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Famous Romans

Famous Romans

Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma

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Famous Romans

Course No. 349
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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4.4 out of 5
105 Reviews
71% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 349
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Course Overview

Like the authors who serve as sources for this course—Livy, Polybius, Suetonius, Tacitus, and above all, Plutarch—Professor J. Rufus Fears believes that individuals, not organizations or social movements, are the primary forces that make history. In this companion course to Famous Greeks, Professor Fears retells the lives of the remarkable individuals—the statesmen, thinkers, warriors, and writers—who shaped the history of the Roman Empire and, by extension, our own history and culture.

Hannibal, he points out, caused the Second Punic War personally, much as Adolf Hitler caused World War II.

All of history would be different if Pompey had been as aggressive as Julius Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus.

Augustus—beginning at the age of just 19—resolved upon and brilliantly followed a doctrine of ruthless expediency in order to rescue Rome from a century of civil war.

Marcus Aurelius, that most noble and philosophic of rulers, may have hastened the Empire's decline by tolerating the wicked cruelty of his heir.

Professor Fears divides his presentation into three "turning point" epochs in Roman history: Rome's great war with Hannibal (the Second Punic War); Caesar and the end of the Roman Republic; and the imperial era between Augustus and Marcus Aurelius. As he presents the great figures of each period, he makes them seem personal and immediate.

For example, he introduces you to the heroes of the early Republic through an imaginary tour of the Forum as it appeared in 218 B.C. In his discussions on Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general who taught Rome more about warfare than any other enemy, Professor Fears puts you right in the heart of the action. You feel as if you are there, struggling with Hannibal and his war elephants as they force a path through the snowbound Alps in the autumn of 218 B.C.

Roman Versions of the Kennedys and Winston Churchill

In these lectures you will meet or gain greater insight into a succession of individuals who can be considered great and famous not only in Roman history, but in all of history. They include:

  • The Roman "Duke of Wellington." Like the Duke of Wellington and U.S. Grant, Publius Cornelius Scipio the Elder (236-183 B.C.) is among the great generals in history. His victory over Hannibal at the North African town of Zama in August, 202 B.C.one of the most decisive battles in history—earned him the title "Africanus," or Conqueror of Africa.
  • The Roman "John and Robert Kennedy." Tiberius (163-133 B.C.) and Gaius Gracchus (153-121 B.C.) were both strongly influenced by Stoic philosophy and its teaching that all men are created equal. Each tried to initiate bold reforms designed to counter corruption that resulted from the Roman Republic's growing wealth and power. Like the Kennedys of the 1960s, both were murdered, and their efforts initiated forces that would ultimately end the Republic.
  • The Roman "Winston Churchill." First regarded as a "shady" politician, and known as a drinker and womanizer, Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) is perhaps the greatest evidence that individuals make and change history. He proved himself both a military genius—along with Alexander the Great one of the two greatest generals in history—and a man of political vision in his understanding that Rome needed to expand its reach beyond the Mediterranean world. Like Churchill, he was a brilliant writer: his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars is one of antiquity's greatest works of history.
  • The greatest statesman in history. The adopted heir of Julius Caesar, Gaius Octavius (63 B.C.-14 A.D.), known to history as Augustus ("The Messiah") rose from a little-known youth of no discernable ability to an unequaled political leader who would best the likes of Cicero, Brutus, and Marc Antony. He saved and regenerated Rome, received the title "Father of His Country" ("Pater Patriae") in 2 B.C., and died at 77, having outlived almost all his contemporaries and detractors.
  • A teacher to equal Socrates and Jesus. Stoicism was a philosophy based on the Greek thinkers Zeno and Socrates. It was one of the great intellectual currents of the 2nd century A.D., and Epictetus (c. 50-120 A.D.), the son of a slave, was one of its greatest teachers. He taught that "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."Thomas Jefferson ranked Epictetus with the New Testament as a source of moral inspiration.
Enduring Lessons About Life and Liberty, Character and Virtue

As you study these and many other significant Romans, Professors Fears uses their stories to probe fundamental questions about the political and cultural history of Rome. What was the impact of Greek civilization on the Romans? Why did the Roman people, at the height of military, political, and economic power, abandon their republican liberty for the dictatorship of Caesar and his successors?

What made the 2nd century A.D. one the most creative periods in world history, worthy of comparison with the Athens of Pericles, Plato, and Sophocles? And why did the central figures of Roman history hold so much appeal for the Founding Fathers of the United States?

Before concluding the course with Marcus Aurelius, whose private Meditations are a wellspring of honesty and humanity but whose standing as a ruler is another story, Professor Fears pays homage to his masters, the great biographers and analysts of vice and virtue Suetonius, Tacitus, and, above all, Plutarch.

Who were they? What did they write, and to what end? Why are their works so inspiring and worthy of study by any people or individuals who wish to preserve liberty and virtue for themselves, their society, and ages yet to come?

This course will teach you specific lessons about life, character, and politics, drawn from the examples of the famous Romans. Professor Fears has his favorite, and will tell you who it is in the last lecture.

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24 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Publius Cornelius Scipio
    It is a March day in 218 B.C., the year that will see the beginning of the Second Punic War. Join the consul P. Cornelius Scipio and his son as they tour the Forum, discussing its statues of heroes from Rome's early days. x
  • 2
    Hannibal
    Few Romans did as much to make Rome a world power as did its worst enemy, Hannibal. This lecture follows the great Carthaginian general as he leads 59,000 men and 37 elephants over the Pyrenees, fights his way across Gaul, and pushes through the Alps into Italy. x
  • 3
    Gaius Flaminius
    On a foggy morning in 217 B.C., a Roman army marches along the shore of Lake Trasimene in central Italy. The career of its commander Flaminius opens a window on both Roman politics and the skill of Hannibal, who lies in wait in the hills above. x
  • 4
    Quintus Fabius Maximus
    The events at Trasimene led the Senate to name Fabius as dictator for six months. Why did he adopt his famous—and at the time, highly unpopular—strategy of avoiding battle with Hannibal? x
  • 5
    Scipio Africanus the Elder
    The son of the consul of 218 B.C., Africanus earned his sobriquet by crushing Hannibal in 202 at Zama (now Tunisia), one of the most decisive battles in world history. Here we compare Scipio and Hannibal and the lessons they offer. x
  • 6
    Scipio the Younger
    Here we stand with the grandson of Africanus and his teacher Polybius, quoting Homer and thinking of Rome's own future, as we watch Carthage fall in a terrible illustration of the Roman proverb vae victis ("woe to the conquered"). x
  • 7
    Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus
    Rome had conquered Carthage, only to wind up divided against itself as wealth displaced virtue and undermined the constitution. Seeing the urgent need for reform, these descendants of the Scipio line prepared to sacrifice everything to achieve it. x
  • 8
    Crassus
    Amid the turmoil and corruption of the late Republic, men of towering capacity strove to impose their will on Rome's destiny. Crassus made himself the richest man in Rome, and then sought political and military triumph. x
  • 9
    Gaius Julius Caesar
    To Rome's top politicians, Caesar at first seemed nothing more than a political hack of little ability and less character. The challenge of conquering Gaul transformed Caesar and changed world history, laying the foundations for the civilization of France and Western Europe. x
  • 10
    Caesar and Vercingetorix
    Caesar's brilliant history, The Gallic War, recounts his defeat of the Celtic hero Vercingetorix and reveals his mastery of strategy, tactics, logistics, battlefield command, and peace settlements. x
  • 11
    Pompey the Great
    In 49 B.C., Caesar crossed the Rubicon and plunged Rome into civil war. He did it in the cause of liberty for the Roman people, but his goal was to establish himself as dictator. In this crisis, the supporters of republican liberty turned to Pompey. x
  • 12
    Cato the Younger
    At Valley Forge, desperate to strengthen the morale of his starving, freezing men, George Washington had his officers put on Joseph Addison's play about Cato. This lecture explains why. x
  • 13
    Brutus and the Opposition to Caesar
    It is March 15, 44 B.C., and you are with Caesar as he walks to a meeting of the Senate in the Theater of Pompey, where he will be murdered by a conspiracy of senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus. Why did Brutus kill Caesar? What consequences flowed from this bloody deed? x
  • 14
    Cicero
    Statesman, philosopher, orator, and humanist, Cicero is one of Rome's greatest sons, and proof that a lawyer can succeed without sacrificing integrity. He upheld justice, moderation, and liberty in troubled times, and gave his life for these ideals. x
  • 15
    Augustus
    The adoption of his great-nephew, Gaius Octavius, is the most compelling evidence of Caesar's foresight. Only 19 at the time of Caesar's death, as the princeps (First Citizen), Augustus would secure centuries of unprecedented peace and prosperity. x
  • 16
    Vergil
    Augustus enlisted the finest intellectual, literary, and artistic talent to create monuments of enduring excellence to his ideals and achievements. Did Vergil, the greatest of all Latin poets, craft The Aeneid as an allegory of Augustus? x
  • 17
    Claudius
    A sign of the Augustan system's genius was its ability to survive eccentric or even mad emperors. History is fascinated by those emperors' excesses, which indeed can be highly instructive. Claudius, for all his oddness, was a shrewd and able ruler. x
  • 18
    Nero
    To the senator and historian Tacitus, Nero illustrated the grim reality of the principate and the fate of the Roman people, who had surrendered liberty for security only to find their fate in the hands of a mad tyrant. x
  • 19
    Trajan
    The rise of this brave and able emperor testifies to the collective political wisdom of the Senate. He was a military leader and statesman of vision whose domestic and foreign policy wrought fundamental changes in the imperial system of Augustus. x
  • 20
    Hadrian
    Hadrian, Trajan's successor, is a gifted, perplexing, and controversial figure. A fine soldier and public servant, he was also an intellectual innovator and an architect of genius. But few of his contemporaries understood him. x
  • 21
    Epictetus
    Born a slave, he was exiled from Rome for speaking too freely to the emperor. Despite offers to return, he lived on in a backwater, becoming one of the greatest exponents of that vastly influential approach to life known as Stoicism. x
  • 22
    Apuleius
    A lawyer, intellectual, and family man, Apuleius had a fascinating career that brings to life the 2nd century, an age much like our own. His novel The Golden Ass is both a ribald yarn and a touching allegory of the human soul thirsting for redemption. x
  • 23
    Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus
    Worthy heirs of Herodotus and Thucydides, these authors embody the essence of the classical tradition of history: its concern with greatness of theme and greatness of soul, its high moral seriousness, and its noble regard for freedom. x
  • 24
    Marcus Aurelius
    With Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic wore the imperial purple. No emperor was more dedicated or humane. His Meditations remain a beacon for all who would go through life with honesty and compassion. But how did he fare as a ruler? x

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
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Reviews

Famous Romans is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 105.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great prof I am only 5 lectures into the series but am thoroughly enjoying the series. The prof is great and his lectures are interesting. He obviously has a great knowledge of the subject and makes it very interesting and enjoyable. He imparts a lot of knowledge in a way that makes it fun.
Date published: 2017-02-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Overall perception I am a 73 year old retired professional. Like many in my age group, I am hearing impaired and thought perhaps that the DVD acquired would support subtitles for me not to miss any content. It did not and so I cannot recommend these courses to anyone who does not have 100% hearing.
Date published: 2016-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good review of ancient history I want to start off with a complain about all of the Great Courses: not just this one. The first cut of the first disk always is full of advertising. Usually, you can skip to cut 2 and not miss anything, but not always. Anyway, ( (and I'm sure most other customers) would be grateful if this were removed . Now, on to this course. I bought it because I took another course from Rufus Fears and liked it so much I bought all his other courses. None of them has disappointed me. With this one, I learned a great deal more about some people I learned a bit about many years ago in college history, and I gained a new appreciation of several of them. Professor Fears draws several parallels with contemporary people and events. If you have any interest in ancient Rome, I strongly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-11-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much of a story teller and moralizer
Date published: 2016-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Professor of the Great Courses I wish I could have had an Ivy League University education, but I feel like I.m getting one now. Rufus Fears, to me, is a riveting lecturer. A master of the subjects he taught, with the ability to transport you there. Famous Romans is an excellent and a must have course if you are a student of ancient history. I wish that there were more professors that were as riveting hired by the Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and Informative This is a course that I will listen to again and again. Professor Fears is an exceptional lecturer and manages to entertain as well as educate.
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is required information for every person The information is essential, and the professor's delivery is second to none. Buy, enjoy.
Date published: 2016-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Master Storyteller at the Height of His Powers For pure entertainment value, these lectures are among the best I have ever listened to. I've come back to them time and time again (I've just completed my third go-around since I first got this course about five years ago), and they continue to delight. They are not perfect, however. Professor Fears sometimes plays fast and loose with the facts, but (in my view, anyway) in relatively innocuous ways. For instance, in his lecture on Virgil, he mentions that a female member of Augustus' imperial family feinted when listening to a reading of the Aeneid, so overcome was she by the beauty of Virgil's prose. Well, the episode he was referring to appears in Book VI, and although it is true that Augustus's sister Octavia was reported to have feinted, she is reported to have done so because the text being read referred to her recently deceased son Marcellus. It was this fact, and not the beauty of Virgil's prose (beautiful though it is), that caused her to feint. He will also sometimes say things like the Romans put a heavy value on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Well, maybe ... I suppose many cultures value these ideas in the abstract, but, to the famous Romans Professor Fears discussed during the classical age of Rome, the pursuit of virtue and the leaving of a legacy was much more important that happiness. One might also argue that Professor Fears over-emphasizes the role of the individual in shaping history, at the expense of discussing social and economic forces. But, these minor quibbles aside (minor, for me, anyway ... other reviewers seemed more disturbed than I was ... fair enough), this course is absolutely brilliant! In addition to taking us on an epic journey from the time of Publius Cornelius Scipio in 218 B.C. to the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 A.D., he covers the lives, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of many of the most famous figures to walk across this 400-year stage. His stories are always entertaining and educational, and sometimes downright funny. His war screams are hilarious, his discussion of the Golden *Donkey* (this is not the real title, but Teaching Company detected "profanity" in my review when I included the actual title, which starts with an A and ends with a couple of dollar signs) is a riot, and all of his lectures are sprinkled with anecdotes and humor that will at least leave you with a smile, if not a good ol' fashioned belly laugh. Also, following Plutarch, he pulls morals from many of these tales, distinguishing, for example, between a statesman and a politician, discussing the importance of foresight, and showing how someone can wield a tremendous amount of actual power if they are willing to forsake the appearance of power (Augustus). As a bonus, you will also learn a few rather interesting facts (like what Roman names mean and how the modern calendar was created), a sprinkling of philosophy (especially in his later lectures on Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius), and some thoughts about why Rome fell. All in all, this is a great purchase, and one I don't think you will soon regret. Grade: A.
Date published: 2016-03-14
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