The Rise of Rome

Course No. 3350
Professor Gregory S. Aldrete, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
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Course No. 3350
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What Will You Learn?

  • Trace the development of the Roman Republic from its early myths and legends.
  • Examine the many well-known and dramatic events of Roman history.
  • Consider the ordinary aspects of Roman daily life.
  • Encounter an array of fascinating figures, from Caesar and Cleopatra to ordinary citizens and farmers.

Course Overview

The Roman Republic was one of the most breathtaking civilizations in world history. Over the course of about 500 years, a modest city-state developed an innovative system of government and expanded into far-flung territories across Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. This powerful civilization inspired America’s founding fathers, gifted us a blueprint for amazing engineering innovations, left a vital trove of myths, and has inspired the human imagination for 2,000 years.

How did Rome become so powerful? This mystery has vexed historians from the ancient Greek writer Polybius to 21st century scholars. Today, removed as we are from the Roman Republic, historians also wonder what it was like to be a Roman citizen in that amazing era. Beyond the familiar names of Romulus, Caesar, Octavian, Brutus, and Mark Antony, what was life like for the ordinary people? And what did the Italians, the Greeks, the Gauls, and other conquered peoples think of this world power?

The Great Courses is pleased to shed new light on this history. The Rise of Rome explores what made this state so powerful—and offers insight into why the republic cast such a long shadow over Western civilization. Taught by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete of the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, these 24 exciting lectures tell the captivating story of Rome’s astonishing rise, from the monarchy of the eighth century B.C.E. to the collapse of the republic and ending just before its rebirth into an empire. You’ll witness the historical turning points, meet the amazing players, and get a feel for what it was like for everyday Romans, all in an effort to understand the story of Rome as it grew from a myth into an empire, examining in detail the less familiar history of the republic prior to its world-altering imperial transformation.

Here, you will trace the early history of Rome from its modest beginnings, through its violent development, to the pinnacle of its stunning triumph over the Mediterranean, and finally to the moment the republic dramatically collapsed under the strain of its own accomplishments, only to rise again in the new form of empire. You will examine the many well-known dramatic events of early Roman history, from the skirmishes with the neighboring Etruscans to the assassination of Julius Caesar. You will also consider the ordinary aspects of Roman daily life—what they ate, what games they played, the religious rituals they observed, and more, all in an effort to understand the texture of daily life.

Along the way, you will encounter an array of intriguing figures from both history and legend, from Romulus and Remus to Lucretia to Scipio to Pompey the Great, as well as the lives of often overlooked everymen and everywomen—the slaves, soldiers, farmers, women, and children of Rome and its territories. Tapping into our latest historical understanding and leveraging new technology, The Rise of Rome takes you inside the breathtaking story of the Roman Republic.

Witness the Drama of Roman History

Rome is arguably the most influential city in Western history, and its influence is still present nearly everywhere one looks today—in our language, our laws, and even how we tell time. But one reason the Roman Republic has captured our imaginations for the past 2,000 years is that its story is filled with high drama: scandals and betrayals, love affairs and murders, battles and glory.

Professor Aldrete traces this thrilling story across the centuries, starting with the mythic beginnings of the city-state:

  • See how Virgil’s Aeneid connects the rise of Rome with the legacy of Greek culture.
  • Delve into the competition between the brothers Romulus and Remus for control of Rome.
  • Consider how stories like the rape of the Sabine women and the tale of Lucretia offer insight into Roman values and culture.
  • Explore the culture of the Etruscans to examine Rome’s relationship with its neighbors.

After witnessing Rome’s expansion over Italy, you will trace the wars that won the Romans far-flung territory—the Punic Wars, the conquest of Greece, invasions into Northern Africa, and expansion into Europe. Professor Aldrete does an excellent job of taking you into battles to show you the strategy and outcomes. For instance, after a devastating loss in the pivotal Battle of Cannae, you’ll discover how the Romans’ ability to rebuild and refocus their military power, even after defeat, made them such a formidable and resilient force.

Despite all this success, you’ll also see how competition among politicians, generals, and warlords back in Rome sowed the seeds for the Republic’s collapse. The course rounds out with a stunning series of lectures on the rise of Julius Caesar, his assassination, and the competition between Octavian and Mark Antony for control of the republic. Find out how the dramatic stories many of us are familiar with—like the love affair of Mark Antony and Cleopatra—were part of a larger unfolding of events that led to the fall of the republic and the beginnings of imperial Rome.

Go inside This Fascinating Civilization

Interspersed with the operatic narrative of Roman history are fascinating explorations of the texture of daily life within the republic, giving you a sense of what life was like for men and women whose lives played out against the backdrop of the events that fill history books. For instance, you will:

  • Discover the different strata within Roman society—citizens and noncitizens, patricians and plebeians, soldiers and farmers, and more.
  • Examine the institution of slavery to see who the Roman slaves were, where they came from, and what daily life was like for them.
  • Explore what ordinary people ate, where they lived, and what types of employment they had.
  • Survey some of the many social challenges society faced, including veterans who returned from wars penniless, having lost their farms.
  • Find out what we know about Roman women and their domestic lives.

One common theme running through these lectures is that the Romans continually faced massive social and political challenges. For instance, the Romans professed to admire farmers as being natural, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth citizens, but throughout the years of the republic, farmers constantly struggled to make ends meet, often losing their land if they were called into battle. The social upheaval from political challenges eventually caught up to the leaders of the republic, and the concerns of daily life drove historic political changes.

Unpack the Rise—and Fall—of the Republic

One of the most fascinating questions in this course centers on the nature of Roman expansion. Was it deliberate or accidental? Was the Roman administration a well-run machine designed to expand into an empire, or did the Romans expand their territory through accidental circumstances?

As you’ll discover, a case can be made for either argument. By the end of the republic, it’s clear that whether it was accidental or not, Rome eventually became a victim of its own success. Professor Aldrete characterizes the factionalism and competition within the government—introducing you to the likes of Marius, Sulla, and Cicero—and he shows how these divisions culminated with the assassination of Julius Caesar, the competition to fill the power vacuum, and the dissolution of the republic.

From city-state to grand republic to tragic end, this course takes you on a thrilling journey through the rise of the republic and the dramatic changes that transformed a republican government into an empire of unprecedented power. Despite what you think you know about the Roman Republic, The Rise of Rome is sure to offer a bounty of new insights and can build a foundation for the next stage of Roman history: The Roman Empire and its eventual collapse.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The City on the Tiber
    Begin with a simple question: “How did Rome become so powerful?” This core theme will run through much of this course. Here, Professor Aldrete considers the role of the city’s geography and the republic’s unique political structure, both of which allowed Rome to flourish. x
  • 2
    The Monarchy and the Etruscans
    The rise of Rome begins with a monarchy, though much of the city's early years are shrouded in mystery. Unpack some of the key myths, including the epic of Aeneas and the story of Romulus and Remus, to gain insight into the city's founding. Then reflect on neighboring civilizations such as the Etruscans. x
  • 3
    Roman Values and Heroes
    Tales and literature from early Rome give us only partial insight into factual history, but they give us great insight into Roman values—what the Romans themselves identified as qualities of ideal citizens. Examine how a few Roman heroes, like Mucius, Horatius, Lucretia, and others embody values of courage, resourcefulness, determination, and more. x
  • 4
    The Early Republic and Rural Life
    Witness the transition from the monarchy to the republic—a new era of government that would carry the city through half a millennium. Wade through the mythology and propaganda, as well as Roman historical sources such as the author Livy, to reconstruct how the transition happened, and what the new republic looked like. x
  • 5
    The Constitution of the Roman Republic
    One of the most lasting facets of the Roman Republic is its constitution, which inspired America’s founding fathers, among others. Continue your exploration of the early republic with a look at its system of government and its different classes of people—citizens and noncitizens, patricians and plebeians, senators, soldiers, and more. x
  • 6
    The Unification of the Italian Peninsula
    What distinguished Rome from neighboring city-states was the republic’s dogged persistence in matters of war. Watch as the Romans conquered neighboring territories to gain control of the entire Italian peninsula—and witness defeats against the Gauls to the north and the Greeks to the east. See how the Romans treated those it conquered. x
  • 7
    Roman Religion: Sacrifice, Augury, and Magic
    Most of us are familiar with some of the gods in the Roman pantheon, which included the likes of Jupiter and Mars, but one of the most fascinating aspects of Roman religion was the way it integrated elements from other cultures. Survey Roman religion as well as its institutions and personages such as the Pontifex Maximus and the vestal virgins. x
  • 8
    The First Punic War: A War at Sea
    The First Punic War is the longest continuous war in Greek and Roman history. Here, delve into the third century B.C.E., when Carthage commanded sea travel throughout the Mediterranean and the Roman Republic was looking to advance beyond the Italian Peninsula. Trace the first war against Carthage. x
  • 9
    The Second Punic War: Rome versus Hannibal
    Although the First Punic War was a major victory, the Second Punic War was, in Professor Aldrete’s words, “the crucible in which the Roman Empire was forged.” Encounter the brilliance of Hannibal, learn the strategy and impact of the infamous Battle of Cannae, and see how Roman leaders combatted and eventually defeated him. x
  • 10
    Rome Conquers Greece
    Although the Romans had seen great military and political victory, they were still provincial in many ways until they conquered the Greeks. At that point, Greek civilization entered and began to influence the Romans in unexpected ways. But, as you'll learn in this lecture, the Roman expansion beyond Italy may have been something of an accident. x
  • 11
    The Consequences of Roman Imperialism
    Roman imperialism gave the republic great and far-flung territory, but it left many of its people wanting. Soldiers entered the military expecting riches and glory, only to come home penniless. Meanwhile, conquered people were far from happy. Review how the Romans administered their growing territory—and its effect on those in the home city. x
  • 12
    Roman Slavery: Cruelty and Opportunity
    Rome is one of only a few civilizations throughout history to be a true slave state. Here, learn where Roman slaves came from and find out about the nature of their servitude—including what daily life was like for many slaves. Then look at ways slaves could buy or earn freedom, and what life was like for freed slaves. x
  • 13
    Roman Women and Marriage
    Because Rome was such a patriarchal society, we have few historical records from women's points of view. Nevertheless, historians have been able to deduce much about what life was like for Roman women. Life varied greatly between rich and poor, but women throughout the society were expected to marry and live sheltered lives. x
  • 14
    Roman Children, Education, and Timekeeping
    Continue your study of ordinary Romans—this time with a look at the life of children, which could be quite brutal by today’s standards. Learn about their toys and games, and then turn to the system of education. Finally, take a look at the Roman system of timekeeping, which organized the days, months, and years. x
  • 15
    Food, Housing, and Employment in Rome
    Food, shelter, and a livelihood are three of the most basic needs for people everywhere. In this lecture, Professor Aldrete surveys what Romans ate, where they lived, what their homes were like, and what they did for a living. While the upper classes did not work, farming and skilled trades were important jobs throughout the republic. x
  • 16
    The Gracchi Attempt Reform
    By 133 B.C.E., Roman society was beginning to unravel. Veterans who had lost their fortunes in war, farmers who had lost their land, and neighboring citizens who had been conquered were all disgruntled. Meanwhile, factionalism was starting to emerge within the Roman government. See how these tensions began to wear away at the republic and how an attempted reform came not from the disenfranchised, but from one of the most privileged Roman families. x
  • 17
    Gaius Marius the Novus Homo
    The late Roman republic was characterized by feuding aristocrats vying for power within the government. Meet Gaius Marius, an Italian warlord who went against the conventional mores and was elected 7 times as a consul. Follow his military exploits in Northern Africa and his rise to power within the republic. x
  • 18
    Sulla the Dictator and the Social War
    Cracks continued to appear in Roman civilization, as the Social War broke out over citizenship and leaders continued to vie for power. Among these leaders was Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who used his military laurels to march into Rome and set himself up as a temporary dictator. x
  • 19
    The Era of Pompey the Great
    Continue your survey of late republic military leaders. In this lecture, you'll find out about the life of Pompey the Great, who achieved fame and glory as a young man with ambitions as large as Alexander the Great's. Trace the events of the first century B.C.E., including the slave revolt of Spartacus. x
  • 20
    The Rise of Julius Caesar
    The beginning of the end of the Roman Republic starts with the rise of Julius Caesar. After setting the stage with Caesar's early career, Professor Aldrete explores the dramatic events that led to Caesar's election to the senate as well as his legislative and military victories. Tensions within Roman leadership were high. x
  • 21
    Civil War and the Assassination of Caesar
    The late republic tensions reached a conflagration the moment Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and led his army toward Rome. Follow the end of his astonishing career, from his exploits in Spain to his war with Egypt to his eventual assassination. Meet Mark Antony and the other conspirators. x
  • 22
    Cicero and the Art of Roman Oratory
    Before witnessing the denouement of the Roman Republic, pause for a moment to reflect on Roman oratory—an art best practiced by the senator and writer Cicero. Cicero’s insights into rhetorical strategy and human nature continue to influence us today—and in his day allowed him to play the role of peacekeeper after Caesar’s murder. x
  • 23
    Octavian, Antony, and Cleopatra
    Following Caesar's assassination, there was a power vacuum in Rome. Caesar's heir Octavian eventually took power, while Caesar's general Mark Antony fled to his lover, Cleopatra. Trace the events from Octavian's rise to Rome's war with Egypt and the suicides of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. x
  • 24
    Why the Roman Republic Collapsed
    The course opened with a simple question: “How did Rome become so powerful?” It closes with an equally simple—if equally unanswerable—question: “Why did the Roman Republic collapse?” In this final lecture, Professor Aldrete offers several leading theories, including the possibility that the republic was a victim of its own success. x

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Your professor

Gregory S. Aldrete

About Your Professor

Gregory S. Aldrete, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete is Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where he has taught since 1995. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his master's degree and Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Michigan. Honored many times over for his research and his teaching, Professor Aldrete was named by his university as the winner of its highest awards in each...
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Reviews

The Rise of Rome is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 46.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rise of Rome Topic well organized for presentation. Enjoyed the presentation style of professor. One of the better courses offered. Streaming work well.
Date published: 2018-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterpiece I have been listening to and viewing the Great Courses for over 16 years. This is by far the best ever. An absolute masterpiece.
Date published: 2018-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Are we Rome? Professor Aldrete is one of my favorite lecturers here at TGC. I enjoy his style of presentation, wit and occasional humor. He is a teacher who loves his job and excels in it. This series is an excellent introduction and overview of the beginnings of Rome to the end of the Roman Republic. I have been fascinated by Ancient Rome my entire life. My title on this review is not from Professor Aldrete, but is my own. I understand he will present another lecture series on the Roman Empire and hope to see it soon. I highly recommend this series to anyone with a love of history and Ancient Rome.
Date published: 2018-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise yet very detailed history. Lecturer managed to explain a great deal about Roman everyday life and politics. We should never tire of studying Rome !
Date published: 2018-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Breadth and Insight This is my first course, and I couldn't be more pleased. Mr. Aldrete is clear, knowledgeable, and humorous. The coverage is entertaining as well as educational.
Date published: 2018-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Aldrete is one of my favorites At the risk of repeating what has been said about this course, Professor Aldrete's presentation of the material is excellent. He is an especially engaging storyteller, and it helps that Rome has relatively good (and lurid) source material to draw upon. Classical Rome presents so many interesting parallels to modern society that I never cease to find something new and interesting in it. I also think the scope of the course is appropriate - it is not too expansive but also not too narrow. I would highly recommend Aldrete's course and look forward to the sequel (which I hope is in the works).
Date published: 2018-09-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting for relative beginner For me, the course got off to a slow start dealing with historical generalities that were familiar to me or with mythic material that has little historical value. Something was made of the cultural values implied by the myths; this was worthwhile, though the presentation was somewhat repetitious. After the first two or three lectures, the material got much more interesting, since I was the relative beginner the course is probably aimed at. The course focuses mainly on political history, and for me that was the right emphasis. The middle lectures on generalities were well done.
Date published: 2018-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A lesson for our times. Professor Aldrete is superb, one of many outstanding teachers in the GC. He is articulate, knowledgeable, and fascinating. His discussion of so many important issues: the slave economy, colonial expansion, the hubris of consuls, and the internal conflicts in the Republic are on the mark. At times it is a wonder what was achieved despite the turmoil. The lessons of the Republic clearly impacted the American founders, and still reverberate in our own age. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2018-08-10
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