Famous Romans

Course No. 349
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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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
    Hannibal
    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
    Crassus
    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
    Cicero
    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
    Augustus
    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
    Vergil
    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
    Claudius
    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
    Nero
    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
    Trajan
    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
    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
    Epictetus
    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
    Apuleius
    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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Reviews

Famous Romans is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 116.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging! This is my first listen to one of Dr. Fears' courses, and I'm finding him to be one of the most engaging presenters for the Great Courses, up there with Rich Wolfson (physics) and Robert Greenberg (music). He really brings the content alive.
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I liked it Good presenting manner and lots of interesting information.
Date published: 2017-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great prof I am only 5 lectures into the series but am thoroughly enjoying the series. The prof is great and his lectures are interesting. He obviously has a great knowledge of the subject and makes it very interesting and enjoyable. He imparts a lot of knowledge in a way that makes it fun.
Date published: 2017-02-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Overall perception I am a 73 year old retired professional. Like many in my age group, I am hearing impaired and thought perhaps that the DVD acquired would support subtitles for me not to miss any content. It did not and so I cannot recommend these courses to anyone who does not have 100% hearing.
Date published: 2016-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good review of ancient history I want to start off with a complain about all of the Great Courses: not just this one. The first cut of the first disk always is full of advertising. Usually, you can skip to cut 2 and not miss anything, but not always. Anyway, ( (and I'm sure most other customers) would be grateful if this were removed . Now, on to this course. I bought it because I took another course from Rufus Fears and liked it so much I bought all his other courses. None of them has disappointed me. With this one, I learned a great deal more about some people I learned a bit about many years ago in college history, and I gained a new appreciation of several of them. Professor Fears draws several parallels with contemporary people and events. If you have any interest in ancient Rome, I strongly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Professor of the Great Courses I wish I could have had an Ivy League University education, but I feel like I.m getting one now. Rufus Fears, to me, is a riveting lecturer. A master of the subjects he taught, with the ability to transport you there. Famous Romans is an excellent and a must have course if you are a student of ancient history. I wish that there were more professors that were as riveting hired by the Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and Informative This is a course that I will listen to again and again. Professor Fears is an exceptional lecturer and manages to entertain as well as educate.
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is required information for every person The information is essential, and the professor's delivery is second to none. Buy, enjoy.
Date published: 2016-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Master Storyteller at the Height of His Powers For pure entertainment value, these lectures are among the best I have ever listened to. I've come back to them time and time again (I've just completed my third go-around since I first got this course about five years ago), and they continue to delight. They are not perfect, however. Professor Fears sometimes plays fast and loose with the facts, but (in my view, anyway) in relatively innocuous ways. For instance, in his lecture on Virgil, he mentions that a female member of Augustus' imperial family feinted when listening to a reading of the Aeneid, so overcome was she by the beauty of Virgil's prose. Well, the episode he was referring to appears in Book VI, and although it is true that Augustus's sister Octavia was reported to have feinted, she is reported to have done so because the text being read referred to her recently deceased son Marcellus. It was this fact, and not the beauty of Virgil's prose (beautiful though it is), that caused her to feint. He will also sometimes say things like the Romans put a heavy value on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Well, maybe ... I suppose many cultures value these ideas in the abstract, but, to the famous Romans Professor Fears discussed during the classical age of Rome, the pursuit of virtue and the leaving of a legacy was much more important that happiness. One might also argue that Professor Fears over-emphasizes the role of the individual in shaping history, at the expense of discussing social and economic forces. But, these minor quibbles aside (minor, for me, anyway ... other reviewers seemed more disturbed than I was ... fair enough), this course is absolutely brilliant! In addition to taking us on an epic journey from the time of Publius Cornelius Scipio in 218 B.C. to the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 A.D., he covers the lives, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of many of the most famous figures to walk across this 400-year stage. His stories are always entertaining and educational, and sometimes downright funny. His war screams are hilarious, his discussion of the Golden *Donkey* (this is not the real title, but Teaching Company detected "profanity" in my review when I included the actual title, which starts with an A and ends with a couple of dollar signs) is a riot, and all of his lectures are sprinkled with anecdotes and humor that will at least leave you with a smile, if not a good ol' fashioned belly laugh. Also, following Plutarch, he pulls morals from many of these tales, distinguishing, for example, between a statesman and a politician, discussing the importance of foresight, and showing how someone can wield a tremendous amount of actual power if they are willing to forsake the appearance of power (Augustus). As a bonus, you will also learn a few rather interesting facts (like what Roman names mean and how the modern calendar was created), a sprinkling of philosophy (especially in his later lectures on Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius), and some thoughts about why Rome fell. All in all, this is a great purchase, and one I don't think you will soon regret. Grade: A.
Date published: 2016-03-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Less drama, more actual history Professor Fears is undoubtedly a learned man in his field, but alas his delivery is annoyingly dramatic -- no doubt as a way to appeal to college students in Oklahoma who have little actual sense of history and need to be entertained. My main objection is his dramatized readings of dialogue that certainly has basis in history, but is actually fictionalized well beyond the source material. I value the Great Courses for their sophisticated scholarship in actual history, and Fears's course is more on the lines of one of those History Channel reenactments. Also, he might take into consideration that "cavalry" is not pronounced "Calvary."
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Men of Roman Antiquity You should not take this course if you are looking for a well rounded history of the Roman Empire, nor if you want a selection of Roman personages from the distant past to the fall of the Empire. Rufus Fears is a man who believes in the profound worth and impact of individual human beings on the landscape of time. As such, he belongs to the Great Men school of historical thought. It is Great Men who steer the course of human history, not the unthinking and inhuman amalgamation of human and non-human actors taken as an aggregate. In this regards, Rufus Fears can be considered one of the last people to truly hold this view and defend it in academic circles. Of all the teachers I have learned from in the Teaching Company, none come close to him in that regard. Therefore, such a point is key to understanding whether or not this course is right for you. While it should be completely obvious that a course teaching about the Great Men of Rome would belong to such a theoretical paradigm, a number of people in the review section and in the review sections of other courses by the Late Professor Fears have complained about this fact. I have already taken Famous Greeks, and I prefer this course on a magnitude higher than that one. Scipio the Younger, Cato the Younger, Cicero, Apuleius, Plutarch, and Marcus Aurelius are among m most favorite lectures of any course. Famous Romans pulled me away from my investigation into the Middle Ages and my studies under Philip Daileader in a way that held me captive and spellbound. Professor Fears endeavors to make the lives of truly great men indicative of timeless debates, debates that we have had in the past and are having now. These comments are hit or miss for me, but on a whole they worked surprisingly well. Towards the end of this course, I found myself thinking on the lives of Cato and Cicero, Scipio and the Caesars. That deep, inward introspection whose existence within a student is the mark of a master instructor. My only complaint, and it may seem sizable, is a lack of women, of men like Diocletian and Constantine, of any of the Romans before Hannibal, Agrippa or Vespasian, or the likes of Marius and Sulla. I mentioned before that a wide time period is besides the point with a course like this, but even so I cannot restrain my disappointment that many areas of topic were not mentioned. To someone interested in the history of Rome in a broader sense, I can only refer you to the unparalleled Garret Fagan. His courses on Ancient Rome and Roman Emperors are among the finest I have ever undertaken. Indeed, it is because of Fagan's courses that I was able to appreciate this one so much. Fagan is less firmly entrenched in the Great Man theory, but he gives it its day in the sun, particularly around such men as Diocletian, Augustus, Julius, and others. At the same time, Fagan devotes a great deal of time to the emerging and evolving politics, economics, and societal transitions that Rome was undergoing at this time. If you ever want to learn more about Rome, he truly is your man.
Date published: 2015-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a Scholarly Presentation The Teaching Company produces several courses that cover topics in this course, and are far superior to it. Prof. Fears often combines hype and a distortion or omission of the facts to embellish his story. A good example of this was one of the lectures on Julius Caesar. Caesar was one of the greatest generals in history. Why? He accomplished something that neither Napoleon or Hitler could do ....... cross the English Channel and control part of England. Well, the fact that Napoleon & Hitler faced a unified Great Britain, one of the greatest powers on earth at the time, not a disjointed England might have had something to do with Caesar's success. Hundreds of years later Viking raiders routinely crossed the seas into England to raid and control parts of the country. Does that put Viking leaders on a par with the genius of Caesar, and superior to Napoleon? Prof Fears invents dialogue at times more appropriate for a third grader than a person likely to purchase this course, and it can be insulting. His presentation of Famous Greeks is the same. How do we know that Homer was a real person who developed the Iliad and Odyssey? With arms extended into the air Prof. Fears shouts that it just has to be this way, entertaining for some, but not in the least bit scholarly.
Date published: 2015-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Storyteller Prof Fears makes his stories come alive! A terrific complement to a formal course on Roman history. I look forward to listening to his course on famous Greeks
Date published: 2015-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mesmerizing I had just finished Famous Greeks by the same presenter and found these lectures equally fascinating. Because they are nearer in time to present day the history is based more on documentation and eye witness rather than mythology and poetry which made this course even more relevant. Professor Fears does not hesitate to comment, to draw the analogies to present day, but I found that added to the value of the course. In the lecture on famous teachers he makes a distinction between the Roman or classical view of learning history, which focused on the lives and choices and character of famous men (ie: their stories) and the more rote recitation we have today of dates, facts and time lines. It is obvious which view he prefers and so do I.
Date published: 2015-02-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Didn't hold my attention A common word in other reviews is "storyteller", which is spot on. Professor Fears is a great storyteller, highly engaging and fun to listen to. Unfortunately, his lectures feel content-lite and lacking in rigor, as some other critical reviewers have noted. I skipped ahead to watch a few I was particularly interested in but in the end left ~2/3 of the lectures unwatched.
Date published: 2015-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Zard review of Famous Romans The reason that I really liked this course (admittedly I like all the courses) is that this gives you an up and close look at Roman history by looking at various key and famous Romans and not all of them are generals. Professor Rufus pulls from the writers of that time and does not go on about the validity of what they have written. He just pulls you into ancient Rome with their writings and muses on what the key Romans he has picked might have said or thought. His emphasis is not on the dates or events but on their feelings and thoughts. What you get with this course is the "feel" of ancient Rome. In essence, Professor Rufus is a story teller. A highly educated and well read storyteller. Do not take this course to learn about battles or great events. All of that is in his lectures. Take this course to get into the minds of these ancient Romans who made Rome what it was, one of the Greatest Empires to Exist. And by the way, the best of all his lectures are lectures 21 through 24. Lectures 21 and 22 are philosophical in nature and get you into the heart of Rome at its height during the empire. The 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The 23 lecture on key historians was totally fascinating and lecture 24 was totally surprising. I was exhausted after these four lectures (of course I replayed them all at least once before moving on and I re-watched lectures 21 three times before moving on). I am being purposely vague on these four lectures but if you like philosophy then you will like these lectures. This is definitely a "Must Watch" series if you want to learn about ancient Rome. I have just started my "walk about" of Roman history. I started with the "History of Rome" lectures, now "Famous Romans". Next I will watch "Emperors of Rome". This is turning out to be a great ride.
Date published: 2014-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An engaging and informative story-teller This was the first course I listened to from the Great Courses - and I have purchased 75 since then. While I have since found other more sophisticated courses, it was Rufus Fears story-telling ability that first engaged me. Like everyone else, I had studied Rome, of course, in school, read novels and watched documentaries, but I was surprised by how much I learned from this - and it was very enjoyable listening. I listen to courses while exercising and doing other mundane tasks, so the video versions are more or less irrelevant to me. We all have our own criteria for rating these courses, and yours may not be the same as mine, so here are the criteria I use when rating: 1. Do I look forward to listening to or watching the next episode? 2. Do I feel I learned something interesting or useful from each episode? 3. Would I recommend this to a friend? 4. Do I find the speaker’s lecturing style compelling and interesting? 5. Would I buy another course from this lecturer, without hesitation? I did look forward to each episode, and often extended exercise to move into the next episode. I learned something from all of these - even the topics on which I thought I had a reasonable background. I did recommend this to two other friends. I found Rufus Fears a very engaging story-teller, and I have bought two more of his courses. This course can often be purchased when it is on sale at a very reasonable price.
Date published: 2014-11-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from History? While not a regular Great Courses reviewer, I am a regular Great Courses viewer and - I like to think - something more than a total amatuer at ancient Greek and Roman history. Besides holding a degree in the field, I own over twenty of The Learning Company's courses on the topic and gladly share them with friends while re-watching my favorities. And, I've seen enough of them to understand and accept that not every professor's 'style', mannerisms, emphasis, or biases are going to track perfectly with my own. A perfectly acceptable arrangement as long as they get the facts straight, support them with sources, and use a reasonable amount of graphics to keep things interesting. Having said that - I'm compelled to ask that you place my name firmly in the same camp with Mssr's Smith, mlo1, auerstadt, and Avoirdupois. This was by far the WORST course I've ever purchased from any source. It's more bad theater #farce, perhaps?# than history. So bad, in fact, that I'm returning the course unfinished and requesting a refund. I don't think it's too much to ask that the topics identified in the titles of individual lectures actually be mentioned in the lecture. Or that historical 'facts' be provided a minimum of source substantation. Or that there be more maps, pictures, and graphics that are topic related than there are those referencing nebulous topics from two thousand years in the future. Professor Fears' bombastic, bumbling, scattered presentation leaves a GREATdeal to be desired. It borders on fraudulent to include Famous Romans in a listing of ancient history courses.
Date published: 2014-11-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Famous Romans This is the first of your courses that I wouldn't recommend. It is more a dramatic reading than a serious study and PLEASE!! someone tell the professor that when applied to mounted warriors, the word is CAVALRY not CALVARY! I grind my teeth every time I hear it.
Date published: 2014-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous Romans: Myth, History, & Biography Approach ancient Roman history and legend through the biographies of Famous Romans -- experience the EPIC-POETS / legendary heroes, the RHETORICIANS / oratory speeches, the MORALISTS / ethical questions, the STATESMEN / visionary law-bringers & emperors, the HISTORIANS / objective truth, and the STOIC PHILOSOPHERS / the good life. They are mainly filtered through the historians: Plutarch (Greek & Roman Biographies), Suetonius (The Lives of the Caesars) and Tacitus (The Annals of Imperial Rome). With a human story-telling voice, an interpretive-eye, and the cultured-ear of Professor J. Rufus Fears, experience him as he integrates Rome, the wider Italian city-states, with the intellectual-political movements of the famous people who made that history; while simultaneously drawing intellectual and moral lessons from these individual histories that offer readers insight into character and substantive civic lessons on this period of history concerning the character of famous men and women, the decline of the republic and liberty, and the rise and fall of empire with historical analogies applicable to our present day period. Moving beyond abstractions, let us meet some of the HISTORICAL PERSONALITIES. For example, the epic and spiritual poets – Virgil and Apuleius and the heroes of empire (The Aeneid) and religious movements (Metamorphoses); the military strategists, politicians, statesmen, and orators – the Scipos, Hannibal, Gracci, Caesar, Pompey, Cato, Brutus, Cicero; the emperors, historians, artists and philosophers – Augustus, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian, Livy, Polylibius, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus. There are THREE MAJOR HISTORICAL PERIODS covered when studying these historical portraits beginning with the legendary Trojan War, the rise of Roman domination of the Mediterranean world over Carthage and Greece, and ending with the fall of the Roman Empire. According to the professor, our FOUNDING FATHERS were greatly influenced by many of these historical personalities in their social research, interpretation, and writing of our nation’s founding social philosophy and documents. They drew intellectual and moral lessons from the historical rise, expansion, and fall of earlier DEMOCRACIES (Greece & Rome) through the biographies of the famous men & women who made that history. SOCIOLOGICAL PORTRAITS of WISDOM (virtue and success of republics), HUBRIS (vice and failure of empires), etc., are all made explicit through these biographical-historical research studies. The professor’s knowledge and delivery is both SCHOLARLY AND HUMANISTIC – the striving toward the perfection of beauty, truth, justice, and the good-life shines throughout. The course is EXCELLENT and highly recommended – please see the Famous Greeks, also from the Great Course lectures for my previous and parallel review of the Famous Greeks. As stated there, the biographical approach to history has its greatness and limitation but is a needed and necessary supplement to the institutional (social), cultural (intellectual), and economic (material) approaches to history offered today for an integrated and inter-disciplinary PORTRAIT OF A CIVILIZATION. Again – highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Extremely Ambivalent Professor Fears has a unique perspective on how history should be understood: history is made by great women and men, and therefore, in order to understand history we must learn the stories of these people. So the course is basically composed of a set of biographies. Two things stand out strongly in this course: THE GOOD: Professor Fears walks us through the history of ancient the Roman republic and early emperors in a hugely entertaining and enjoyable fashion – often taking on the roles of key characters in first person, and really adding a lot of color. He is a hugely engaging story teller. Having heard other courses on the subject from the TGC such as "History of Ancient Rome", "Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity", "Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean", and "Emperor of Rome", this course served a special purpose: the other courses were all much more "conventional" in the sense that they didn't focus nearly as much on the individual characters and colorful stories, but rather, gave a wider perspective on macro political, cultural, and economical processes in ancient Roman history – they were all much more "scholarly". This course by Prof. Fears, apart from the fact that it was just really FUN to listen to, really helped to solidify the narrative of the Ancient Roman story and tie everything down chronologically, and this is of course crucial if one wants to understand the macro processes in any depth. THE BAD: as I have stated, the course is really not very "scholarly" in the conventional sense… the professor is often playing roles of characters, there is very little reference of sources or scholarly research – so that the course is basically composed of a set of stories with little systematic historical analysis one is used to in such courses. The professor also embellishes quite a lot – for dramatic effect. For example, in one of Hannibal's great victory's over Rome, Professor Fears tells us how the Romans were standing in the freezing hale waiting for the Carthaginians to engage while Hannibal, through his brilliant tactics, managed to be in such a position that his troops could have their "oatmeal" and "spiced wine" and get an "oiled rub down" before going to battle. In this particular example, the idea is obviously to add comic effect and it is in fact funny - so he can probably be excused for it. At other times it became a bit hard to separate embellishment from historical study. Overall, this is a fun course given by a master storyteller. It can certainly serve the purpose of getting to know the central figures and events in ancient Roman history. I would recommend it as a first course on the subject, and leave the more scholarly and analytical TGC courses on the subject for later as they would be better understood with this course as background..
Date published: 2014-05-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fundamentally a Waste of Time The course was poorly presented -- the lecturer's style was far too mannered for my taste -- and had relatively little content. I nearly stopped listening part-way through. Disappointing.
Date published: 2014-05-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Famous Romans I own a large amount of the Teaching Company's historical courses and this by far is the worst I've purchased. The Professors voice, choice of words and mannerisms are irritating to the point of making listening to this set of discs embarrassing. The information presented is basic and added little in the way of understanding the great players of Rome.
Date published: 2014-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lives of people make history memorable Fears has a story-telling style that some might find florid, but I enjoyed this course very much. I do think story telling is the best way to absorb education, and he is good at it, if sometimes overly dramatic. The first lecture was an imagined conversation between a Roman father and son; I thought it was quite contrived; it made me uncomfortable enough that I almost didn't continue, but the rest of the lectures are a delight. I don't know enough history to judge the depth of content, but I certainly learned a lot. One thing that was fun was Fears' presentations of opposing arguments about military strategy. He made it very real, demonstrating how difficult and problematic complex decision making is, and the role of luck in success or failure. When he articulated one strategy I'd find myself nodding agreement. Then he presented the opposing plan which I then also agreed on. That was funny and a learning experience in itself. Fears sometimes made analogies to modern historical events. They may not have always been apples to apples comparisons, but I think his point is that human nature and the events our natures set in motion haven't changed much over the centuries. That's why we should study history.
Date published: 2014-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Wisdom of the Romans In his lecturing, Professor J. Rufus Fears always had his eye on the big picture of history and the wisdom we can gain from a study of the past. While progressing chronologically through the history of ancient Rome, this lecture series is divided in three sections of biographical profiles that demonstrate important themes from Roman culture. The first part addresses the rise of the Roman Republic with focused discussion of significant generals. The most memorable of the lectures in this section considers the archenemy of Rome: the Carthaginian general Hannibal. Professor Fears analyzes both the military genius and the nobility of character of this larger-than-life figure. The nearly unlimited resources of Roman soldiers meant that Hannibal could not sustain an endless campaign in Italy. Hannibal’s Roman counterpart was the practically-minded Scipio Africanus, who took the war to Carthage, effectively driving Hannibal out of Italy. This was the turning point in the war. As recounted by the lecturer, Hannibal was conditioned from his childhood to dedicate his life to avenging the wrongs suffered by Carthage in the first Punic War. One of the lessons we can learn from a study of these two generals is that a war fought solely for revenge is doomed to failure. The second section addresses the period in Roman history leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar and the fall of the Roman Republic. Two of the key Romans who emerge in these tumultuous years are Cato the Younger and Cicero. The lecturer makes a strong case for the influence of both of these Romans on the founding fathers of the American republic. A man of unbending principle, Cato refused to compromise to the new order represented by Julius Caesar. The values of republican Rome were so dear to Cato that he was willing to give his life for the preservation of the time-honored values implicit in the word respublica (“the people’s thing”). While Cato was the scion of one of Rome’s most famous families, Cicero was a “new man” who relied on his own intellect and charisma, as opposed to pedigree. But Cicero too felt a calling to oppose the rule of the generals, especially Mark Antony. One of the high points of the course is the lecturer’s detailed analysis of Cicero’s "De Officiis" (On Moral Duty)—a treatise written as advice to his son. Cicero wanted to convey to his son that he could conduct himself with the highest moral standards and still get ahead in life. Those words of wisdom should have been heeded by the self-serving generals who brought the Roman Republic to a tragic end. The final section of the series addresses the period of the Roman Empire. Here we meet the Stoic philosophers, including Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. The lecturer offers wonderful insights into the essence of stoicism, which include a three-part model of how as individuals, we are capable of controlling our minds, our thoughts, and our actions. It becomes especially clear that the introspective Marcus Aurelius was better suited as a philosopher than he was as a Roman emperor. Arguably, after his reign, Rome was never the same. This compact series of lectures is successful in combining a broad outline of the history of Rome with the great lives, as recounted by Plutarch. A Greek writer at the court of two Roman emperors (Trajan and Hadrian), Plutarch sought to evoke a moral compass from which we can gain insights from the biographies. In probing the details of the lives of famous Romans, this course explores a commodity that, unfortunately, is all too rare today: wisdom. COURSE GRADE: A
Date published: 2014-01-12
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
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