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The History of Ancient Rome

Discover the full story of Roman civilization—from the formation of the city to the heights of the empire to its fall.
History of Ancient Rome is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 160.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favourite Course I've been watching Wondrium and the Great Courses now and this is my favourite discovery by far. I was hoping to message the lecturer but I have unfortunately read that he has passed away. The course is comprehensive but succint, the presenter is hilarious at times, and he highlights clearly the sources, places where the sources are scant, and areas of debate in the field. Rather than being spoonfeeding you current opinion, he will present various theories, including those with which he does not agree, and then weighs them up. Thoroughly recommend.
Date published: 2023-04-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Professor Fagan's presentations not out to par.... I have watched/listened this course twice now; most recently within the last month. I enjoyed the series of lectures but found Professor Fagan's stumbling, stammering speech patterns quite off-putting. He seemed less than confident at times and that was a distraction. During one of the lectures, he was talking about how the prayers to the Roman gods had to perfect and if the person saying the prayer "stuttered or stammered" the whole process had to be started over from the beginning. I thought it ironic since Professor Fagan does a lot of "stuttering and stammering" during these lectures. I also got the sense the subject may have been too big for him. He was biting off a huge amount of history - even though the course was 48 lectures. I found relatively little use of visual presentations to support the lectures and that was also disappointing. Despite these shortcomings, I would still recommend the course because as far as i can, it's the only Great Course on ancient Rome (and covers much more than "Rome and the Barbarians").
Date published: 2022-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exemplary A classic series, probably the best compendium of Roman history ever delivered.
Date published: 2022-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant and Entertaining I have enjoyed over thirty Great Courses over the past fifteen years. This was the first one I bought and it is still my favorite. Professor Fagan's appealing Irish accent, his wit and talent for telling a story are equalled by his insight and clarity. I have since read much from and about ancient Rome which has served only to verify the opinions and insights of Professor Fagan. I could not give a higher recommendation.
Date published: 2021-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely fabulous! This course is packed with information and well delivered, at times with some subtle humor. Dr. Fagan is clearly very knowledgeable and his enthusiasm shines through the presentation. Some have commented on his presentation and speech. Frankly his accent is endearing and any hesitancy in his speech is well compensated. I was concentrating on content and not his speaking style. I highly recommend this course if you want a great overview of early Rome.
Date published: 2021-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course I have many Roman history courses from The Great Courses. This has become one of my favorites for its breadth of topics and Fagan's enjoyable style of presentation.
Date published: 2021-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Right on target Fagan is a great lecturer. He presents the material at the right level for history buffs. He hits all the key ideas without excessive detail. He is engaging, articulate and funny. Highly recommended,
Date published: 2021-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Answers a lot of questions Growing up, I had heard a lot about the Roman Empire but knew nothing but small bit and pieces of it. I chose this course because the description sounded like it would provide an overview to answer some of my questions about Rome. It delivered marvelously providing a good overview of the politics, lifestyle and features that built and remained a part of the empire/republic. I highly suggest purchasing the transcript to follow the lecturer's comments and help correlate information from the previous lectures with the present lecture. The professor's speech style has been commented on, but it is not an impediment to learning.
Date published: 2021-01-12
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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. This course draws on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, including recent historical and archaeological scholarship, to introduce you to the tale of Rome's rise and decline.


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


01: Introduction

What makes ancient Rome so important and fascinating? This lecture describes the thematic, chronological, and geographical parameters of our foray into this engaging, complex, and challenging topic. How does the history of ancient times and peoples differ from "typical" historical study?

30 min
The Sources

02: 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?

30 min
Pre-Roman Italy and the Etruscans

03: 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.

30 min
The Foundation of Rome

04: 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?

30 min
The Kings of Rome

05: 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?

30 min
Regal Society

06: 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?

31 min
The Beginnings of the Republic

07: The Beginnings of the Republic

With the expulsion of the kings in 509 BCE, Rome became a republic. What do modern scholars think about the traditional tale of the Republic's founding?

30 min
The Struggle of the Orders

08: The Struggle of the Orders

This sociopolitical conflict dominated Rome's domestic political life from 494 to 287 BCE What was at stake in this contest? How did its resolution reshape the Roman Republic?

31 min
Roman Expansion in Italy

09: 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.

30 min
The Roman Confederation in Italy

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.

30 min
The International Scene on the Eve of Roman Expansion

11: The International Scene on the Eve of Roman Expansion

What was the geopolitical situation as Rome began building its overseas empire in 264 BCE? How did the land-based Romans emerge from Italy to defeat formidable maritime rivals?

30 min
Carthage and the First Punic War

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.

30 min
The Second Punic (or Hannibalic) War

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 BCE What made this a life-and-death struggle for both belligerents?

30 min
Rome in the Eastern Mediterranean

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.

30 min
Explaining the Rise of the Roman Empire

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.

30 min

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 BCE affect the Romans? What were its long-term effects on both Roman and European history?

31 min
Governing the Roman Republic, Part I—Senate and Magistrates

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?

31 min
Governing the Roman Republic, Part II—Popular Assemblies and Provincial Administration

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?

31 min
The Pressures of Empire

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?

30 min
The Gracchi Brothers

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.

30 min
Marius and Sulla

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.

30 min

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?

30 min
Sulla's Reforms Undone

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."

30 min
Pompey and Crassus

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 BCE) shows how the Republican order was unraveling.

30 min
The First Triumvirate

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.

31 min
Pompey and Caesar

26: Pompey and Caesar

After the death of Crassus in 53 BCE, 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 BCE.

30 min

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?

31 min
Social and Cultural Life in the Late Republic

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.

31 min
Antony and Octavian

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?

30 min
The Second Triumvirate

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.

30 min
Octavian Emerges Supreme

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?

30 min
The New Order of Augustus

32: The New Order of Augustus

Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus, ruled from 31 BCE to his death in CE 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?

30 min
The Imperial Succession

33: The Imperial Succession

Technically, the Principate was not hereditary. How, then, could Augustus forestall the power struggle that his death might occasion?

30 min
The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

34: The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

Thanks to the masterful histories of Tacitus and the racy biographies of Suetonius, the Julio-Claudian (14–68 CE) 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.

30 min
The Emperor in the Roman World

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?

30 min
The Third-Century Crisis

36: The Third-Century Crisis

Despite the accomplishments of the Antonine Dynasty, the succession problem sparked a major civil war in the 190s CE. Then the collapse of the Severan Dynasty in 235 CE 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?

30 min
The Shape of Roman Society

37: The Shape of Roman Society

What are the major societal and cultural themes of the "central period" of Roman history (roughly 200 BCE to 200 CE)? Why were Romans so preoccupied with status? How did the law reinforce these arrangements?

30 min
Roman Slavery

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?

30 min
The Family

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?

30 min
Women in Roman Society

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.

30 min
An Empire of Cities

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.

30 min
Public Entertainment, Part I—The Roman Baths and Chariot Racing

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?

30 min
Public Entertainment, Part II—Gladiatorial Games

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?

31 min
Roman Paganism

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.

31 min
The Rise of Christianity

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.

31 min
The Restoration of Order

46: The Restoration of Order

Between 270 and 305 CE, 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?

30 min
Constantine and the Late Empire

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.

30 min
Thoughts on the

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 CE? Is "fall" even the right word?

31 min