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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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 230-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 230-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Suggested reading
  • Question to consider

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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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The Rise of Rome is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 64.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complete Overview Excellent overview from many different points of view. View of the State as well as individuals.
Date published: 2018-03-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, But an Earlier Great Course Is Better On the whole worthwhile, although Garrett Fagan's much earlier and longer course History of Ancient Rome extending into the Empire I would recommend instead. Fagan's lectures lack the visual flash of current Great Courses such as this one, but I think for this subject it is on the whole better.
Date published: 2018-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Rise of Rome Only started the course and am still in the lecture. So far I've been very satisfied with the content and depth of the course materials and the high knowledge level of the professor. The only issue I have is the presentation method, which is basically the professor lecturing with very few visual aids. While that certainly is what often takes place on campus, usually the lectures are enhanced by supporting text or visual aids. While I'm still in the first lecture, I'm not sure what the value of having the DVD has over an audio CD. Hopefully, the rest of the course will prove me wrong.
Date published: 2018-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent-Supplements Fagan I have listened to Fagan's courses but purchased this course anyway. It is quite different. Fagan's courses on Rome are very heavy on details (but are still very worthwhile) . This new course is lighter on the details but often gives a better picture of key issues. The lecture on slavery in Rome is terrific and itself worth the price of the course. Other lectures on what Roman agriculture and city life were like are also very insightful and not really found in Fagan's courses. Whether you are an ancient history junkie or new to Roman history, this course is highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful graphics! Professor Aldrete made the course come alive with his enthusiasm! He covered all the areas of early Roman life of common people that no one talks about. He is an excellent teacher! I would love to take his courses!
Date published: 2018-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm still viewing. I've only gone through several lectures. Previously bought a course conducted by this professor. He does a great job. Easy to follow. His preparation is great because he is easy to follow.
Date published: 2018-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I strongly recommend this course to anyone interested in classical Western civilization or in development of modern Western political thought. In particular, this course serves as an excellent pre-requisite for Books that Matter: City of God. As one would expect, this course addresses the chronological history of Rome from its founding in the eighth century BCE to its transformation from monarchy to republic in the sixth century BCE to the victory of Octavian (later called Augustus Caesar) over Mark Antony. He does pause for some interesting insights into geography, civic values, Roman mythos, and even rhetoric. Without overdoing it, he does note of parallels between aspects of the Roman civilization and contemporary Western civilization. (For example, what’s with this tradition of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold?) Although the course material is excellent, the “secret sauce” of this course is Dr. Aldrete. He has an infectious and pleasant presentation style that, while not straying from the facts of history, is enjoyable to listen to. To him, Roman history is just plain fun and if you’re not careful, you’ll enjoy it, too. I was very excited to hear him state, at the end of the next-to-last lecture, that there would be a follow-on course on the Roman Empire. I listened to the audio version. There were several places where visuals would have been helpful (particularly maps) but overall the audio version was adequate.
Date published: 2018-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I give Professor Aldrete an A+ I must have at least 50 Great Courses on audio and have developed my own subjective preferences, so I find it difficult to write an objective review. Just because I might enjoy a course does not make it necessarily great to everyone, but here goes...I found "The Rise of Rome" to be a refreshing approach to a relevant subject being that the Romans set the precedence that the US and others follow. Professor Aldrede seems to show enthusiasm which elevates the subject matter beyond a dry historical narrative. For me, the best parts tended to be when the professor took a break from the chronological events to enlighten us on the lives of ordinary people. Lectures 3 &4 lays a groundwork on values while lecture 7 deals with religion. Lecture 12 tells us why it would be preferable for a slave to live in a city as opposed to the countryside. Lectures 13 & 14 are especially interesting in addressing the Roman family structure. One better hope that father/husband was a kind man ! Of the historical events, I found Dr Aldrede's highlights to be the Punic Wars, the conquest of Greece and his own personal thoughts on why the republic failed. I found this course to be both and excellent introduction and refresher course on the Roman Republic. I hope he will do a follow-up course on the Roman Empire.
Date published: 2018-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All Courses Lead to Rome! The Rise of Rome replaces the tired and outdated course “The History of Ancient Rome”. It could have been called “The History of Ancient Rome 2.0.” It has fresh new evidence from recent archeological excavations as well as more visuals, maps, and graphics to bring new life to such an ancient culture. Professor Aldrete is in his element in this course. I was introduced to him through his first course “History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective.” He is a gifted lecturer and I could just listen to him for hours. Aldrete is very erudite when he speaks and he is full of anecdotes about Roman history and culture. That adds a lot more texture to the story he is telling us and makes us want to know more. What Professor Aldrete did best was relate the Roman experience to our own Modern one. I believe that that is the mark of a gifted teacher, making us look within ourselves at how our experiences in life are not that different from our ancestors. I hope that soon there will be a course on Roman Empire to continue the story.
Date published: 2018-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting Professor Aldrete is an outstanding presenter. He repeatedly demonstrates how lessons from ancient Rome affected decisions by more modern leaders, from the founding fathers to contemporary military generals.
Date published: 2018-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Rise Of Rome I have almost finished this course and am thoroughly enjoying it. Professor Greg Aldrete does an excellent job of explaining the various facets of Roman history. This course includes many on screen illustrations, maps and graphics making it worth purchasing the video. If you like Ancient Greek and a Roman history, I would definitely consider buying this course.
Date published: 2018-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In Depth View of Early Rome This course offers much more insight into early Rome than the usual political-military histories provide. Beginning in prehistory Professor Aldrete tells the story of Rome through the downfall of the Republic from several viewpoints. He discusses the rural setting of the early Republic, Roman religious beliefs, women and families, the education of young children, and much more. Even if you are familiar with Roman history, you gain a great deal from this course.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A superficial treatment I was disappointed in this course. It was much more elementary in its treatment of most topics than I expected. Perhaps the dumbing down of just about everything is now affecting The Great Courses? This course was superficial when compared to Garrett Fagan's History of Rome.
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very informative A logical review of the reasons for the rise and fall of the Roman Republic; history detailed from the time of Polybius until the assassination of Julius Caesar and the rise of Octavian.
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm hooked! Four episodes into this and I'm hooked! I can't imagine what could possibly change my mind. The guy's just got a way of communicating. He's efficient with words, and very knowledgeable and enthusiastic without coming off as annoying or arrogant. We want to meet him in Rome for dinner and drinks!
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved It I purchased the audio version and blazed through the lectures in a week. I have purchased the video version of a course by the professor before and thought the audio version would fit better given the mechanical nature of his movements on screen, and I think I made the right choice. The content was as thorough and engrossing as his Decisive Battles course, and he does a fine job delivering the content orally. This course would make an excellent pairing with Dr. Fagan’s course on the emperors of Rome.
Date published: 2018-01-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good How the professor was directed to step this way, then that way was mechanical, annoying, and almost as dizzying as vertigo, especially when one adds the moving maps, either rising or falling, and the changing images in the framed artwork. He does his 90 degree step then the camera starts moving—OMG, stop! Dressing up- in the toga in Lecture 5 was a nice touch. Are the 12 tables in a museum somewhere? It would have been nice to mention this, especially if they have been preserved. Lecture 5 in the Guidebook does not list the assemblies Comitia Centuriata, Comitia Tributa and Concilia Plebis. In Lecture 6: “Unification of the Italian Peninsula,” the professor does not mention Decius Mus the father and Decius Mus the son. He did not mention Cleopatra’s entrance into Rome. I disagree with how Prof. Aldrete characterized Julius Caesar: Caesar arranged that he be made dictator for life? Then on the professor's slide of Caesar’s Actions: Caesar arranged that there be an oath of allegiance to him personally? Caesar pushed for his own deification and priesthoods established in his honor? Where is the mention of Clementia and the place of Clementia in Julius Caesar's temple? Glaring omission. Caesar was rude (the professor gestures emphatically) to senators? No, it was not unapologetically. Caesar was remorseful for his mistake. Where is the mention of how Caesar pardoned so many, being forgiving to a lethal fault—pardoning those who fought against him in the Civil War, instead of having his own proscription like Sulla? The professor did not mention that certainly, Julius Caesar did not leave power to Mark Antony probably because when Caesar was away replacing Ptolemy XIII with his sister Cleopatra VII as ruler of Egypt, Marc Antony, then, Administrator of Italy, had not governed well. Fulvia is not mentioned by name. The professor says Antony gets the Eastern Mediterranean without mentioning Judea or Herod the Great. Where is the mention that as Octavianus inherited the name of Gaius Julius Caesar and avenged his assassination but dishonored Caesar by ordering the death of Antyllus, the son of Fulvia and Marc Antony, who was pulled from a cult statue of Divus Julius where Antyllus sought refuge and vainly begged for mercy before he was killed? I bought this course to see how Caesar compared to the Gracchi Brothers in making reforms to better the lives of the poor. Adrian Goldsworthy in his book Caesar: Life of a Colossus says that one third of a ranching estate had to be people who were free rather than slaves (Caesar wanted to leave behind peaceful regions, not regions with the potential for rebellion). Also, I'm using this course to supplement my readings in Plutarch, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, and Appian. I also have Mary Beard's SPQR.
Date published: 2018-01-19
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