January 17, 2010

History 110: Roman Republic

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Available on iTunesU. I could not find a course website.

Professor Isabelle Pafford from The Ancient Mediterranean World podcasts returns for another series of Ancient History podcasts. This time a course on the Roman Republic given during Fall 2008 at Santa Clara University. There are 19 podcasts – 1 is a slide show video, but the others are audio only. Each podcast is around 50 minutes in length and around 50MB. In the audio podcasts there are often references to slides that are not available online.

The course starts with the stories of Rome’s foundation along with details of the surrounding area and people, which presumably influenced early Rome. The Roman Kingdom is quickly passed over (perhaps due to a lack of information on the era) for the Roman Republic. Most attention is focussed on the Late Republic, with over half the lectures on the period from the Gracchi to Caesar – around 133BC to 49BC.

These lectures are full of engrossing details. There is a bit of historical timeline talk (on this date this happened and on that date that happened), but the series is more about the life and times of ancient Rome. For instance, there is often discussion of the Cursus Honorum (a series of military and administrative positions that provided a semi-formal structure to a political career) and how it affected the way people sought or achieved power. There was also a strong patron-client system, where a person’s power could, in part, be measured by the number of clients/followers they had. Thus, manumission was common as freed slaves were typically clients of their previous owner. There is also some interesting consideration of which events are definitely known to have occurred, the fixed-points of history, and those parts of the primary sources that may be apocryphal.

Professor Pafford can be an engaging speaker, and it is clear this is an area she knows well. Indeed the extra colour provided as cracks began to appear in the republic had me hooked. It was a classic fight between two political parties, the Optimates and Populares – modern analogies are too easy to make. Although the ability to raise private armies and the tendency of losers to be executed adds an epic scale to proceedings. The final result may be well-known, with Caesar the unlikely Populares triumphing – but I still raced through the last half-dozen lectures.

It was a good thing I did know what happened in the end, as the end of the lecture series is missing (hint Caesar is assassinated and his nephew eventually dissolved the republic, becoming the first emperor, Augustus). I would guess that around a half-dozen of the lectures are unavailable, mainly around the mid-republic. At one point Professor Pafford apologises for losing some lectures in a hard-drive crash. So I suppose their absence is forgiveable. However, like the earlier Ancient Mediterranean podcasts, there are numerous other production issues. The audio quality is usually good, apart from a few notable exceptions. The video lecture is almost impossible to hear, and the slides are small relative to the screen. Another lecture on the First Triumvirate is split across two lectures because it sounds like the microphone failed (and the second part is very quiet). There is also quite a bit of course administrative talk (assignments, books, etc) – in one 40 minute lecture, 8 minutes are spent on such course administration topics. At least the class seem interested and ask some good questions. The lectures are also presented out of order on iTunes. It helps to know a bit of history to reorganise them from the titles.

Interesting history podcasts, again let down a little by production.

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