion of biography much different from our modern approach. To writers like Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Tacitus, and Plutarch, a human life was a fixed entity from birth. As a result, the Roman biographers did not explore ambiguity in human character, leaving to posterity many unresolved issues about the Roman emperors.
In these thirty-six lectures, we are treated to a masterful synthesis of the source materials, allowing us to weigh the evidence of the original accounts and make up our own minds about the complex questions surrounding the Roman lives. For example, was the first Roman emperor, Augustus, seeking to preserve the cherished values of the Roman Republic, or was he an outright dictator, as implied by Tacitus? Was Caligula as demented as he is often portrayed, or was he merely callous and arrogant? If Nero was actually responsible for the disastrous fire that destroyed Rome in 64 CE, as indicated by multiple Roman chroniclers, then why was he celebrated by the masses long after his death? These questions are approached with a cautious scholarly method that serves as a model for students, teachers, and anyone with a passionate interest in the subject of the Roman emperors.
A fascinating topic that was traced through the lectures was the role played by powerful women during the Roman Empire. While the Romans sought to portray the ideal matron in the myth of the virtuous Lucretia, the realities of the imperial period dictated that women assume a more active role in the lives of their husbands and their sons. On the surface, the public personae of the first Roman empress, Livia Druisilla, was modeled on Lucretia. But Suetonius recounts how the young emperor Caligula referred to Livia as a cunning “Ulysses in a dress.” According to multiple sources, Nero’s mother, Agrippina, was such a controlling figure in his life that the young emperor ordered her death. Two remarkable women, Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, worked behind the scenes to depose one Roman emperor and replace him with their young protégé, Bassianus. The two women managed to place a teenager on the imperial throne. Thus, under the name of Emperor Elagabalus, a fourteen-year-old-boy assumed the time-honored role of "Pater Patriae" (father of the country)! Four years later, Elagabalus was assassinated before he survived his teens. In nearly every imperial reign, dynamic women made significant contributions to the affairs of state.
This is a perfect companion course to Professor Fagan’s series on the “History of Ancient Rome,” which includes focused analysis of the Roman Republic. At the same time, both courses are “stand-alone” lecture series, which do not repeat verbatim the content of the other course. I appreciated experiencing the “Emperors of Rome” course in the video format, due to the maps, onscreen text, and the detailed genealogy of the Roman families. In a stroke of technical genius, the Great Courses staff displayed a color-coded version of the genealogy of the Roman emperors, identifying how so many of the rulers descended from a select number of the famous patrician families (the Julii, Claudii, and Flavian, among others). The chart made it easy to follow an extremely complicated family tree. The clearly presented family development of the emperors supported the professor’s contention that prosopography (the tracing of family connections politically) is a useful tool in understanding the succession of Roman rulers.
The course is filled with unforgettable anecdotes about the Roman emperors. On the streets of Rome, a passerby once called out a request to the emperor Hadrian, who brusquely replied, “I don’t have time.” The woman fired back, “Then, stop being emperor!” Hadrian chose to retrace his steps and listen to the request. In recounting stories like this one, Professor Fagan is always cautious in drawing conclusions. One of the lessons of this course is the importance of close work with original sources and, above all, critical thinking skills about the totality of the evidence. That Hadrian actually listened to the woman tells us that he really did take his job seriously. Not all of the Roman emperors would have reacted this way. In this instance, the intrepid bystander was lucky!
The imperial system established by Augustus endured for centuries. A study of this topic helps to explain how the superb Roman bureaucracy was able to manage vast territories on three continents and in thirty-two modern nation states. It also tells us why, due in part to the lapses in character of individual emperors, the Roman system eventually collapsed. From this course, one truth emerges clearly: the job of a Roman emperor was not one for the faint of heart.
COURSE GRADE: A
February 7, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Zard Zard reviews Emperors of Rome
This is the third course I have viewed of Professor Fagan's and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This course is not just about the emperors of Rome but very much about the evolution of government from the Republic through the beginnings of the Principate (Empire) through till Constantine the Great. it is about the birth and evolution of the empire. it ends a far cry from the glory of the Republic and years of Augustus but it is life. it ends with the beginnings of the Medieval Ages. Not much on that but you can see where the glory of Rome ends.
if you want to get a good sense on how the Roman Republic/Empire evolved through four centuries this is a great course.
January 25, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by NicC Roman Emperors: Authority and Demonic Madness
Professor Garrett’s EMPERORS of ROME is witness to Rome’s imperial history starting with Augustus (31 B.C.) and ending with Constantine the Great presented as the last Roman Emperor of the classical world “AND” the first medieval monarch of 4TH century Europe. But before the emperors enter history, survey the soil of the Late Roman Republic (133 B.C. – 31 B.C.) and its dominant ideology / tradition, social institutions / leading families, and political characters. It was during the REPUBLIC that most of Rome’s territories were acquired; but by 133 B.C. onward, its republican city-state institutions were undergoing major transformations due to the Roman Revolution / civil wars and the growing pressures of a Mediterranean-wide Empire. Observe the PRINCIPATE, whose seeds were planted mainly by the general and politician Julius Caesar / (Marius, Sulla, Pompey) which reintroduced monarchy to Rome. After Caesar’s assassination / (traditional fear of kingship), the suicides of Anthony and Cleopatra / (internal / external threats to succession eliminated), Octavian is renamed Augustus and becomes the first Emperor of Roman imperial history. The countenance of this Principate -- a republican foreground with a militaristic background coupled with the problem of imperial succession -- will slowly further divide, generate chaos, and evolve into the DOMINATE where the militaristic underpinnings and the autocratic tendencies of the Roman Emperors come into clearer focus.
To quote the professor: “the broad shape of Roman imperial history alternates between relatively stable dynasties and periods of civil war or, in the mid-3RD century, sustained chaos.” A chronological history of the dynasties and its major players are offered portraying the highest reaches of the Roman social character to the lowest aspects of the human condition imaginable with intellectual honesty and classical clarity. View both the republican and the authoritarian mechanisms surrounding dynastic politics and frontier control of emperors, empresses, sons, daughters, praetorian guards, adoptive members, extended family members, generals, army loyalties, and beyond.
Beginning with the PRINCIPATE (31 B.C. – 284 A.D.): Julio-Claudian Dynasty (Augustus, Drusilla, Tiberius, Agrippina, Caligula, Nero); Year of Four Emperors 69AD; Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian, Titus, Domitian); Antonine Dynasty (Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus); Severan Dynasty (Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Elagabalus). Now, 50 years of sustained CHAOS ( 3RD century crisis 235 A.D. – 284 A.D.) follows the collapse of the Severan Dynasty in 235 A.D. and culminated in the DOMINATE (284 A.D. – 476 A.D.) where competent general-emperors turn the crisis around and forge these chaotic trends into a naked military autocracy where the emperor will now be a military man: Aurelian, Diocletian, and the TETRARCHY; and Constantine the Great, the 1ST CHRISTIAN EMPEROR “AND” 1ST MEDIEVAL MONARCH, who accepts his army’s imperial acclamation and battles rivals at the Milvian Bridge. All throughout these periods experience the imperial rumble of court politics and frontier pressures: the succession problem, vicious rumors, political spin, arranged and mysterious murders, strange marriages for the emperorship, real or apparent madness, family poisonings and matricide, the burning of Rome, Christian persecutions, changing army and Senate loyalties, bloody struggles among commanders, the Jewish revolt, new practices of adoption for succession of able army commanders, auctioning off of official positions, etc.
Adding to the biographic approach to history, the professor critiques cultural and institutional data in his thematic treatment of the EMPERORS of ROME. Witness their relations with ROME itself (building projects / Colosseum / Pantheon / Meditations), the EMPIRE (frontier administration / Hadrian’s Wall / Constantinople), ELITES (senators / equestrians / rank-obsessions), PEOPLE (patron / client / provisions), SOLDIERS (loyalty / oaths / bribes). Professor Garrett’s ROMAN EMPERORS is an integrated piece of scholarship, art, and wisdom revealing the impact of the Emperors on Roman and European history. I surveyed the reviews which seem to focus on three main areas of contention: scholarly debates / problem of understanding, literary eloquence / lifeless and tedious stammering, Emperor Constantine / Fall of the Western Roman Empire. The professor is very conscious of the problem of availability and reliability of sources and interpretation thereof; so any problem of the understanding must mainly be in the incessant effort required to interrogate the sources until they reveal their historical meaning and validity. The professor’s storytelling ability coupled with the literary, epigraphic, numismatic, and archeological data is pure eloquence; the problem of being tedious and stammering (DVD?) is confusing mere words with major ideas in my view – his European accent when present adds an echoing effect from the Roman past enlivening mere words with conceptual dimensions. Finally, ending with Constantine and not the traditional Fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. is an historical insight in my view; Constantine the Great / classical world “AND” Constantine the first medieval monarch / European middle-ages is an intellectual construction that fuses the reach of the Roman frontiers, the empire-wide growth of Christianity, with the rise of the middle-ages together. *** ** Very Highly Recommended ** ***
January 23, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by howardtreesong Excellent Course
I listened to Professor Fagan's course on the overall history of Rome a while ago, and quite liked it. I picked up this one recently and liked it just as much: he's organized, coherent, insightful, and occasionally funny. "Tiberius removed himself to an island, where he devoted himself to history, drinking and gambling: career choices which I myself commend." As a coherent narrative of imperial Rome, this course was very solid -- interesting, poignant, and thoughtful. I highly recommend it.
January 9, 2015