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Emperors of Rome

Explore the lives of some of history’s most powerful—and interesting—people in this course that details the most famous and impactful of Rome’s leaders.
Emperors of Rome is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 98.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a joy! This course is now one of my favorites. Thank you Ph Fager
Date published: 2023-11-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Review is not for Content but for Delivery System I bought this course some time ago. Finally, I got the point where I can listen to it, but I cannot either see it or download it
Date published: 2022-10-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Foundation of Western Civilization This course seems to be a follow-on to the Rise of Rome course by Dr. Gregory Aldrete or perhaps the History of Ancient Rome by Dr. Fagan, both offered by The Great Courses (TGC). It also serves as a valuable foundation to the TGC offering Books that Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Dr. Leo Damrosch. The course traces the slow transformation from a republic to an autocracy. It discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each form of government. This course tacitly assumes the Great Man theory of history. It purports to tell the history of the Roman Empire by discussing its great men – the emperors – in chronological order. (Wives of emperors, if they are sufficiently nefarious, are also included as “great men.”) Thus, little attention is given to economics, social mores, religion, art and literature, science and technology, etc. This is a good approach to capture the political developments and the timeline, but it is shallow beyond that. Dr. Fagan speaks with a thick Irish accent but with some attention the student can follow him nonetheless. He comes across as knowledgeable and engaging. The course guide is in outline form as opposed to paragraph form summarizing the content. Personally, I think the paragraph form is more useful. There are helpful family trees, a timeline, and a glossary in the appendix but there are no visual aids in the lecture outlines themselves. I used the audio version. It was easy to follow without any visual aids although maps and family trees may have been helpful at times. The course was published in 2007.
Date published: 2022-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent narrative, critical evaluation of source An excellent course. In general, Fagan combines a remarkable skill in recounting a compelling narrative whilst critically evaluating the sources for this narrative. It is as valuable a lesson in historiography as it is one of history. I particularly liked his concluding comment – “Critical assessment of data is the essential task of the educated mind.” He seemed to lower his otherwise excellent standards, however, when he entertains Gerhard Baudy’s hypothesis “in a short 1991 book” that Christians actually did set fire to Rome in 64 AD, as Nero accused them. While admitting that Baudy’s argument is “technical and complex”, he provides one piece of supporting evidence in this manner: “First, 18–19 July, the night when the fire started, was a significant date in one brand of eastern Mediterranean mystical thought. This was the date in antiquity when Sirius, the Dog Star, rose in the sky. This astronomical event was associated in various brands of mysticism with the renewal of the world under better auspices. But, of course, for renewal to take place, the old order had to go.” Given the diversity of religious thought in the Roman East, linking this “one brand of Eastern Mediterranean mystical thought” to Christianity is tenuous at best. He then cites the anti-Roman sentiments in Judea that would shortly erupt into the Jewish-Roman War. While Jewish and Christian identities may have been somewhat fluid during this time, these tension manifestly cannot be used to support a claim that the “Christians did it”. The rest of his argument, in my opinion, is equally speculative. I belabor this point, only because the overall work is so good and so analytical with respect to sources and narrative. Evidently, even a scholar as objective and properly critical as Fagan cannot avoid what is either a pedestrian bias or a shallow temptation to be provocative - suggesting something “uncomfortable for many in the audience to contemplate”. Critical evaluation of excellent instructors is still the essential task of a Great Courses students…
Date published: 2021-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Exciting Insight into Rome's Hierarchy I first heard this lecture 10 years ago and was installing hooked on Professor Fagan's delivery. I know his delivery may not suit everyone's learning style but I quite enjoy his quick, witty and often sarcastic delivery of some of the most beloved and hated characters of the Roman elite. I return to his lectures every couple of years and am listening to the "Emperors of Rome" for the 5th time and "History of Rome" for the 3rd. I have even shared these lectures with family members who also share an interest in ancient history and they also love these courses. I however recently discovered that Dr.Fagan sadly passed away in 2017. I wanted to express my deepest sympathies to his family and colleagues. He truly was a gifted lecturer that easily captivated his audiences with not only his knowledge of ancient history but you can easily feel his compassion for the material and that in my opinion is what makes a lecturer most effective in passing on that knowledge to their students. Dr.Fagan will continue to be a large part of my family's education and keeping us company on long drives to our next adventure. Dr.Fagan is so commonly heard in my family that my children refer to him as Uncle Garrett and even share some of the most epic parts of his stories with their classmates. His legacy continues on. Thank you Professor Fagan!! -Dan
Date published: 2021-09-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from problems I am surprised that GC would pick a lecturer who regularly fluffs his words.It is most annoying. The strong accent sometimes makes the words difficult to interpret.
Date published: 2021-08-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from one of the worst Professor Fagan is evidently well versed in his matter, but the speed at which he delivers his lectures gives the impression that he just wants to get rid of them. This compounded by the fact that many of the names, administrative titles, and phrases are in Latin, which makes for a disorienting learning experience. It's like trying to read street signs in a foreign city while travelling along its avenues at 60 miles an hour, you get the context, but the meat of the matter flies by. Opt for Robert Graves' wonderful Claudius novels, or look into Tacitus, Professor Fagan's own preferred source of information for the period in question. I cannot at all recommend this course, indeed I advise against it, it's way too much of a struggle.
Date published: 2020-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Rome Top notch expected. Great value. I have been a big fan of this company now for over a decade.
Date published: 2020-09-08
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They are said to be the most powerful rulers who ever lived—a checkered mix of the wise, the brutal, and the unhinged. For more than five centuries they presided over a multiethnic empire that was nearly always at war, if not with neighbors then with rebellious factions within the empire itself. The full scope of their powers was not systematized in constitutional law, a fact that tempted many of them to overreach disastrously; and the lack of clear rules of succession meant that most of them died violently. Meet the Emperors of Rome.


Garrett G. Fagan

To learn about the people of antiquity is to examine the foundations of how we live today. They are at once alien and familiar, an image of ourselves glimpsed in a distant mirror.


The Pennsylvania State University
Garrett G. Fagan (1963–2017) was a Professor of Ancient History at Pennsylvania State University. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and was educated at Trinity College. He earned his PhD from McMaster University and held teaching positions at McMaster University, York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also gave many public lectures to audiences of all ages. Professor Fagan had an extensive research record in Roman history and held a prestigious Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship at the University of Cologne. He published numerous articles in international journals, and he wrote Bathing in Public in the Roman World. He also edited a volume on the phenomenon of pseudoarcheology.

By This Professor

The Shape of Roman Imperial History

01: The Shape of Roman Imperial History

After outlining the plan of the course and defining Roman imperial history, Professor Fagan will survey the types of ancient sources that shed light on Rome's emperors. These include literary works, official inscriptions, physical remains of structures erected by emperors, and coins stamped with imperial messages.

33 min
The Roman Republic

02: The Roman Republic

Before there were emperors, there was the Roman Republic, founded in 509 B.C. after a period of autocratic rule by kings. This lecture investigates the political character of the republic. As the 2nd century B.C. drew to a close, its institutions were under increasing stress from Rome's expanding empire.

29 min
Caesar and the Suicide of the Republic

03: Caesar and the Suicide of the Republic

Starting in 133 B.C. the Roman Re­pub­lic began to disintegrate, sowing the seeds of imperial rule. Although the great general and politician Julius Caesar was not an emperor, he did more than anyone in this period to create the conditions that led to the reintroduction of monarchy to Rome.

29 min
The First Emperor—Augustus

04: The First Emperor—Augustus

The importance of Augustus to Roman and European history cannot be overstated. This lecture explores Augustus's career, from avenging revolutionary to senior statesman, and briefly surveys the main thrust of his domestic policies and the broad shape of culture in the Augustan Age.

30 min
The Powers of Augustus

05: The Powers of Augustus

This lecture surveys the series of constitutional settlements that saw Augustus established as a super-magistrate, simultaneously part of and above the organs of state—a system termed the "Principate." You will also look beyond the legal frontage of the Principate and uncover the harsh realities of imperial rule.

30 min
Succession Woes

06: Succession Woes

The nature of the Principate was a mix of authoritarian and republican practices; so it was difficult for Augustus to secure the succession legally. The succession problem proved a destabilizing influence during his reign and was to remain so for his successors for centuries to come.

30 min
Livia Drusilla, Empress of Rome

07: Livia Drusilla, Empress of Rome

Augustus's wife, Livia Drusilla, was easily the most powerful woman in Roman history to date. You will examine the roles of aristocratic women in the republic and under the empire. The rumor that Livia arranged the deaths of a long string of rivals to ensure her son Tiberius's succession is probably exaggerated.

29 min
The Early Years of Tiberius

08: The Early Years of Tiberius

On the death of Augustus in A.D. 14, Tiberius succeeded to the emperorship with the understanding that his popular nephew, Germanicus, would be his heir. Five years later Germanicus died under mysterious circumstances. A newly discovered inscription in Spain sheds intriguing light on these events.

30 min
The Would—Be Emperor-Sejanus

09: The Would—Be Emperor-Sejanus

In this lecture, you meet one of the most odious figures in Roman history: Sejanus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Sejanus used his influence with Tiberius, a few well-planned murders, and a canny marriage alliance to try to become emperor. His demise offers lessons in the perils of court politics.

30 min
The Mad Emperor? Caligula

10: The Mad Emperor? Caligula

The ancient sources tend to portray Caligula as deranged. But was he really insane? You will examine different modern approaches to this issue, focusing on two famous incidents when Caligula apparently acted erratically. An ancient eyewitness gives a sense of what it was like to be in the emperor's presence.

29 min
Killing Caligula, Finding Claudius

11: Killing Caligula, Finding Claudius

This lecture covers a little over 24 hours of the year A.D. 41, when a ruinous pattern was established in the imperial succession. With the murder of Caligula, the Senate dithered while the Praetorian Guard, eager to preserve its power, pushed forward a successor—in this case Caligula's reviled uncle, Claudius.

29 min
The Odd Couple—Claudius and Messalina

12: The Odd Couple—Claudius and Messalina

Claudius's reign was surprisingly successful. He embarked on the first major war of expansion since Augustus by adding Britain to the empire and was a conscientious ruler. Even so, he was manipulated by powerful subordinates, notably his third wife, Messalina, who concocted a bizarre plot against him.

29 min
Power and Poison—Agrippina and Claudius

13: Power and Poison—Agrippina and Claudius

You will study a woman who could be the most prominent female dynastic figure in Roman history: Agrippina the Younger, sister of Caligula, wife of Claudius, and mother of Nero - a pedigree that speaks for itself. Agrippina's political conduct was brazen to a degree heretofore unthinkable.

29 min
Artist and Assassin—Nero

14: Artist and Assassin—Nero

Agrippina reportedly poisoned Claudius and then orchestrated Nero's accession. As emperor, Nero showed little interest in rule and far more in writing poetry and other diversions. This lecture surveys these impulses and discusses modern theories about the meaning of his "antics," which included matricide.

30 min
The Trouble with Christians

15: The Trouble with Christians

In the summer of 64, Rome burned. As suspicion fell on Nero, he blamed the Christians, starting the long history of Rome's persecution of this sect. You will consider the possible causes of the fire and discuss the rebuilding of the city, notably Nero's pet urban renewal project: his opulent Golden House.

29 min
Dynasty's End—The Fall of Nero

16: Dynasty's End—The Fall of Nero

Nero's final years were increasingly disengaged from reality. Finally, the legions in Gaul and Spain turned against him. Abandoned by his armies and the Senate, he committed suicide in 68. His earlier murders of all plausible heirs in his family ensured that the Julio-Claudian dynasty perished with him.

29 min
The Long Year, 69 CE

17: The Long Year, 69 CE

Nero's death ushered in the Year of Four Emperors - a bloody struggle among four commanders who successively held the top job. Left standing at the end was Vespasian, fresh from suppressing the Jewish Revolt. These events confirmed the principle that emperors depended on the army for their position.

29 min
The First Flavian—Vespasian

18: The First Flavian—Vespasian

Vespasian started the first dynasty of emperors who had no family connection to Julius Caesar or Augustus. This lecture examines his rise and the "Law Concerning Vespasian's Power," apparently the first attempt to define an emperor's authority. Vespasian also built Rome's most famous landmark: the Colosseum.

30 min
The Last Flavians—Titus and Domitian

19: The Last Flavians—Titus and Domitian

Shortly after Vespasian's son Titus be­came emperor in 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupt­ed, killing tens of thousands in a grim omen for the new ruler. He led an effective relief effort but died prematurely two years later. He was succeeded by his autocratic brother, Domitian, who descended into paranoia.

30 min

20: "Pax Augusta"—Nerva and Trajan

The murder of Domitian terminated the Flavian dynasty. His successor, Nerva, began a new practice: Emperors adopted able army commanders as their heirs. With Nerva's adoption of Trajan came the period of the Roman Empire's greatest stability under the Antonine (or Adoptive) dynasty.

30 min
Trajan in Rome and in the East

21: Trajan in Rome and in the East

Trajan had a successful reign that added new territory to the empire as well as magnificent new public works to the capital. You will also examine the remarkable correspondence between Trajan and his provincial envoy, Pliny the Younger, who wrote for advice on handling recalcitrant Christians, among other problems.

29 min
The Eccentric Emperor—Hadrian

22: The Eccentric Emperor—Hadrian

Trajan's successor, Hadrian, set about a massive push at consolidation: Trajan's new eastern provinces were abandoned and the frontiers were fortified, most notably with Hadrian's Wall in England. Hadrian was wide-ranging in his talents and unconventional in his personal life.

29 min
Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus

23: Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus

The reigns of Antoninus Pius and his successor, Marcus Aurelius, represent the high point of Roman power, peace, and prosperity. In the course of Marcus's reign, however, signs of trouble became evident that would intensify. Marcus is especially known for his philosophic work, "Meditations."

28 min
Marcus in the North and Commodus

24: Marcus in the North and Commodus

In his last years, Marcus was constantly on the threatened northern frontier with his legions. He succumbed to the rigors of camp life in 180 and was succeeded by his son Commodus, who proved a disaster in the mold of Caligula and Nero. Commodus was assassinated on the last day of 192.

29 min
Civil War and Septimius Severus

25: Civil War and Septimius Severus

Commodus's death left a vacuum temporarily filled by the aging senator Pertinax. He was soon assassinated by his own guard, who then auctioned off the empire to the highest bidder. The winner only lasted 10 weeks before Septimius Severus took control, initiating a naked military autocracy.

29 min
Caracalla and the Severan Dynasty

26: Caracalla and the Severan Dynasty

Severus set the tone for the rest of imperial history. From now on, the emperor would be a military man, occupied with keeping external enemies at bay and staving off internal threats. The Severan dynasty included, among others, the brutal Caracalla and the outlandish Elagabalus along with some remarkable female relatives.

29 min
Emperor and City

27: Emperor and City

The first of five lectures on themes relating to the emperors examines their lavish building projects in Rome, such as the complex of public squares and huge bathhouses. You will also examine the political aspects of such projects, as well as their social and economic implications.

29 min
Emperor and Empire

28: Emperor and Empire

Next Professor Fagan considers the emperor's position relative to the wider empire. How could an empire as vast and diverse as Rome's survive the mismanagement of a Caligula or a Nero? The secret lay in the unique, decentralized administrative structures the Romans employed in running their realm.

29 min
Emperor and Elite

29: Emperor and Elite

The Roman elite was obsessed with the struggle for rank, and the emperor determined the winners by the offices he dispensed. You will focus on the senators and the equestrians, learning how the former had to adapt to diminished roles under the Principate, while the latter enjoyed a greatly enhanced public profile.

30 min
Emperor and People

30: Emperor and People

The emperor served as the benefactor and patron of the common people. This lecture examines that obligation, from the provision of grain, games, and other "comforts" to the means used by the people to communicate with the emperor.

30 min
Emperor and Soldier

31: Emperor and Soldier

No relationship was more important to Roman rulers than the one with their troops. Emperors used strategies to ensure loyalty, from oaths of allegiance to bribes. These measures are surveyed in detail, as are the dispositions of the troops in the empire and the different classes of soldiers.

30 min

32: Chaos

With the collapse of the Severan dynasty in 235, civil war raged almost continuously for nearly 50 years as generals fought for dominance. External enemies took advantage of the chaos to raid and plunder the empire. In this lecture, you will look at several of the emperors of this turbulent era.

29 min
Aurelian, Diocletian, and the Tetrarchy

33: Aurelian, Diocletian, and the Tetrarchy

In 268 the Roman Empire, battered from without and divided within, was on its last legs. But from the mountains of Illyria in the northern Balkans stormed a series of militarily aggressive and highly competent general-emperors who, in a few years, had turned the situation around.

29 min
Constantine—Rise to Power

34: Constantine—Rise to Power

This lecture surveys the rise to sole rulership of an emperor who would transform the empire and change the course of history: Constantine. Despite being passed over by Diocletian's tetrarchic system, the young Constantine accepted his army's imperial acclamation and began battling his rivals.

30 min
The Christian Emperor—Constantine

35: The Christian Emperor—Constantine

Under Constantine, Christianity changed from an outsider's religion to a state-aligned cult, a transition that had seismic repercussions. Here, you will examine his conversion, his impact on the church, his reforms, and founding Constantinople in 324.

29 min
Reflections on the Emperors of Rome

36: Reflections on the Emperors of Rome

The ancients were inconsistent in labeling emperors as good or bad; for them, an element of spin was often involved. You and Professor Fagan will embark on your own diagnosis and uncover fundamental truths about power, legitimacy, and empire. This course concludes by considering the theme of emperors and tyranny.

29 min