According to iTunes, the History of Rome podcast contains three days worth of audio. After completing the astronomy podcasts, I spent the last few months listening to the History of Rome. Since I spend about two hours per day commuting, it took less time than expected.
The most shocking thing I learned was how little I knew about the Roman Empire. Like most people I had taken at least a few classes throughout my life that discussed Roman history. I assumed I at least knew the broad strokes, but I was wrong. After listening to 76 hours of Roman history, I am still not an expert, but I have a much better grasp of the thousand year span of the Roman Empire. At the very least , I have unlearned some information I accepted as fact.
Rome was not the Roman Empire
When discussing the Roman Empire, most focus on the city of Rome. Surely Rome was the center of Roman civilization for much of it history and much of the political power resided in the city, but at its peak, the Roman Empire included North Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and England. It encompassed at least part of 50 different modern countries. The empire was culturally diverse and no one city gives a true representation of the empire. In later years, the Rome was not even the capital of the empire—it was moved to Milan, Ravenna, and Constantinople. Some later Emperors would spend years outside of Rome or never even visit. By the time Rome was sacked by the Vandals, Rome was largely irrelevant and mostly a symbol.
Bread and Circuses did not cause the fall of the Roman Empire
I think many people consider “Bread and Circuses” to be a major cause for the fall of the empire; perhaps it is used as an example of the dangers of Socialism. Maybe it is just a simple, relatable answer for a person to digest. Regardless of the reason, the free grain and lavish games that existed for hundreds of years—including during the golden age of Rome—were not a major contributing factor. Dozens of reasons exist for the fall; a thousand year empire does not crumble overnight for a single reason. A few of the actual reasons are: inept and corrupt leadership, religious persecution, economic destabilization and inflation, xenophobia, poor education, lack of a middle class, consolidation of wealth, and the refusal of the upper class to contribute back to society. There were many other factors, but those are the ones that stood out to me.
Rome and Greece Coexisted
For some reason I had always thought of Roman civilization following Greek civilization with little to no overlap. Rome fought several wars with Greece and eventually Greece became part of the empire. Much greek philosophy and literature was directly adopted by the Romans. Prior to Hannibal, Rome fought a war with a Spartan led Carthage. These two great cultures of the ancient world interacted and overlapped. This and many other facts from the podcast highlight that history is not a set of incidents and civilizations broken by exact start and end dates; history is complicated and events and peoples overlap more than simple timelines would have you believe.
There are so many other things I learned that I feel I should mention, but this post has to end eventually. To conclude, here is a list of a few of my favorite things from the podcast.
- Favorite Name: Scipio Africanus. Scipio took on the name Africanus after defeating Hannibal.
- Favorite Quote: “It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them.” Spoken by Tiberius Caesar in reference to taxation.
- Favorite Business Plan: The fire department of Crassus. If a building was on fire, Crassus would offer the services of his slaves to put out the fire. The price was for the owner to sell the building and possibly surrounding buildings for a fraction of their worth. Otherwise Crassus would just stand by and watch it burn.
- Favorite Worst Emperor: Commodus. He seemed to actually believe he was the reincarnation of Hercules and participated in gladiatorial combat.
- Favorite Governmental Transition: Pertinax to Didius Julianus. After refusing to pay what amounted to a enormous bribe to the Praetorian Guard–the royal bodyguard, charged with protecting the emperor—Pertinax was murdered. The position of emperor was then sold by the guard to the highest bidder.