History of Ancient Rome

Course No. 340
Professor Garrett G. Fagan, Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University
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Course No. 340
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Course Overview

There are many reasons to study ancient Rome. Rome's span was vast. In the regional, restless, and shifting history of continental Europe, the Roman Empire stands as a towering monument to scale and stability. At its height, the Roman Empire, unified in politics and law, stretched from the sands of Syria to the moors of Scotland, and it stood for almost 700 years.

Rome's influence is indelible. Europe and the world owe a huge cultural debt to Rome in so many fields of human endeavor, such as art, architecture, engineering, language, literature, law, and religion. In this course you see how a small village of shepherds and farmers rose to tower over the civilized world of its day and left an indelible mark on history.

Rome's story is riveting. Professor Garrett G. Fagan draws on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, including recent historical and archaeological scholarship, to introduce the fascinating tale of Rome's rise and decline. You learn about all the famous events and personalities:

  • Horatius at the bridge
  • Hannibal crossing the Alps during Rome's life-or-death war with Carthage
  • Caesar assassinated before a statue of his archrival Pompey
  • Doomed lovers Antony and Cleopatra
  • Mad and venal emperors Nero and Caligula
  • The conversion of Constantine, and more.

From pre-Roman Italy through the long centuries of Republican and then Imperial rule, Professor Fagan interweaves narrative and analysis. Chronologically, the focus is on the years from 200 B.C.E. to 200 A.D., when Roman power was at its height.

The narrative of the rise and fall of Rome is itself compelling, and Professor Fagan's richly detailed and often humorous discussions of Roman life are uniquely memorable. You study women and the family, slaves, cities, religious customs, the ubiquitous and beloved institution of public bathing, the deep cultural impact of Hellenism, and such famous Roman amusements as chariot racing and gladiatorial games.

"Images and themes derived from or rooted in ancient Rome continue to exert an influence on the modern mind," says Professor Fagan. "Unlike many ancient states, Rome changed hugely in many spheres over the course of its 1,500-year history, and thus the history of Rome is an engaging, complex, and challenging subject."

From Village to Monarchy to Republic

The first 10 lectures of this course map the development of a group of preliterate hamlets into the Roman Republic. In them, you learn about:

  • The nature of the historical evidence for antiquity
  • The geopolitical and cultural shape of pre-Roman Italy
  • The foundation legends of Rome itself
  • The cycle of stories that surrounds the kings of Rome
  • The shape of early Roman society
  • The fall of the monarchy at Rome and the foundation, in its wake, of the Republic (traditionally dated to 509 B.C.E.).

These lectures examine two major forces that shaped the early Republic: the Struggle of the Orders and Roman military expansion in Italy. The lectures also explain how the Romans ruled their conquered territories in Italy, setting the foundations for the later acquisition and maintenance of the Empire.

Early Expansion and Rapid Collision

Moving outside of Italy, you next explore the expansion of Roman power in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.E.

In two lectures Professor Fagan charts the course of the Romans' first two titanic struggles with their archrival in the west, Carthage.

In these wars, the Romans developed a large-scale navy, sent armies overseas, acquired foreign territories, and displayed what was to become one of their chief characteristics: a dogged determination to prevail, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. This was particularly clear in the Second Punic War, when the gifted Carthaginian general Hannibal roamed freely in Italy, threatening the city of Rome itself.

Greek Influence and Roman Government

In Lectures 16–19, Professor Fagan pauses the narrative to examine the influence of Greek culture on Rome and the nature of the Roman Republican system of government.

This latter system—complex and replete with archaisms and redundancies—has influenced the form of several modern policies, including that of the United States.

Finally, Professor Fagan examines the pressures of empire on Roman society, charting considerable social, economic, and political changes brought about by Rome's overseas expansion. On the rocks of these pressures, the Republic was destined to founder.

The Roman Revolution

Lectures 20–27 follow the course of what modern scholars have termed the "Roman Revolution."

In the century between 133 and 31 B.C.E., the Roman Republic tore itself apart. It is a period of dramatic political and military developments, of ambitious generals challenging the authority of the state, of civil wars and vicious violence, and of some of the first great personalities of European history: Marius, Sulla, Pompey, and Julius Caesar.

The story is intriguing, complicated, and at times horrendous, and it illustrates perfectly the historical principle of contingency. With a few exceptions, each protagonist in the drama of the Revolution acted within the bounds of necessity or precedent, and thereby set new and dangerous precedents for later protagonists to follow.

In this way, the Roman Revolution was not a staged or planned event, but a cumulative snowball of crises that combined to shatter the system of Republican government.

After pausing to examine the social and cultural life of the Late Republic, you return to the last phases of the Revolution and the rise to power of the man who was to become Rome's first emperor, Augustus.

The Roman Empire

Lectures 31–33 examine the long reign of Augustus (31 B.C.E.–14 A.D.) and his new political order, the Principate. The Principate stood for centuries and brought stability and good government in a way that the old Republic could not.

Augustus's solution to the Republic's problems was clever and subtle. It also had a flaw at its core—the issue of succession—and what happened when an emperor died was to prove the single most destabilizing factor in the Principate's existence.

The next three lectures cover the early Imperial period, from the death of Augustus to the instability of the 3rd century. This is the era of such familiar Roman historical figures as Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and Hadrian.

Finally, Professor Fagan shows how the problem of the succession combined with ominous developments among Rome's external enemies in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. to generate a period of great crisis, indeed near-collapse, in the mid-3rd century A.D.

Life in Classical Rome

Leaving the Empire under pressure, Professor Fagan considers life in classical Roman civilization in nine lectures. He explores the broad shape of Roman society, slavery, the Roman family, the role of women in Roman society, urbanism, public leisure and mass entertainment, paganism, and the rise of Christianity.

The End and a New Beginning

To conclude the course, the final three lectures return to the Empire's last centuries. The Empire is restored to order and stability at the end of the 3rd century, but under an increasingly oppressive government.

The institutionalization of Christianity to legitimize Imperial power and a more openly autocratic regime created, in many ways, a Roman Empire closer to medieval Europe than to the Empire of Augustus. As such, the later Empire is treated only in general terms here, since it warrants closer study by itself.

The course ends with one of the great questions in history: Why did the Roman Empire fall? We see how, in the eyes of most modern scholars, the Empire did not fall at all but just changed into something very different, a less urbanized, more rural, early medieval world.

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48 lectures
 |  29 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction
    What makes ancient Rome so important and fascinating? This lecture describes the thematic, chronological, and geographical parameters of our foray into this engaging, complex, and challenging topic. How does the history of ancient times and peoples differ from "typical" historical study? x
  • 2
    The Sources
    How ought we to assess the sorts of evidence available from the ancient world? What are the strengths—and limitations—of such evidence? x
  • 3
    Pre-Roman Italy and the Etruscans
    In pre-Roman times, the Italian peninsula was inhabited mainly by tribal peoples. The two major exceptions were the Greek colonizers in southern Italy and Sicily, and the Etruscans just north of Rome. Etruscan civilization is thought to be mysterious, but really it's not. Find out why. x
  • 4
    The Foundation of Rome
    Two stories of Rome's founding, of Romulus and Remus, and of Aeneas, are discussed. What does the archaeological evidence say? x
  • 5
    The Kings of Rome
    According to tradition, Rome's early rulers from Romulus to Tarquinius Superbus were kings. How were the slender sources concerning the deeds of these kings later used to explain Rome's early formation? Did the Etruscans "dominate" Rome under the last three kings? x
  • 6
    Regal Society
    What was early Roman society like? Moreover, what were the contours of government and politics on the eve of the Republic's foundation? x
  • 7
    The Beginnings of the Republic
    With the expulsion of the kings in 509 B.C., Rome became a republic. What do modern scholars think about the traditional tale of the Republic's founding? x
  • 8
    The Struggle of the Orders
    This sociopolitical conflict dominated Rome's domestic political life from 494 to 287 B.C. What was at stake in this contest? How did its resolution reshape the Roman Republic? x
  • 9
    Roman Expansion in Italy
    The Roman conquest of Italy was a long and arduous business. We chart the outline of this expansion in three phases that were not without reverses for the Romans. We examine the ramifications of expansion for Roman politics and society. x
  • 10
    The Roman Confederation in Italy
    Did the Romans administer their conquests in Italy? The complex, hierarchical system that they devised goes a long way toward explaining the longevity of the Roman Empire. x
  • 11
    The International Scene on the Eve of Roman Expansion
    What was the geopolitical situation as Rome began building its overseas empire in 264 B.C.? How did the land-based Romans emerge from Italy to defeat formidable maritime rivals? x
  • 12
    Carthage and the First Punic War
    Conflict with sea-going Carthage marked the beginning of Rome's rise to world power. We begin our survey of the first phase of that rise by describing the Carthaginian state. We discuss the course of the First Punic War and the ramifications of Rome's victory for both protagonists. x
  • 13
    The Second Punic (or Hannibalic) War
    We examine the causes, course, and consequences of one of European history's most famous conflicts: the Second Punic, or Hannibalic, War of 218 to 202 B.C. What made this a life-and-death struggle for both belligerents? x
  • 14
    Rome in the Eastern Mediterranean
    Despite having to contend against culturally advanced and formidable rivals with superior resources, Rome became the most powerful state in the entire Mediterranean basin in just the half-century following the Second Punic War. x
  • 15
    Explaining the Rise of the Roman Empire
    The works of Polybius are the oldest historical writings about ancient Rome. Follow in his footsteps by analyzing how the Romans built the biggest and best fighting machine in the ancient world, and by pondering why the Roman march of conquest took place at all. x
  • 16
    “The Captured Conqueror”—Rome and Hellenism
    "Captured Greece," said Horace, "has captured her savage conqueror." How did the rapid Hellenization of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. affect the Romans? What were its long-term effects on both Roman and European history? x
  • 17
    Governing the Roman Republic, Part I—Senate and Magistrates
    The Roman Republic has been much studied and imitated. What were the key elements and practices of this famous system of government? How did it reflect the dual nature of the Romans, a people at once highly traditional and yet open to innovation? x
  • 18
    Governing the Roman Republic, Part II—Popular Assemblies and Provincial Administration
    Although nominally democratic, the Roman Republic was in fact an oligarchy controlled by a handful of influential families. What accounts for this? How were the popular assemblies constituted and operated? How did the Republic handle the administration of Rome's vast empire? x
  • 19
    The Pressures of Empire
    What pressures did the rapid expansion and great extent of the Empire place on the Republic? How, for instance, did imperial issues contribute to the looming Roman Revolution? x
  • 20
    The Gracchi Brothers
    The Roman Revolution was unplanned but had a definite starting point: the tribunates of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. The revolution's end left Rome a monarchy once again, but one shrouded in republican vestments. The story of these dramatic and often horrifying events occupies this and the next 12 lectures. x
  • 21
    Marius and Sulla
    Not long after the demise of the Gracchi, C. Marius, an unknown "new man" in the Senate, would rise to power. The animosity between Marius and his rival Sulla would quicken the pace of the revolution. x
  • 22
    "The Royal Rule of Sulla"
    Sulla acquired power by violence and then revived the long-dormant office of dictator. What were the contents and motives of Sulla's dictatorial legislation? What does his career mean in the broader context of the revolution? Why was he doomed to fail? x
  • 23
    Sulla's Reforms Undone
    The years following Sulla's death and the drama of the Republic's collapse saw the emergence of new players: Pompey and Crassus. Using disturbances at home and abroad to advance themselves, these men terminated the remaining threads of the Sullan "Restoration." x
  • 24
    Pompey and Crassus
    As Pompey became a popular hero, a jealous and fearful Crassus began to aid the rise of a little-known noble youth named Julius Caesar. Catiline's desperate coup attempt (63 B.C.) shows how the Republican order was unraveling. x
  • 25
    The First Triumvirate
    This coalition of Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar effectively ended the Republic. Now the three most powerful and ruthless protagonists were playing on the same side, with the Senate and tradition on the other. x
  • 26
    Pompey and Caesar
    After the death of Crassus in 53 B.C., his two imposing colleagues began their fateful rivalry. It would intensify over the next 10 years until full-scale civil war broke out in 49 B.C. x
  • 27
    "The Domination of Caesar"
    How did Caesar gain sole control of the Roman world? How did he reveal the full extent of his genius despite the briefness of his ascendancy? What moved Brutus, Cassius, and their small band of senators to assassinate him? x
  • 28
    Social and Cultural Life in the Late Republic
    Review the age of the poet Catullus, the historian Sallust, and the orator Cicero, the greatest craftsman of the Latin language who ever lived. Look also at the plight of the city's poor during an age of political upheaval. x
  • 29
    Antony and Octavian
    Caesar's murder plunged the Roman world into renewed uncertainty. What were the contours of the struggle between Mark Antony, Caesar's right-hand man, and Octavian, Caesar's 18-year-old grandnephew, adopted son, and designated heir? x
  • 30
    The Second Triumvirate
    Along with Lepidus, Antony and Octavian formed the Second Triumvirate about 20 months after Caesar's assassination. The Triumvirate would dominate Roman politics for the next 10 years, but like its predecessor, it was fraught with tensions. x
  • 31
    Octavian Emerges Supreme
    How did Octavian overcome his initial unpopularity in the west and gain an edge on his rival Antony? How did the power struggle between the two play out, and what did the victorious Octavian do once he became undisputed ruler of the entire Roman world? x
  • 32
    The New Order of Augustus
    Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus, ruled from 31 B.C. to his death in A.D. 14. How did he manage, during this half-century, to forge a basis for governance that gave Rome's crumbling authority a new lease on life? What did he learn from Caesar's mistakes, and what serious problems did his new "Principate" system leave unsolved? x
  • 33
    The Imperial Succession
    Technically, the Principate was not hereditary. How, then, could Augustus forestall the power struggle that his death might occasion? x
  • 34
    The Julio-Claudian Dynasty
    Thanks to the masterful histories of Tacitus and the racy biographies of Suetonius, the Julio-Claudian (A.D. 14–68) is the best documented of all the Roman imperial dynasties. It has given us these intriguing figures: brooding Tiberius, the mad Caligula, the dithering but wily Claudius, and the megalomaniacal Nero. x
  • 35
    The Emperor in the Roman World
    As the Augustan vision continued to cloud over, the Principate became increasingly autocratic. The uncertainties of succession were dealt with effectively only by chance. Then we ask: How much effect did even the most energetic emperors have on the actual running of the empire? x
  • 36
    The Third-Century Crisis
    Despite the accomplishments of the Antonine Dynasty, the succession problem sparked a major civil war in the A.D. 190s. Then the collapse of the Severan Dynasty in A.D. 235 brought yet another internecine broil, this one lasting 50 years. What were the origins and nature of these crises? What did the combination of external enemies and the internal succession problem mean for the Empire? x
  • 37
    The Shape of Roman Society
    What are the major societal and cultural themes of the "central period" of Roman history (roughly 200 B.C. to A.D. 200)? Why were Romans so preoccupied with status? How did the law reinforce these arrangements? x
  • 38
    Roman Slavery
    Viewing the broad sweep of human history, we cannot ignore the disturbing fact that for most societies most of the time, slavery has been the norm rather than the exception. Roman slavery, however, was rather unusual. What made it so? Was it escapable? Where did the Romans get their slaves? What was a slave's life like? What became of ex-slaves? x
  • 39
    The Family
    The basic unit of Roman society was the family. What did the Romans understand by "family"? How did their understanding differ from the one that we commonly hold today? x
  • 40
    Women in Roman Society
    Despite being officially barred from public life, many Roman women gained power, prestige, and influence, albeit largely through their men. The situation among the lower orders, more difficult to discern, closes out the lecture. x
  • 41
    An Empire of Cities
    Despite the overwhelmingly agricultural nature of most people's lives in the Empire, urbanization is what characterized Roman civilization. In this lecture we look at the Empire's cities: their organization, administration, and physical form. x
  • 42
    Public Entertainment, Part I—The Roman Baths and Chariot Racing
    Among ancient peoples the Romans were the first to develop a genuine culture of public leisure and mass entertainment. The provision of "conveniences" (commoda) for the enjoyment of the masses was seen as a cardinal benefit of the imperial and local administrations. Two such commoda were the public baths and the chariot races. What were these like? x
  • 43
    Public Entertainment, Part II—Gladiatorial Games
    Fighting to the death before huge and bloodthirsty crowds, the Roman gladiator still fascinates us today. Who were the gladiators? How were they selected and trained? How should we understand gladiatorial violence in light of Roman urbanity and sophistication? x
  • 44
    Roman Paganism
    Roman paganism focused heavily on ritual. The state gods were powerful, aloof, and capricious rulers of nature and human life. The chief concerns of the worshipper were to placate and supplicate these deities, and to divine their dispositions. x
  • 45
    The Rise of Christianity
    Within three centuries of its founding, Christianity had survived occasional persecution and prevailed as the Empire's official religion. Within five centuries it had stamped out the age-old pagan rites altogether, and today it remains the single, most direct link to the Roman past. x
  • 46
    The Restoration of Order
    Between 270 and 305, a remarkable series of emperors reversed the Empire's decay. How did Diocletian, the greatest of these, redefine the emperorship and push through other reforms? x
  • 47
    Constantine and the Late Empire
    The Emperor Constantine oversaw the founding of Constantinople and began the institutionalization of Christianity as the Empire's official religion. Events under later and less-visionary emperors are also examined. x
  • 48
    Thoughts on the "Fall" of the Roman Empire
    Why was the world so shocked when the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410? How did barbarians come to settle portions of the Western Empire during the next century? Why is the Empire's "fall" traditionally dated to 476? Is "fall" even the right word? x

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Your professor

Garrett G. Fagan

About Your Professor

Garrett G. Fagan, Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Garrett G. Fagan is Professor of Ancient History at The Pennsylvania State University, where he has taught since 1996. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and educated at Trinity College. He earned his Ph.D. from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, and has held teaching positions at McMaster University, York University (Canada), and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davidson College. In all of these...
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Reviews

History of Ancient Rome is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 140.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent+++! Fagan Knows his stuff and presents it clearly and to the point. He does not have an agenda. He just present what we know and what the available sources are and describes the advantages and/or limitations of those sources.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazingly Informative I enjoyed the lectures very much. Garrett Fagan really is the best!
Date published: 2018-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A complete synopsis of the History of Rome! I have enjoyed learning about the History of Ancient Rome. The lecturer is excellent and rounds out some of the highlights and lowlights of the various periods. He makes sure to let the spectator/listener know when some facts are not well-sourced and when they are well-sourced. There some visual displays, but not many. You can listen on the audio and get just as much from the course as with the videos. If you are interested in one particular period of Rome, this is not for you. It gives you a general overview of the history and does not delve into any one period in depth.
Date published: 2018-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Concise, Focused. I have done a fair amount of reading and course work (undergrad and Great Courses) in the area of ancient history and I have never had such a clear presentation of Roman History. The subject is vast but the professor has chosen topics very well. He admittedly leaves a few very interesting events out but he understands how to get across the big questions: The why and how of the emergence and prosperity of the Roman Empire. And he does it in a very interesting way. A great lecturer. But listen well because sometimes he goes fast. Thank God for rewind. Great for people who want to know more about Rome. Novice and intermediate knowledge of Ancient history both ok
Date published: 2018-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expasive survey of ancient Rome. For an almost 20 year old course, this series holds up remarkably well. Lectures are arranged in a consistent way and cover the full history. Naturally some areas are covered less well, such as the emperors, but that is really another course. If mated with the more recent "The Mysterious Etruscans" then a much fuller picture of the era is achieved. The instructor speaks well and clearly and is quite entertaining. However, if you binge watch the 48 lectures (as I did, about 6-12 at a time) his very slight stutter can be a bit annoying. He explains what is known and what is not (because of the lack of materials). He also goes into various alternative explanations of some of the problems and theories, which was quite useful and interesting. It might be interesting to see what an updated version would be. All in all a fine course.
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content The professor has done a very good job with the content. He struggles a little bit with verbal pauses and smoothness in his speech, but his mastery of the subject compensates for that. I am very happy that I made the purchase.
Date published: 2018-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This vast subject can't be covered in 48 lectures This course tried to do too much by covering over 1,200 years of history in 48 30-minute segments. The focus of this course was on the "Roman Revolution", the period from the Gracchi to Augustus, and I thought that part, plus the earlier material on the Republic, was well done, and I must say it filled in some gaps in my knowledge. But the rest of the course, relating to the history of the Empire from Augustus forward, was hurried and barely skimmed the surface. This is not to fault the lecturer, who was trying to pack in as much material in as he could. Rather, the fault lies with the design of the course. 48 lectures from Romulus to Julius Caesar would be about right, with another 48 lectures from Augustus to Romulus Augustus. Still, I must say that all in all, I enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exceeded my Expectations While this topic has always intrigued me, I shied away from this course for a long time primarily because of the negative reviews that consistently stated the professor was not a good presenter, was unorganized, and essentially dull. I did not want to subject myself to that for 48 lectures. I have taken enough courses to know that a professor's presentation style can make or break a course. When I finally came to the conclusion that to not have a history of ancient Rome in my library just didn't seem right, I broke down and bought it. After listening to riveting, thrilling lectures to kick things off, I was left wondering: just what course did those reviewers listen to? Obviously, we did not listen to the same course. The professor had a great presentation style, was easy to understand, did great justice to the recounting of ancient Roman history, and had me listening to one lecture after another like an addict. His witty sense of humor was a bonus (I have always believed Irish have the best sense of humor on this planet). I did go with the audio version so perhaps he was difficult to watch in the video version but none of the negative comments in the reviews applied to the audio version in my mind. Unfortunately, something seemed to change towards the end of the first half. He ceased trying to use any humor and in some respects the lectures resembled an unemotional recounting of facts. I could begin to see why some said he was too dry. I don't know if outside influences were to blame but something caused him to change his style. Regardless, this course exceeded my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic. It is a great chronological recounting of ancient Roman history from aprx. 750 BC to 476 AD with an emphasis on 300 BC to 300 AD. The professor covered all of the major political and military events in a clear, concise, and easy to understand style which made listening very enjoyable and easy to listen to one lecture after another. The discussion of the Roman Revolution (lectures 19-31) was especially riveting. Here are the minuses: • The professor has a tendency to sigh often in his lectures, especially at the beginning of them; While this could be used for good effect based on what one wants to convey, the frequency of the sighing did get somewhat annoying and gave the impression that he was overburdened with covering the next topic or didn’t know where to start which gave a somewhat pessimistic tone to his observations • Almost no discussion of philosophy or theater and the thematic lectures on daily life didn’t have much info on the common family (though I'm sure historical info is light in this regard) • While he did focus a good amount of time on theories behind why the western half of the Roman Empire “fell”, I was hoping for a little more time spent on the actual events behind the very latter stages of the empire (the 5th century AD); For example he barely covered the Goths’ raid on Rome and had nothing to say of the circumstances around the overthrow of the last empire in the West; I know he was focusing on the period of 300 BC to 300 AD but one less thematic lecture for a more detailed look at the last century of the empire would've been preferred • No mention of how the Romans adopted the Greek gods, albeit assigning different names to them (how was this left out of the lecture on Hellenism?) But all in all a Great Course indeed and am glad I finally gave it a chance!
Date published: 2017-09-25
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