The Roman Empire: From Augustus to The Fall of Rome

Rated 5 out of 5 by from When learning is good ! When a prof loves his subject matter as this man clearly does it makes for great viewing and learning; his body gestures alone are worth the price of admission adding volume to the delivery; add all that to a most interesting subject matter and you have great entertainment.
Date published: 2021-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Fascinating and well taught Topic Excellent course. Dr. Aldrete is a gifted instructor. Very engaging.
Date published: 2021-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor hits the sweet spot. Professor has an easy-going and engaging style, neither silly, nor flat. The course is well organized, with content that can appeal to a broad audience and help viewers consider Rome's influence in most areas of modern life. If you are planning a trip to Rome or would like to be a more interesting dinner guest, your experiences will be enhanced by watching both of this professors Rome courses.
Date published: 2021-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating lectures I took Professor Aldrete's other course on The Rise of Rome as well, both are outstanding. I'm also about to read his book on everyday Romans. He is a great story-teller.
Date published: 2021-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Absolutely enjoyed every aspect this course, which followed smoothly from Prof Aldrete’s course, “The Roman Republic.” In “The Rise of the Roman Empire,” Prof Aldrete gives a thorough presentation of complicated historical events in a way I can easily understand & retain. He is a wonderful speaker, full of stories and animated expressions. Every episode contains numerous images & quotes, time lines and diagrams to illustrate and give life to the concepts. Especially helpful to grasping the world of the Romans, he also focuses on aspects of daily life in Rome, its people, and how so much our modern culture, science, language, religion, architecture, etc., is inherited from the Romans. I now have a much deeper appreciation of history and the world we live in today. Thank you, Prof Aldrete and Great Courses, for bringing this all to life.
Date published: 2021-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Aldrete Delivers Again Professor Aldrete Delivers Again I just love Professor Aldrete's style. From his clear and easy to understand delivery to his great storytelling to how he keeps every lecture engaging and exciting to how he gets us to think and join the discussion and debate, he is easily in the top 1% of Great Courses lecturers. He delivers another spectacular work of art with "The Rise of Rome". It has excellent historical narration on the Roman Empire from its first emperor Augustus to its last (in the west) covering the empire’s rise to its high point in the 2nd century to its fall in the west in the 4th. There was even a surprising (if short) history of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire through 1453 AD. He is thorough in his approach: the first 33 Emperors (until 238 AD) were covered in depth until the heavy turnover during the Crisis of the 3rd Century made this exercise difficult. Relating the story of one emperor after another can get tedious but the professor keeps things fresh and intriguing. Although I have to admit I was a little surprised there wasn’t more time spent on Marcus Aurelius and his reputation as a stoic philosopher. Lecture 10 is one of the most unique lectures you’ll find in a course on ancient history: a discussion on the various forms of graffiti found in Pompeii---giving you insight into the thoughts of the common person. And they aren’t very different at all from today’s common graffiti (lecture 11 was also unique in describing tombstone epitaphs---in this case much different from today’s counterparts). Of the thousands of TGC lectures I've listened to these two are perhaps the most offbeat, unexpected but entertaining. The last 5 lectures were the highlights of the course for me: the barbarian peoples overwhelming the western empire (20), brief history of the Byzantine Empire (21), debate on when and how the Roman Empire fell (22), scholar re-interpretation of the period now known as Late Antiquity (23), and influences of Rome on today’s societies (24). All were excellent choices for inclusion in the course and executed with brilliance. The professor takes every opportunity to say something about the common Roman or give him or her a voice. Most if not all of the written sources we have are from upper class men so to have the perspective of the everyday man or woman was enlightening. We know about the long shadow of Rome's legacies impacting us today but what struck me was just how alike we are to the Romans. Whether it was their obsession with sporting events or their enjoyment in relating stories of haunted houses, the professor calls out the similarities that make us feel connected to a people that have lived 2,000 years ago. The fall of the western empire has always fascinated me and I thought the professor did a great job relating it in the latter lectures. However, there were questions that (to me) were just begging to be answered but weren’t touched: o Where was the Roman army when the numerous barbarian migrations were overwhelming the western empire? I know it was a shadow of itself but did it stop some of the migrations/loss of land? Or was it helpless to provide any resistance at all? When did it reach that helpless point? One seemed to exist since Odoacer was part of the Roman army when he deposed the last western Emperor o What lands of the empire were lost first? Next? A visual depiction of the contraction of the Roman Empire land over time would’ve helped see how this story progressed o What happened to the Senate? There is no mention of the continuance or dissolution of this and other Roman institutions While everyone brings their own perspectives and viewpoints on how to define the when and why of Rome's fall, to me I see it as a question of when the Roman authorities could no longer protect its people, it had lost enough land to cease being a world power, and its sovereignty lost all meaning both to the barbarians who migrated/invaded (choose the term that fits your interpretation) and to Romans themselves. Sure there was a long fall spanning perhaps centuries but I see that more as the decline. The actual "moment" of fall itself is the great topic of debate. In my view this occurred in the 5th century AD when shifting alliances made it difficult to tell "barbarians" from "true Romans", invasion from migration, and confrontation from assimilation. But the precise moment of no return in which the barbarians could carve out kingdoms at will due to the weakening of the imperial system is the big mystery. This is why my earlier questions about pinpointing when the Roman army lost its effectiveness and when certain lands were lost would help narrow this down. But I think the chaos/transformation (again pick your word) of this century makes that impossible which is why this debate will rage on for as long as there are people to debate. The controversy is inherent in the question itself. No one will ever be able to definitively say when Rome fell...because not everyone agrees it did indeed fall! There was no one great battle that saw Rome conquered by a unified powerful enemy nor the rise of a new people or empire or even culture that supplanted it. Heck most of the barbarians wanted to BE Roman and imitate what that meant. Yet despite the lack of such a climatic moment, it can't be denied that what can be termed the most powerful and influential empire the world has ever seen had disappeared from the world scene. No wonder why the debate has enraptured so many people. It should go without saying but I highly recommend this and his other courses: "History of the Ancient World - A Global Perspective", "The Decisive Battles of World History", and "The Rise of Rome". If you're going to listen to only one history lecturer it has to be Professor Aldrete. Time well spent.
Date published: 2021-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Listen nearly every day while on my walk This is one of the best courses I have taken thus far. The instructor speaks clearly and slowly and is a joy to listen to. The course material and flow is excellent.
Date published: 2020-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent High Level Overview of Roman History From the beginning to the end this lecture series is about as good as it gets for a top level overview. Rare academic look at all dimensions of the Roman society and how those interactions formed the ever changing dynamic nature of the history of Rome and how it fits into the evolution of human civilization. Excellent resource of Roman history to use as a starting point to jump off into more in-depth research on topics of interest.
Date published: 2020-11-26
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The Roman Empire: From Augustus to The Fall of Rome
Course Trailer
Dawn of the Roman Empire
1: Dawn of the Roman Empire

Your course opens by setting the stage for Rome’s transition from a Republic to an Empire. Octavian, overlooking the Ionian Sea after the ferocious Battle of Actium, has just secured victory in a civil war against Mark Antony. He will soon achieve what Julius Caesar could not: one-man rule over Rome. Delve into this major turning point in world history.

35 min
Augustus, the First Emperor
2: Augustus, the First Emperor

Meet the man who became Rome’s first emperor: Octavian, who took the title of Augustus, was relatively short and sickly, but clever and astute. His great political innovation—taking the title Augustus, gaining control of the military, and ruling Rome without inspiring his own assassination—is one of history’s most astonishing feats.

32 min
Tiberius and Caligula
3: Tiberius and Caligula

Augustus may have been a tremendous emperor, but he failed in one key area: choosing a successor. After an almost comical series of events, he secured a male heir (a son of his wife’s by a previous marriage) to take the throne. Witness the debacle of Roman leadership under Tiberius and then Caligula.

32 min
Claudius and Nero
4: Claudius and Nero

The succession after Caligula continued to be a problem for the Roman Empire. Claudius, though physically challenged, was a good administrator. Nero, however, was depraved and self-aggrandizing, and nearly bankrupted the empire. Trace the strange, sad, and bloody story of their rule.

31 min
The Flavian Emperors and Roman Bath Culture
5: The Flavian Emperors and Roman Bath Culture

Following Nero, a quick series of emperors took power, ultimately ending with Vespasian, the first in the line of Flavian family emperors. After reviewing the story of these emperors, their accomplishments, and their shortcomings, Professor Aldrete offers insight into Roman bath culture and what it meant for the city.

31 min
The Five Good Emperors
6: The Five Good Emperors

Round out your survey of the early Roman emperors with a look at the rulers of the 2nd century, including Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius. Get to know their stories; their approach to ruling; and their achievements, such as Trajan’s military conquests and Marcus Aurelius’s philosophical meditations.

33 min
Hazards of Life in Ancient Rome: The Five Fs
7: Hazards of Life in Ancient Rome: The Five Fs

You might think of Rome as a grand city filled with shining marble and peopled with decadent-toga-clad citizens. In reality, the city was a swampy, stinking, disease-ridden mess with filth in the streets and a fire nearly every night in one of its buildings. See what life would have been like for Rome’s ordinary citizens.

31 min
Roman Art and Architecture
8: Roman Art and Architecture

Two of the great legacies of the Roman Empire are its art and architecture. You will reflect on the Etruscan and Greek influences on Roman portraits and sculptures, see how Augustus used art as propaganda, and learn about some of the many architectural and engineering innovations—including the Pantheon and the aqueducts.

32 min
Roman Literature
9: Roman Literature

Roman literature had its roots in Greek influences, but by the time of the Empire, Roman writers had come into their own. The works you will study include the fiery rhetoric of Cicero; the poetry of Horace and Ovid; and Virgil’s epic about Rome’s founding, the Aeneid. You’ll also review histories, technical works, and writings on Christianity.

32 min
The Ordinary Roman Speaks: Graffiti
10: The Ordinary Roman Speaks: Graffiti

The traditional understanding of Rome was based on accounts by upper-class males, who wrote the primary sources historians relied on for generations. More recent historians have looked at new sources to gain a fuller sense of the city’s history. You will examine graffiti preserved at Pompeii in order to hear directly from everyday Romans.

31 min
Final Words: Burial and Tombstone Epitaphs
11: Final Words: Burial and Tombstone Epitaphs

Continue your study of everyday Romans with a look at the epitaphs on their tombstones. While elaborate tombs were reserved for the very rich, people of all social classes had their thoughts and stories inscribed on tombstones. You will also explore how the Romans buried their dead.

30 min
From Commodus to Caracalla
12: From Commodus to Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius may have been a wise philosopher, but he didn’t act wisely when appointing his son Commodus as heir; who turned out to be a throwback to the megalomania of Caligula and Nero. Emperor Septimius Severus provided a short period of stability, but his son, Caracalla, was yet another unbalanced ruler.

32 min
The Crisis of the 3rd Century
13: The Crisis of the 3rd Century

The empire hit a low point with Elagabalus, who was arguably the worst Roman emperor of all—which is saying quite a lot. Then Rome teetered on the brink of total collapse due to a deadly combination of civil war, barbarian invasions, economic collapse, and natural disasters.

31 min
Diocletian and Late 3rd-Century Reforms
14: Diocletian and Late 3rd-Century Reforms

Just when the Roman Empire seemed on the verge of collapse, a series of hard-headed, practical emperors managed to rescue it. Follow the astonishing story of how these men, led by the reformer Diocletian, drove back the barbarians and stabilized the faltering Empire.

32 min
Early Christianity and the Rise of Constantine
15: Early Christianity and the Rise of Constantine

Stability never lasted long in the Roman Empire. At the dawn of the 4th century, Christianity emerged as a major world force—made manifest by Constantine’s dramatic and unexpected conversion. Find out how and why Christianity developed and spread, and the role it played in subsequent political events.

32 min
Constantine and His Successors
16: Constantine and His Successors

Take a closer look at Constantine and explore his motivations for converting to Christianity. Learn about the Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicaea, which codified key aspects of Christian theology. Then see why Constantine founded a new capital city at Byzantium, and the state of the empire at the end of his life.

32 min
Gladiators and Beast Hunts
17: Gladiators and Beast Hunts

Gladiators dominate today’s popular imagination when it comes to ancient Rome—and indeed, the Romans loved their spectacles and sports. As you will find out here, gladiator combat was only one of many popular entertainments in the empire. Find out who the gladiators were and what their lives were like. Then turn to another popular contest: the beast hunt.

32 min
Chariot Racing, Spectacles, and Theater
18: Chariot Racing, Spectacles, and Theater

Although gladiators dominate Hollywood films, chariot racing was actually the most popular sport in the Roman Empire. Go inside the Circus Maximus and learn about the factions and teams of chariot racers. Then shift your attention to the world of the theater, where plays, mimes, and music entertained the masses.

32 min
The Roman Army
19: The Roman Army

No survey of the Roman Empire would be complete without a detailed look at one of its most central institutions: the military. Take a look at the organization of Rome’s fighting forces. See what kind of equipment soldiers were outfitted with, how they trained, and what joining the military meant for farm boys in the provinces.

32 min
Barbarians Overwhelm the Western Empire
20: Barbarians Overwhelm the Western Empire

Administration is only half the battle in maintaining a tremendous empire. You also have to defend the borders, and from the 3rd to the 5th centuries, Rome experienced an increasing wave of invasions by outsiders. Here, Professor Aldrete introduces you to the Huns, the Visigoths, the Vandals, and other invaders who penetrated Rome’s borders and plundered the empire.

31 min
The Byzantine Empire
21: The Byzantine Empire

While the western half of the Roman Empire had clearly collapsed by the end of the 5th century, the eastern Romans in the Byzantine Empire flourished for another thousand years. Visit the world of Constantinople, meet fascinating figures such as Justinian and Theodora, and see what made the Byzantine Empire so successful.

32 min
When and Why Did the Roman Empire Fall?
22: When and Why Did the Roman Empire Fall?

Generations of historians have struggled over—and disagreed about--the fundamental questions of when and why the Roman Empire fell. This lecture critically evaluates a wide range of possible answers to these complex and enduring questions.

32 min
Late Antiquity: A New Historical Era
23: Late Antiquity: A New Historical Era

Traditionally, historians have viewed the years 200 to 600 as a time of collapse and stagnation, the end of Rome and the arrival of the “Dark Ages.” Recent historians have taken another look at this era and seen a time of invigorating change, a vibrant mingling of cultures, and an exciting transition between antiquity and the Middle Ages.

34 min
Echoes of Rome
24: Echoes of Rome

In this final lecture, consider the legacy of the Roman Empire, which influences us in innumerable ways, from our language to our legal codes. Because history is ultimately about people, Professor Aldrete closes with a few final voices to keep everyday Romans alive, and a reflection on what they might tell us today.

38 min
Gregory S. Aldrete

As an ancient historian, my goals are to share the enthusiasm for and fascination with antiquity that I feel, and to show some of the connections between that world and our own.


University of Michigan


University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

About Gregory S. Aldrete

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 category, receiving both its Founders Association Award for Excellence in Scholarship and its Founders Association Award for Excellence in Teaching. That recognition of his teaching skills was echoed on a national level in 2009, when he received the American Philological Association Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level-the national teaching award given annually by the professional association of classics professors. The recipient of many prestigious research fellowships including five from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Professor Aldrete has published several important books in his field, including Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome; Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome; Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia; The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life I: The Ancient World (as editor); Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery: Reconstructing and Testing Ancient Linen Body Armor (with S. Bartell and A. Aldrete) and The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What Have the Greeks and Romans Done for Us (with A. Aldrete).

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