Rated 5 out of 5 by NicC The Roman Will To Power, Glory, & Decline
Approaching Roman history is a daunting undertaking. Its breadth approximates the 1000 years between its foundation as a REPUBLIC (509 B.C.) and the decline and sack of its EMPIRE (410 A.D.). Witness the profound consequences of Rome’s political, military, and social relations on its class structure, barbarian frontiers, & provincial societies on the one hand, and the depth of its organization, logistics, law, oratory, noble and unhinged social characters on the other. At first, the title of these lectures drew up many images in my mind concerning the NOBLE-character (i.e. emperor, commander, senator, orator, etc.) and the SAVAGE-character (i.e. warrior, pagan, destroyer, cannibal, etc.). Professor Harl immediately corrects for these all too human distortions in his opening lecture concerning the conceptualization of the barbarian from the Greeks, Romans, Christians, Enlightenment, down to the Age of Discovery writers. He widens the conceptual view with anthropological and archaeological data concerning inter-marriages, trade, material cultures, etc., on both participants. Lectures 2 - 4 concern the uniqueness of Roman institutions: its politics (Republic), its society (patron-client relations), and its citizen-legions (wars of conquest & engineering). These “4” lectures combine to form a SCIENTIFIC HISTORICAL METHODOLOGY that offers a dynamic and critical analysis to navigate the birth, growth, maturity, and decay of the Roman Empire and the ensuing European states of the middle-ages. The Roman genius lay not only in its ability to conduct war and conquer, but to assimilate and integrate the conquered barbarians into provincial societies (a 2-way process that adds wealth, slaves, military, & material aspects to the expanding empire), gather allies especially early in its Republican phase, and offer the potential for citizenship to provincials in an unplanned open-ended process of ROMANIZATION (eventually becoming WESTERN CIVILIZATION from these territorial barbarian kingdoms). But maintaining and expanding an empire comes with internal & external costs (Classical Greece). Below is a “sampling of historical periods and social characters” that document the greatness and limitation of the Roman Empire -- its will to power, glory, and decline.
5th – 1st century B.C. (Republic)
>CULTURES: the Celtics in northern Italy, Gaul, and central Europe; the Celtiberians in Spain; the Carthaginians and desert nomads in North Africa; the Germanic-speaking peoples in Transalpine Gaul; Populares & Optimates in Rome.
>SOCIAL CHARACTERS: Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, Tiberius Gracchus, Jugurtha, Gaius Marius, Sulla, Julius Caesar, Mithridates, Vercingetorix, Pompey the Great.
>HISTORICAL CONSEQUENCES: eroded the republican constitution (SPQR), Italian society (social & civil wars), and the citizen legions (decline). Now, popular commanders / emperors gained effective power over the Senate and dictated Roman politics but under the ideology and guise of the republic; birth of the Roman Empire.
1st – 2nd century A.D. (Principate)
> CULTURES: Germanic peoples of the forests and central Europe; the Iranian speaking steppe nomads of Eastern Europe, Sarmatians, Roxalani, Alans, Scythian nomadic horsemen; the Parthians & Arsacid kings of central Asian steppes; Dacians of central Europe; Catuvellauni of Britain and Druids of Wales.
>SOCIAL CHARACTERS: Mark Anthony, Augustus, Macroboduus, Arminius, Claudius, Nero, Hadrian, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Decebalus, Trajan, Oroses, Marcus Aurelius.
>HISTORICAL CONSEQUENCES: growth in standing professional frontier armies (Rhine, Danube, & Euphrates); rationalization of the provinces with Roman engineering on the existing barbarian infrastructures; growth of auxiliary units increasingly manned by barbarians assimilated as Roman soldiers which would come back to haunt the Empire as they grew in strength, cultural identity, & confederations; increasing use of Roman concessions; rise in civil wars & rebellions; war against the Jews & capture of Jerusalem.
3rd – 6th century A.D. (Dominate)
> CULTURES: Germanic tribal coalitions, Saxons, Goths, Vandals, Lombards, Franks; Iranian nomads & Sassanid shahs of Persia; Huns.
>SOCIAL CHARACTERS: Shapur, Ardashir, Diocletian, Valerian, Constantine, Theodosius, Alaric, Stilicho, Honorius, Attila, Justinian.
>HISTORICAL CONSEQUENCES: increasing expense of wars of re-conquests; rise in barbarian organization & discipline from Roman assimilation; assassinations & succession of emperors; cultural exchanges between imperial Rome, frontier societies, and beyond; increasing loss of strategic provincial zones; political fragmentation of Empire, decline of senatorial powers; rise of Christianity; growth in civil & frontier wars; pandemics & demographic collapse; migrations transforming the Classical into the Medieval world. To end, let me quote Professor Harl, “To some extent, it can be argued that the 900-year history of Roman ascendancy was an interlude in local barbarian societies.” Now that’s food for thought – just look around -- no?
Much thanks to the professor and the Teaching Company for delivering an excellent presentation on Rome. *** Highly Recommended *** the best survey and approach on Rome I have come across!
August 29, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Challenger Another great course by Professor Harl
This is the sixth course I have heard in the TGC given by Professor Harl. As I have come to expect, here too he gives a very interesting and profound presentation of this important topic. The course covers the relationship between the Roman Empire and the Barbarian tribes at its borders. It turns out that “Barbarians” in this respect means all of the non-Roman tribes that happened to be right outside the borders of the Roman Empire. The normal state of affairs in the early Empire (at least up to the time of Trajan) was that these territories would be conquered by the Roman Empire, and the “Barbarians” taken as slaves or as lower ranking inhabitants of the Roman Empire. After a few generations, however, a lot of the offspring of these “Barbarians” became assimilated in Roman society, achieved full citizenship and often took important positions – especially in the army. Those outside the borders would become the new Barbarians…
Professor Harl first tells the story of the “Barbarians” of Western Europe such as the Celts and the Carthaginians. The interaction with the Carthaginians is perhaps the most ancient and well known – the Punic wars most famous for Hannibal’s brilliant tactics. At the end, Rome destroyed Carthage altogether and made the Carthaginians slaves. North Africa was later to become one of its greatest source of wheat and grain that fed large parts of the Empire. Julius Caesar greatly expanded the Roman Empire westward and established many new provinces in modern France and England. Rome’s attitude towards the “Barbarians“ in that period was to make their territories provinces and gain tribute, but soon a lot of them began to be assimilated into Roman society, while others fought for their liberty. A central point that Professor Harl makes, is that the tribes were not really united as tribes in any political sense, and the group loyalties were much more on a clan basis. Rome used this in the following fashion: the tribes communicated with Rome, but not with each other directly. So Rome was in fact a sort of “pivot” around which everything revolved.
The interaction of Rome with the Eastern “Barbarians” is also discussed at length, and these include primarily the Persians. The Persians posed a different sort of challenge to the Romans than the Western Barbarians, because these Barbarians had a very stable and sophisticated political structure and identity. Whereas with the western Barbarians the state of affairs during wars was more like Guerrilla warfare, wars with the Parthians, and later with the Sassanids, were much more like conventional warfare. There was much less assimilation and “Romanization” in the East compared to Western Europe.
As the western empire grew weaker, barbarian tribes – Germanic, Gothic and Hunic became a much more dominant force on Rome’s borders. In fact many of the later Emperors devoted much of their time and effort to fighting the barbarians on their borders, and a few found their death doing just that. Professor Harl points out that although the political narrative of the wars between the barbarians and Rome are dramatic and catch our imagination, it was probably the more prosaic and banal interactions that were to make a big impact. Many western European barbarian tribes assimilated into Roman society through trade relations. It was in many cases the barbarian tribes that provided the food for the Roman Garrison troops stationed at the borders of the empire. These interactions caused the societies to become more and more similar. Many of the barbarians eventually came to participate in the roman army and some took up central positions. In fact, it turns out that many barbarians kept changing sides between fighting for the Romans and against them. Many of the Western barbarians took up Christianity as their religion, and adopted many aspects of the Roman political structure in the kingdoms that they created during the late Roman Empire, and after its fall in 475 CE. In fact the Barbarian kingdoms that were founded when the Western Empire was diminishing took on so many aspects of Roman culture, that nobody really "felt " the moment when the Western Empire ceased to be.
This is a fascinating course dealing with a very central aspect of the Roman Empire. Very good course and highly recommended.
July 14, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by MaineTater Drinking from a hose
This course covers a lot of ground! I used it as background noise while exercising. I was looking to "speed read" the course for a superficial overview/sample. I think I learned a lot.
March 19, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Avoirdupois Detailed, ARR, compelling, ARR-ARR, comprehensive
DVD REVIEW (I advise the DVD version owing to the importance of the maps showing Rome's changing borders and military actions):
I will recommend this in-depth course, especially on-sale, BUT I have to say that the professor's relentless use of "ARR", "ARR-ARR", "ER", "ERM" and similar was intensely disturbing and off-putting to me. I assume he does this because he delivers his talks at an unusually fast pace and detests pauses, therefore fills them with these noises to avoid any silence at all. That is a major mistake for a lecturer to make imho: an extremely irritating trait.
On the plus side, Dr Harl displays enormous knowledge of his subject, clearly he has it all at his fingertips as he appears most of the time to be talking without notes; he builds his lectures logically and progressively to maximise understanding. If your player can slow down speed, might be an idea to listen to him at 90%.
This is a truly serious academic course and I think it needs playing twice to derive maximum benefit, or at least a heavy study of the guidebook is called for to accompany and reinforce the lectures which include excellent studies of Rome's armies ~~ and the course reveals, interestingly, that the "Barbarians" were not the wild-eyed crazy people traditionally portrayed!
There is a Great Courses series on the history of Rome which some may find a very useful "intro" to this course by Dr Harl.
June 18, 2013