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
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    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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History of Ancient Rome is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 150.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great on the Roman Republic, less so the empire Prof. Fagan's course is excellent. There can be no denying that it is a five-star course. However, a couple of points to note: 48 lectures is far to short a series to try to cover even half this topic in depth, and the course gives short shrift to the post-Augustus period. To be fair, it is impossible to cover the full scope of the Roman Empire from start to finish in a course like this. So any items I wish he'd covered more deeply would have come at the expense of issues he did cover. And what Prof. Fagan covers, he covers extremely well. Most of us know the history very well: Caesar and Pompey (and Crassus), Octavian and Mark Antony. Many of us also know the Gracchi brothers, Marselus, and Sulla. He covers all that ground. However, he does an excellent job of laying some of the groundwork (particularly the constitutional groundwork) that at least I didn't know. He clearly loves the "Roman Revolution", the period from the Grachii to Octavian becoming Augustus, and the vast majority of the course is spent either setting up or discussing that period. But that period deserves the attention it gets. It really is both fascinating and important. I do think that this is a bit hagiographic. He loves the Romans, and when we come to the "decline" of the Roman Empire, I did think that Professor Fagan failed to give fair respect to the "barbarians". Much of more recent scholarship centers around the idea that the "barbarians" weren't nearly as barbaric as we think, and that the inheritors of the empire were, perhaps, more "civilized" than the Romans. I get the sense that Prof. Fagan has no time for such "nonsense". But other than his evident love of the Romans relative to everyone else, his course is excellent and worth every moment. devoted to it.
Date published: 2018-10-15
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well-Done Let me first preface my review by saying that I was a history major in college, and I have long had an interest in Ancient Rome. I have read many books and watched many documentaries on the topic over the decades. So, I am not a newcomer to this topic, but I still learned things in this course. The professor is cogent and organized and provides a good timeline. My main complaint is that this is a little too much of a broad survey course for such a nuanced and important part of history. The later part of Roman history especially gets short shrift, though, to his credit, the professor warns the listeners at the beginning of his intent. He justifies this at least somewhat by arguing there is a nebulous line between the end of late Roman period and the beginning of the early Medieval period. While there is an argument to be made for his approach, I wish this one of the Great Course's 60 lesson classes to give enough time to do more justice to the Imperial and late Roman periods. That being said, I will give the professor the benefit of the doubt that he did not have a say as to the length of the course. I really liked the professor's tempo of switching between political and social history. He struck a very nice balance, which is often hard to do with many courses becoming overly dominated by one or the other.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A comprehensive study I've been to Rome - and Italy in general - several times, and each merely serves to corroborate my view that it is a spectacular place with a fascinating history. Everybody tells a similar story in a different way. It is fair to say that Professor Fagan is not the most enthralling lecturer in TTC's stable, but the content of his lectures is most illuminating - especially those lectures dealing with the manner of government in the time of the Republic and the era of the Principate. He does have a sense of humour, and this occasionally surfaces, usually in a dry witty way. I have found that putting the video on the first 'fast forward' speed reduces the impact of his diffident approach and labourious speed of lecturing, and gets me through a 30 minute lecture in 20 minutes.
Date published: 2017-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Started me off on several years of private study This course has been absolutely invaluable. I bought it while I was an undergrad, maybe six years ago. It was my introduction to the Teaching Company (which has since turned into an obsession), and it was also my introduction to a higher understanding the Ancient World. My interest snowballed, and I have since purchased several more courses surrounding the time period, not to mentioned many books. Understanding Roman history is just so essential to understanding much of Western History and Political Science. Rome and its characters have been used by so many Western (and non-Western) figures in their own debates and constructions of government. I can honestly say that as my education and life has continued, the understanding of the subject that began with this course has enabled me to see and understand things well outside the realm of ancient history that I wouldn't have otherwise. Professor Fagan is an excellent lecturer. The courses are entertaining, informative, and generally narrative (though he does include several non-narrative thematic lectures). On points of controversy, he presents several prevailing scholarly views before weighing in on his own opinion. I honestly wish he would give the Teaching Company another course - if you're looking for one after this, "Emperors of Rome" is excellent. Five stars all around. Still my favorite Teaching Company course.
Date published: 2017-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid History of Classical Rome A great introduction to the history of Ancient Rome. The professor has a nice grasp on the dynamics of individual personalities that populated the history of the era and the development of the what was to become the Master Puppeteer and Juggernaut of Western history all the way through the Renaissance (Napoleon Bonaparte probably decapitated Rome more than any other near-modern Western politician.) Heck, I remember in the 1970s in the USA, if you wanted to study medicine, you were supposed to take Latin in junior high and high school! To the uninitiated to the "Grandeur That Was Rome" -- the "Glory" being ascribed to Greece, this is as good an introduction as is anywhere available. To the seasoned historian of Classical Rome this is some of the same porridge served up, but with some nice concessions to a more modern approach to the subject. Nobody in the 1970s referenced the "Roman Revolution." Now a buzz word for an historical fact.
Date published: 2016-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal! This is a superb course filled with amazing facts and insights. It is a must for anyone teaching ancient history.
Date published: 2016-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not perfect but very good This course provides a tremendous amount of fascinating information about an important subject. Although the Roman Republic is covered more thoroughly than the period of the Empire, this latter topic is the subject of another course by the same lecturer. Dr. Fagen is not the best lecturer that I have heard, but he is not bad and effectively conveys his material; I also enjoyed his Irish accent. Some of his stories are wonderful, such as his vivid depictions of figures like Crassus and the Gracchi brothers, who are certainly relevant for thinking about U.S. politics (whatever one's political views) in the age of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. I wavered between giving the course a four and a five, but the last two lectures convinced me that it deserved the higher score. I had never understood how Christianity became dominant within the Roman Empire, or why the Empire "fell." With great concision, clarity, and balance, Dr. Fagen convincingly addresses these enormously important topics in his final lectures, providing an extremely satisfying conclusion to a very good series of lectures.
Date published: 2016-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! This was an excellent course! It spans so much and with only an introductory knowledge of Ancient Rome, I was enthralled! The Professor lectures were organized, well delivered and often humorous. One of my favorite courses!
Date published: 2016-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superlative As a university professor, I cannot stress the depth and breadth of this course. I own virtually all of the "History" course from TGC, and this is one of the best. I have actually contacted the professor with several questions, and he promptly replied to my emails. I'm a professor of Philosophy, so we do not travel in the same circles. Here are some key reasons for why I believe this course is excellent: (1) The information is 100% accurate and delves into the subject matter as much as is possible for an "introductory" course. (2) The professor explains, at every stage, the source material (--archaeological, ruins, inscriptions, written records, or LACK of records, etc.--). This is extremely important. (3) He pitches his lecture in such a way that they are marvelously enjoyable for both advanced academics, as well as non-academics. (4) The strikes the "perfect" balance of "narrative" history (--which I love--) and "fashionable" social history (--as is the current trend--). (5) Some folks might find the professor's verbal delivery "annoying," but it is not. He is a fantastic speaker with a superior command of the subject matter. (6) This course was so good that it prompted me to get the "follow up" course from TGC , "Emperors of Rome." This second course has a strange oddity in that the professor begins the first few lectures by speaking very quickly, formulaic, and seems to be "reading" a teleprompter. Luckily he forgoes this type of delivery after a few lectures and reverts back to his natural stance. (7) Lastly, the professor advances his own theses, at times, and presents fantastic arguments for his position. 5/5, Highly Recommend
Date published: 2016-09-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Inarticulate professor ruins essential history Let me summarize my review succinctly first: the most successful lectures depends on the most effective lecturers and speakers. Professor Fagan is neither an effective lecturer nor an effective speaker. The ability to convey information in an effective and is absolutely essential I have spent countless hours listening to dozens of Great Course's lecturers covering just as many subjects. The most successful or engaging topics are almost always associated with the most effective speakers or lecturers. Indeed, a great speaker can transform a seemingly tedious topic into a course I return to time and again. Professor Fagan proves that a poor speaker can transform a fascinating subject into a course that I could barely finish. Having looked at other reviews, I can see that there are a great many Fagan defenders among the Great Coursers, so I will start with charity: as you would expect, there are some very interesting facts and history in the course. But the fact remains that Prof. Fagan is barely articulate. His lectures stumble over "ehhs" and "emms" once every minute to two minutes, creating tremendous distractions from the content he is conveying. It sounds as if every lecture is an extemporaneous speech from a graduate student preparing for comprehensive examinations before moving onto a more interesting topic.
Date published: 2016-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Course This is the best course I've ever done. It starts slowly as he spends too much time going over his source material. But once it gets going, it is outstanding. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review and Education I relearned a lot of stuff I first learned in a college history course, plus much I did not know before. It is somewhat discouraging, therefore, that the professor talks about "how much we don't know" about the subject. His use of the language is wonderful, talking about people on political campaigns "killing babies" and the "smelly hordes from the North," and as he discusses the decline and destruction of the Roman Empire, he describes the growth of "statelets." He covers both events and topics, such as slavery, cities, and the position of women and makes the interesting comment that the Circus Maximus was the largest athletic field ever built. As an editor, I was surprised to discover that the term means someone who organizes gladiatorial games; I never did anything like that in my whole career! If you feel, as I did, that I had forgotten much about Rome that I should know, this is the place to start. He also recommends some great books on the subject.
Date published: 2016-05-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from OK but you can do better The lecturer seems nervous, disengaged, and strangely inarticulate. In his teaching he seems to have a Jack Webb, approach: 'just the facts, ma'am." You end up with little sense of the Roman world. - In contrast, Mary Beard's book SPQR gives a rich, thematic, detailed view of Roman history. If I wanted to learn about Roman history I I would get that book and leave this series alone. Or if you want a lecture series, Stephan Tuck's course s on Pompei and the Roman visual world gives a much better sense of what Roman life and culture was about.- I gave up on this course and did not finish it. I am at a point in my life where I realize that life is short and death is long. - If you do want to use this course to get an overview of Roman history, get the audio version. There is little visual material and I found this man difficult to watch.
Date published: 2016-05-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Strained, Tedious Presentation for a Great Topic FYI, I purchased the DVD version of this course. I have always been interested in Ancient Rome - their organization as conquerors yet ability to assimilate the numerous cultures they conquered....so I was excited to see a whole lecture series on this topic. However, I agree with PrinceKuyper and other reviewers re: the presentation, which was disappointing. Prof Fagan gives a strained, non-fluid presentation, constantly looking to his notes rather than the audience. He also spends a lot of time decrying the veracity of the sources...It's ancient history so the audience knows sources are suboptimal...If he had spent less time making excuses or deriding his sources, he would have had the time to explore the arts & culture of Ancient Rome (an area he specifically states at the onset that he couldn't cover due to lack of time.) Overall, Prof Fagan appears uneasy, as though this was his first lecture...Although Prof Fagan tries to interject humor, it falls flat and as out of kilter as the rest of the lectures....Sorry, Professor. I am sure he knows his material. It just doesn't come off that way. After watching 5 lectures, I switched to Prof Bob Brier's course on Ancient Egypt. What a contrast! His expertise in the subject is evident by the ease with which he presents his subject...One almost feels Prof Brier telling us a fireside story, leaving his captive audience wanting more... For such a popular and crucial course, TGC needs to find a more engaging professor to teach it, or do a better job of directing his presentation.
Date published: 2016-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course, Excellent Scholar Okay, I'll admit I'm a bit of a piker: I bought this course in May, 2015 and have watched it from beginning to end at least 4 times since. So why wait so long to write a review? I honestly don't know. Perhaps I was afraid I would simply parrot the content as a means of demonstrating how valuable this course has been to me. Possibly, I am afraid I'll miss some critical point and mislead or miscue the reader. So, let me keep this simple: Prof Fagan demonstrates sound, fact-based approaches to an honest study of Ancient Rome. Not a simple task, as we are limited to looking through a very small keyhole into that civilization and must imply certain things from extant evidence. Dr. Fagan does not shy away from admitting that. Nor does that stop him from presenting a cogently argued survey of a huge topic. I find no faults with either his approach or presentation style. His wit is clearly evident and self-depricating when appropriate. This alone, makes learning about an otherwise conventional and dry subject much brighter and, therefore, engaging. I have so enjoyed learning from Dr. Fagan that I am willing to set aside ancient college football rivalries to not just recommend this course but to purchase two other courses taught by him -- "Emperors of Rome" and "Great Battles of the Ancient World." Thank you to Professor Fagan, for sharing your insights with the rest of us.
Date published: 2016-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice job on a great subject! I really liked Professor Fagan's presentation on Ancient Rome. I knew bits and pieces of the history, but his survey did an excellent job of "connecting the dots". I found that Professor Fagan taught the course by telling a story, weaving into the tale of Rome various features of history, politics, law, culture, religion, etc., each at their proper time in the course. I found that he went into sufficient detail where the detail was helpful or interesting and avoided details where they would have not added value. I highly recommend the course to any one interested in Roman history. For me, it will be a great basis for further study. In reviewing some of the other reviews, most of them are positive and a few of them did not like his style. While Professor Fagan is very "matter of fact" and does not inject much humor into his lectures, I found his style very easy to listen to because of the great story he tells and how well he tells it. I listened to these lectures in the car rather than viewing the video and I think that helps. I seem to have a problem viewing any of the Teaching Company lectures at home because at home there always seems to be something more important to do. Either way, I highly recommend Professor Fagan's lectures to anyone interested in Roman History.
Date published: 2015-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course with one minor reservation As a history novice, I have always been interested in studying the history of the Roman Empire and this course filled in many gaps. The professor was engaging, didn't just give facts but interlaced them with stories of real people and events that would not be otherwise known in a facts-only oriented presentation. He clearly had a great grasp of the topic and I would be interested in pursuing more of his courses. My only disappointment came in his class on the rise of Christianity when he summarily dismissed the whole New Testament as having any HISTORICAL value simply because it was written by those who had been followers of Jesus since presumably they had an agenda. What a logical fallacy. If this were true, then you shouldn't be able to trust any of the writings of critics of early Christianity since they also had an agenda. The survivors of the Holocaust certainly had an agenda when they wrote about its horrors. Does that necessarily mean that we cannot trust them? In fact, their experiences may have caused them to be all the more accurate and meticulous so as not to risk the dismissal of the message they cared so passionately about. I'm sorry to beat this so much, but I was just floored after loving over 40 lectures that the professor would make such a biased and amateurish comment and it makes me call into question some of his previous conclusions. As others have pointed out, the pre-empire phase and the first half of the Empire received detailed analysis while the last third or so was sparse by comparison, but the lectures at the end of the course on Roman life were clearly a nice touch so the course wasn't just a chronological series of events. Overall, I did love the overall course and would certainly recommend it as a great survey of a very long period of history.
Date published: 2015-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Scholarship Garrett Fagan is an excellent instructor. He explains that there are limited sources, and that its often a challenge to determine basic facts necessary for the study of ancient Rome. These sources include ancient books, coins, writing on buildings or monuments, and archeological findings. As he proceeds through each era, Fagan is careful to cite which sources are available for that era and which ones are most reliable. Fagan often discusses various competing theories, and he does not try to force his thinking on the audience. He summarizes the arguments of the most cogent theories. The course covers the founding of Rome to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The main focus is on the first three centuries B.C. and the first two centuries A.D. Most of the course is a political and military narrative, but the last quarter focuses on various aspects of everyday life. Fagan does not cover many aspects of Roman culture although he indicates that its a rewarding subject. This course provides what one should expect from a good history course.
Date published: 2015-05-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Great Subject Ruined This is the second course I've listened to. After loving my first course, I couldn't wait to learn about one of my favorite subjects. I was soon to be greatly disappointed. Professor Fagan is an awful lecturer. I got the cd version and it was awful listening to. I'm glad I didn't have to watch it too. Please redo this course with a different professor!
Date published: 2015-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The History of Ancient Rome This series is an excellent cursory look at ancient Roman history, and the professor is an engaging speaker. My only regret is that the course did not contain a more detailed analysis of the fall of the Roman Empire, but this would have probably necessitated a much longer series.
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The First, and Far From Last The History of Ancient Rome was the first course I ever listened to from the teaching company. I got it from my local library and it opened a door to a new world of learning and history. Professor Fagan is excellent in this course, and his accent adds greater charm to the course. The greatest praise I can give this course is that it does not feel like you are listening to a course, but rather that you are witnessing the retelling of an unwritten epic. You will be sad when it ends, hungry for more material, more information, and the ending of the great story and history of Rome. The three courses I recommend will help you along that path. The Emperor's of Rome series is also by Professor Fagan and greatly expands on the Emperors who ruled Rome. Rome and the Barbarians places the Roman World in context, with the barbarian peoples whom Rome conquered, encountered, and would eventually threaten its very foundation. The Late Antiquity Crisis and Transformation brings these encounters to a head, retelling the metamorphosis of the Roman World to a European World with the separation from the Roman polity (becoming the Byzantine Empire) and the formation of several European kingdoms. If you are like me, you will not stop there. You will look backwards to Greece, sideways to the Americas and China, forward to the great tales of the Middle Ages, the history of England, the growth of a truly global system, the Atlantic Revolutions, the industrial revolution, Napoleon's Rise and Fall, the European Peace, World Wars I and Two, the Cold War, the Fall and Rise of China, and the creation of the modern world. This is a journey I am still in the process of undertaking, but I can say with certainty that it is a path that I first set out on with this course. The History of Ancient Rome, that course that you are currently reading reviews for, comes with my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2014-11-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hard to watch. Boring. This is a course you either hate or love. Dr. Fagan is unable to establish rapport with his audience. He is disorganized and illogical in his presentation. He displays such high anxiety with hand-wringing and faltering speech that listening is tedious, no matter what the content. He is highly distracting. This presentation is hard to watch. The presenter is boring and a sure miss. At least with a book on Ancient Rome, you can sit and eat popcorn and enjoy the experience.
Date published: 2014-11-06
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