Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity's Greatest Empire

Course No. 3430
Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
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Course No. 3430
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Course Overview

Rome was the greatest empire of the ancient world, a colossus that spanned three continents, ruled over millions of people, lasted more than a thousand years, and left as its most enduring legacy the foundation of much of Western culture. Yet, in an empire in which perhaps only one person in ten was literate, how was Rome able to so successfully communicate its civic and cultural values, or project a knowledge of Roman power, to every corner of the realm?

In Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity's Greatest Empire, award-winning Professor Steven L. Tuck of Miami University offers a unique way to understand the relationships that connected Rome, its citizens, and its subjects, and to see the visual and experiential ways in which Rome made and kept those relationships clear.

A Unique Opportunity to Explore the Roots of Our Own Culture

In this fascinating course on the visual nature of ancient Rome, Professor Tuck helps you understand the foundations of your own culture that simply cannot be conveyed through standard courses in art, ancient history, architecture, or religion.

By learning how Rome communicated in so many visually symbolic ways, you gain insight into how similar tools are still used today. You are able to hone your ability to see them at work in the visual symbols that are part of government, the military, religion, and just about every aspect of contemporary public or private life.

And if you're planning a trip to Rome or any other location bearing the marks of its empire, these lectures will also help you prepare for your trip, experience it, and get the most benefit for your travel dollar.

Learn How to Read a Message Meant for an Empire

Professor Tuck guides you through all the ways in which Rome set forth its message, showing you how it flawlessly conveyed all that needed to be said through a vast range of visual spectacle, shared cultural experience, and deliberately crafted structure or imagery:

  • Extravagant public displays, including triumphal marches, gladiatorial combat, chariot races, animal hunts, executions, and even life-sized re-creations of its naval triumphs in vast flooded arenas
  • The architecture of its leading citizens' lavish homes, where design and decor carried a message, from the achievements of a host's lineage to a visitor's position within Rome's civic and social hierarchy
  • The design of its imperial forums and other public spaces and even its harbors, which made clear the voyager's return or his entry into the orbit of Roman power and civic obligation
  • The unavoidable and deliberate messages in Rome's beautiful statuary, sculptural reliefs, and other visual art
  • Rome's emphasis on spectacle and entertainment over political engagement and introspection in the design and use of its theaters
  • The extraordinary engineering achievements that not only built roads, bridges, and aqueducts across the vast range of its empire, but imposed on the very forms of nature itself an often brutal—and always self-aware—topography of Roman power
  • The role of religion in reinforcing Roman values and even in building Rome itself, with the city's very shape altered by the monuments and temples built to fulfill its citizens' vows to deities

Experience the Significance of Rome in a New Way

Even if you have some familiarity with ancient Rome, you'll likely be surprised at the vividness with which Professor Tuck immerses you in Roman life:

  • Elite homes: You learn how the houses of Rome's most powerful families played a significant role in reinforcing social structures and the achievement and stature of the host's family. Deceased family members were represented in a home's public areas by mementos of accomplishments, such as military trophies or the blood-stained armor of defeated foes, and also by imagines of those decedents—images rendered in the form of portrait busts or wax death masks.
  • Rome's imperial baths: In a culture in which so many of the institutions that define Rome were off limits to most people, you see how Rome's magnificent public bathing spas were an exception—a chance for every Roman to experience the tangible benefits of empire and wealth. Free of charge and extraordinarily opulent, these grand complexes were used by everyone, from slaves to the emperor himself. Within their lavish walls, favors would be curried and the obligations of the elite met.
  • Rome's triumphal arches: The 100 triumphal arches that line the great avenues of Rome—and have inspired similar structures throughout the world—represent perhaps the quintessential form of Roman monument. In the stories told by their carvings, as well as by their very presence, they serve, as Professor Tuck notes, to "literally petrify victory imagery in stone," making ephemeral events permanent in the eyes of both the subsequent processions that march beneath them and the Romans who line the streets to watch.

And, of course, there are our eyes as well, still able to read Rome's messages, even after 2,000 years, as accurately as the Romans and non-Romans alike to whom they were first intended.

A Stunning View of Ancient Rome

Representing the most extensive investment we've ever put into a course, this provocative and lavish learning experience is different from any visual course The Teaching Company has ever presented.

Featuring more than 1,000 visuals—including original art commissioned exclusively for this course—Experiencing Rome draws on computer animations of Roman villas, actual artifacts, and revealing maps, along with breathtaking photography of Rome's statuary, mosaics, sculptural reliefs, buildings, public spaces, and monuments.

Many of those photographs were taken by Professor Tuck himself on the numerous study trips he has led to Italy and England. His discussions of the details behind many of the photos add immensely to their impact.

Similarly, his exceptionally well-rounded background in history, classics, classical art, archaeology, and even epigraphy—the study of ancient inscriptions—adds an extra dimension of richness to every discussion.

Combined with a dry sense of humor that balances the sense of gravity that often accompanies explorations of Roman antiquity, his superb teaching skills make him particularly well suited to this subject.

Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity's Greatest Empire shows you how very much there still is to discover in a historical legacy you've been experiencing your entire life.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Rome—A Spectacular Civilization
    You examine the visual nature of Roman society and the key role of spectacular display—ranging from its center in the Roman Forum to its frontiers. x
  • 2
    A Brief Survey of the Roman Empire
    This lecture provides the chronological, thematic, and geographical framework for understanding the visual components of the Roman Empire, especially how different forms of governments and their citizens affect their art, architecture, and public display. x
  • 3
    Power, Conquest, and Romanization
    You learn the fundamental role of Rome's military in expanding the empire through conquest and in creating and projecting the image of Roman power, as well as in introducing non-Romans to Roman values and identity. x
  • 4
    Triumphal Processions—Victory Parades
    Conquest provided a reason for triumphal processions, sacrifices, games, and other grand spectacles. It also allowed for public and religious participation in a reinforcement of Roman values and identity. x
  • 5
    Imperial Palaces
    You tour the palaces of Rome's powerful rulers to see how power and culture were displayed in forms that were admired and imitated by lower social classes. x
  • 6
    The Roman House—Space and Decoration
    As a stage for political, religious, and social display, the houses of Roman elites celebrated Roman virtues and cultural identity, reinforcing to social equals and inferiors the influence of the inhabitants. x
  • 7
    Roman Houses as Greek Palaces
    You tour the largest house in Pompeii and an enormous pleasure villa along the Bay of Naples, seeing how Greek material became the standard for Roman prestige display in public and private venues. x
  • 8
    Pompeian Houses and Greek Myth
    The House of Octavius Quartio in Pompeii offers an example of what has been termed "middle-class emulation" of the elite use of Greek material. x
  • 9
    Ritual, Sacrifice, Vows, and Prayers
    As Romans used their homes to declare their values and identities, they also used visual display to proclaim their religious beliefs. x
  • 10
    Sanctuaries, Temples, and Religious Ritual
    Roman religious space was organized around sacrifice and procession but with an absence of congregational space. You look at sanctuaries, altars, and temples as spaces for interaction with the divine. x
  • 11
    Roman Elite Funerals
    You trace a Roman elite funeral as a public and often political statement designed to celebrate the extended Roman family, its place in society, and its contribution to the Roman state. x
  • 12
    Forum Romanum—The Core of the City
    The Roman Forum, which encompassed religious, legal, commercial, and recreational spaces, reflected the forms of government and the role of elite male public service in creating public space. x
  • 13
    Death on Display I—Amphitheaters
    This lecture examines the purposes of spectacles, the buildings themselves, their role in reinforcing Roman social and political power, and the parts played by various participants in the spectacles. x
  • 14
    Death on Display II—Gladiators
    You explore the different types of gladiators, armor, weapons, and training, as well as how gladiators in the republic differed from those in the empire. x
  • 15
    Death on Display III—Gladiatorial Combat
    Gladiators were highly skilled, specifically trained, and determined not just to kill but to entertain and display virtus, the quality of courage or martial prowess that defined Roman manhood. x
  • 16
    Death on Display IV—Animal Hunts
    The animal hunts staged in Rome's amphitheaters were wildly popular, the final stage of a process that symbolized the power of Rome over the dangers of nature—especially exotic foreign nature. x
  • 17
    Death on Display V—Prisoner Executions
    Spectacular prisoner executions were used to fulfill Roman notions of punishment—reciprocal, exemplary, and public—while instructing spectators in the fates of those who reject Roman law and values. x
  • 18
    Death on Display VI—Christian Martyrdom
    Christian martyrdom represented a confrontation of cultural values. While Rome sought to punish with public, shameful deaths those who rejected its legal, social, and political rules, Christians saw the condemned as heroes, who celebrated their status as devout followers of Christ. x
  • 19
    Small Town Spectacle—Games at Pompeii
    This lecture explores the critical role of games in a small community, where they reinforced the prestige of patrons, bolstered the political system, and were an outlet for community identity. x
  • 20
    Aquatic Displays
    The grandest of Roman spectacles might have been the aquatic displays. This lecture introduces you to nonblood sports and mock naval battles, held in large artificial basins and flooded theaters and amphitheaters designed for that purpose. x
  • 21
    Roman Circuses—Arenas for Chariot Racing
    For sheer scale and audience, no spectacle in ancient Rome competed with chariot races, especially those held in Rome's vast Circus Maximus. You explore how this originally Greek competition became a highly organized Roman institution. x
  • 22
    A Day at the Races
    This re-creation of an ordinary Roman's experience at the Circus Maximus shows what the races contributed to the urban experience and how they were a spectacular diversion from the everyday. x
  • 23
    Theaters and Plays
    You explore the rich variety of forms of entertainment in the Roman theater, including music and dance, choral performances, and the wildly popular Roman institution of mime, more pageant than pantomime. x
  • 24
    Emperors as Performers
    Several emperors—including Caligula, Nero, Domitian, and Commodus—chose to participate in spectacles. This lecture discusses their motivations, performances, and the inevitable consequences. x
  • 25
    Imperial Forums—Power and Policy in Rome
    You look at the individual forums created by Julius Caesar, Augustus, Vespasian, Domitian, and Trajan, which answered a need for expanded public space and also allowed for buildings and decorations that reinforced each emperor's rule. x
  • 26
    Imperial Arches, Columns, and Monuments
    You learn how these structures, through the rich sculptural reliefs and statues that covered them, celebrated imperial achievements and policy and the socially formative acts of emperors. x
  • 27
    Imperial Baths in Rome—Spas for the Masses
    Rome's public bath complexes provided a way for everyone to gain tangible benefits from Rome's political system and military successes. x
  • 28
    Roman Engineering—Linking the World
    The entire Roman Empire was linked by a series of roads, tunnels, aqueducts, canals, and bridges unmatched until the 20th century. These buildings were messages of Rome's presence and imperial power meant for both Romans and non-Romans in the empire. x
  • 29
    Roman Military Forts and Fortifications
    The placement, form, and embellishment of Roman forts seem to have been designed as much for visual impact as for defining the edges of Roman ground and often projecting Roman power into disputed territories. x
  • 30
    Images of Warfare—Roman Military Monuments
    The placement, form, and embellishment of Roman forts seem to have been designed as much for visual impact as for defining the edges of Roman ground and often projecting Roman power into disputed territories. x
  • 31
    Roman Colonies—Small Romes
    This lecture shows you how Roman colonization created reflections of Rome and the benefits, stability, and integration of its rule throughout a new urban world. x
  • 32
    Local Baths and Roman Bathing Culture
    You see how public bathing created communal identity, reinforced political power, provided an outlet for generosity, and defined one as a Roman. x
  • 33
    Roman Harbors—Liminal Monuments
    The great artificial harbors built by Rome were not merely utilitarian but were also meant to readjust travelers to Roman space and values and for them to acknowledge the rule of emperors whose monuments defined those spaces. x
  • 34
    Putting It All Together I—A Day in Pompeii
    You follow a fictional traveler, seeing the various visual markers that define his position in the Roman hierarchy, indicate the cultural identity and values of an inclusive but controlled Roman city, and set forth expectations of behavior and contribution. x
  • 35
    Putting It All Together II—A Day in Rome
    Now you are in Rome in A.D. 115, sharing with a fictional Roman his encounters with the major spaces and monuments that define Roman values and identity and shape his experience of living in the city. x
  • 36
    Conclusions and the Images of Empire
    Long after its fall, the acceptance of many of Rome's major visual themes continues, as you see in several examples from around the world and in Washington, DC. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 152-page printed course guidebook

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 152-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

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Your professor

Steven L. Tuck

About Your Professor

Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
Professor Steven L. Tuck is Professor of Classics at Miami University. After earning his B.A. in History and Classics at Indiana University, he received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. He held the postdoctoral Arthur and Joyce Gordon Fellowship in Latin epigraphy at The Ohio State University. An esteemed teacher, Professor Tuck received the 2013 E. Phillips Knox Teaching Award,...
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Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity's Greatest Empire is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 80.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very enlightening Having been a student of Roman life and history for some time, I found this course presented a great deal of new and interesting information to me. It was really enlightening, and will hereafter make my studies of and visits to Rome, or Roman colonies MUCH more enjoyable. The course gave a framework of time periods and details which will make it much simpler to decipher what we are looking at! Thank you so much!
Date published: 2020-11-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat disappointing. The course description leads one to expect more visual images and/or photos with background explanation. Instead, it is the usual Great Courses lectures with most of the time given to video of the professor speaking at a lectern and an occasional photo thrown in. The course is no different from those experienced at University with an occasional overhead flashed up on the screen. If you were expecting “A Visual “Exploration” you will be disappointed.
Date published: 2020-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unexpected Pleasure I bought this as a gift for my husband thinking that it might be a look at the architecture of the Roman Empire. We were very pleasantly surprised to discover that it delved into all visual aspects of Roman life, particularly the rituals and spectacles that were relatively new subjects to us. Professor Tuck made a lot of great use of architectural sites, wall paintings, sculpture, and mosaics for their own value and to illustrate his topics. We enjoyed his delivery and his sense of humor.
Date published: 2020-05-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative but tedious I found it tedious. Had it moved along a little quicker, I would have more engaged
Date published: 2019-10-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not really very visual. Lectures are informative, but very dry.
Date published: 2019-06-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from not as advertised this dvd set was not at all what i was looking for. maybe i didnt read the ad close enough but at any rate it was not at all what i was looking for and i dont believe it was as advertised
Date published: 2018-04-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from spectacular This was an exciting and educational course if you ask me. If you are at all interested in a vicarious tour, then look no further. Start with the roots of Roman world in the early lectures and conclude the course looking at public buildings, spaces, and monuments around the globe that showcase Rome’s architectural heritage. In between, you’ll learn about daily life in Rome. Lecture titles tell you exactly what you’re in for. I should note that my first course by Professor Tuck was Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City. These two courses are complementary. My recommendation is to start with the Guidebook. Familiarize yourself with the Timeline, Glossary, and Biographical Notes. They were very helpful to me throughout the course because the information serves as an anchor or foundation for a lot of the content. If you have this background knowledge, it’s just easier and more interesting than if you’re starting from a zero baseline. The visuals were quite good. As with the Pompeii course, I sometimes just paused to take in the pictures and graphics. Regarding professor Tuck’s presentation, I’d like to say he is one of my favorites. There’s no reading from a teleprompter. Sure, as a few critics already noted, there are some excessive starts and stops along the way. And some paper shuffling. But that’s why I like it. It’s like being right there during an ol’ fashioned lecture hall. No walking around either. He’s quite funny and interjects a number of anecdotes about his family and mom, a helicopter chase, etc. In the end, you get a clear sense of his love for his vocation, family, and country. Note on quality control: I watched the DVDs. Lecture 27 didn't work. It played and paused, buffered, and then just froze. Disappointed...but continued. This is why I've deducted a star from my rating.
Date published: 2018-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Experiencing Rome We've really enjoyed learning about Rome and Romans
Date published: 2018-01-23
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