A play-list for Roman History from the In Our Time archives.
I’ve become a bit of an addict of In Our Time since I was alerted to the archives available as podcasts by a tweet from someone, I can’t remember who. In Our Time is a Radio 4 programme where Melvyn Bragg discusses some topic with three academics. Whoever it was who sent that tweet said something along the lines of it possibly being the basis of a University syllabus, which gave me the idea of putting together a playlist for one of the topics I’m interested in: Roman History.
Taken from various sections of the In Our Time archive, the descriptions are edited excerpts of those found on the BBC In Our Time site. The links are more or less chronological in order of Roman history; on left are links to discussions that relate directly to the story of the Roman Empire, on the right are discussions which relate to neighbours of the Empire and ideas that influenced the story.
All except one of the programme* are available for download from the BBC site, I’ve cobbled together this rss file will set up a podcasts play list. (*I can’t find The Roman Empire’s Decline and Fall for download.)
For the historian Herodotus, the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC) was the defining clash between East and West, and allowed Western values to rise above Eastern.
People from the Levant who established a trading network across the Mediterranean linking many settlements, including Carthage.
The Etruscan Civilisation
Emerging ca.800 BC the Etruscans thrived for the next eight hundred years, extracting and trading copper and developing a sophisticated culture. Eventually the Etruscan civilisation was absorbed into that of Rome.
Romulus and Remus
According to tradition, the twins were abandoned by their parents as babies, but were saved by a she-wolf who found and nursed them. Romulus killed his brother after a vicious quarrel, and went on to found a city, which was named after him.
Res publica, 500-50BC
The Roman Republic
The rise and eventual downfall of the Roman Republic which survived for 500 years.
The Carthaginian general who led an entire army, complete with elephants, across the Alps in order to attack the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War which unfolded between 218 and 202 BC.
Carthage and its destruction by the Romans in the 2nd Century BC, was a pivotal moment in world history that left Rome as the supreme power in the Mediterranean.
Born in the second century BC, Judas led his followers, the Maccabees, in a rebellion against the Seleucid Empire, which was attempting to impose the Greek culture and religion on the Jews
Slave revolts in the 1st century BC, especially the Roman gladiator and rebel leader Spartacus.
The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. She was lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
The Augustan Age
A golden age of literature with Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphosis among its treasures. But they were forged amidst creeping tyranny and the demands of literary propaganda.
Greek and Roman Love Poetry
Greek and Roman love poetry, from the Greek poet Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos, to the love-hate poems of the Roman writer Catullus.
Much of Roman culture was a development of their rich inheritance from the Greeks. But satire was a form the Romans could claim to have invented.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Ovid and explore the theme of metamorphosis from the transformation of Narcissus to the bug of Kafka’s story, and beyond.
Virgil’s Aeneid was the great epic poem that formed a founding narrative of Rome, written in Augustus’ reign at the start of the Imperial era and has been called an apologia for Roman domination; it has also been called the greatest work of literature ever written.
Vitruvius and De Architectura
Written almost exactly two thousand years ago, Vitruvius’ work is a ten-volume treatise on engineering and architecture, the only surviving work on the subject from the ancient world.
Paul’s impact on Christianity is vast. Crucially, Paul is responsible for changing Christianity from a Jewish reform movement into a separate and universal religion.
Pliny’s Natural History
Some time in the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, an enormous reference work which attempted to bring together knowledge on every subject under the sun.
Pliny the Younger
A prominent lawyer in Rome in the first century AD, Pliny later became governor of the province of Bithynia, on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey. Throughout his career he was a prolific letter-writer, sharing his thoughts with great contemporaries including the historian Tacitus, and asking the advice of the Emperor Trajan.
Tacitus and the Decadence of Rome
Roman historian Tacitus chronicled some of Rome’s most notorious emperors, including Nero and Caligula, and whose portrayal of Roman decadence influences the way we see Rome today.
The Greek historians who studied and recorded the Celts’ way of life deemed them to be one of the four great Barbarian peoples of the world. Perched on the North Western fringe were the British who shared many of the religious, artistic and social customs of their European neighbours.
One backwater of the Empire noted for its wretched climate, gloomy atmosphere and uncouth inhabitants.
Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain.
In 60AD, Boudica led an army of tribesmen and sacked Camulodunum, modern day Colchester, before marching on London. She came close to driving the Roman Imperial power out of Britain before she was finally defeated.
Built in about 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian, its construction must have entailed huge cost and labour. However, the Romans abandoned it within twenty years, deciding to build the Antonine Wall further north instead.
The Cult of Mithras
A mystery religion that existed in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD.
Ptolemy and Ancient Astronomy
In the 2nd Century AD Ptolemy proposed that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and explained all the observed motions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars with a system of uniform circular motions which he referred to as ‘epicycles’.
Decline and Fall, Byzantium
The Roman Empire’s Decline and Fall
How far is the growth of Christianity implicated in the destruction of the great culture of Rome? How critical were the bawdy incursions of the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and the Vandals to the fall of the Roman Empire?
Born in around 240 AD, Zenobia was Empress of the Palmyrene Empire in the Middle East. A highly educated, intelligent and militarily accomplished leader, she led a rebellion against the Roman Empire and conquered Egypt before being finally defeated by the Emperor Aurelian.
The Sassanid Empire
Founded around 226 AD, in Persia, the Sassanian Empire lasted over 400 years as a grand imperial rival to Rome. This super-power traded goods from Constantinople to Beijing, handed regular defeats to the Roman army and only fell to the Islamic conquests of the 7th century.
The idea that God is a single entity, but one known in three distinct forms – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – has been a central belief for most Christians since the earliest years of the religion. The doctrine was often controversial in the early years of the Church, until clarified by the Council of Nicaea in the late 4th century.
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed which established the Divinity of Christ, written to counter the 4th Century Arian heresy
The Pelagian Controversy
In the late 4th century a British monk, Pelagius, travelled to Rome where he preached a Christian doctrine which many regarded as heretical: that mankind was not inherently depraved.
The Roman Empire’s Collapse in the 5th century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire (in the West, that is, the story continues).
In 453 with the Barbarians at the gate, through the gate and sacking the city of Rome “the wide arch of the ranged empire” finally began to fall…Or did it? In AD 395 the Emperor Theodosius had divided the vast Roman Empire between his two sons.How did the East survive when the West fell, were they really Romans and why do we know so little about one of the most successful and long lived Empires ever to straddle the globe?
The Arab Conquests
In 632 the prophet Muhammad died and left behind the nascent religion of Islam among a few tribes in the Arabian Desert. Within 100 years Arab armies controlled territory from Northern Spain to Southern Iran and Islamic ideas had begun to profoundly refashion the societies they touched.
The Abbasid Caliphs
From the mid eighth to the tenth century the Abbasid Caliphs headed a Muslim empire that extended from Tunisia through Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and Persia to Uzbekistan and the frontiers of India.
In 711 a small army of North African Berbers invaded Spain and established an Iberian Islamic culture that would last for over 700 years
The Battle of Tours
In 732 a large Arab army invaded Gaul from northern Spain, and travelled as far north as Poitiers. There they were defeated by Charles Martel, whose Frankish and Burgundian forces repelled the invaders.
The Carolingian Renaissance
In 800 AD on Christmas Day in Rome, Pope Leo III proclaimed Charlemagne Emperor, the first of the Holy Roman Emperors. A Frankish King who held more territory in Western Europe than any man since the Roman Emperor, Charlemagne’s lands extended from the Atlantic to Vienna and from Northern Germany to Rome.
When Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, seized Jerusalem back in 1187 Pope Gregory VIII issued a Papal Bull for restoring the Holy City to Christian Rule.
Constantinople Siege and Fall
When Sultan Mehmet the Second rode into the city of Constantinople on a white horse in 1453, it marked the end of a thousand years of the Byzantine Empire.
Rome and European Civilization
Melvyn Bragg assesses the role Rome has played in European civilization. Rome has meant Republicanism, as well as Imperialism; it has stood for Pax Romana and also for the machinery of war, it is an eternally pagan city that still beats as the Catholic Heart of the Christian Church.