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Rome and the Barbarians

Rome and the Barbarians

Course No.  3460
Course No.  3460
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Course Overview

About This Course

36 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

The history of the Romans and the "barbarians" they encountered as their mighty legions advanced the frontiers of Classical civilization has in large part been written as a story of warfare and conquest. But to tell the story on only that level leaves many questions unanswered, not only about the Romans but about the barbarians, as well.

  • Who were the Celts, Goths, Huns, Persians, and so many others met by the Romans as they marched to the north and east? And what made them barbarians in the eyes of Rome?
  • What were the political, military, and social institutions that made Rome so stable, allowing its power to be wielded against these different cultures for almost three centuries?
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The history of the Romans and the "barbarians" they encountered as their mighty legions advanced the frontiers of Classical civilization has in large part been written as a story of warfare and conquest. But to tell the story on only that level leaves many questions unanswered, not only about the Romans but about the barbarians, as well.

  • Who were the Celts, Goths, Huns, Persians, and so many others met by the Romans as they marched to the north and east? And what made them barbarians in the eyes of Rome?
  • What were the political, military, and social institutions that made Rome so stable, allowing its power to be wielded against these different cultures for almost three centuries?
  • What role did those institutions themselves play in assimilating barbarian peoples, first as provincials and often as players in a vast process of Romanization?

What Is a Barbarian? Explore the Basis of Western European Civilization

Rome and the Barbarians tells the story of the complex relationships between each of these native peoples and their Roman conquerors as they intermarried, exchanged ideas and mores, and, in the ensuing provincial Roman cultures, formed the basis of Western European civilization.

As you examine the interaction between Rome and the barbarians from 300 B.C. to A.D. 600, you learn that the definition of barbarian was, effectively, the "next group not under Roman control." And you see how that definition was always changing, as former barbarians became assimilated into the Roman world, becoming provincials and, often, eventually Romanized themselves.

In leading you through this 900-year period, Tulane University's Professor Kenneth W. Harl organizes the course around two major themes:

  • The makeup of Roman society, politics, and military organization, particularly from the standpoint of how those institutions enabled the Romans not only to conquer those peoples, but integrate them
  • The role played by the most recent of Rome's barbarian foes—especially the Germans and the Persians—in bringing down the Roman Empire, including the question of what gave them the military or political edge to accomplish this.

Throughout these lectures, and the introduction of each new barbarian culture, Professor Harl emphasizes three crucial aspects of Rome's relationships to them:

  1. The ability of the Romans to adapt and build pragmatically on existing structures of the barbarian world, using what worked, and not simply imposing a "Roman way"
  2. The ways the Romans looked on these barbarians not only as outsiders, but also as potential allies and provincials
  3. What barbarian societies were like at the time of Roman contact and conquest, and how, through assimilation, they contributed to the successful establishment of Roman provinces.

Enjoy an Intimate Sense of History

Professor Harl is a nine-time winner of Tulane University's Student Award for Excellence in Teaching. His other popular courses for The Teaching Company have explored The Era of the Crusades, The World of Byzantium, and Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor.

As in each of those courses, Professor Harl, in Rome and the Barbarians, puts on display a prodigious knowledge, combined with a wry wit and street-level familiarity with his subject that allows him to navigate the most distant pathways of history with a rare sense of intimacy.

In this course, Professor Harl has the opportunity to share the nuances of his principal area of interest and research—indeed, his passion—in exploring a subject whose influence on today's world, more than 1,400 years later, is as apparent to us now as it must have been then.

"What Rome perhaps gave, foremost, to the barbarian successor states were certainly some of the institutions, the literary culture, the organization that survived in the church, as well as the model to which to aspire," says Professor Harl.

"Even after Rome, as a political force, had disappeared, Rome remained a mentor to these peoples, who fused to become the ancestors of the modern Europeans.

"Rome is, therefore, ever present with us, and is ever a mentor, even to us today, as it was for those barbarians of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries."

Nine Centuries of Fascinating Characters

Beyond the institutions that made Rome so extraordinary, of course, are the equally extraordinary figures—both Roman and barbarian—whose names have been familiar to us for so long, along with some that are not.

Among the many figures you'll come to know are:

  • Augustus, the emperor whose organizational genius allowed him to establish the constitutional basis of the Principate—the imperial government in which the emperor rules in accordance with the symbols and powers of the Republic
  • Constantine I, who reunited the Roman world and, in dedicating Constantinople—"New Rome"—as a Christian capital, assured the future of the Christian Byzantine empire
  • Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, one of the greatest of Roman commanders, whose defeat of Hannibal ended the Second Punic War
  • Diocletian, the emperor who put the empire on a sound fiscal footing and attempted to create a permanent Tetrarchy, wherein imperial power was shared by two senior and two junior emperors
  • Jugurtha, the Numidian king whose wars against his cousins for mastery of Numidia caused him to blunder into a scandalous war with Rome
  • Gaius Julius Caesar, the most famous Roman of them all and the creator of the Roman imperial monarchy. As a dictator, he reformed Rome, but his monarchical aspirations led to his assassination
  • Nero, whose amoral and outrageous conduct alienated the ruling classes and frontier legions and precipitated his downfall and suicide
  • Attila, the Hun ruler whose devastating raids into the Balkans earned him the sobriquet "Scourge of God," and whose life of warfare and violence ended, ironically, with a death from overindulgence at his own wedding
  • Shapur I, the second Sassanid Shah of Persia who waged three successful campaigns against Rome, captured the Emperor Valerian, and sacked Antioch, the third city of the Roman Empire
  • Ermanaric, the King of the Gothic confederation, remembered in Norse legend as a cunning and cruel tyrant, who committed suicide after being defeated by Huns and Alans in 375.

A list like this only begins to scratch the surface of the personalities brought to life by Professor Harl, whose dedication to this historical place and period is so complete he can be accurately described as speaking of individual Romans—as well as barbarian kings—as if they were acquaintances.

But these lectures deliver far more than personal snapshots, as compelling as those may be.

The Institutions that Shaped Rome and Its New Provinces

Professor Harl also brings to life the institutions that shaped both Rome and her relationship with, and assimilation of, the barbarians at her constantly expanding frontiers.

You learn about the nuances of Roman politics, and how one advanced—or didn't—in the Roman hierarchy.

You study the rules of servitude in the Roman world, and the upward mobility possible even for many slaves.

You find out about the daily lives of Rome's fighting men—including the techniques that made them so feared—and how changes in military organization brought about by the pressures of maintaining an empire took an inevitable toll on the might of Rome's forces.

Engage in an Unusual Depth of Detail

Professor Harl spices his analysis with a depth of detail that makes this long-ago world live once again. You'll learn about:

  • The extraordinary design principle behind Roman encampments, which still survives in the street plans of cities in Western Europe and elsewhere
  • The ignominious end of notorious Ptolemy the "Thunderbolt," ruler of Macedon, his head made into a drinking cup after his failure to defeat the Gauls, who, like other Celts, often took heads as a way of counting the dead
  • The Roman focus on enforcing taxation, and how this strengthened Carthage and gave Hannibal the funds to reopen the struggle against Rome
  • How Caesar's Commentaries, long maligned as little more than a primer for those studying Latin, survives as a guide to generalship relied on by no less a tactician than William Tecumseh Sherman
  • Professor Harl's light-hearted tale of how the Goths, no matter how much fear they stirred, were utterly stumped by the problem of mounting a successful siege against a walled city
  • The importance to the Romans of logistics, and how the elaborate all-weather roads they constructed to support their strategic mobility still form the road systems of Western Europe
  • The catastrophic Varian disaster and how it forever changed Rome's perceptions of whether the barbarians at the northwestern borders could ever be truly controlled
  • The humiliating fate of the captured Emperor Valerian—whom records suggest spent the remainder of his days as a mounting stool for Shah Shapur.

Rome and the Barbarians gives you a new appreciation of how our Western world came to be and detailed knowledge about the individuals from royalty to "barbarian" who played key roles in that process.

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36 Lectures
  • 1
    Greek and Roman Views of Barbarians
    Professor Kenneth W. Harl introduces the course and its main themes, beginning with an explanation of exactly what the ancient Romans meant by the term "barbarian." x
  • 2
    The Roman Republic
    This lecture introduces the constitutional and political institutions of Rome during the "Middle Republic" years, when Rome emerges with her political, military, and constitutional institutions in place. x
  • 3
    Roman Society
    This lecture looks at the societal bonds in the early Roman Republic that cemented the various social classes, or ordinates, as well as the Italian allied communities, into a wider Roman Republic, or Res Publica. x
  • 4
    The Roman Way of War
    This central lecture introduces the third of the key institutions of the middle and late Roman Republic—the army—and discusses the extraordinarily successful and brutal Roman way of war. x
  • 5
    Celtic Europe and the Mediterranean World
    You meet the Celtic-speaking peoples of western and central Europe, in many ways the epitome of "barbarians" to both the Greeks and Romans. x
  • 6
    The Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul
    Professor Harl explains the role played by the Celts—known to the Romans as Gauls—in northern Italy and the profound influence they had on early Rome. x
  • 7
    Romans and Carthaginians in Spain
    This lecture deals with the initial Roman intervention in, and eventual conquest of, the Iberian Peninsula—or what the Romans called Hispania. x
  • 8
    The Roman Conquest of Spain
    Professor Harl takes a closer look at the period from 197 B.C. to 133 B.C., when the Romans were forced to come to terms with the commitments they took on by defeating the Carthaginians in Spain. x
  • 9
    The Genesis of Roman Spain
    This lecture discusses the development of Roman Spain, moving us into the area of social and economic changes brought on by the Roman conquest. x
  • 10
    Jugurtha and the Nomadic Threat
    This lecture discusses the relationship between Rome and the barbarians of Roman North Africa, especially the Numidians and their king, Jugurtha—with whom Rome blundered into an ugly frontier war. x
  • 11
    Marius and the Northern Barbarians
    Gaius Marius, the victor over Jugurtha, fights a series of battles against the dreaded Germanic-speaking northern barbarians that shape not only the direction of Roman foreign policy but, ultimately, Roman attitudes toward those barbarians. x
  • 12
    Rome's Rivals in the East
    Professor Harl shifts the focus away from the western Mediterranean to the peoples who lay to the east, at the frontier Rome inherited by taking over the hegemony of the Hellenistic world. x
  • 13
    The Price of Empire—The Roman Revolution
    This lecture examines the impact on Rome's institutions of her wars, conquests, and territorial acquisitions. x
  • 14
    Julius Caesar and the Conquest of Gaul
    The entire axis and dimension of the Roman world is transformed during this key period in the career of perhaps the most memorable of all Romans. x
  • 15
    Early Germanic Europe
    In this first of a series of lectures introducing new barbarians, Professor Harl discusses the Germanic tribes who came to epitomize the most ferocious barbarians the Romans had encountered. x
  • 16
    The Nomads of Eastern Europe
    This lecture introduces still more barbarians to the mix: the various Iranian-speaking nomads of eastern Europe. x
  • 17
    Arsacid Parthia
    This lecture examines how the Parthians came to become the dominant barbarian power in the Near East and the great rival of Imperial Rome for almost 300 years. x
  • 18
    The Augustan Principate and Imperialism
    The focus returns to Rome proper: what the Roman Empire was all about, how it evolved from the institutions of the Republic, and how changing political arrangements altered those institutions and, ultimately, Rome's relationship with the barbarians. x
  • 19
    The Roman Imperial Army
    As Rome moves from Republic to Empire, the Roman Imperial Army becomes a very different institution. x
  • 20
    The Varian Disaster
    In beginning a set of five lectures that discuss the different relationships between Rome and its various foes on the imperial frontiers, Professor Harl examines one of the most dramatic events in Roman imperial history. x
  • 21
    The Roman Conquest of Britain
    This lecture reveals some of the differences in how the Romans reacted to a Celtic-based civilization, as opposed to the German tribes in the imperial age. x
  • 22
    Civil War and Rebellion
    The record left by Tacitus reveals how the Roman Empire was ripped apart by civil wars and rebellions between A.D. 68 and 70, illuminating both the institutional weaknesses in the constitutional and military arrangements made by Augustus and Rome's relationships with its various provincial frontier peoples. x
  • 23
    Flavian Frontiers and the Dacians
    With this lecture and the next, Professor Harl concludes Rome's creation of its frontier, setting the stage for an examination of why Rome fell and the role played by the barbarians. x
  • 24
    Trajan, the Dacians, and the Parthians
    This lecture concludes imperial Rome's wars of conquest against her barbarian foes by concentrating on the career of the emperor Trajan, the first man of provincial origins to become emperor. x
  • 25
    Romanization of the Provinces
    In the first of three lectures dealing with the social and economic transformations of the frontier provinces, Professor Harl looks at the ability of the Romans to adapt existing institutions, bring in their own concepts of citizenship and political organization, and incorporate her foes into the Roman system. x
  • 26
    Commerce Beyond the Imperial Frontiers
    The economic and social changes brought on by imperial Rome had a profound impact not only on the traditional societies of the provinces, but on the barbarian peoples living beyond the Roman frontier. x
  • 27
    Frontier Settlement and Assimilation
    This lecture examines how the movement of barbarians along Rome's frontiers took place and the kind of exchanges—both social and material—that ensued. x
  • 28
    From Germanic Tribes to Confederations
    The "3rd-century crisis" is seen as the era when Rome would be profoundly altered by the unique changes going on in the frontier provinces and the distinct provincial societies emerging as a result of immigration, trade, and military service by the barbarians. x
  • 29
    Goths and the Crisis of the Third Century
    As Goths begin to attack the mid and lower Danube, they are seen by Roman authors as a particularly vicious and new threat at a time when Rome is already feeling mounting pressures from her own civil wars and the Sassanid Shahs of Persia. x
  • 30
    Eastern Rivals—Sassanid Persia
    This lecture examines why the Persians represented such a formidable threat and why the Romans massed so much of their forces in the East, thus exposing their Danube and Rhine frontiers to the Goths and West Germanic tribes. x
  • 31
    Rome and the Barbarians in the Fourth Century
    This lecture explains the changes that occurred in the Roman world as a result of the wars and invasions of the 3rd century A.D. and the ways in which the emperors Diocletian and Constantine were fundamental to those changes. x
  • 32
    From Foes to Federates
    In this lecture, Professor Harl deals with the relationships between the barbarian foes of Rome and the new imperial order created by the emperor Constantine in the early 4th century A.D. x
  • 33
    Imperial Crisis and Decline
    The Battle of Adrianople in A.D. 378, in which Goths defeated the Eastern Roman field army—slaying the emperor Valens—proves decisive in its aftermath as it alters the character of the late Roman Army. x
  • 34
    Attila and the Huns
    This lecture takes a close look at the Huns—along with their most famous king—and their role in the breakup of the Empire and the shaping of the political and cultural landscape that followed. x
  • 35
    Justinian and the Barbarians
    Two related subjects are covered: the aftermath of the Hun attacks, with the breakup of the Western Empire and collapse of the imperial government, and the reign of the emperor Justinian, the dominant figure of the 6th century A.D. x
  • 36
    Birth of the Barbarian Medieval West
    This lecture concludes the course by reminding us of how Rome, though its empire was broken up in the West and greatly contracted in the East, has indeed survived in many ways. x

Lecture Titles

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Kenneth W. Harl
Ph.D. Kenneth W. Harl
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has earned Tulane's annual Student Body Award for Excellence in Teaching nine times and is the recipient of Baylor University's nationwide Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers. In 2007, he was the Lewis P. Jones Visiting Professor in History at Wofford College. An expert on classical Anatolia, he has taken students with him into the field on excursions and to assist in excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites in Turkey. Professor Harl has also published a wide variety of articles and books, including his current work on coins unearthed in an excavation of Gordion, Turkey, and a new book on Rome and her Iranian foes. A fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, Professor Harl is well known for his studies of ancient coinage. He is the author of Civic Coins and Civic Politics in the Roman East, A.D. 180-275 and Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700.
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Reviews

Rated 4.9 out of 5 by 45 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by 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 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 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
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent!! I have the DVD version of this course and recommend it. Maps are utilized to make for easy visualization of the locations of various peoples, towns, troop movements etc. I feel this would be more difficult with an audio format. This course covers the Roman Empire and its relationship, usually not friendly, with the barbarians with which they came in contact. In doing so, it provides an in-depth history of the Roman Empire to include its formation, military, conquests, political turmoil, social life and rulers. The history and social structure of the many barbarians is also examined. Although the emphasis is on the barbarians in what is now modern Europe, the North Africans, Attila and the Huns, and the Persians are covered as well. Because most of the barbarians were illiterate, much of the source material on them is Roman, but Professor Harl also utilizes additional information such as archaeology to provide more balance. Timewise, the course mainly covers the Roman expansionist period from 264 B.C., when Rome embarked on its first overseas war, to 561 A.D. with the death of the Emperor Justinian. However, some attention is also given to earlier periods in covering the formation of the various barbarian tribes and the Roman Empire… and to the 7th century with the formation of barbaric medieval Europe. This material is provided through lectures largely devoted to particular barbarian groups or Roman rulers. The lectures tend to follow that history in a chronological order…basically following the order of Rome’s invasions. However, in discussing the history of individual barbarian groups some departure from that order is taken. The information provided is very extensive and comprehensive…nearly 1000 years of history. You’ll gain an excellent history of those barbarian peoples and of the Roman Empire itself. This is my third course by Professor Harl and, once again, I’m impressed with his command of his material. He delivers much of it away from the lectern and his recall of facts, names, and dates is astounding. He has an energetic presentation style and expresses genuine enthusiasm for his material. He speaks relatively rapidly, but clearly, to provide an informationally dense lecture. Indeed he seems to have an aversion for pauses and uses a good many “aaahs” to fill them. Based on a few reviews, some may find that to be annoying. I simply accept it as part of his presentation style and don’t find it to be an issue. The course guidebook is so detailed that it is a virtual transcript…it contains 286 pages. This is an excellent history of those early peoples who were to become modern Europeans. Most receive only limited coverage, at best, in history courses. Although there’s no shortage of courses on the Roman Empire itself, this course nevertheless covers it very well. I highly recommend it for both of those histories…It’s a solid 5 star course. June 13, 2013
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