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Roman Empire Study

December 1, 2021 10:00am

Contact: Bill ZettingerBill Zettinger

St. Bart’s 12-Week Study
Wednesdays, beginning September 8
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

At its height, the Roman Empire spanned the entire Mediterranean and included more than 60 million inhabitants. The empire was one of the most famous and influential states in all of world history, and the story of its spectacular rise and disastrous fall has exerted an irresistible fascination for the last 2,000 years. Roman contributions to art, architecture, law, language, religion, science, philosophy, and culture still surround and constantly affect us today. Rome’s military triumphs have inspired generations of would-be conquerors, and the famed discipline and organization of its legions have provided models for countless later armies.

This course begins with the first emperor, Augustus, who emerged as the ultimate winner of the vicious cycle of civil wars that caused the destruction of the Roman Republic. You will discover how he created the new institution of the Roman principate, establishing the model that would be emulated by all subsequent emperors. The course then traces the dramatic history of the empire under a succession of good leaders and bad, from the depravity of mad Caligula to the stoic philosophical musings of Marcus Aurelius. You will see how the empire reaches a geographic, cultural, military, and economic high point in the 2nd century AD under the enlightened rule of the Antonine emperors but then comes to the brink of collapse during the so-called crisis of the 3rd century due to a deadly combination of government instability, barbarian invasions, and economic crises. A series of tough-minded reformers, such as Diocletian, stabilize the situation, and then events take an unexpected turn early in the 4th century, when Constantine becomes the first emperor to convert to Christianity. Soon, new waves of barbarians challenge Rome, and the empire splits, with the western half eventually falling in the 5th century while the eastern section manages to continue for nearly another millennium in the guise of the Byzantine Empire, centered on Constantinople. The final lectures of the course take an in-depth look at the complex questions of when exactly the Roman Empire fell, why it fell, whether the period of late antiquity was a time of destruction and loss or innovation and new growth, and what the long-term influences of Rome were upon the modern world.

Interspersed throughout this grand chronological narrative are a number of lectures that illuminate specific key aspects of Roman civilization, including art, architecture, bath culture, literature, the Roman army, spectacular entertainments (such as gladiator shows and chariot racing), and the many hazards of daily life in the Roman city. In addition to relating the remarkable stories of famous Roman emperors, generals, authors, and artists, several lectures are devoted to recovering the lost voices of ordinary Roman men, women, children, and slaves through a close examination of often-ignored source materials, such as graffiti scratched or painted on walls and the inscriptions carved on Roman tombstones.

This course presents a lively, engaging account of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire accompanied by insightful and in-depth investigations of the key factors and personalities that shaped its history.

Class will begin on ZOOM on September 8 at 10:00 a.m.

Here is a list of the topics of the 24 videos.

24 lectures

1. Dawn of the Roman Empire

2. Augustus, the First Emperor

3. Tiberius and Caligula

4. Claudius and Nero

5. The Flavian Emperors and Roman Bath Culture

6. The Five Good Emperors

7. Hazards of Life in Ancient Rome: The Five Fs

8. Roman Art and Architecture

9. Roman Literature

10. The Ordinary Roman Speaks: Graffiti

11. Final Words: Burial and Tombstone Epitaphs

12. From Commodus to Caracalla

13. The Crisis of the 3rd Century

14. Diocletian and Late 3rd-Century Reforms

15. Early Christianity and the Rise of Constantine

16. Constantine and His Successors

17. Gladiators and Beast Hunts

18. Chariot Racing, Spectacles, and Theater

19. The Roman Army

20. Barbarians Overwhelm the Western Empire

21. The Byzantine Empire

22. When and Why Did the Roman Empire Fall?

23. Late Antiquity: A New Historical Era

24. Echoes of Rome

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