Rome 29: The End of the Western Roman Empire?

In the last lecture, we saw the Goths rise up and overthrow the last Roman Emperor in the West. In this lecture, we ask a single, simple question. Did the Roman Empire in fact fall? The answer, as we shall see, is more complicated than it may seem.

Rome 28: The Goths

In the last lecture, we got a sense of what Europe looked like as Rome expanded northward and westward. It was a diverse region with many different peoples, separated roughly into two groups: the Celtic and the “Germanic” tribes. In this lecture, I want to zoom in and examine, more closely a “Germanic” tribe called the Goths. The reason for this is because the Goths will largely be responsible for maintaining some of the institutions of the Roman Empire once it “falls” in the West.

Rome 27: The “Germanic” Tribes

In the last lecture, we met the Celts, a diverse people who inhabited Gaul, modern-day France, and Ireland primarily. In this lecture, we will examine another major group of people who are collectively referred to as “Germans” or “Germanic” tribes. Like the classification of the Celts as Celts, Germanic tribes are classified by culture and language. But also like the Celts, these people were quite diverse and resided in regions from Scandinavia to Bavaria and from eastern Europe to England. In this lecture, we will meet some of the more important Germanic peoples with whom the Romans came into contact.

Rome 26: The Celts

In the past few lectures, we’ve seen the rise of Christianity and its acceptance in Rome. In this lecture, I want to look at another theme, the people whom Romans called “barbarians.” This will be the first of a few lectures that address this group of people. As we shall see, there were roughly two categories of the so-called barbarians: the Celtic Tribes and the Germanic tribes. In this lecture, we explore the former.

Rome 24: The Rise of Christianity

Before reading this chapter, STOP. Take a moment and think about what your perceptions are of the medieval Church. What came to mind? The Pope, corruption, scandal, power, controllers of Europe, manipulators of kings? These popular images of the medieval Church and the Papacy are not unfounded. But these images and notions are, for the most part, that of a Church developed. In the Early Middle Ages the Papacy was only a few hundred years old. Christianity was only made legal in the the early fourth century by Emperor Constantine and not made the official religion of the Roman Empire until 380 by Emperor Theodosius. What did the Church look like before this? How much power did it wield after? And how did it function after the "fall" of the Roman Empire in the West in the late fifth century? These questions shall frame this lecture.

Rome 23: The Crisis of the Third Century

In the previous lectures, we’ve seen the relatively good rule of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. In this lecture, we turn to the third century. Unfortunately for Rome, this is a period known as the Crisis of the Third Century. The reason is rather similar to the crisis we saw in 69 when there were four emperors in a single year, just stretched out over much of a century. The crisis was the result of economic, militaristic, and egoistical problems that emerged all at once. Power became divided and the manners of ascension became inconsistent and decentralized.

Rome 21: The Nerva-Antonines

In the previous lecture, we saw the end of the Flavian dynasty with the death of Domitian. In this lecture, we pick up where we left off and begin with a new dynasty that would rule for 180 years, the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. The first five of these emperors were termed by Edward Gibbon “The Five Good Emperors.” The final emperor in this dynasty was an apple that would fall far from the tree, a man named Commodus, whose death, as we shall see, would put Rome on a path for civil war.

Rome 20: The Flavians

In the previous lecture, we examined the Year of the Four Emperors, a period in which four Roman emperors vied for power. This was the result of the power vacuum after Nero’s death in 68 and lasted until Vespasian came to the throne in December 69, having been declared emperor by the Senate and the people. Vespasian ushered in a period known as the Flavian dynasty. They shall be the subject of this lecture. While this dynasty was short-lived, it was both effective and good for the Roman state. As we shall see Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian actively tried to improve the Roman state and brought in a period of peace and stability after nearly a year of civil war up until the assassination of Domitian.

Rome 19: The Year of the Four Emperors

In the last lecture, we saw the rise and fall of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was the last in this line. His suicide was welcomed by the Roman elites, but it also created a new host of problems that would lead to civil war, the first civil war since the death of Antony some 80 years earlier. This civil war would be short lived, it would begin shortly after Nero’s death in 68 and continue until the rise of Vespasian in 69. Between this short period, just one year, four Romans would become emperor. Three would die shortly after and one, Vespasian, would usher in a new dynasty, the Flavians.

Rome 18: The Julio-Claudians

In the previous lecture, we examined the reforms that Augustus instituted during his reign. In this lecture, I want to look at the final years of his life and the beginning of the so-called Julio-Claudian dynasty of Roman emperors. As we will see, Augustus was something of a zenith in the early years of the Roman Empire. In this lecture, we are going to examine those who followed Augustus as Princeps of Rome. The period that we are looking at in Roman history is often referred to as the Early Principate, that is, the early period of what we call the Roman Empire. What does the term Principate mean? It comes from the Latin word Princeps, which literally means “The First.” This is the title that the Julio-Claudians assumed. They were the “First among Citizens.” The Principate is the realm that the Princeps oversees. In other words, Princeps, is the Emperor, and Principate is the government of the Empire.

Rome 17: The Reforms of Augustus

In the previous lecture, we saw the rise of Augustus. We saw how a young, adopted son of Caesar out-smarted some of the greatest minds the Roman state had to offer. He and Mark Antony briefly allied in the Second Triumvirate to avenge the death of Caesar, but their alliance was short lived. While Antony ruled in the East, Augustus ruled in the West. This dichotomy and Antony’s love for Cleopatra and Alexandrian life, allowed Augustus to lure the Roman elites away from Antony. After a brief war, which culminated at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE (followed by the suicide of Antony), Augustus became the sole ruler of Rome. In this lecture, I want to speak a bit more about the reforms Augustus instituted. We spoke briefly in the last lecture about Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, a period of stability that Augustus brought about. During this period of peace, Augustus was able to reform the Roman state and make necessary changes that set it up for its full transformation to an Empire. These reforms are roughly categorized into a few forms: Moral, Bureaucratic, Financial, Architectural, and Religious. In this lecture, I want to highlight the moral, bureaucratic, and architectural reforms in particular.

Rome 16: The Age of Augustus

In the previous lectures, we saw the rise and fall of the First Triumvirate and the assassination of Julius Caesar. Caesar came to power through civil war, in which he challenged the Roman state and campaigned against his former ally, Pompey. In the end Caesar was successful, that is, until he was assassinated by his fellow Roman aristocrats who viewed him as a threat to the state. Remember, Rome still viewed their system of a Republic as intact, despite the fact that Caesar declared himself dictator in perpetuity. Even after his death, they still viewed the Republic as salvageable. What they did not realize, is that they had far outgrown the bounds of the Republic. In this lecture (and the next), we see how one man comes to power and changes the Roman state to better facilitate its size. Such changes require a single individual to have central authority. This lecture marks the beginning of Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire under Augustus, the aristocrat formerly known as Octavian.

Rome 11: Marius and Sulla

In this lecture, I want to discuss the immediate effects of these reforms by looking at two individuals, Marius, the man responsible for these reforms, and Sulla. If humans have archenemies, Sulla was Marius’. In other words, we are going to look at the effects of these Marian Reforms and the reaction to those effects. What should become clear by the end of this lecture, is that Romans used the precedents of the second century, specifically the events surrounding Scipio Aemilianus and the Gracchi, to gain personal glory, honor, power, and wealth. In other words, they placed the individual over the state. 

Rome 10: Second Century Military Changes

In the past lectures, we’ve seen the political results of these developments. In this lecture, I want to focus on the militaristic results, that is, how these changes in Rome affected the military. Remember, to be in the Roman military, one had to be somewhat wealthy because it was a self-funded enterprise. What will happen to the military when their ranks dwindle because fewer can join? This is a question Rome faced in the second century and one that we shall discuss in this lecture.

Rome 09: Scipio Aemilianus and the Gracchi

This Rise of the Individual, as I call it, is both the natural result of Roman expansion and increased wealth and a testament to the strength of the Roman Republic but it is also the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. Beginning in the second century, Rome had outgrown the institutions that it had. One theme that I will continue to emphasize over the next eight lectures is that Rome would not, or more likely, could not change their political and social structures quickly enough to accommodate for their rapid expansion. As a result, that would allowed them to emerge so quickly in the Western Mediterranean as a dominate force would ultimately be their undoing as they drifted into civil war at the end of the first millennium. This lecture marks the beginning of that story.

Rome 08: The Social and Political Changes

In the past few lectures, we have discussed the ways in which Rome expanded. We saw them first attack their neighbors and expand their empire across Italy. Next, we saw them turn their attention to Sicily resulting in the First Punic War. The First Punic War forced Rome to rapidly and effectively produce a navy capable of defeating the chief naval power of the Mediterranean, Carthage. With a navy and the control of important islands, Rome began to expand into the western and then eastern portions of the Mediterranean through the Second and Second Punic Wars and the Macedonian Wars. At the end of these lectures, I tried to briefly discuss some of the radical changes these wars and this expansion wrought. I would like to expand on these ideas during this lecture.

Rome 07: The Punic Wars

In the last lecture we saw the rise of Rome on the Italian Peninsula. In this lecture, I want to focus on the first major encounter Rome had with a non-Italian adversary. This foe was Carthage.

Rome 06: The Conquest of Italy

In the past few lectures, we have contextualized Rome and its place within the Mediterranean Sea generally and the Italian Peninsula specifically. Today we are going to be looking at how Rome grew to conquer the Italian Peninsula. More importantly, we are going to look at how they handled those they conquered and some of the remedies Rome came up with to handle their rapidly expanding empire. I want to again emphasize this term empire. You are going to hear me use it regularly. If you are reading this lecture, then you will notice I am using a lowercase "e". This is intentional.  When we speak of the Roman Empire with a capital "E", we are speaking about the period of Roman history known as the Empire which begins after Augustus. For right now, we are using a lowercase "e" because Rome had an empire long before Augustus' reforms. Think about that word "empire". Any idea where it comes from?  It comes from a Roman term imperium , which means "command". As Rome grew to dominate other people, they began to have an empire throughout which they commanded over various peoples. And their empire begins in this lecture as they conquer the Italian Peninsula.

Rome 05: The Institutions of the Roman Republic

After the Rome's regal period, they entered into what is known as the Roman Republic. The word republic comes from the Latin words res publica, which literally translates to "the public thing." The republic was, by definition, a system that belonged to the people. In this lecture we are going to explore what a republic is, what it meant to the Romans, its strengths and weaknesses, and some of the important institutions and social structures that constituted the Roman Republic. While our chief concern will be the offices of the government and military, we will pay special attention to the ways in which the Romans categorized and classified their people. Because we are dealing with Roman terms, many of the key words you encounter in this lecture will be Latin. There is, unfortunately, no way around this. Nevertheless, I will try to keep these terms to a minimum.

Rome 04 - The Mythical Origins of Rome

In this lecture we are going to explore how Rome viewed their earliest history and how that balances against fact. Early cultures rarely have an accurate view of their earliest past. 

Rome 03: The Ancient Italian Peninsula

In the past lectures, I spoke about the Ancient Mediterranean. We saw that this was a belligerent political arena fraught with peril. We saw that the annual calendar was developed around agriculture. Men fought with neighboring communities in the Summer but returned home to tend to their crops in the Fall. Today we are going to zoom in and look more closely at the Italian Peninsula in particular just before Rome began to dominate its neighbors. What is the geography of the Italian Peninsula? What kind of crops are particularly suited to grow there? How was early Italy divided? What was the chief form of government on the peninsula? What languages were spoken? Why was Rome particularly suited to grow effectively? These are some of the questions that shall frame our discussion.

Rome 02: The Ancient Mediterranean

Welcome to the Ancient Mediterranean. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with it because it's going to be our home for many lectures to come. It is impossible to study Rome without first contextualizing its place within the Mediterranean and the reason for this can be explained by simply analyzing the name of this body of water. Mediterranean. Stop and think about this word. Have you ever considered what it means? If you go to Saudi Arabia and ask what it is called, the Arabic word will be a cognate of the same word in all Western languages. It is Latin in origin and those who speak Italian, French, or Spanish may find a few familiar words embedded within its name. Mediterranean is a combination of two Latin words: medius, which means middle, and terra which means land, world, earth. Roughly translated Mediterranean means "the middle of the world."

Rome 01: Early Writing Cultures

There is something magical about the written word. It connects us to the past in a way no other technology can. With the advent of writing, the historian's profession was born. In this chapter, we will be exploring the earliest writing cultures. Throughout the chapter, pay particular attention to how environment shapes writing. We will look closely at twowriting cultures: Mesopotamia and Crete. It should be noted, my intention in this chapter is not to present a chronological history of these regions but rather present an examination of the writing culture of each respective place. If you would like a more chronological treatment of these regions, please see the links at the end of the chapter.

Play this podcast on Podbean App