Emperors of Rome

Course No. 3410
Professor Garrett G. Fagan, Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University
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Course No. 3410
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Course Overview

They are said to be the most powerful rulers who ever lived—a checkered mix of the wise, the brutal, and the unhinged. For more than five centuries they presided over a multi-ethnic empire that was nearly always at war, if not with neighbors then with rebellious factions within the empire itself. The full scope of their powers was not systematized in constitutional law, a fact that tempted many of them to overreach disastrously; and the lack of clear rules of succession meant that most of them died violently.

Yet, on balance, the emperors of Rome served as a stabilizing influence in a realm that straddled three continents and covered more than 32 modern nation-states, with a population numbering about 60 million souls at the height of Roman prosperity.

Rulers Treated as Gods

How did this system of rule come about? What did it replace? And who were the colorful, cruel, and crafty men who filled this almost omnipotent post? Television series such as I, Claudiushave explored the complex personalities of several of the better-known emperors, whom you will meet in depth in this course:

  • Augustus: Known as Octavian during the long civil wars that extinguished the Roman Republic, he titled himself "Augustus," the first emperor of Rome, after vanquishing all rivals and becoming the undisputed strong man of the sprawling empire.
  • Caligula: Supposedly the most deranged Roman emperor of all, Caligula executed people indiscriminately, sent his troops on nonsensical maneuvers, and famously invited his favorite horse to dinner and planned to make him consul. But were his crimes exaggerated by ancient sources?
  • Claudius: Reputedly a halfwit who was named Caligula's successor by the imperial guards on a whim, Claudius may actually have connived in Caligula's murder and arranged his own elevation. Whatever his route to power, his reign was surprisingly successful.
  • Nero: As emperor, Nero performed in chariot races, dramas, and poetry recitals. The "fiddle" he reportedly played while Rome burned was actually a lyre, but the mystery remains: Did he set the fire himself, was it an accident, or were the Christians really responsible, as he claimed?

Presented by noted Roman historian Garrett G. Fagan, whose other Teaching Company courses, The History of Rome and Great Battles of the Ancient World, have brought antiquity vividly to life for spellbound listeners, these 36 lectures show that there is no end of gripping stories. More than 50 legitimate emperors ruled Rome from the time of Augustus at the turn of the 1st century to the reign of Constantine in the 4th century, which marked the transition to the Middle Ages.

What sort of men were the emperors (and they were all men)? What background and training, if any, prepared them for their awesome responsibilities? What depravities did they display? And what achievements can they claim: laws passed, monuments built, lands and peoples conquered? Some of the most noteworthy emperors include:

  • Trajan: Moderate at home and warlike abroad, Trajan was the perfect mix of Roman virtues. His reign inaugurated the period of the empire's greatest strength and stability, when emperors adopted their successors from among able army commanders. But that sensible policy did not last.
  • Commodus: The son of the esteemed philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, Commodus believed himself to be Hercules reincarnated—a role he enacted in the Colosseum in combats with wild beasts and gladiators. He renamed Rome and all the months of the year after himself.
  • Diocletian: The Roman Empire seemed doomed to disintegration until this general rose to the top job. He subdivided imperial authority, established a new system of succession, and institutionalized the despotic powers of his office, giving the empire a new lease on life.
  • Constantine: The first Christian emperor was apparently reluctant to forsake the old pagan gods; they continued to appear in official iconography. But Constantine's endorsement of Christianity and his founding of a new capital called Constantinople opened a new era of Western history.

You will cover scores of other Roman rulers, some of whom lasted only a few weeks before they were done in by rivals for a position that conferred virtual divinity in this life—although the chances that the life would be a long one were not good.

Sleuthing the Past

Throughout the course, Professor Fagan emphasizes the detective work needed to read the ancient sources critically. Roman history is an amalgam of eyewitness reports, later compilations, archaeological remains, and inscriptions on monuments and coins. Contemporary accounts, when available, are not necessarily to be trusted, since the emperors' greatest political rivals were usually members of the Senate, and they were the ones most likely to be writing history. Therefore scathing reports on imperial conduct have to be read with caution.

One result is that some of our most indelible impressions about Roman imperial history may be wrong. Was Nero really a frivolous fool for devoting himself to performing on stage? So the ancient sources would have it. However, in Lecture 14 you learn how a modern historian makes an intriguing case that Nero was a shrewd master of spin, choosing his stage roles to convey exculpatory messages to the Roman people.

Similarly, did Livia Drusilla really poison or otherwise dispose of all the princes that stood in the way of her son Tiberius's succession to the emperorship after Augustus? The ancient historian Tacitus certainly gives this impression, which is chillingly conveyed by the actress Siân Phillips in the PBS adaptation of Robert Graves's novel I, Claudius. But Professor Fagan suggests that the case against Livia is weak and can be traced to her particular circumstances as well as to broader cultural prejudices against women in her position.

From Princeps to Dominus

Livia's prominence illustrates another characteristic of the Roman Empire: Aristocratic women often played a powerful role in dynastic politics. This is one of the fascinating background topics that Professor Fagan investigates to show what life was like not just for the emperor but also for those in his immediate circle and for his subjects.

In Lectures 27–31 you take a break from the chronological narrative to examine the emperors' relationships to different parts of Roman society: the city of Rome itself, the provinces of the empire, the elite, the people, and the army. For example, you learn that games and spectacles were one of the few places where ordinary citizens saw the emperor in person, and they would take advantage of this audience to organize demonstrations of their political views. Despite occasional signs of unrest, unpopularity was something emperors could live with. Not a single emperor in recorded Roman history was ousted by popular revolution.

One of the most intriguing questions about the emperorship is why it endured for so long. As you witness the reigns of the successive rulers unfold, you will see how the office evolved with the political forces that sustained it, becoming more and more tightly bound to the military. Each step toward despotism was taken with a view toward expedience. But when that step became the new normal, it paved the way for the next step, and so on, until Rome had moved from Augustus, who styled himself the princeps, or "first citizen," to Diocletian and Constantine, who ruled as the domini—lords over slaves.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Shape of Roman Imperial History
    After outlining the plan of the course and defining Roman imperial history, Professor Fagan will survey the types of ancient sources that shed light on Rome's emperors. These include literary works, official inscriptions, physical remains of structures erected by emperors, and coins stamped with imperial messages. x
  • 2
    The Roman Republic
    Before there were emperors, there was the Roman Republic, founded in 509 B.C. after a period of autocratic rule by kings. This lecture investigates the political character of the republic. As the 2nd century B.C. drew to a close, its institutions were under increasing stress from Rome's expanding empire. x
  • 3
    Caesar and the Suicide of the Republic
    Starting in 133 B.C. the Roman Re­pub­lic began to disintegrate, sowing the seeds of imperial rule. Although the great general and politician Julius Caesar was not an emperor, he did more than anyone in this period to create the conditions that led to the reintroduction of monarchy to Rome. x
  • 4
    The First Emperor—Augustus
    The importance of Augustus to Roman and European history cannot be overstated. This lecture explores Augustus's career, from avenging revolutionary to senior statesman, and briefly surveys the main thrust of his domestic policies and the broad shape of culture in the Augustan Age. x
  • 5
    The Powers of Augustus
    This lecture surveys the series of constitutional settlements that saw Augustus established as a super-magistrate, simultaneously part of and above the organs of state—a system termed the Principate. You will also look beyond the legal frontage of the Principate and uncover the harsh realities of imperial rule. x
  • 6
    Succession Woes
    The nature of the Principate was a mix of authoritarian and republican practices; so it was difficult for Augustus to secure the succession legally. The succession problem proved a destabilizing influence during his reign and was to remain so for his successors for centuries to come. x
  • 7
    Livia Drusilla, Empress of Rome
    Augustus's wife, Livia Drusilla, was easily the most powerful woman in Roman history to date. You will examine the roles of aristocratic women in the republic and under the empire. The rumor that Livia arranged the deaths of a long string of rivals to ensure her son Tiberius's succession is probably exaggerated. x
  • 8
    The Early Years of Tiberius
    On the death of Augustus in A.D. 14, Tiberius succeeded to the emperorship with the understanding that his popular nephew, Germanicus, would be his heir. Five years later Germanicus died under mysterious circumstances. A newly discovered inscription in Spain sheds intriguing light on these events. x
  • 9
    The Would-Be Emperor—Sejanus
    In this lecture, you meet one of the most odious figures in Roman history: Sejanus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Sejanus used his influence with Tiberius, a few well-planned murders, and a canny marriage alliance to try to become emperor. His demise offers lessons in the perils of court politics. x
  • 10
    The Mad Emperor? Caligula
    The ancient sources tend to portray Caligula as deranged. But was he really insane? You will examine different modern approaches to this issue, focusing on two famous incidents when Caligula apparently acted erratically. An ancient eyewitness gives a sense of what it was like to be in the emperor's presence. x
  • 11
    Killing Caligula, Finding Claudius
    This lecture covers a little over 24 hours of the year A.D. 41, when a ruinous pattern was established in the imperial succession. With the murder of Caligula, the Senate dithered while the Praetorian Guard, eager to preserve its power, pushed forward a successor—in this case Caligula's reviled uncle, Claudius. x
  • 12
    The Odd Couple—Claudius and Messalina
    Claudius's reign was surprisingly successful. He embarked on the first major war of expansion since Augustus by adding Britain to the empire and was a conscientious ruler. Even so, he was manipulated by powerful subordinates, notably his third wife, Messalina, who concocted a bizarre plot against him. x
  • 13
    Power and Poison—Agrippina and Claudius
    You will study a woman who could be the most prominent female dynastic figure in Roman history: Agrippina the Younger, sister of Caligula, wife of Claudius, and mother of Nero—a pedigree that speaks for itself. Agrippina's political conduct was brazen to a degree heretofore unthinkable. x
  • 14
    Artist and Assassin—Nero
    Agrippina reportedly poisoned Claudius and then orchestrated Nero's accession. As emperor, Nero showed little interest in rule and far more in writing poetry and other diversions. This lecture surveys these impulses and discusses modern theories about the meaning of his "antics," which included matricide. x
  • 15
    The Trouble with Christians
    In the summer of 64, Rome burned. As suspicion fell on Nero, he blamed the Christians, starting the long history of Rome's persecution of this sect. You will consider the possible causes of the fire and discuss the rebuilding of the city, notably Nero's pet urban renewal project: his opulent Golden House. x
  • 16
    Dynasty's End—The Fall of Nero
    Nero's final years were increasingly disengaged from reality. Finally, the legions in Gaul and Spain turned against him. Abandoned by his armies and the Senate, he committed suicide in 68. His earlier murders of all plausible heirs in his family ensured that the Julio-Claudian dynasty perished with him. x
  • 17
    The Long Year, A.D. 69
    Nero's death ushered in the Year of Four Emperors—a bloody struggle among four commanders who successively held the top job. Left standing at the end was Vespasian, fresh from suppressing the Jewish Revolt. These events confirmed the principle that emperors depended on the army for their position. x
  • 18
    The First Flavian—Vespasian
    Vespasian started the first dynasty of emperors who had no family connection to Julius Caesar or Augustus. This lecture examines his rise and the "Law Concerning Vespasian's Power," apparently the first attempt to define an emperor's authority. Vespasian also built Rome's most famous landmark: the Colosseum. x
  • 19
    The Last Flavians—Titus and Domitian
    Shortly after Vespasian's son Titus be­came emperor in 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupt­ed, killing tens of thousands in a grim omen for the new ruler. He led an effective relief effort but died prematurely two years later. He was succeeded by his autocratic brother, Domitian, who descended into paranoia. x
  • 20
    Pax Augusta—Nerva and Trajan
    The murder of Domitian terminated the Flavian dynasty. His successor, Nerva, began a new practice: Emperors adopted able army commanders as their heirs. With Nerva's adoption of Trajan came the period of the Roman Empire's greatest stability under the Antonine (or Adoptive) dynasty. x
  • 21
    Trajan in Rome and in the East
    Trajan had a successful reign that added new territory to the empire as well as magnificent new public works to the capital. You will also examine the remarkable correspondence between Trajan and his provincial envoy, Pliny the Younger, who wrote for advice on handling recalcitrant Christians, among other problems. x
  • 22
    The Eccentric Emperor—Hadrian
    Trajan's successor, Hadrian, set about a massive push at consolidation: Trajan's new eastern provinces were abandoned and the frontiers were fortified, most notably with Hadrian's Wall in England. Hadrian was wide-ranging in his talents and unconventional in his personal life. x
  • 23
    Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus
    The reigns of Antoninus Pius and his successor, Marcus Aurelius, represent the high point of Roman power, peace, and prosperity. In the course of Marcus's reign, however, signs of trouble became evident that would intensify. Marcus is especially known for his philosophic work, Meditations. x
  • 24
    Marcus in the North and Commodus
    In his last years, Marcus was constantly on the threatened northern frontier with his legions. He succumbed to the rigors of camp life in 180 and was succeeded by his son Commodus, who proved a disaster in the mold of Caligula and Nero. Commodus was assassinated on the last day of 192. x
  • 25
    Civil War and Septimius Severus
    Commodus's death left a vacuum temporarily filled by the aging senator Pertinax. He was soon assassinated by his own guard, who then auctioned off the empire to the highest bidder. The winner only lasted 10 weeks before Septimius Severus took control, initiating a naked military autocracy. x
  • 26
    Caracalla and the Severan Dynasty
    Severus set the tone for the rest of imperial history. From now on, the emperor would be a military man, occupied with keeping external enemies at bay and staving off internal threats. The Severan dynasty included, among others, the brutal Caracalla and the outlandish Elagabalus—along with some remarkable female relatives. x
  • 27
    Emperor and City
    The first of five lectures on themes relating to the emperors examines their lavish building projects in Rome, such as the complex of public squares and huge bathhouses. You will also examine the political aspects of such projects, as well as their social and economic implications. x
  • 28
    Emperor and Empire
    Next Professor Fagan considers the emperor's position relative to the wider empire. How could an empire as vast and diverse as Rome's survive the mismanagement of a Caligula or a Nero? The secret lay in the unique, decentralized administrative structures the Romans employed in running their realm. x
  • 29
    Emperor and Elite
    The Roman elite was obsessed with the struggle for rank, and the emperor determined the winners by the offices he dispensed. You will focus on the senators and the equestrians, learning how the former had to adapt to diminished roles under the Principate, while the latter enjoyed a greatly enhanced public profile. x
  • 30
    Emperor and People
    The emperor served as the benefactor and patron of the common people. This lecture examines that obligation, from the provision of grain, games, and other "comforts" to the means used by the people to communicate with the emperor. x
  • 31
    Emperor and Soldier
    No relationship was more important to Roman rulers than the one with their troops. Emperors used strategies to ensure loyalty, from oaths of allegiance to bribes. These measures are surveyed in detail, as are the dispositions of the troops in the empire and the different classes of soldiers. x
  • 32
    With the collapse of the Severan dynasty in 235, civil war raged almost continuously for nearly 50 years as generals fought for dominance. External enemies took advantage of the chaos to raid and plunder the empire. In this lecture, you will look at several of the emperors of this turbulent era. x
  • 33
    Aurelian, Diocletian, and the Tetrarchy
    In 268 the Roman Empire, battered from without and divided within, was on its last legs. But from the mountains of Illyria in the northern Balkans stormed a series of militarily aggressive and highly competent general-emperors who, in a few years, had turned the situation around. x
  • 34
    Constantine—Rise to Power
    This lecture surveys the rise to sole rulership of an emperor who would transform the empire and change the course of history: Constantine. Despite being passed over by Diocletian's tetrarchic system, the young Constantine accepted his army's imperial acclamation and began battling his rivals. x
  • 35
    The Christian Emperor—Constantine
    Under Constantine, Christianity changed from an outsider's religion to a state-aligned cult, a transition that had seismic repercussions. Here, you will examine his conversion, his impact on the church, his reforms, and founding Constantinople in 324. x
  • 36
    Reflections on the Emperors of Rome
    The ancients were inconsistent in labeling emperors as good or bad; for them, an element of spin was often involved. You and Professor Fagan will embark on your own diagnosis and uncover fundamental truths about power, legitimacy, and empire. This course concludes by considering the theme of emperors and tyranny. x

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Your professor

Garrett G. Fagan

About Your Professor

Garrett G. Fagan, Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Garrett G. Fagan is Professor of Ancient History at The Pennsylvania State University, where he has taught since 1996. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and educated at Trinity College. He earned his Ph.D. from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, and has held teaching positions at McMaster University, York University (Canada), and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davidson College. In all of these...
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Emperors of Rome is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 80.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I recommend I thought the material in the course was excellent. I had some issues with the language barrier being American and my take on the Irish accent is that they never pronounce a vowel the same way twice. By about halfway through the course my ears had somewhat compensated and it became more understandable.
Date published: 2018-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceeds Expectations! I have a high opinion of Professor Fagan, having really enjoyed his TC courses on the History of Ancient Rome and Great Battles of the Ancient World. I was not sure if this 2007 course would be as engaging as those others, given the tight focus on the Emperors, from Augustus to Constantine. As it turned out, I was wrong. To be sure, there are seemingly endless descriptions of violence, family dysfunction, and so on, but Professor Fagan navigates this aspect well and serves up a fine complement to other TC courses on the era, notably those by Kenneth Harl. Though it would be good to take Professor Fagan’s TC History of Ancient Rome first, it is not necessary to do so, as he provides a good background on that period in this course. Also, though most of the lectures deal with political and military matters, there is a fair amount of context woven in and five lectures, twenty-seven to thirty-one, particularly discuss social aspects. Some of the interesting aspects of the course are how the issue of succession became more fraught with uncertainty and danger; how and why women rose in influence, unheard of in the Republic; and how tyranny, cloaked in Augustus’ reign, became more apparent after the third century crisis. Professor Fagan’s concludes that the “…history of the emperors can be read, from start to finish, as a tale of army loyalties either managed or mismanaged” (Course Guidebook, Page 196). My impressions of the Emperors were formed primarily by reading Robert Graves (‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Claudius the God’) and Suetonius (‘The Twelve Caesars’). Professor Fagan takes issue with such treatments. For instance, he doubts Lavina’s wickedness as portrayed by Graves. He even takes issue with the usual classification of “good” and “bad” emperors, preferring instead “relative effectiveness” (Page 194), in rendering an assessment, with interesting departures from prevailing assumptions. Throughout, Professor Fagan is scrupulous in pointing out his differences with standard sources and scholarship. My one piece of advice about this course is that you start with the final lecture to get a sense of what Professor is up to in the way of sources, and how he views the subject. The course is accompanied by a fine 266-page course guidebook. The only thing it lacks, however, is maps. Nevertheless, this is a fine course and well worth the time necessary for its forty-eight lectures.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough historical review Prof. Fagan does an excellent job reviewing the trends and thoughts on the Roman Emperors. He spent some time reviewing the more complex events for Emperor Augustus. I quibble with his review of events for Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus. Fagan dismisses Julius for lack of any government plan - but neglects his conniving for at least 20 years to reach the position of dictator. Fagan reviews Augustus' plans for government in detail, while neglecting his careful plots against Marc Antony before he becomes Princeps. However, these are quibbles, not serious problems.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthralled!! While I am only half-way through the entire course, I can't seem to stop watching, as it is well into the wee hours of the night. Despite an occasion of stammering, Professor Fagan has done a wonderful job with this material. I am amazed how corrupt the Romans were. Much like our present situation in politics, I might add! Just my opinion, eh?!
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The course was informative and Professor Fagan was extremely entertaining!. Will listen to this course multiple times.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Read the book The material is interesting but the professor is very hard to listen to. I like to listen to these courses so I can learn how to pronounce the names of people and places, but listening to this professor talk is painful. Save your money and buy a book on this subject.
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like watching breaking news. You can't stop. This is one of his best courses. He really tells a wonderful story and keeps you on your edge of your seat. Much better than his Roman History course probably because it is more focused. 4 stars for content because the DVD course could have more photos, pictures, etc. This course is thorough.
Date published: 2016-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Summary of the Roman Emperors This is a comprehensive personal and political history of the emperors from Augustus to Constantine. Professor Fagan's delivery is crisp, clear and enjoyable. He speaks with a lively pace and each lecture is covers just there right amount of detail. I would rate him as one of the better lecturers in the TTC's catalog. As a note to other reviewers comments, to get the most out of this course you should know more than the basics of Roman history.
Date published: 2016-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! Professor Fagan is informative and entertaining. His storytelling style helps you see the Emperors as more than stone monuments.
Date published: 2015-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Roman Emperors: Are They Really Gone? Audio review (recommended, especially if you carefully follow the notes and have internet access). This review is for the chaps and chapettes out there considering a purchase of these lectures...the reviews you've read have you rightly confused. I'll add my two cents...hopefully, it will help. The content of these lectures is excellent. It is well-organized, well-documented (even in the cases of poor historical sources), and clearly presented. It helps to pay attention and follow along in the outline. I believe that this course is intended as a sequel to 'The History of Ancient Rome', an earlier series presented by Dr Fagan, which lays the groundwork for this more detailed look into some of the personalities and histories from Romes' Imperial Age. Detailed, it is...complicated, for sure...possibly more names to remember than "The Game of Thrones" (with fewer dwarfs)...but with the profound realization that this is HISTORY. These men and women were real people who held real power over the entire Roman world. The presentation was that of a college seminar...some days the material and the Professor were 'on', some days not so 'on'. (I've been there on both sides of the lectern, and, yes you can squirm standing up). Dr Fagan's voice is pleasant, clear and perfectly human. I enjoyed his brogue and his wit, and considered it a plus, never distracting from the material presented. I don't necessarily agree with some of his conclusions and have been trying to clarify my views by blending lectures from Drs Harl and Dialeader (and others from the Teaching Company) as well as my own slugging through Suetonius and Petrarch. While Fagan sees Constantine as the last (real) Roman Emperor, I have two possible (fantasy) alternatives: first, the Roman Empire indeed lasted through the Byzantine period...perhaps even 'morphing' into Tsarist Russia. The second, more easily believed idea is the the Roman Empire changed from a military to a spiritual, aka religious, empire, existing today as the Roman Catholic Church, with the Pope serving as the Emperor. The loyalty shown to the ancient Roman Emperor can be seen to be similar to the universal admiration (and love for some) of the Pope...a man currently ruling over billions of followers. All in all, this history of the Roman Emperors makes you think...and gives you the information to help it along. It might not be easy...you might have to work at it, but it's worth it. Context is important to understanding the heroes and villains of history. In Dr Fagan's words: "Perhaps I (Dr Fagan) provided food for thought. For the critical assessment of data is the essential task of the educated mind". I recommend it...coupon and sale in hand...with a Guinness in the wings.
Date published: 2015-10-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Seriously lacking I had looked forward to experiencing this course, but I have to say that it is a complete disappointment. In fact, I have given up on it after five lectures, each of which became increasingly difficult to sit through. Here are my major issues with this course: (1) It doesn’t start at ground zero. For some of the reviewers, that’s’ all right. It seems that those who awarded high marks to these lectures came to the enterprise with at least some general knowledge of the subject, at least according to their reviews. But lacking even a nodding acquaintance with the subject renders the lectures almost incomprehensible. In fact, one of the reviewers indicated that this might be a good course IF one has the background already. I agree. Let me illustrate: if one is teaching a course on World War II, he/she can be 99.9% certain that it is not necessary to define a “tank;” but certain terms need defining at the outset. Examples might be “strategy” and “tactics” as those terms are used by military planners. (2) The issue noted above is exacerbated by the fact that Dr. Fagan fails to give any clues as to where he is headed in the lecture or why. He just begins talking. The listener must have these clues, in the form of rhetorical questions, or clear statements like “here is what we will cover next.” It is also helpful if the lecturer indicates why he is relaying certain information. Something like, “At this point we need to interrupt the main story in order to look at another situation that bears on the main action.” (3) I found Dr. Fagan’s delivery totally lacking. His Irish brogue, as much as I like it generally, obliterates some of what he has to say. He also moves at a blistering pace; it is a steady stream with almost no pauses, no ebb and flow of tempo, and all at the same volume level. And though it may be ungracious to comment on it, his speech impediment, though certainly not his fault, is distracting in the extreme. I very much regret that I have found this offering to be unacceptable, and I will return it.
Date published: 2015-09-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Interesting Title The information of this course was informative, however the delivery was poor. The professor spoke too fast, choppy & stuttered. His English dialect, for example, pronounced words like "third as terd". His voice seemed cold & factual instead of warm & interesting. It seemed as though he was notified at the last minute and had to give a hurried presentation just to get through it & be done with his obligation. Brilliant people are not always the best teachers.
Date published: 2015-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History Taught the Way That it Should be Taught Garrett Fagan is one of my favorite instructors. He explains that information is often limited for various time periods in Roman history, and he discusses the various sources of information. These can include (1) ancient writings, (2) archeological findings, (3) inscriptions, and (4) information on Roman coins, which Roman emperors used to project messages to people who would use the coins. Before he begins each section, Fagan indicates what the main sources of information are for that time period, and how reliable they are. He is also cognizant of the biases that various ancient sources have. Fagan often discusses the important competing explanations, and he does not try to force his opinions on the audience. He mentions the strengths and weaknesses of the different interpretations. Fagan shows how the Roman bureaucracy continued to run the empire whether the current emperor was an effective one. He also shows that the concept of "good and bad emperors" is simplistic. Many emperors were effective at some things and ineffective at other things. He also discusses various reasons why the western empire collapsed in the 5th century while the eastern empire lasted until the 15th century. This course is what one should expect from a good college class.
Date published: 2015-06-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Disappointing presentation I recently finished Professor Fagan's "History of Ancient Rome" and found the lectures (DVDs) to be fascinating. I really felt like I was sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher who was excited by and engaged with the material. Through to the last lecture, the entire experience was a real pleasure. By contrast, "Emperors of Rome" was very disappointing. The content is all there, at the same solid level as "History of Ancient Rome". But Prof. Fagan's delivery had markedly changed in the time between when he did the first course, and when he recorded this one. In "History", he worked from paper notes on a lectern that, like any good classroom professor, he used to prompt his memory and delivered a spontaneous lecture. In that first course, he was enthusiastic, engaged by the material, and his enthusiasm was very infectious, even over the impersonal medium of a DVD. Not so unfortunately with "Emperors of Rome". My guess is that during the interim time, he had been "trained" in electronic delivery. He stood immobile with hands clasped in front of him, it was obvious he was reading from a teleprompter and not spontaneously talking from notes, and he seemed preoccupied with issues like meeting time markers, where to put his eyes, and so on. I felt like what had been a real strength of his delivery in the first course had been turned into a weakness in this newer course. As I said, the course content was very solid, but the delivery distracting, especially knowing what an engaging style of delivery he was capable of.
Date published: 2015-05-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing This is my second course I have bought from TTC. After finishing the first course, which I loved, I couldn't wait to learn about Roman history (my favorite history subject) I was soon disappointed. Professor Fagan's lectures were boring and difficult to understand at times. I feel like he said a lot of redundant things. Also there was no flow to his lectures and his sentences were spoken brokenly with great pauses. Some reviewers who bought the dvd course commented that the cd version might be better to listen to. Let me assure you that it is not. I shudder to think of watching the dvd version. I hope this course as well as Roman Emperors are redone with a different professor.
Date published: 2015-03-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2015-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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 ** ***
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2015-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting and engaging course. Quick review of the minor emperors with more detail on the better known emperors or those who had more influence on Roman history. I would recommend this course for anyone who has an interest in this historical period.
Date published: 2014-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is actually rather excellent. First I must address some of the concerns that I have read in many of the reviews of this course. Many people have complained consistently over the presentation of Dr. Fagan, and I feel that I must lodge a disagreement with those complaints. True, in comparison with his History of Ancient Rome course there are a few more pauses than were previously present. However, on a whole, this was not any significant problem. Those who commented on consistent stammering are at best exaggerating and at worst allowing their own internal prejudices to color their reception of the material. In fact, after listening to the first part of this course from my local library I was interested in purchasing it. When I saw it on sale, the decision was an easy one to make. I am very happy with my purchase, and have listened to the entire course over the course of a single week. It has a very strong narrative to its work which makes it come across almost like the telling of a story, and I have very little doubt about the professor's ability to understand and present this material. In fact, I found it rather excellent. Perhaps the most endearing part of this course would be that it instilled a desire to learn more just as his previous course on Ancient Rome had. To anyone interested in Rome and the various personalities that have added their distinct flavor to its societal and cultural history, this has my unfailing endorsement. However, there are perhaps two complaints that I may lodge with the Emperors of Rome. It is important to note that these complaints do not in any way detract from my positive feeling for the course. Rather, it makes me lament missed opportunities. Both here and in his previous course, Dr. Fagan stops at Constantine. He makes his opinion for this very plain in both courses, as he is more than willing to leave what comes after to a Byzantine course. However, in my own limited view, this is rather shortsighted. Constantine was not even the last Emperor to exert control over the entirety of the Roman Empire (Theodosius), and the actual Byzantine characterization of the Eastern Roman Empire is more often posited with Heraclius after the adventures of Justinian. While the Emperors of Rome had made the decent into military autocracy, it would take several more centuries for Medieval Europe to fully come into being. Perhaps Dr. Fagan would have been outside of the scope of his expertise, or perhaps he felt as though he had to maintain his course within 36 lectures. Regardless, I felt as though this course could have been substantively improved if it had progressed to the fall of Western Rome itself, if not to Heraclius's fundamental restructuring of the Roman State (indeed, what made it Byzantine in the eyes of later scholars). Further, Dr. Fagan devoted five lectures about the nature of the Roman Emperor in more general terms. The professor felt the need to address concerns from scholarly rivals which dismiss the very notion of narrative imperial history as being valid. I vehemently oppose such nonsensical predeterministic modes. They reek of dogma and tend to reject and deemphasize the importance of the men and women who defined their age. While they may give grudging acceptance to the importance of a Constantine or an Augustus, they will make claims that such were inevitabilities.Yet, given how these dynasties were so prone to collapse, so prone to destruction, so prone to susceptibilities, based on the very character of their Emperor such a claim comes across as ludicrous. Surely if Nero had been a different person and attempted to emulate Augustus Caesar and rebuild the Julio-Claudians, the veneer which shrouded military involvement behind the Emperor's power would have remained intact for a while longer. The longer this may have lasted, the more fundamental the changes would have been to the course and outcome of Roman history. Also, we had the restoration of the Empire during the third century crisis. Such may never have happened should Rome had lacked Aurelian. But this is a rather lengthy digression. There was nothing particularly wrong with these five lectures. However, in many ways much of these were partially explained in previous lectures. The soldiers were already unmasked, the place of Emperor's behind public works explicitly mentioned, and several other examples. There was plenty of new content within these lectures, but part of me felt as though these points could easily have been enumerated plainly within the narrative. What needed to be said beyond this could have been stated at the end of the course alongside the reflections. By dispersing this content more liberally throughout the narrative, two or three lectures could have been freed up to perhaps give requiem to the Fall of Rome or a more in depth look at the third century crisis, where we got the beginning, a few highlights, and its resolution within two lectures while also focusing in on the Tetrarchy of Diocletian. Combined, this appears to be a missed opportunity. Though I am hopeful after reading about the Late Antiquity Crisis and Transformation course, I feel as though more narrative should have been imbued into this course so as give the student a taste of what the next course would have been like. However, I must once again stress that I did thoroughly enjoy this course. It comes with a high recommendation from me. To any new student to Rome, to any old student to History, and to those who enjoy the manifestation of the human epic, the only regret you will have from purchasing this course will be that it ends too soon.
Date published: 2014-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Course This is the second course I have taken given by Professor Fagan on Ancient Rome, the first being "History of Ancient Rome". In the first course, the main focus was on the Roman republic, with some depth on the reign of Augustus. From there on the narrative really tapered off and the rest of the narrative history was very sketchy. This course is a direct extension of the first. It starts from the reign of Augustus and then basically follows the biography of each emperor until the death of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century CE – really the end of the classical Roman era and the beginning of the medieval era or late antiquity. As Professor Fagan states, in modern historical approach, the school of thought which tries to analyze history from biographies of great players is often frowned upon. In this course, however, this is exactly what professor Fagan does. Here, unlike the first course which he gave, he follows quite a strict chronological narrative and therefore it is a bit easier to follow - at least my mind tended to wander less during my commute while listening. Professor Fagan presents the material with profound insights, and is quite thorough about quoting important scholarly references. His Irish wit adds some much needed lightness into this academic course.
Date published: 2014-05-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Tried several times I LOVE all things Roman and Greek when it comes to History, including the Emperors. However, I cannot tell you one thing I learned because the Professor stammered through the entire course! I would just start to settle into the lecture, and then 3-4 times per paragraph, he would start stammering. The longer he spoke, the worse it got. This would be an awesome "Great Course" if they would find another Professor to teach it! I'm very surprised that they continue to sell the course when it is such poor audio quality. Please Great Courses, get one of the other multiple excellent teachers to record this!!
Date published: 2014-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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
Date published: 2014-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of My Very Favorites First a confession: I love all of Prof. Garrett Fagan's courses, this one perhaps most of all. Typically, in a Fagan course you can expect a number of things--an absorbing narrative from lecture to lecture, laced with anecdote and delivered with erudition, wit, and a fair amount of grace; a fine analysis of all the available sources on a given topic; a wicked sense of humor; and insight, insight, insight. This course on the Emperors of Rome has all those elements in spades. It proved a perfect complement to his in-depth series, The History of Ancient Rome. While each and every lecture had its moments, I especially enjoyed the five "thematic" ones (nos. 27-31), and, since I'm a big fan of Late Antiquity, the final four narrative lectures which cover the years 235-337. In particular, however, I must give a big, loud shout-out to the final summary lecture of the course. Here, Prof. Fagan furnishes a masterful analysis of the course as a whole, and left this attentive audience member with much to consider for myself—issues, approaches, and lingering questions that will continue to impact my subsequent studies on classical, late antique, and, really, all other historical subjects. As to course format, I watched the DVDs and was satisfied that I received value for my money. There were plenty of quotations, images, charts, and maps provided to supplement the lecture content in a meaningful way. But, if you're a fan of CDs or audio streaming, be of good cheer--you really won't suffer much by purchasing either of those formats. So, to sum up, this one's a gem. If you have any interest at all in ancient Rome, snatch it up. You won't be sorry!
Date published: 2013-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beyond Biography Professor Fagan does an excellent job describing the lives and political dealings of most of the Roman emperors. Although the subject is far too extensive (in spite of the limited sources) for only 36 lectures, he manages to tie in a great deal of detail and analysis of the empire as a whole. In addition, he injects a surprising amount of humor into his lectures. One of my favorites!
Date published: 2013-11-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not half as good as it could have been Let me get to the nr. 1 problem I have with this course - and that is the constant stammering by the Professor Fagan. I realize that this is not his fault, but they needed to get someone who could speak clearly without constant repetition. I could work with it initially, but by lecture 20 it was very irritating. Problem nr. 2 - the decision to stop at Constantine. The professor's only reason for stopping here is his declaration that emperors after Constantine belonged more to the Middle Ages than Ancient times. He brushes the rest of the emperors away with just this one sentence, and with no evidence. In fact there were many more emperors who had interesting stories following Constantine, but we will never hear of them. Instead Prof. Fagan wastes four lectures on subjects like The Emperor And The People, The Emperor And The Army, etc. This time could have been put to much better use by going beyond Constantine to generally accepted fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. On the positive side, Prof. Fagan is very learned on the subject and seems to know it very well. If I could only get past that stammering....
Date published: 2013-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This One Is a Lot of Fun The professor's coverage of this material is outstanding, thorough and interesting. The stories he tells in each and every lecture are very entertaining. I liked this course even much better than his history of Rome course. On this one, I ranked his presentation and communication skills with the best of the professors I have seen in over 100 of the Great Courses. Very high indeed! This one is definitely worth the time and money.
Date published: 2013-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and Worthwhile I very much enjoyed this course. Professor Fagan's expertise on ancient Rome is evident throughout the lectures. He provides a detailed and interesting look at the Roman emperors. I like the fact that he spends a couple lectures on the republic and the nature of the Roman sources to establish a background for the student. This was a very good idea, and very helpful. Yes, as others have noted, Professor Fagan does occasionally stumble over his words, but for the most part his presentation is smooth and clear. Overall, I'd say this is definitely a worthwhile and interesting course.
Date published: 2013-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Much Better Sequel I waded through the History of Rome with muddled satisfaction. This Course fills a real gap between Augustus and Constantine in a lot of the Great Courses content and just general knowledge of the time frame. I was curious enough to buy it and am very glad that I gave it a fair shot. The first third of the course is nothing short of brilliant. He takes us on quite an entertaining journey that ends so powerfully with his review of Nero. The end of the Claudian dynasty ushers in the course's less compelling lectures. Maybe it is because it is less familiar, and maybe because the content must be covered more swiftly than before, but it is just good and that's about it. Not nearly as clumsy as the History of Rome, but a tad more difficult to follow and comprehend, at least in CD version. If you are like me and the timeframe between Augustus and Constantine is murky, especially the dynastic transition (or whatever Fagan calls it),it is a great course to fill in the gaps.
Date published: 2013-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and informative I've listened to approximately the first half of the course so far, and am loving it. Professor Fagan is extremely entertaining to listen to, and the course does an amazing job of explaining sources, known facts and theories, and bringing history to life. I listen to it during my commute, and it feels like a virtual trip to Rome. I've recommended it to family and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Rome or classical history in general.
Date published: 2013-05-17
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