Famous Romans

Course No. 349
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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121 Reviews
71% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 349
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Course Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Versions of the Kennedys and Winston Churchill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

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


Famous Romans is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 121.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History is Storytelling As a college student I found that a recitation of historical facts did not stick with me, storytelling was the key to my learning. Build interest through the story, then add greater detail with the facts. Professor Fears is a master of teaching history through a casual style of lecture that brings events, circumstances and characters to life, makes you want to take the deeper dive. With his passing last year, I am grateful we have his wonderful voice and his inspiring stories preserved on many Great Courses. He stands as a model of a teacher who makes you want to learn more.
Date published: 2013-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Romans Intelligent, interesting, well-presented. Prof Fears is a wonderful lecturer.
Date published: 2013-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Fears, No Gain. My Favorite Professor I purchased this course (and its companion, Famous Greeks) in 2001 on tape and have enjoyed them immensely. These are light, entertaining, and informative. Professor Fears is something of a modern day Plutarch (on whose Lives he relies to a great extent in these lectures, but whom he does not follow in pairing and comparing Greeks and Romans, and adds to the cast of characters); he is a great storyteller with an eye for the significant detail and a penchant for identifying common threads, questions to address, and morals to be drawn in these biographies. Sure, there are selections made and matters discussed that might make a specialist cringe, but on the whole these biographies are quite reliable in broad strokes. Listening to them on road trips provides me with many happy hours of pleasure and instruction. After listening to Professor Fears’ lectures, how can I forget the drama of the Second Punic War in the biographies of Hannibal (yes, he’s not a Roman) and Quintus Fabius Maximus; the excitement of Julius Caesar’s rise and fall (whose conquest of Gaul would change more than the history of Rome, but also “…world history, laying the foundations for France and Western Europe” Course Guidebook, page 34), including an entire lecture on Caesar’s defeat of Vercingetorix, a stirring and emotionally charged rendering based on Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul; the rise and fall of Pompey the Great (“…one of the great might-have-beens”, Course Guidebook, page 41) brutally murdered in Egypt; the principled Cato the Younger, who preferred death to accepting Caesar’s mercy; the triumph of Augustus; Cicero in his quest for freedom and morality; and the story of Stoic philosophy as told in the lives Epictetus, a former slave, and Marcus Aurelius, an emperor? The good thing about these lectures is that they follow ancient Roman history chronologically (though not to the end, as they only reach the late second century AD). Professor Fears carries us along with a narrative of that history, bringing into stark relief the various eras through the biographies of the great. In this regard, Famous Romans is an excellent way to become familiar with the sweep of ancient Roman history in an easy and entertaining way. I know, because it helped me when I followed this course with Garrett Fagan’s much more in-depth forty eight lecture TC course, The History of Ancient Rome. Still, I return to Famous Romans for the sheer enjoyment of Professor Fears’ stories.
Date published: 2013-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous Romans The Course is Outstanding. Well thought out, the presentation is Excellent. A great source for learning the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present and plan for the future. A must for any real student of History.
Date published: 2013-09-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from High on entertainment, but a challenge on content I listened to these downloaded audio lectures (while following along in the course guide) immediately following the History of Ancient Rome (Garrett Fagan). In comparison, I found Dr Fears' take on the history of Rome (seen through 'famous' characters) to be somewhat different that Dr Fagan...as should be expected, since they present different contexts for their interpretations. Since they both have the same sources (mostly), I expected from Dr Fears a more in-depth look at the individuals that played central roles in the success (and failure) of the Roman Republic and Empire. I was disappointed. However, I did find that Dr Fears is a great story teller, adding color in ways to which Dr Fagan can only aspire. I found him quite easy to follow and even enjoyed some of his digressions (though not all of them). I will recommend this course as a history 'light' set of lectures best suited for listening while driving or exercising. It just doesn't strike me as a good, solid history lecture series.
Date published: 2013-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Roman history by studying great individuals Dr. Fears begins the course by saying that "history is made by great individuals. Not by anonymous social and economic forces, but by individual men and women who shape history. This was the view of the ancients." This course is Roman history by biography. The result is much more than history. Dr. Fears regularly adds "lessons" into the lectures that we can apply to our lives today. This is not just a recitation of facts, but guides in how we can live in the present age, based on the success and failures from ancient Rome. This adds a benefit not found in any other history course for me. I found this course to be extremely valuable, and it's an excellent addition to my library of ancient history courses, and I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2013-05-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Storytelling over fact is not for me! Dr Fears is a professor who doesn't concern himself unduly with facts; he's too intent on creating theatre & melodrama with his storytelling, especially in order to support his pet likes and dislikes. He pushes his own moral judgments in furthering his own agenda, and will present as facts in passing some events that are, at best, highly debatable. Yes, there is much historical detail in his "lectures", but his is decidedly not a style for me. His whiny, at times condescending presentation rubs me the wrong way, annoys me, turns me off. I should have known better and not have bought this course, having already purchased two of his other "history" courses. Clearly, his pompous storytelling style appeals to many but it strikes me as being out of place for a lecturer on history, and I am writing a review of the course as I see it... and it fails... sorry!
Date published: 2013-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Tribute When I heard Professor Fears had died, I instantly wanted to buy another of his courses to remember and pay tribute to him. So, I chose Famous Romans, knowing that it would be classic Fears. I have taken two of his other courses. I gave Books That Have Made History 5 stars, but I was less enamored of Life Lessons from the Great Books. In both reviews, however, I marvelled that, as to story telling, Professor Fears had virtually no equal. And that judgment is certainly borne out in Famous Romans. His accounts of the Scipio family, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, and the rise and reign of Augustus are remarkable and memorable. Now that Professor Fears is no longer with us, students of the Teaching Company would do themselves a huge favor by procuring this course while it is still available. Even in this sort of memorial review, I must recall and recount some shortcomings. The professor sometimes goes down entertaining but less significant paths. And, on occasion, I would want to wrestle with him on certain choices he made to apply "lessons learned" from history to the present day. BUT, notwithstanding any nits, I'm rounding my rating up to 5 stars! I can only imagine what his loss has meant to the University of Oklahoma. Professor Fears was a towering figure who brought life to classical times in an almost unmatched way. He will truly be missed. But these courses are still here, and they pay tribute in just the best way. Students can continue to learn and be inspired by the teaching of this fine and rare professor. God rest his soul.
Date published: 2012-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is incredible This course is incredible. This man found his destiny, to educate people about history in a manner that makes them think about their own life and values. This is a gifted person. I was sitting on the edge of my seat through the entire lecture. I appreciated everything from the war howls to the subtle insights on being a better person. This presentation is brilliant for what it is. For those people who can’t find it within themselves to give this course five stars have missed the point of the course or the limitation of the format. Perhaps they should listen to the lecture on Epictetus once again. Don’t be so easily annoyed.
Date published: 2012-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Intro to Roman History In this companion to his Famous Greeks course, Fears does it again. By using the most famous people of the empire, he goes through centuries of history. He has an egaging style and often gets into his lectures. Students of ancient history get this and his Greeks course.
Date published: 2012-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Story Teller yet Prof Fears is the ONLY lecturer for whom I have sought out other works. He has an extremely engaging style and really brings history alive. I really like that he engages his live studio audience and isn't just talking to a camera and reading off a teleprompter or notes in an empty room. He has a passion for history that is a beautiful thing to see.
Date published: 2012-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Fears: Storyteller Professor Fears wants to tell you a story about some Romans and how they contributed to history as examples of how and what to do... and how and what not to do. History is made by people not by places, dates, and facts, and Professor Fears continues his storytelling tradition with the Famous Romans. I have the same issue with this course as the other courses he teaches... his roller coaster method of presentation with high and low volume parts that just don't work for listening to it very well in a car while commuting. The passion comes across and he draws you into his stories but they can be difficult to hear sometimes. I doubt this is a concern at all for anyone listening to it anywhere but on the road. In this course Professor Fears is a little looser than in his other courses when it comes to sticking with the person who is the subject of any particular lecture. There were several people that only had 15-20 minutes of 'their' devoted to them; the rest was about previous emperors or other famous people or the situation as a whole. It's not a bad thing most of the time but he seems to get off course (though he does eventually arrive back on track) more often in Famous Romans than his other courses. Again, this is not a hard facts, dates, and places course, this is more of a who's who of the Roman Republic and Empire and why he thinks they are relevant (or more precisely why historians of the past thought they might be relevant spoken through is interpretation. This course won't help you with a history degree but it will put stories to names that might help you remember the storyline of the Roman Republic/Empire from Scipio and Hannibal to Caesar, Pompey, and Cato through Augustus, Claudius (and the infamous Nero) ending with Marcus Aurelius if nothing else.
Date published: 2012-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Roman history made interesting Come on people it's Roman history...Fagan's great, but interesting to listen to...not so much. Give me Rufus! Apparently Rufus isn't so popular in Croatia, Portland, and New York...that alone is all the endorsement I need.
Date published: 2012-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from BEST COURSE YOU WILL EVER HEAR Go ahead and buy the set "Famous Romans/Famous Greeks." These lectures are amazing. Prof. Fears presents them as though he is a master storyteller. I have listened to them literally over a dozen times. If you don't like this lecture series, then you should not take any online college class or lecture series. This is as good as it gets.
Date published: 2012-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous, and not so famous Professor Fears does it again. How does he continue to enthrall us with his story telling ability? He makes history so easy to take. I am writing the same review for Famous Greeks and famous Romans as they parallel each other so perfectly. The people selected for each course were names I knew a lot about, names I had heard but knew little of, and some names I had never heard of. Yet Professor Fears shows how each of the people selected were integral to the history of their respective nation. One point I got clearly from his presentation was that circumstance does not make the man; rather the man makes the circumstance.
Date published: 2012-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More great story-telling craft from Prof. Fears I had previously purchased Prof. Fears' excellent course on "Famous Greeks" and liked it so much I purched this one too. Prof. Fears is arguably the best raconteur-style story telling lecturer engaged by the Teaching Company and it again shows through in "Famous Romans". I rate both (Greeks and Romans) courses quite high, with the better of the two being the Greeks. This Roman course ebbs and flows a little with lower lecture energy and impact derived from certain Roman characters than others. So, not being as uniformly impactful as his Greek lectures, this course, nonetheless, is a very good course on understanding the Roman psche and ethic which allowed it to dominate the European and Mediterranean world for nearly 800 years. Prof. Fears is particularly innovative in his choice of "subjects" to illustrate a wide variety of famous Romans. He presents more than the run of the mill Emporers and Republican Consuls but adds zest by incorporating Roman historians, lawyers, politicians, generals, billionaires, poets, the intellectually famous and the infamously dunderheaded. This is a mildly different and pleasantly surprising approach to the telling of persons and events in Roman history.
Date published: 2012-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Continuation from Famous Greeks "In this lecture as well as other lectures by Dr. Fears I appreciate his passion, energy and storytelling abilities. This is not to say that Dr. Fears does not rely on content, because he does! Rather he wraps the context, history with storytelling in such a way that you desire more. This is anything is the only critique I have. The series left me wanting more and preferably from the style of Dr. Fears"
Date published: 2012-04-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some areas really good, other areas average Some of the chapters were excellent. His lectures on Hannibal mad me go out and buy a book on the Hannibal wars with Rome. That is what a good teacher should do. But other lectures were boring, or did not flush out the major Romans. Dr. Fears does not really even talk about Gaius Marius or Sulla, that I believe was the beginning point of the empire. While he spends 2 chapters on Augustus, it was not really enough. When Dr. Fears is on, he is brillant. When is is off, I caught myself falling asleep. It is obvious, that he knows the subject matter, he just needs to present it better
Date published: 2012-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History comes alive If I were to be stranded on a deserted island, Dr. Fears would be one of the professors I'd want with me (along with Dr. Ruiz and Dr. Allitt). He brings history to life, describing people and events in a way that creates very visual images. Soldiers' hands so cold they can't throw their lances. The grief of citizens having to leave their pets when they evacuate. You can feel the pain, happiness, and other feelings of these ancient people. And you will laugh, too. Dr. Fears may be a lecturer, but he is also a skilled storyteller. You will remember what you are taught so much better for it. Highly entertaining and educational lecture series.
Date published: 2012-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good, but not great complement to Famous Greeks (This is a review of the audio version) I'm a fan of Dr. Fears' style, so it's hard not to predict that I would recommend this course. In comparison with Famous Greeks, however, this course is a slight disappointment. The course essentially breaks up into three blocks: the Punic Wars and heyday of the Roman Republic, the Roman civil war and rise of Julius Caesar, and the rise and fall of the Roman empire. I can say nothing but superlatives about the first set of lectures. Dr. Fears is fantastic when covering the Roman campaigns against Hannibal, and the final respective victories of Scipio the elder and younger over Carthage. He does a great job balancing the details of the key battles with the need to paint clear portraits of the central figures. Even in audio, you can picture every scene as if watching on film. The second set of lectures, about the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, was a bit of a letdown. Perhaps it's because the story and important figures are so universally known, I expected more than a synopsis of Plutarch and details most high school students are taught. I would not be surprised if listeners/viewers with a background in Classical Studies or History come away wanting more. The final set of lectures are kind of hit-or-miss. While the lectures on Nero, Plutarch, Tacitus, and Marcus Aurelius are winners, the lives of Trajan and Hadrian aren't covered in great detail, and the extended recap of Apuleius' novel doesn't seem to fit. If you have only a casual interest in Classical History, or are looking for a place to start with TGC's history offerings, it's hard to find fault with the Famous Greeks and Romans sets; Dr. Fears is a storyteller without peer, and his insights into the lessons of history are a delight. If you're looking for more depth, however, especially with regards to Roman history, you may want to check out other sets, in particular the superb courses taught by Dr. Harl
Date published: 2012-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Traditional View of History I agree with those who give Professor Fears high marks for presentation and average scores for content. His is a VERY traditional view of history, but he does say by way of introduction that this course assumes the validity of the "Great Man" view of historical cause and effect. He certainly fails to mention any alternate views. I've not heard such an idealistic and reverent view of Cicero in quite a while, for instance. His presentation, however, is spell-binding. I played this for my 8th grade students and they were enthralled. Fears has a particular gift for describing battles in such a way as to make them comprehensible and vivid to someone with no military background. The verbal tics one reviewer mentioned I recognize, for the most part, as Southern-isms, but some of his pronunciations of names matched nothing I've heard in 6 years as a Classics graduate student, and the whooping gets a little old. And the tacit assumption that we all view the founders of the U.S. as god-like, and that e're all Christians -- and that the experience of Christians in late antiquity is the most important part of it.. well, if you're educated enough to infer Fears' frame of reference and take that into consideration, this is a fun bit of story-telling.
Date published: 2011-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hopelessly Hooked on Professor Fears! [Audio Version] Confession: I can’t get enough of Professor Fears. Of all TTC’s teachers, Fears is by far and away the best story teller. He screams, he squeals, he breathes heavily, he snarls -- and we learn some of the most profound wisdom humanity has to offer. We learn the lessons embedded in the history of Rome, especially under the great Caesars, and we’re entertained and enthralled and have fun. Fears loves lecturing, loves teaching, and it always shows. The ‘Famous Romans’ course ends with Marcus Aurelius and his ‘Meditations.’ Marcus wrote his book for himself and to himself. Can our modern authors make that claim? After finishing ‘Famous Romans,’ I checked to see if I had missed purchasing any Fears courses. I was shocked to find that I somehow had overlooked ‘History of Freedom.’ It’s now in my shopping cart, as I eagerly wait for it to go on sale. There’s always a minority that seems to really dislike Professor Fears. I don’t understand their position, but ‘it’s a free country.’ Some folks don’t like chocolate sundaes with lots of syrup and whipped cream and a cherry on top. Each to his or her own. Personally, I’ll always take Fears!
Date published: 2011-08-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good Storytelling, Bad Preaching, Dubious History In this course, Professor Fears presents his version of history without sparing a moment to even mention that some of the things he says are debatable or mythical. If this is your first introduction to Roman history, you may very well walk away thinking you know things that aren't really factual at all. The reason could be that Fears is simply quite credulous; he does seem that way, but the aim of his course isn't to present history as a scholar should think of it; he uses stories about the past to illustrate what he thinks. He compares modern situations to ancient ones and preaches that we should follow the example of the Romans - but only when their actions seem to appeal to Fears' conservative mindset. He goes on at great length, especially near the end of his course, about virtue and Christian values, devolving into a preacher rather than something resembling a historian. The saving grace of this course is Fears' presentation - it is bombastic and enthralling, bringing the subject alive like no other professor I have witnessed does. Contrast this with Professor Fagan's course - Fagan doesn't have any of Fears' style, and seems boring and dry by comparison. But he does mention at every turn how certain claims are dubious, and how there are debates still raging about certain issues. In comparison, Fears gives a gullible picture of events, with such rhetorical skill that one is enraptured and excited to listen to it all.
Date published: 2011-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Passion Of Teaching Professor Fears is a gift to the teaching profession, a master lecturer able to both captivate and intrigue his audience. His course on Famous Romans is a wonderful combination of historical facts and anecdotes that move the narrative seamlessly across nearly one thousand years of Roman history. He was able to inspire further investigation into the subjects he discusses and that is all one can ask of a great teacher, the ability to spark initiative in his students. Thank you Mr. Fears and thank you Teaching Co. I highly recommend this course to anyone.
Date published: 2011-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Entertaining vignettes, but not great history I'm of two minds about this course. On the one hand, Professor Fears is a gifted storyteller and I enjoyed revisiting with him some of the seminal moments and celebrated characters of Roman history. Several lectures, such as the ones on Epictetus and Apuleius, educated me about new personalities whom I was glad to have encountered. On the other hand, the lectures are characterized by a superficiality of treatment that does not meet the standards of professional history. By this I don't mean that Fears fails to cite chapter and verse from this or that source or bring the listener up to date on all the latest theories and approaches. Clearly the course did not have such pretensions. Rather it was the almost complete lack of critical analysis of sources, events, and persons that seemed, in the end, rather unworthy of a college-level course. The anecdotes and narrative shape of the lectures are lifted, quite wholly, out of the ancient sources. The fruits of 150+ years of archeological, numismatic, philological and literary scholarship hardly registers in the analysis. These are as much bedtime stories from Plutarch as the work of a modern historian. To this I would add a couple of annoying (to me) tics in the presentation. (1) Fears's melodramatic intonation and idiosyncratic pronunciation of certain words (em-pruh for emperor, Calvary for cavalry, etc.) can come across as affected. (2) In addition, Fears combines a rather naive moralizing with a teleological view of Roman history: any sacrifices (read, cruelties) were justified to bring about the glory that was Rome. It is a pity Octavian had to murder so many on his rise to power; as Augustus, though, he really made up for it. History most certainly can teach moral lessons, but I would not draw the same ones Fears does. In the final calculus, I can't recommend this course, or would only recommend it to those who know what they're getting.
Date published: 2011-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Remarkably Personal View of Great Romans Clearly a classical scholar of the first order, Rufus Fears’s presentation style is less a typical academic lecture than a theatrical performance. He is a master storyteller and his anecdotes about Roman emperors, generals and historians constitute an important feature and a major attraction of this course, which presents and analyzes the character and personality of major figures in Roman history. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive “History of Rome”; the Teaching Company’s course by that name taught by Professor Garrett Fagan fills that role admirably. People familiar with the excesses and brutality associated with the practices of the Roman Republic and Empire may conclude that Dr. Fears views Rome through rose-colored glasses, as he tends to stress the positive aspects of Rome’s undeniably impressive accomplishments, especially in the areas of politics, law, ethics and morality. However, even those with a certain familiarity with the historic figures treated in these lectures will learn much that is new regarding the writings, personal lives and inner thoughts of these famous individuals. Most of the first five lectures of this course deal with the lengthy Second Punic War with Carthage (218-201 BC) and treat in a detailed and dramatic fashion the larger-than-life characters of Hannibal and Publius Cornelius Scipio. This pattern is followed by similar stirring portrayals of Caesar and Pompey, renown as the two greatest generals of the late Republic. The second half of the course focuses on the Roman Empire, devoting considerable attention to the emperors Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian, lauding their achievements and documenting their reputations as “great” emperors. Despite his generally positive treatment of Roman leaders, Dr. Fears also candidly covers the disastrous reigns of the cruel and deranged emperors Caligula and Nero in the mid-first century AD. Dr. Fears is a classical historian, but with his flamboyant speaking style that sometimes borders on preaching, he could have achieved equal success as a clergyman. His colorful sermons conveying a clear moral message would surely have filled the pews.
Date published: 2011-03-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Closer to Storytelling than to History! This follow-up course on ‘Famous Greeks’ is highly enjoyable and entertaining. Unfortunately, it does not in my opinion meet the high academic standards that Teach12 has spoiled us to expect. Some of the characters covered, such as Gaius Flaminius and Apuleius, are not particularly famous. Others, such as Hannibal and Vercingetorix, are just not Roman! An extremely talented storyteller, Professor Fears clearly overdoes it in this course. At times, this is at the expense of pertinence, as when he tells anecdotes about his wife or his own travel experiences in Europe. For the sake of liveliness, he also invents somewhat anachronistic dialogues between say Julius Caesar and his wife or Scipio Afrinanus and his father. Sometimes, corners are cut short, as when Vespasian is presented as the immediate successor to Nero whereas three emperors actually governed between their reigns (Galba, Otho and Vitellius). His references to modern events are at best dubious. Can Saddam Hussein seriously be compared with a tribal ruler in Antiquity? Worse, his numerous far-fetched comparisons with American history, though rather amusing at first, quickly become quite annoying. What does Scipio have to do with George Washington, or Hannibal with Robert E. Lee? Who cares if Claudius looked like Lyndon Johnson? Consequently, I intend to look to other courses for a more substantial coverage of the topic.
Date published: 2011-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and Very Old-School If you've read the other reviews, you've probably seen that Prof. Fears tends to be someone about whom people tend to have strong feelings. For me, the key seems to be that a listener needs to go into his classes with eyes wide open. As with most things, f your expectations are properly set, you will be delighted but if you go into his course expecting archaeology and hard data, you will be disappointed. Dr. Fears strikes me as a modern professor teaching Ancient History/Biography in precisely the same way an ancient historian/biographer would do so. To that extent, his class is almost an exercise in "living history." The ancients didn't expect their historians to back them up to a proverbial firehose of incontroverable fact, but to use anecdotes of history to teach moral and social virtues. Sometimes the ancients would add or even change the details to better fit the message they were trying to teach. Is that appropriate for a modern scholar? Depending on the audience, absolutely! This is not a subject for someone who wants to be able to absorb uncritically. Dr. Fears' focus academically is history of freedom and lessons of history, Go into this expecting "whig" history, based on contemporary biographies. Someone taking university level courses needs to be able to approach such a teacher with a critical mind. I will not say I agree with every point Dr. Fears is making...and I'd wager he'd be very disappointed if you didn't wrestle with him intellectually! By all means, I'm very glad Dr. Fears is not my only source of education on this period! ...but I'm also glad he's among my sources. If you are approaching this class looking for cold hard facts with which you can scratch a window, this isn't your best call. If you're approaching it looking for someone who will challenge you to think, he's great!
Date published: 2011-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engrossing and Instructive Famous Romans was the second TC course I ever listened to, so I'm very late writing a review. It remains among my top three or four favorites, and I heartily recommend it. This course deals with four centuries which formed a historical hinge for Rome: the 2nd century B.C. through the 2nd century A.D. -- the height and glory of the Republic with its decline and disintegration, to the rise and glory of the Empire, showing the beginning of its decline and fall. Like probably many others in our time, when I think of ancient Rome I think of the Caesars and Empire. Very little of my schooling dealt with the history of the Roman Republic, which is a fascinating study. That was when the cultural values and foundation of Rome were laid. Fears does a fine job giving a snapshot of the values and behaviors that built Rome. The parallels to U.S. history come easily to mind, as well as the implied warnings of our future decline. Professor Fears's storytelling style has sometimes been criticized by reviewers as superficial and biased. I answer two things: First, that it is impossible to discuss four centuries of history without being open to the charge of superficiality; stories are by far the best way to convey their essence (Fears is a master storyteller). Second, that all historians are biased and editorialize. The more honest ones have their viewpoints and assumptions out on the table and acknowledge the existence of dissenting views. Professor Fears does both. You aren't in great danger of believing him infallible. As an added note, my daughter studied under Fears at the University of Oklahoma and testifies that the TC representation of his local popularity is exactly right. I recommend this series to anyone interested in history, as well as those who want to understand the present world better.
Date published: 2011-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptionally well presented Roman history I found the first lecture in this course to be a bit clunky and thought, "Ah-ha! Finally I'll be giving the gifted Professor Fears a sub-5-star review. Wrong. This course was so completely spellbinding that one morning I actually missed the turn-off for work as I listened. And I often sat in my car outside work to squeeze in just a few more minutes of a lecture. As always, Professor Fears is a natural and gifted story teller, making each of his lectures come alive and seem much shorter than 30 minutes. The course puts the famous Romans discussed into a vivid historical context, as Professor Fears creates images that parade through your mind. Prior to this course, I had just completed Professor Fagan's excellent course on the history of ancient warfare. This course added nicely to the Roman parts of that one, going into less detail but filling in some of the back-stories and providing a broader, richer perspective. The content of this course is mid-to-high level, making it an excellent introductory course to Roman history. And the engaging narrative format used ensures that you'll likely retain the material. I can't imagine anyone not loving this course and I heartily recommend it. Five stars once again, Professor Fears!
Date published: 2011-01-07
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