Rome and the Barbarians

Course No. 3460
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 3460
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Course Overview

The history of the Romans and the "barbarians" they encountered as their mighty legions advanced the frontiers of Classical civilization has in large part been written as a story of warfare and conquest. But to tell the story on only that level leaves many questions unanswered, not only about the Romans but about the barbarians, as well.

  • Who were the Celts, Goths, Huns, Persians, and so many others met by the Romans as they marched to the north and east? And what made them barbarians in the eyes of Rome?
  • What were the political, military, and social institutions that made Rome so stable, allowing its power to be wielded against these different cultures for almost three centuries?
  • What role did those institutions themselves play in assimilating barbarian peoples, first as provincials and often as players in a vast process of Romanization?

What Is a Barbarian? Explore the Basis of Western European Civilization

Rome and the Barbarians tells the story of the complex relationships between each of these native peoples and their Roman conquerors as they intermarried, exchanged ideas and mores, and, in the ensuing provincial Roman cultures, formed the basis of Western European civilization.

As you examine the interaction between Rome and the barbarians from 300 B.C. to A.D. 600, you learn that the definition of barbarian was, effectively, the "next group not under Roman control." And you see how that definition was always changing, as former barbarians became assimilated into the Roman world, becoming provincials and, often, eventually Romanized themselves.

In leading you through this 900-year period, Tulane University's Professor Kenneth W. Harl organizes the course around two major themes:

  • The makeup of Roman society, politics, and military organization, particularly from the standpoint of how those institutions enabled the Romans not only to conquer those peoples, but integrate them
  • The role played by the most recent of Rome's barbarian foes—especially the Germans and the Persians—in bringing down the Roman Empire, including the question of what gave them the military or political edge to accomplish this.

Throughout these lectures, and the introduction of each new barbarian culture, Professor Harl emphasizes three crucial aspects of Rome's relationships to them:

  1. The ability of the Romans to adapt and build pragmatically on existing structures of the barbarian world, using what worked, and not simply imposing a "Roman way"
  2. The ways the Romans looked on these barbarians not only as outsiders, but also as potential allies and provincials
  3. What barbarian societies were like at the time of Roman contact and conquest, and how, through assimilation, they contributed to the successful establishment of Roman provinces.

Enjoy an Intimate Sense of History

Professor Harl is a nine-time winner of Tulane University's Student Award for Excellence in Teaching. His other popular courses for The Teaching Company have explored The Era of the Crusades, The World of Byzantium, and Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor.

As in each of those courses, Professor Harl, in Rome and the Barbarians, puts on display a prodigious knowledge, combined with a wry wit and street-level familiarity with his subject that allows him to navigate the most distant pathways of history with a rare sense of intimacy.

In this course, Professor Harl has the opportunity to share the nuances of his principal area of interest and research—indeed, his passion—in exploring a subject whose influence on today's world, more than 1,400 years later, is as apparent to us now as it must have been then.

"What Rome perhaps gave, foremost, to the barbarian successor states were certainly some of the institutions, the literary culture, the organization that survived in the church, as well as the model to which to aspire," says Professor Harl.

"Even after Rome, as a political force, had disappeared, Rome remained a mentor to these peoples, who fused to become the ancestors of the modern Europeans.

"Rome is, therefore, ever present with us, and is ever a mentor, even to us today, as it was for those barbarians of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries."

Nine Centuries of Fascinating Characters

Beyond the institutions that made Rome so extraordinary, of course, are the equally extraordinary figures—both Roman and barbarian—whose names have been familiar to us for so long, along with some that are not.

Among the many figures you'll come to know are:

  • Augustus, the emperor whose organizational genius allowed him to establish the constitutional basis of the Principate—the imperial government in which the emperor rules in accordance with the symbols and powers of the Republic
  • Constantine I, who reunited the Roman world and, in dedicating Constantinople—"New Rome"—as a Christian capital, assured the future of the Christian Byzantine empire
  • Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, one of the greatest of Roman commanders, whose defeat of Hannibal ended the Second Punic War
  • Diocletian, the emperor who put the empire on a sound fiscal footing and attempted to create a permanent Tetrarchy, wherein imperial power was shared by two senior and two junior emperors
  • Jugurtha, the Numidian king whose wars against his cousins for mastery of Numidia caused him to blunder into a scandalous war with Rome
  • Gaius Julius Caesar, the most famous Roman of them all and the creator of the Roman imperial monarchy. As a dictator, he reformed Rome, but his monarchical aspirations led to his assassination
  • Nero, whose amoral and outrageous conduct alienated the ruling classes and frontier legions and precipitated his downfall and suicide
  • Attila, the Hun ruler whose devastating raids into the Balkans earned him the sobriquet "Scourge of God," and whose life of warfare and violence ended, ironically, with a death from overindulgence at his own wedding
  • Shapur I, the second Sassanid Shah of Persia who waged three successful campaigns against Rome, captured the Emperor Valerian, and sacked Antioch, the third city of the Roman Empire
  • Ermanaric, the King of the Gothic confederation, remembered in Norse legend as a cunning and cruel tyrant, who committed suicide after being defeated by Huns and Alans in 375.

A list like this only begins to scratch the surface of the personalities brought to life by Professor Harl, whose dedication to this historical place and period is so complete he can be accurately described as speaking of individual Romans—as well as barbarian kings—as if they were acquaintances.

But these lectures deliver far more than personal snapshots, as compelling as those may be.

The Institutions that Shaped Rome and Its New Provinces

Professor Harl also brings to life the institutions that shaped both Rome and her relationship with, and assimilation of, the barbarians at her constantly expanding frontiers.

You learn about the nuances of Roman politics, and how one advanced—or didn't—in the Roman hierarchy.

You study the rules of servitude in the Roman world, and the upward mobility possible even for many slaves.

You find out about the daily lives of Rome's fighting men—including the techniques that made them so feared—and how changes in military organization brought about by the pressures of maintaining an empire took an inevitable toll on the might of Rome's forces.

Engage in an Unusual Depth of Detail

Professor Harl spices his analysis with a depth of detail that makes this long-ago world live once again. You'll learn about:

  • The extraordinary design principle behind Roman encampments, which still survives in the street plans of cities in Western Europe and elsewhere
  • The ignominious end of notorious Ptolemy the "Thunderbolt," ruler of Macedon, his head made into a drinking cup after his failure to defeat the Gauls, who, like other Celts, often took heads as a way of counting the dead
  • The Roman focus on enforcing taxation, and how this strengthened Carthage and gave Hannibal the funds to reopen the struggle against Rome
  • How Caesar's Commentaries, long maligned as little more than a primer for those studying Latin, survives as a guide to generalship relied on by no less a tactician than William Tecumseh Sherman
  • Professor Harl's light-hearted tale of how the Goths, no matter how much fear they stirred, were utterly stumped by the problem of mounting a successful siege against a walled city
  • The importance to the Romans of logistics, and how the elaborate all-weather roads they constructed to support their strategic mobility still form the road systems of Western Europe
  • The catastrophic Varian disaster and how it forever changed Rome's perceptions of whether the barbarians at the northwestern borders could ever be truly controlled
  • The humiliating fate of the captured Emperor Valerian—whom records suggest spent the remainder of his days as a mounting stool for Shah Shapur.

Rome and the Barbarians gives you a new appreciation of how our Western world came to be and detailed knowledge about the individuals from royalty to "barbarian" who played key roles in that process.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Greek and Roman Views of Barbarians
    Professor Kenneth W. Harl introduces the course and its main themes, beginning with an explanation of exactly what the ancient Romans meant by the term "barbarian." x
  • 2
    The Roman Republic
    This lecture introduces the constitutional and political institutions of Rome during the "Middle Republic" years, when Rome emerges with her political, military, and constitutional institutions in place. x
  • 3
    Roman Society
    This lecture looks at the societal bonds in the early Roman Republic that cemented the various social classes, or ordinates, as well as the Italian allied communities, into a wider Roman Republic, or Res Publica. x
  • 4
    The Roman Way of War
    This central lecture introduces the third of the key institutions of the middle and late Roman Republic—the army—and discusses the extraordinarily successful and brutal Roman way of war. x
  • 5
    Celtic Europe and the Mediterranean World
    You meet the Celtic-speaking peoples of western and central Europe, in many ways the epitome of "barbarians" to both the Greeks and Romans. x
  • 6
    The Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul
    Professor Harl explains the role played by the Celts—known to the Romans as Gauls—in northern Italy and the profound influence they had on early Rome. x
  • 7
    Romans and Carthaginians in Spain
    This lecture deals with the initial Roman intervention in, and eventual conquest of, the Iberian Peninsula—or what the Romans called Hispania. x
  • 8
    The Roman Conquest of Spain
    Professor Harl takes a closer look at the period from 197 B.C. to 133 B.C., when the Romans were forced to come to terms with the commitments they took on by defeating the Carthaginians in Spain. x
  • 9
    The Genesis of Roman Spain
    This lecture discusses the development of Roman Spain, moving us into the area of social and economic changes brought on by the Roman conquest. x
  • 10
    Jugurtha and the Nomadic Threat
    This lecture discusses the relationship between Rome and the barbarians of Roman North Africa, especially the Numidians and their king, Jugurtha—with whom Rome blundered into an ugly frontier war. x
  • 11
    Marius and the Northern Barbarians
    Gaius Marius, the victor over Jugurtha, fights a series of battles against the dreaded Germanic-speaking northern barbarians that shape not only the direction of Roman foreign policy but, ultimately, Roman attitudes toward those barbarians. x
  • 12
    Rome's Rivals in the East
    Professor Harl shifts the focus away from the western Mediterranean to the peoples who lay to the east, at the frontier Rome inherited by taking over the hegemony of the Hellenistic world. x
  • 13
    The Price of Empire—The Roman Revolution
    This lecture examines the impact on Rome's institutions of her wars, conquests, and territorial acquisitions. x
  • 14
    Julius Caesar and the Conquest of Gaul
    The entire axis and dimension of the Roman world is transformed during this key period in the career of perhaps the most memorable of all Romans. x
  • 15
    Early Germanic Europe
    In this first of a series of lectures introducing new barbarians, Professor Harl discusses the Germanic tribes who came to epitomize the most ferocious barbarians the Romans had encountered. x
  • 16
    The Nomads of Eastern Europe
    This lecture introduces still more barbarians to the mix: the various Iranian-speaking nomads of eastern Europe. x
  • 17
    Arsacid Parthia
    This lecture examines how the Parthians came to become the dominant barbarian power in the Near East and the great rival of Imperial Rome for almost 300 years. x
  • 18
    The Augustan Principate and Imperialism
    The focus returns to Rome proper: what the Roman Empire was all about, how it evolved from the institutions of the Republic, and how changing political arrangements altered those institutions and, ultimately, Rome's relationship with the barbarians. x
  • 19
    The Roman Imperial Army
    As Rome moves from Republic to Empire, the Roman Imperial Army becomes a very different institution. x
  • 20
    The Varian Disaster
    In beginning a set of five lectures that discuss the different relationships between Rome and its various foes on the imperial frontiers, Professor Harl examines one of the most dramatic events in Roman imperial history. x
  • 21
    The Roman Conquest of Britain
    This lecture reveals some of the differences in how the Romans reacted to a Celtic-based civilization, as opposed to the German tribes in the imperial age. x
  • 22
    Civil War and Rebellion
    The record left by Tacitus reveals how the Roman Empire was ripped apart by civil wars and rebellions between A.D. 68 and 70, illuminating both the institutional weaknesses in the constitutional and military arrangements made by Augustus and Rome's relationships with its various provincial frontier peoples. x
  • 23
    Flavian Frontiers and the Dacians
    With this lecture and the next, Professor Harl concludes Rome's creation of its frontier, setting the stage for an examination of why Rome fell and the role played by the barbarians. x
  • 24
    Trajan, the Dacians, and the Parthians
    This lecture concludes imperial Rome's wars of conquest against her barbarian foes by concentrating on the career of the emperor Trajan, the first man of provincial origins to become emperor. x
  • 25
    Romanization of the Provinces
    In the first of three lectures dealing with the social and economic transformations of the frontier provinces, Professor Harl looks at the ability of the Romans to adapt existing institutions, bring in their own concepts of citizenship and political organization, and incorporate her foes into the Roman system. x
  • 26
    Commerce Beyond the Imperial Frontiers
    The economic and social changes brought on by imperial Rome had a profound impact not only on the traditional societies of the provinces, but on the barbarian peoples living beyond the Roman frontier. x
  • 27
    Frontier Settlement and Assimilation
    This lecture examines how the movement of barbarians along Rome's frontiers took place and the kind of exchanges—both social and material—that ensued. x
  • 28
    From Germanic Tribes to Confederations
    The "3rd-century crisis" is seen as the era when Rome would be profoundly altered by the unique changes going on in the frontier provinces and the distinct provincial societies emerging as a result of immigration, trade, and military service by the barbarians. x
  • 29
    Goths and the Crisis of the Third Century
    As Goths begin to attack the mid and lower Danube, they are seen by Roman authors as a particularly vicious and new threat at a time when Rome is already feeling mounting pressures from her own civil wars and the Sassanid Shahs of Persia. x
  • 30
    Eastern Rivals—Sassanid Persia
    This lecture examines why the Persians represented such a formidable threat and why the Romans massed so much of their forces in the East, thus exposing their Danube and Rhine frontiers to the Goths and West Germanic tribes. x
  • 31
    Rome and the Barbarians in the Fourth Century
    This lecture explains the changes that occurred in the Roman world as a result of the wars and invasions of the 3rd century A.D. and the ways in which the emperors Diocletian and Constantine were fundamental to those changes. x
  • 32
    From Foes to Federates
    In this lecture, Professor Harl deals with the relationships between the barbarian foes of Rome and the new imperial order created by the emperor Constantine in the early 4th century A.D. x
  • 33
    Imperial Crisis and Decline
    The Battle of Adrianople in A.D. 378, in which Goths defeated the Eastern Roman field army—slaying the emperor Valens—proves decisive in its aftermath as it alters the character of the late Roman Army. x
  • 34
    Attila and the Huns
    This lecture takes a close look at the Huns—along with their most famous king—and their role in the breakup of the Empire and the shaping of the political and cultural landscape that followed. x
  • 35
    Justinian and the Barbarians
    Two related subjects are covered: the aftermath of the Hun attacks, with the breakup of the Western Empire and collapse of the imperial government, and the reign of the emperor Justinian, the dominant figure of the 6th century A.D. x
  • 36
    Birth of the Barbarian Medieval West
    This lecture concludes the course by reminding us of how Rome, though its empire was broken up in the West and greatly contracted in the East, has indeed survived in many ways. x

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Rome and the Barbarians is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 88.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from No Go for streaming on my iPad. I have tried several times to view this course on my iPad, but nothing comes up. Very discouraging.
Date published: 2019-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Harl Home Run! I know I'm late to the game on this one (I was waiting for the price point I wanted!) and that Rome and the Barbarians has been around for many years (2004). But, I'd be remiss at not giving credit and high praise where it's due. I'm, admittedly, a big Professor Harl fan and don't suffer the problem many younger folks seem to nowadays what I consider the right mix of knowledge, personable presentation, camera presence, and witticism. Professor Harl is one of the Great Courses most knowledgeable presenters and overcomes the lack of graphics capability ALL those years ago with more than 'adequate' maps and his depth of knowledge and experience with the topic. Two BIG thumbs up for Rome and the Barbarians!!
Date published: 2019-03-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Difficult to concentrate It is difficult to get involved with the history because of the Professor's use of "ahhhhh" after every phrase.
Date published: 2019-03-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An Old-School TGC Offering that Needs a Makeover I guess I have been spoiled by taking a lot of courses produced recently by TGC. The visual andtechnical elements have been raised to much higher levels than they were 10 or 15 years ago, as I was painfully reminded when I watched these videos in October 2018. If you’re a longtime TGC student as I am, this will be a walk down memory lane: the Bach theme, the phony class applause, the living room set complete with Colliers Encyclopedias and Harvard Classics, the lectern and the “invisible students,” and the talking head that seldom makes eye contact. From a technical standpoint, this course suffers from a lack of subtitles, and in packaging, from the old-fashioned approach of “2 DVDs per case,” which makes this course take up three times the shelf room of more recent courses. As I mentioned in a review of Prof. Harl’s course on the Crusades, his mannerisms have become very distracting to me (peering over his glasses, mispronouncing words, the endless streams of “uhs” and “ums”). He is clearly a knowledgeable professor when it comes to antiquities and the history of the Mediterranean, but he would be helped by a teleprompter and a better director. (His more recent “Fall of the Pagans” is a definite improvement.) One thing this course has which current TGC courses lack is a thorough course book. The thick little volume accompanying this course has a thorough timeline, glossary, “cast of characters” and bibliography. These features have gradually disappeared in recent years. What about the actual content of the course? Well, for one thing, it is LONG: 36 lectures. And several of the chapters are just a stream of names and dates that eventually leave the viewer crying “uncle.” Prof. Harl takes a fairly standard chronological approach, introducing each new gang of barbarians as they arrive on the timeline. The course is well-illustrated with maps, coins, artifacts, and scenery, so I would definitely recommend the video version. But overall, I wish that TGC would redo this series, condensing it and making it less like a barbarian shopping list.
Date published: 2018-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Both informative and entertaining! I bought the DVD (that comes with free video download). I found the information very informative because it chronicles Rome's relationship with whom they considered barbarians, from the earliest days of Rome, to the aftermath of the barbarian takeover of the territory that was the Western Roman Empire. I absolutely loved this series because it helped me better understand the root causes and relationships that led to the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Medieval Period, a very confusing period in history.
Date published: 2018-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The bottom line… That Ken Harl is among the greatest historical scholars is indisputable. After this course, one tends to view the struggles of our ancestors differently. Their struggles seem reasonable and even epic against the Roman “right to subjugate” whomever it considered barbarian and/or owning coveted property or wealth. Hence the safe line beyond the northern Rhine. Why the Papacy became the unlikely repository of medieval leadership is a fascinating story. As Harl points out, the long complex decline of Roman rule in the Western provinces finally gave way to the Lombard invasion where Roman institutions “…broke down, and Italy entered a medieval world.” Similarly, the Anglo-Saxon rule of England, the privatization and fracturing of Gaul after Frankish takeover of the Celtic heartland, and the misery of Visigothic Spain after the massive Muslim invasion burned their Roman cities to the ground “…all returned to martial ethos”. The Kings of these various peoples, threatened on all sides, desperately “put value in the literary culture…and law codes” of the Roman system. But after the fall of Western Roman Empire, where did Italy, Gaul, and Spain look to find these ideas? In the only vestige that was left: the Papacy. All “…looked to the papacy in Rome for guidance in the use of Christianity for their political aims.” Thus Papal Rome struggled with not only its religious purpose but also became a default for the political vacuum. Suddenly the Crusades seem less religiously inspired and more politically inevitable. After all, what would Rome have done in light of the hundreds of renewed Muslim incursions throughout Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean? As a result of looking to Papal Rome, England would eventually Christianize its waves of violent invaders, Gaul would confuse religion with totalitarianism, and the Visigothic Reconquista would finally remove the Islamist invaders after 800 years of second-class citizenship and abusive taxation. The lead-up to the ground-shifting conclusion of this story is definitely worth 36 lectures.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Violent and Peaceful Interchange This course, which I borrowed from a friend, examines how Romans and “barbarian” non-Romans affected each other over a period of nine hundred years, from about 300 BC to 600 AD. In other words, Rome met barbarians on the way up and on the way down. Here the term “barbarians” excludes Etruscans, Greeks, Carthaginians and Near Eastern peoples, but in some cases the “barbarians” were literate, especially the Parthians and Sassanid Persians. Much of the story here is Romanization, in which Celts, Celtiberians, Thracians and Dacians acquired Roman tastes, habits, language and institutions. They did so not only by suffering Roman conquest, but by Roman patronage of barbarian leaders (similar to patron-client relations within Roman society), in which the Republic offered protection and trade goods in exchange for loyalty and military service. Barbarians traded with Roman merchants, served in the Roman army, disappeared as slaves into Roman society, and interacted with or became camp followers around army and mining camps. Barbarian peoples who previously lived in small-scale kinship groups organized themselves under Roman attack into large tribal confederations, especially among the Germanic peoples. Surprisingly, the Romans also encouraged barbarian migration into Roman lands, successfully turning these new foreigners into provincial Romans. Rome’s willingness to share second-class citizenship (the “Latin rights”) and eventually full citizenship with foreigners made sure its expansion succeeded where Athens’ failed. On the other hand, the process also sometimes worked in reverse, with Romans borrowing technology and fashions from their barbarian neighbors. Harl picks out Gallic wheeled carts or wagons and northern European pants and belts as examples. Other effects of interaction were indirect and bad. Constant warfare with Carthaginians and barbarians, especially in Spain, undermined the Roman Republic by bleeding and bankrupting its yeoman farmers. The unpropertied soldiers who replaced them were more loyal to their commanders, like Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar, than to the state. New conquests gave those commanders the resources to build political followings in Rome, tearing apart the Republic. Although Harl—like the Romans themselves--lumps togethers many peoples as “barbarians,” he is also quite careful to separate them again by pointing out their differences. The Celts and Celtiberians, despite their weak political organization, had well-developed town life and metallurgy. The horseback Scythians and Sarmatians were on the steppes were impossible to conquer, but the Romans gladly traded with them and hired them as mercenaries. The Sassanid Persians operated a bureaucratic state in the tradition of Cyrus the Great and Darius, promoted Zoroastrianism as a state religion and hoped to reconquer the Roman East, which they saw as the Persian West. In the imperial era, Romanization began going wrong. The earliest example was the treachery (or daring, if you prefer) of Arminius, who as Germanic auxiliary leader won Roman trust, only to organize the famous massacre of three legions in the Teutoburger Forest in 9 AD. In fact, the Germanic peoples were less susceptible to Roman conquest than others because they lacked Celtic-style towns that Roman armies could take over. While the Romans could usually beat the Parthians (after an initial disastrous defeat at Carrhae in 53 BC), they could barely handle their Sassanid successors. From the mid-3rd century AD, barbarians were able to take advantage of Roman civil wars to invade and plunder the Empire. From the late fourth century the balance in Europe tipped from Romanization to barbarization, as Germanic leaders became high Roman commanders and officials, Germanic immigrants took over whole provinces, and the Western Empire dissolved into warring Germanic kingdoms. In a sense, Harl notes, Western Europe returned to the local identities and linguistic diversity of 300 BC, but this time with dynastic states, writing, Christianity and the memory of Roman greatness. On presentation I am giving a four rather than five for presentation only because Harl is prone to frequent umms and aahs. Otherwise this is a wonderful course, in which you will learn about both sides of the Roman-barbarian divide and the two-way traffic across it.
Date published: 2017-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lectures! Fascinating material with great presentation. I really enjoyed this program.
Date published: 2017-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An insightful analysis of Roman history Professor Harl- wish I had this guy in college. He knows his stuff, knows how to make it accessible, and knows how to tie the myriad threads of what is a rather complicated history together, into a coherent picture. Perhaps not suitable for a beginner, or maybe suitable for the truly adventurous beginner! There are a ton of names, places, peoples and topics that require some background before you can fully appreciate the whole picture. Know your European geography! It will allow you to follow more closely.
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from PARTIAL VIEW I have only had the time to carefully go through just one-third of the course, i.e., lectures 25 to 36 which essentially focus on Late Antiquity and analyze the final victory of barbarians over Rome. In parallel, I watched Professor Noble’s lectures on Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation so that I am in a position to compare and contrast. At the outset then I can state my verdict: if Harl has cooked a juicy medium-rear fillet- steak, Noble has prepared instead an over-cooked escalope. Clearly, one must not lose sight of the fact that ,Professor Harl’s course is comparatively far more specialized and can, thereby, devote much more attention to the issue of the barbarian deluge, than Noble’s course which has a comparatively far wider scope. Still, to be fair, one must also note that Harl’s course extends back in time before Late Antiquity (to repeat, this is the subject of the lectures which I haven’t managed to watch seriously) while Noble’s lectures are confined to Late Antique issues. I found Harl’s lectures imaginative, lucid, nearly rhapsodic, and extremely stimulating. They go very deep in an endeavour to explain how come barbarians took over the powerful Roman empire in the end. The excitement builds as Harl draws on the analyses of military historians and the findings of archaeology. There are a lot of illustrations in the course, mainly maps which are indispensable. Some may be annoyed by the fact that Harl often tends to repeat himself in order, as I see it, to provide a thread for us to grab as he walks us through the labyrinth of historical events. Some may have preferred a power-point style, flow-chart presentation (as per Noble’s Great Course—but even Noble cannot compartmentalize the constant toing and froing in the barbarian world and the complicated infighting in the late Roman empire) rather than Harl’s plastic, almost fuzzy, structure. Well, Harl follows an approach akin to modern art—he produces an explosion of colour as opposed to an architectural perspective drawing. Still, many people would have liked better a linear progression with a clear sense of direction rather than moving in circles gradually closing onto the point which Harl wishes to drive home. I can only say that myself I enjoyed the ride on Harl’s merry-go-round! In one of his other Great Courses, entitled Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity, Harl describes (lecture 14) Plotinus’s philosophy and notes that Plotinus envisaged that “The One, the ultimate godhead, is so full of existence that it must bubble-over in emanations and, therefore, you have an act of creation… by the virtue of its fullness of Being, the world-soul bubbles-over and creates this beautiful chain of Being.” Well, at times, Harl’s lecturing tends to sort of be carried away with the result that an impression is created that it is bubbling-over and spilling-over so as to fill …the room with arabesque scrolls or, if you prefer, celtic designs in Harl’s speech, as it were. I don’t mind it really, though to some people it might appear to be degenerating into …babbling! My response to the bubbling-over is to play the DVDs again and again until whatever nuance Harl is trying to communicate sinks-in. Concluding, I promise to watch, at some point, carefully Harl’s lectures 1-24 and hopefully come back to review these lectures too, some day.
Date published: 2017-09-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Sleep-walked through lecture 27; Rest captivating Usually when I am left with a mixed feeling on a course, the really good lectures are scattered throughout the course leading to times of auto-pilot mode (just listening, hoping for something interesting, but just listening to get to the next lecture) and bursts of engagement that really draw me in. This mixed course is one of the more unique ones I've listened to because it has an interesting split (at least in my view): the first 27 lectures never really captured my attention (exceptions would be lectures 1, 12, and 17 to an extent) and I found myself on auto-pilot mode throughout. But then when the lectures began to get good, they got really good and they were in a string from 28 to the end. It felt like each lecture was more well done than the previous one. I really wanted to like the entire course. So much so that I went back and re-listened to lectures 2-27 thinking perhaps I hadn't "worked hard enough" by listening the first time while multitasking (driving, getting ready for work, etc.). Professor Harl is one of those professors that require your full undivided attention. No shortcuts here. He is not one you listen to while multitasking (or without a map from what I've learned---I'd be interested in hearing from customers who have experienced this course via video: did it make as much of a difference as I can imagine?). But I felt the same after the second listening: there were lots of facts but just not enough interesting stuff behind it to pull it together. And I don't want you to get me wrong: Professor Harl is amazingly knowledgeable and really really really knows his stuff. It is harnessing and mastering that vast array of info into a style that brings it all together and ultimately connects with me that is lacking. Getting out of the details and into the big picture. The best way I can put it is this: Profesor Harl has a hard time coming to a point. A lot of his lectures just sound like an array of facts and data points communicated in rapid fire (fit in as much as you can in 30 minutes) but too many times I am either left wondering what was the meaning of it/what was the main point or I’m left wondering how all of those data points actually added up to the main point that he does mention at the lecture's beginning and end. He seems to struggle with bringing it all together. But then he approached magnificence in explaining how the western Roman Empire 's political structure fell from the barbarian empires and why. He actually exceeded my expectations in that respect. And he CONTINUED to discuss the fates and fortunes of those kingdoms into the 6th century (something lacking in alot of other courses on this time period) including the Visiogoths, Anglo-Saxons, Vandals, Franks, Ostrogoths, and Lombards. Nicely done. So all in all it is hard for me to rate higher than 3 stars but parts of the course certainly deserve higher. If you are interested in how the western Roman Empire essentially disintegrated into a series of barbarian empires in the 5th century AD then you may not find a better course. If you are more interested in the full period the course covers (aprx. 300 BC to aprx. 600 AD) then you may find some stretches of "blah". Your experience may be different than mine though: especially if you plan on going with video and sitting down and really listening than having it on while on the go hoping to pick things up (the latter of which will leave you bewildered and frustrated). And in case you are wondering here is a list of the main "barbarians" discussed in the course: o Celts o Celt-iberians of Spain o Nomads of North Africa o Teutones & Cimbri of southern Gaul (modern day France) o Peoples of Asia Minor under Mithridates o Gauls o Germanic tribes of Central Europe o Nomads of Eastern Europe (Scythians & Sarmations) o Parthians in the near east o Britons o Dacians o Goths o Sassanid Persians o Huns
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Nice lectures, but old fashion tech Love listening to Dr Harl. Learning so much about Rome that was confusing, just reading historical fiction. He makes it so interesting. However, the dvd's are a pain to operated. And Great Courses doesn't stream this series. I have a macbook, which doesn't have a dvd/cd slot. So have to use additional hardware AND software (VCL) just to watch a 30 minute lecture. Whatever, it's worth it.
Date published: 2017-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Of Arms and Men, and of Cultural Intermingling The great beauty of this course -- and it is also a tribute to the superb organizing and presenting skills of its presenter, Professor Kenneth Harl -- is how well it portrays how human interactions yield fascinating multi-dimensional consequences. This is not a course primarily about warfare, even though organized violence is one of its central components but, rather, of the interesting ways in which Roman attempts to first, secure their frontiers from "barbarian" (i.e., "foreign" peoples) invasions, and then, second, expand those frontiers to expand friendly territory and enable greater commerce (and enrichment for Rome). While many of the decisions taken over the long course of the Roman Republic and Empire were logical, even more were born of the necessity of responding to immediate threats. One of the ironies of this period is that the Romans, in instance after instance, effectively created their own organized enemies out of what had before been relatively fragmented, tribal peoples. The Germanic peoples, in particular, learned from their centuries of interaction with the Romans both military skills and the need for more organized and disciplined inter-tribal units. In this wide-ranging -- in both time and geography -- course, Professor Harl teaches us as much about the various barbarian peoples the Romans encountered (and they were a greatly varied number) as well as about those barbarians themselves, many of whom he helps us understand, while being "uncivilized" perhaps in the eyes of the Romans, nonetheless were peoples of considerable craft skills and sophisticated, long-enduring trade routes. One of the effects of this course, at least for me, was a reminder of how vastly interconnected the world of 2000 years was in fact, in which a constant flow of goods, ideas, and cultural affectations ebbed back and forth between interacting cultures. Two final takeaways: First, I better realize how much of "Rome" actually survives today, both in the sense of the dream of a "larger unity of peoples" as well as in the ideals of citizenship that extended beyond narrow provincialism. And, second, that human nature clearly does not change: the same blindness caused by greed -- for money, power, territory, and status -- that so bedeviled the Romans and those with whom they struggled is clearly still with us today. It seems that we really can take little "to heart" from the past, even though we may claim to "know" it. I highly recommend this thoroughly interesting, engaging, and fascinating course!
Date published: 2017-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Historical Review Since Rome is an integral part of our western culture and history it is important to understand how other cultures influenced the policies and politics of this center of our culture. Many histories of Rome minimize the role of other cultures in the development of our western philosophies, and this presentation fills in many "holes" in the western development of our philosophy and cultural habits.
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A world class professor at your disposal Having studied the "Barbarian Empires of the Steppes," with Dr. Harl, I knew he was exceptional, and this series on Rome and the Barbarians continues his remarkable elucidation of past cultures which continue to influence our daily lives, whether or not we realized it before starting the courses. First, he is clear and concise, doesn't repeat himself or talk down to his audience, and has such command of his material that he drops additional asides that enrich the fabric of his material, apparently because he has such mastery of his field. Next, his visual aids are absolutely amazing. Human beings are overwhelmingly visual learners, and his maps and charts help me hold on to the material. At my age, 78, that means I have a chance of telling a friend what I have learned, instead of having it disappear into the cosmos, as though I never heard it in the first place. Perhaps this is enough to indicate that anything from Dr. Harl will enrich your life, unless, of course, you forget to turn your hearing aid on, or fall asleep. If you do, it won't be Harl's fault, or mine for that matter.
Date published: 2017-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible I absolutely love this course! Great introduction to the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why The History of Rome Ever Happened! I have studied classical Greek and Roman history for multiple decades, dating back to university days in the early 1970s. "Rome and the Barbarians" really explains why Rome became what it was, both in Classical History and in Late Antiquity. This is probably the most seamless explanation of the dynamic that propelled Rome into domination of the the then-know Western world. Defining "barbarians," defeating those, and then taking on the next set of "barbarians," gives honest understanding to Roman conquest, success, and political and economic policy that propelled the then-city-state of Rome into an Empire. Everything I've studied prior to this wonderful course is all about facts. Never about THE WHY! Suddenly, the reason for Rome's existence, success, propulsion into an empire -- first under the Republic and then under the Emperium is beautifully explained. If the student of history wants to peek behind the curtain and perceive the "reason for being" rather than the mere facts that it "happened" then this course cannot be surpassed!
Date published: 2016-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All of Harl's courses are top-drawer! Dr. Harl's deepth of understanding, his passionate presentations, his attention to detail is outstanding. I've taken almost every one of his courses. The accompanying maps made his presentions dynamic. Wonderful experience.
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expands Understanding of the Roman Empire AUDIO: DOWNLOAD This is yet another terrific course from Professor Kenneth W. Harl, an excellent lecturer with a no-nonsense delivery and attitude. He expertly assesses previous scholarship and justifies his differences as they appear in the lectures. He even takes one beyond the written sources to include analysis of coins, art, and archaeological evidence. The occasional flashes of the Harl humor are much in evidence here, for example describing the 410 AD sack of Rome by the Christian (albeit Arian) Visigoth King Alaric as a “good career move” (audio, lecture 1), after Alaric’s request for command under the Romans was denied. I thought I knew a good deal about the history of ancient Rome, but after this course I realize that I had an extremely rudimentary grasp of it. As Professor Harl makes abundantly clear, it is hard to truly understand ancient Roman history without taking proper account of the interaction of Rome with various “barbarians”, from Rome’s earliest days down to the final days of the Empire. Much of ancient Roman cultural, intellectual, political, and military history is best understood by how Rome dealt with quite different types of barbarians. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this course relates to Rome’s extension of its internal client/patron arrangements to barbarian groups, and how, ultimately, Rome’s encouragement of barbarian tribal structures/identities and kings over prevailing loose groupings of peoples led to increasing and intractable conflicts. These problems were exacerbated by Rome’s own worsening internal political and economic crises, resulting in the fifth century break up into Western and Eastern empires. Professor Harl is superb in dealing with the many barbarian groups, large and small, and how they lived and developed as they were drawn into the Roman Empire. Many were not actually “barbarian” in the modern wild-eyed sense, but rather Romans meant the term as “…a cultural designation for those outside their civilized world” (Course Guidebook, Page 230). As it turned out, those barbarians often had much to offer Rome. The course also dwells on the Roman army as an assimilator of barbarian groups, going beyond the winning of battles and taking barbarians into its ranks, to providing peace and security through Roman military roads, fortifications, and buildings in the provinces. As interesting as I find the discussion of Rome and the various barbarian groups, the best part of the course for me came in the final lectures on the aftermath of the fall of the West in 476 AD. Professor Harl notes that despite the fall, much of the West was still a recognizably Roman society. What lead to real devastation was a combination of Eastern Emperor Justinian’s sixth century attempt to reconquer the West and the extensive ravages of plague. Though the eastern, or Byzantine, empire continued for nearly a thousand years, the focus of this course is Rome and the Barbarians. In this regard, Professor Harl’s concluding lectures contain quite interesting treatments of post-Roman developments, most notably for me: How the “image of Rome” (Page 184) had a powerful impact on later Germanic kings in the development of Latin Christendom and how the Arabs (Islam) fell “heirs to the late Roman imperial order” (page 184). Though thirty-six lectures, ‘Rome and the Barbarians’ is a fast-paced course which kept my interest throughout. This is due not only to Professor Harl’s fine delivery (which puts me at odds with the criticism levelled by other reviewers), but also to his well-crafted lectures packed with fascinating details and observations. The 284 page course guide contains excellent lecture summaries, twelve very useful maps, a timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography. This course truly expands one’s knowledge about and appreciation of the past.
Date published: 2016-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Challenging This is a tough course. Loads of detail, innumerable barbarian tribe names, politicians, and the later emperors that were often changed more frequently than I change my underwear ! The professor is an excellent lecturer. Criticisms: 1) The course outline contains only a fraction of the maps of the video course and the maps are extremely important to following the lectures. The outline is otherwise great. 2) The video could use more visual images beyond maps.
Date published: 2016-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As a high school Latin student, I was really introduced to Roman history and civilization. More experience came with the study of Rome as part of the History of Western Civilization in college. My knowledge slowly filled out with readings and PBS shows over the years. But Professor Harl really gave me a fairly detailed look at Rome, using its contact with the various "barbarians" over the centuries. This course actually became an excellent course on Roman civilization up to the sack of Rome; it introduced (to me) the concept that Byzantium really was the continuance of Rome (thus stimulating me to look further into that history). There is no question that Dr. Harl knows his subject matter backwards and forwards, and has a deep love and appreciation for Roman history which he imparts to his audience. This course fits well as part of a student's understanding of history.
Date published: 2016-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Winning Course from Professor Harl Professor Harl is definitely one of the top professors of history. His extensive knowledge of the topics, his presentations including maps and graphics, and his anecdotes make his lectures very informative and entertaining. All of Professor Harl’s courses are winners and this one is no exception. Not only does this course describe the Roman view of their interactions with the barbarians, it also provides the counter view on the barbarian’s view of the Romans. Professor Harl describes the environment and the motivations which caused the interactions between the Romans and the barbarians. This course also describes the changes to the Roman Empire and lifestyle as the result of the inclusion of the former barbarians into the Roman society and infrastructure. I highly recommend this course to anybody with any interest in ancient history.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course Audio version I have listened to four of Kenneth Harl's courses so far, having purchased 8 of them, and this one, by my standards is a a real winner. I am 68, have done a fair amount of lecturing myself, and I would love the opportunity to sit in one of Harl's courses. It is easy, from his lecture to know how much he loves the topic, and how deep and detailed his background on this topic is. I got the impression that we were just skimming the surface of what he knows on this, and if we had the time for a 96-part course, he could have easily filled it, without dropping the quality. As I have noted in other reviews, I use these courses to distract me when I am exercising or doing other mundane tasks, and therefore I want to both learn something and to be entertained, and this has to work with audio, given the type of exercise involved. Your criteria may differ from mine, but basically, I ask myself these questions: 1. Do I look forward to listening to or watching the next episode? Definitely - I often extended by exercise routine to roll into a new lecture. 2. Do I learn something interesting or useful from each episode? Yes, every lecture. Harl doesn't treat this as just a blood and guts description of battles, but gives us an intelligent analysis of the societies of the different groups the Roman's encountered, and both how contact with Rome affected them, and how it changed the nature of Roman society, and particularly the military. 3. . Would I recommend this to a friend? I have recommended this to two friends, and both have purchased the course, and enjoyed it. I have no hesitation at all in recommending this to friends whose opinions I value. 4. Do I find the speaker’s lecturing style compelling and interesting? Yes, he is immensely enthusiastic about the subject, and unlike a couple of other reviewers, for me the fact that he searches for words occasionally, or corrects himself, was just part of the package of a live, dynamic presentation. I think Harl's courses - and with a few obvious exceptions, many of the courses on this site - are probably best consumed as audio courses, and in fact, having purchased a couple in video, I have converted them to audio, so I could use them without being distracted by anything extraneous. Still, having enjoyed them, I am sometimes tempted to go back, when I have time to see if he looks as enthusiastic as he sounds. 5.Would I buy another course from this lecturer, without hesitation? Absolutely, and when the right sale comes along, I will be buying the few remaining Harl courses I don't already own.
Date published: 2015-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Commentarii de Bello Gallico, e.g. Audio download...mostly on a treadmill. As a lad studying Latin II in high school, over 50 years ago (sigh), I was tasked to translate portions of Julius Caesar's accounts of the Gallic Wars. As I remember faintly, the foes were not characterized as barbarians, but rather more noble, even sophisticated...thereby making any victory over them much more meaningful. Enter Dr Harl and this series of lectures... The Greeks considered the early Romans to be barbarians until the mutual assimilation of each others' cultures...the Romans copied Greek art, and the Greeks got to pay Roman taxes...and so it goes. In my mind, this begs the question as to what constitutes a barbarian? Conan or Hagar? Or is it just (to paraphrase) 'one man's barbarian is another man's patriot'? These lectures examine the history of the various 'barbarians' the Roman civilization encountered during its domination of Europe and the near east. Other TGC reviewers (and what a great set of reviews we have for these lectures) have noted that Roman history may be a roadmap for the future of the US...are we Romans? Dr Harl gives us plenty to think about. He posits: “To some extent, it can be argued that the 900-year history of Roman ascendancy was an interlude in local barbarian societies”, suggesting that the Roman era was just a passing fancy. But then follows with the obvious Roman legacies found in law, language, philosophy and of course the christian church. Very good, in-depth course! Probably not a good one for the treadmill, since the shifting locations and cast of thousands are best augmented by following the guidebook and use of the internet...DVD might be a better choice. Highly recommended, when on sale with a coupon.
Date published: 2015-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A unique perspective to understand Roman legacy After reading or having courses on Roman history, this course is a superb complement to understand the legacy of the Roman Empire.
Date published: 2015-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Zard review of Rome and the Barbarians This is the fourth series of have watched in my quest for Roman history and not the first of a series I watched of Professor Harl's and he did not disappoint me. It has always been painful for me to read or watch something that discusses the decline of the Roman Empire and this series did that as well. But at least I got a better understanding of the why's and the process of fusing the barbarians into Roman society. And it certainly painted the way into the medieval ages. He covered the barbarians of the North, Middle East and East and when and how they impacted Roman society. When I fired up the next lecture (after a pause of a day) I always started by watching at least the last segment of the previous lecture to get me up to speed again. Not only does Professor Harl have a great grasp on the subject matter but I love his sense of humor.
Date published: 2015-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course! Having completed this series I can conclude that to understand Rome, you must understand the barbarian peoples of its age. In fact, in order to understand the origins of the modern western world and how Europe became Europe, you must understand Rome's barbarians. Other Teaching Company courses on Rome will teach you the who's and the what's of ancient Rome, but this course is essential to understanding *why* the major events of Roman history transpired the way they did. This course far exceeded my expectations.
Date published: 2015-04-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Don't get hung up on the pirate comments Sure, Harl has a speaking quirk, but so do so many of these Great Courses instructors. The pivot point in whether this is worth your time is quality of the information and here is where he shines. He is very deep in his knowledge...very deep indeed. Don't take my word. Listen and be true to yourself and if you can honestly say that you know 75% of the names and facts that he reviews then God only knows why you would even consider listening to these tapes. You should be teaching this! Indeed, read some of the reviews on the GC site and you'll see so many silly arm chair historians who don't' tell you what the course does for them, nope, they'll tell you about facts from the lectures. Lecture by lecture. It's astounding how strange some of these reviews are. If I wanted to know the course content I'd take the course. I won't waste your time repeating back information from the instructor to fool myself into thinking I'm "smarter than you." No, you should take this course if you have studied Roman or ancient history for that matter and consider yourself to be "smarter" than your in laws on these topics, because you will find that as much as you know there's good information here that you did not know. I've studied the topic for several decades and still found value here; it's okay if the instructor has a different perspective or position than mine. Another curious quirk of these GC students is how unhappy they are with a diversity of views. Wow. Very sad indeed. I think one of the problems in many of these reviews is that almost all the courses get 4/5+. That's not particularly illuminating and I don't want to mislead in that manner, but I think this is course on the barbarians and Romans a worthwhile endeavor.
Date published: 2015-03-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from All the Gentile World Are Barbarians... This is always an issue with these courses when professors teach history with a bias based on their own religious, cultural, or political affiliations. As others have said, Harl is very knowledgeable about Roman history, but I could not help to wonder why the Jewish revolts were not covered in this course. Harl must have covered about 50 other peoples all around the known world who were considered "Barbarians" to the Roman's, but curiously the Jews were left out in this history course. You would think that the Bar Kochba revolt in 135AD that demanded a 1/3 of Rome's entire army to quell would have been considered by Rome a military effort against "barbarians" But sadly, this is the Bias that you get with these courses. With Mr. Harl being Jewish himself, he just can't teach the full truth, that even his own people who apparently can't do any harm in the world, would have been considered Barbarians to the Romans. Instead it's the Germans, Greeks, Africans, and just about everybody else that was known in the ancient world who were Barbarians to Rome. This course is an incomplete assessment of all the major Barbarian groups that Rome dealt without throughout the history of it's expansion. Expect a biased professor, who leaves out important history, in an effort to protect the identity of his own people.
Date published: 2015-01-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Ahr. Ahr. Is he a pirate in training? I am fascinated by this time in history. I have read much about Rome and wanted to expand my knowledge. I know I'm supposed to be able to ignore the presenter's lack of stage presence. But Dr. Harl's syle makes it impossible to just enjoy learning. There has to be another scholar in this vast world of ours who knows about Rome and the Barbarians and is also a good teacher. I keep asking myself if Dr. Harl is part owner in the T.C., and therefore, must be a presenter. He is monotonic and is exceedingly boring to listen to. Rather than pausing, he often uses Ahr Ahr, as if he is a pirate in training. I expected that at any moment, he would say a few- Ahoys! No, I'm not being mean-spirited. These courses cost a lot of money and, frankly, this course is not money well-spent.
Date published: 2014-11-06
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