January 18, 2011

Power and People in Ancient Rome

Tags: History, Podcasts

Available on iTunes or OU Podcasts

It can sometimes seem as if The Open University provides an inexhaustible supply of quality history podcasts, and here I review another. “Power and People in Ancient Rome” is a 7 episode series (plus a short introduction audio-only podcast) looking at structures for large-scale entertainment in Ancient Rome. Apart from the introduction, all the episodes are video podcasts presented in documentary fashion - images of the modern sites with narration. The episodes range in length from 1 minute (12MB) to 5 minutes (54MB) are available in 640x260 format (or smaller) with transcripts. Disturbingly, the filenames include numbers suggesting there should be at least 15 episodes in total.

Prominent Roman citizens often commissioned public buildings glorify and memorialise themselves and promote civic pride in Rome. Very rich Romans (like the Emperors) sometimes built structures for large-scale entertainment. These podcasts look at some of these buildings, why they were constructed and what happened within them. The Circus Maximus was constructed around the 1st century BC (and updated by Augustus) could hold an audience 150000 for chariot races. The Theatre of Marcellus, also constructed by Augustus, could hold 14000 people. The famous Colosseum built around 80AD handled around 50000 people for gladiatorial events and other spectacles. Its seating was organised by law so that only the richest and most powerful could sit at the front, with bands of increasingly poorer people behind them. The furthest seats were for women, even slaves sat before them. The Baths of Caracalla were an extensive bath complex covering 30 acres, including pools, libraries and gardens. These massive sites must have been impressive and almost overpowering to the people of Rome.

Interesting and worth watching.