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One of the places I toured while in Italy was the area in and surrounding the Roman Forum. It’s a central part of early Roman history that is sadly little more than a pile of ruins today. But the Forum was once the center of Roman life, both politically and socially. My guest today is Mike Duncan, host of two great podcasts – “The History of Rome” and “Revolutions.” Mike is a history buff like me who began learning the history of the Roman empire through pleasure reading. When he started looking for a podcast about Rome and found there were none in existence, he decided to begin the first Roman history podcast himself. This is a fun conversation between Mike and me so be sure you take the time to listen.
What was the Roman Forum used for?
In the earlier stages of the Roman Empire, the Forum was a very crowded, much-used area of central Rome. It was the center of all political activity as well as a social center for all things Rome. Were you able to visit in ancient days you’d enter a rectangular plaza with government buildings surrounding it. Triumphal processions took place there as would public speeches, criminal trials, and some gladiatorial competitions. But it was also the center of commerce and a place where you’d find many religious shrines and statues. Mike Duncan describes the Roman Forum and what it would have been like to be there in ancient days, on this episode of The History Fangirl.
The Roman Forum is an example of the brick-based architecture that existed prior to the gleaming white marble we think of.
When we think of ancient Rome we typically picture the white marble columns and gleaming white walls of enormous buildings. But at the time the Forum was constructed the main material used for building was brick. That knowledge gives a very different feeling to the images of what it must have been like to make a visit to the Roman Forum in its heyday. In those days it was the birthplace of the Roman Senate and a much-honored location in the city. Join me and my guest Mike Duncan for a fascinating conversation about the history and use of the Roman Forum.
When the Roman Caesars took over, most citizens were happy about it.
Most of us know about at least two distinct stages of the Roman Empire – the years of the Republic and the years of Imperial Rome when the Caesars ruled. What most people don’t know is that the reason the Caesars were able to come to power is that the Roman Senate had become much maligned and quite ineffective. The people of Rome were tired of a system mired in corruption and political favoritism and welcomed the idea of a simplified form of rule, albeit a dictatorship. Mike Duncan shares how the transition happened and what it meant for life in the nation on this episode.
The reason we study history is to make better decisions.
Mike Duncan calls himself a practical historian. He’s interested in the dates and events of the ancient past because he believes they help us navigate our own course with greater wisdom. In this episode, he says that we study history in order to make better decisions, and we do that by learning about the triumphs, mistakes, and events of the past. Mike and I also talk about his new book, why he wrote it, and what he hopes readers will glean not only about Rome of the past but about our lives here in the present.
Rome Travel Tips
First-time travelers in Rome can get overwhelmed with how much there is to do in the Eternal City. Besides a trip to the Roman Forum, you’ll want to make time for the sites during the day and make sure to save some energy to have fun in the evening. There are so many things to do in Rome at night, including some great opportunities for night time photography.
If you’re wondering what you should budget, check out this guide how much money to take on a trip to Italy.
Outline of This Episode
- [0:22] Why I decided to make this first episode about the Roman Forum.
- [1:12] Who is my guest, Mike Duncan.
- [2:57] Mike’s interest in Roman history since childhood and how it’s snowballed.
- [6:02] Where Mike received his inspiration and why he thinks history podcasts are great.
- [8:20] What IS the Roman Forum? The center of Roman civilization.
- [12:45] The experience of being at the Forum during its heyday.
- [14:56] Highlights of the events that took place at the Roman Forum.
- [18:30] The use of the Forum after the nation became an empire.
- [23:32] What happened to the Forum as Rome lost control of Italy?
- [26:40] The dismantling of the Forum to build homes and other buildings.
- [30:06] How the papacy played a role in preserving many Roman artifacts.
- [34:46] How Mike decided to write his book, “The Storm Before the Storm.”
- [41:49] Comparisons between ancient Rome and modern America.
Resources & People Mentioned
- Mike Duncan, host of “The History of Rome” and “The Revolutions Podcast”
- BOOK: The Storm Before the Storm
- The Byzantine History Podcast
- The Bulgarian History Podcast
- Lars Brownworth – 12 Byzantine Rulers Podcast
- Mike on Twitter
- Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands
Connect With Stephanie
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I am giving away 3 copies of Mike’s book The Storm Before the Storm. To enter to win the book for this episode, follow this 3 steps:
- Subscribe to the Show in iTunes
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Contest ends Sunday, August 20, 2017, at midnight EST. Winners will be announced here.
(Very Rough) Episode Transcript
I’m Stephanie Craig. Welcome to the History Fangirl podcast. This is Episode 1 the Roman Forum.
This is Episode 1: The Roman Forum.
When I recorded the first batch of episodes for this show, this was not the first episode I recorded. I had so much respect for Mike that I didn’t reach out to him until after I recorded a few other episodes, but thinking about which episode to release first it, really only makes sense to start with this one. The History Fangirl podcast is an interview show about places that I’ve traveled to, but so often when we travel somewhere, you leave wanting to know more. And since Rome was the first big international trip that I took way back in 2011, before I was traveling full time, and since Mike is that person that inspired me to go on that trip, I figured I would start with this episode. So our guest today is Mike Duncan. He’s the host of both the history of Rome and the revolution podcast. I met Mike when I went on the history of our tour that he did in 2011 and it was this trip that inspired me to get out and keep going to see all the historical places that I love in real life instead of just reading about them. In today’s episode we’re going to talk about the Roman Forum its place in Roman society and what happened to it in this country since the fall of Rome. Mike we’ll also talk about his book The storm before the storm which is coming out in October. I can’t wait to read it. He released a chapter on his plot that’s free. In it it sounds really easy. And at the end of his episode find out how to turn to when your very own copy. All.
So our guest today is Mike Duncan. He’s the host of both The History of Rome and the Revolutions Podcast. I met Mike when I went on the History of Rome tour that he did in 2011, and it was this trip that inspired me to get out and keep going to see all the historical places that I love in real life instead of just reading about them. In today’s
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the Roman Forum, its place in Roman society, and what happened to it in this centuries since the fall of Rome. Mike will also talk about his book The Storm before the Storm, which is coming out in October. I can’t wait to read it. He released a chapter on his podcast feed, and it sounds really amazing.
And at the end of this episode find out how to turn to when your very own copy. All.
Stephanie: Right. So right now we have in the genius behind the Revolutions and The History of Rome podcast today to talk about the Roman Forum. Hi how are you?
Mike: Good. How are you?
Stephanie: I’m great. A little backstory on how I met Mike. I’m went on a trip to Rome which was the first time I went on a multi-day international trip. It was 2011. I want to say. yes I did it. I was 26 and I was older than I wanted to be when I started traveling. I thought I would travel earlier, and it was your trip that just kind of was like “Oh this I can’t miss this opportunity that they could never make this again. So thank you for inspiring me.
Mike: No problem that was a great trip. It was an all time all time great trips.
[ 00:02:41 ] All right. So you so I have you recently and I guess we traveled to a room together in Istanbul. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got interested in history.
[ 00:02:55 ] I have been interested in Roman history from the time it goes back to when I was a kid. I would read encyclopedia entries on you know most of the ancient civilizations the Romans the Egyptians the Greeks like the Mayans and the Incas like all these ancient civilizations were really fascinating and then I just really got into history a lot I didn’t actually study history in college though I wound up studying political science and philosophy but going through all of that political science of philosophy that’s again that’s a lot of ancient history that you have to learn you have to do a lot of ancient reading you got to read Cicero you got to read Seneca you got to read and then on the Greek side it’s Plato and Aristotle and then you go through like Machiavelli and he’s just again he’s just commentaries on Livy and you’re back to talking about the Romans again. So when I got out of school I started really teaching myself the history of the Roman Empire by reading the ancient sources. So I got into just reading Livy reading Plutarch reading Appian reading like anything I could get my hands on of those ancient sources. And so this is back in 2005 2006 which is also right when podcasting started to be a thing like I mean people now know about podcasting in the last couple of years but it’s been around since 2003 2004 and there was at the time like a pretty vibrant history podcasting community. And so as I’m teaching myself all this Roman history I was like I should go find the Roman History podcast because there must be one that can help me even more. And when I went looking for it there was no Roman history podcast dedicated Roman history podcast that existed. So I’m sitting there with this pile of material. All these great stories that nobody ever studies or learns about because all anybody ever knows about them is like Julius Caesar and Nero and kleagle and Cicero like real like a couple of really compressed generations.
[ 00:04:58 ] I mean you go back you read about the Samite wars and the Punic Wars and the founding of the Republic and then on into the crisis of the third century like hundreds of years later there’s so many good stories that are just buried in there has it all just all just do it all start a chronological narrative of the Roman Empire from the beginning.
[ 00:05:15 ] You know I’ll just do that. And I figured it would take me a year and a half it was one of those like you who I had it was it helped how stupid I was about what I was getting myself into.
[ 00:05:27 ] I had no conception of how long or how if I’d known probably how long it was going to take I maybe wouldn’t have even started it. But I was so dumb that I just started publishing episodes. And I’m coming up like in a month on my tenth anniversary. Yeah. That was 10 years and then I got to do two years and stuff out of it.
[ 00:05:46 ] That’s awesome. So before we start talking about. How do you feel about the fact that so many other projects look up to you or practice take it in the style that you did. So it was too late. The Byzantine history. My guest is Larry I guess.
[ 00:06:06 ] Do you think you are really starting something.
[ 00:06:10 ] Well no I don’t especially because from where I come from I was following it quite consciously.
[ 00:06:17 ] Lars Browne Worth What. Yes sure.
[ 00:06:20 ] He I mean he did 12 Byzantine rulers and that was the one that I listened to I was like man this is amazing there’s got to be a Roman version of this. And it didn’t exist so there’s a lot of people that look to me and say like and openly say like oh you inspired me and then I did like a version of it. But you know credit where credit’s due I got the hint from Brown that it was on things new under the sun kind of. But I think it’s I think it’s fantastic because one of the thing that the history of Rome has and revolutions is is narrative history which I feel like in a lot of ways has been neglected by historians as a discipline like as as a way of teaching history it’s a lot more like studies of themes or studies of really more like minute aspects of history without ever stepping back and being like a lot of people just don’t know the basic story don’t know the basic plotline don’t know who the people are who did the things what order things happened in. So I’ve always felt that was something it was missing from a lot of history these days. And so to have all these people now running around out there and telling the stories of all of these different things that interest them I think it’s great.
[ 00:07:36 ] I mean I know for the history has reference to you is like that eyes I was sort of left on the scene. All right. So we’re talking today about the movie for you obviously in your own. Private life. I’ve been to the forum five times so many times I’ve been to Million I’ve been there for I’ve been I’ve been there five times. So I would go back again. Let’s talk a little bit about what Rumi for is people probably love their eyes and think of ancient Rome and they forget their picture of the Coliseum there probably see the floor and it is as if the place.
[ 00:08:21 ] Yes.
[ 00:08:21 ] So I think the best way to describe the forum is to just say that it was quite literally the center of Roman civilization. If you go all the way back to what it was like. These are the archaic Romans like those original settlements. You know Rome is famously Sandy mythologically founded on the seven hills and the two initial hills are the three. You know you’ve got the Capitol Hill Palatine Hill Avenue tiny hill so in there and there’s just there’s just a valley that runs next to the Palatine Hill and the Capitol Hill which originally was kind of swampy marshland and so people lived up on the hills and then the forum becomes the area where they come to it’s where you have markets it’s where you started having the first you know religious shrines. It’s where you would hold assemblies. We became just the gathering place for when the Romans collectively would get together and then that started during the age of the Kings which is like you know the 600 500 B.C. and the forum was at the center of Rome. And for the next you know more than a thousand years.
[ 00:09:36 ] Why don’t you talk about it a little bit.
[ 00:09:38 ] Some of the buildings on the forum that people might have heard us so in in the form right now like if you go to Rome I mean the Coliseum is there’s your back to your anchor point.
[ 00:09:54 ] But that’s the the Coliseum is technically a bit outside the forum. So it’s adjacent to the forum the Palatine Hill is adjacent to the forum the Capitol Hill is sort of looms above betterer the Capitoline Museum as there’s a ton of great stuff in there that’s where the big wedding cake memorial to whichever King it was Victor Manuel.
[ 00:10:14 ] Look at in past past past past my time day.
[ 00:10:18 ] But in there right now is where like the Temple of the Vesta’s where the house of the Pontifex Maximus was so that’s where actually Julius Caesar once he became Pontifex Maximus lived in that house and then there became like a shrine to him there. There was the temple of Saturn which was the became the treasury of Rome. That’s where they kept all the all the states all the state treasuries there was where they were the Capitol Hill begins was like the great archival building where they stored all the state papers and all the state records you had basically all the principal shrines and right now. Unfortunately what it is is you know there’s a pile of bricks over here and there’s some stones over here and there’s like three columns. So you really have to. You do have to use your imagination when you go there when you when you’re standing it because it is in a lot of ways it’s a bunch of rubble now because I mean my God we haven’t we probably talk about this what happened after the Romans left. But mostly most of the buildings aren’t there. But oh no that’s outside it for forum. Yeah those are the ones. So also of course is the Senate House and then there was the principal rostro where where people would go and deliver speeches to the people the building that’s there now which is the Curia the Senate house that was also rubble. Right. So right now right now it’s a complete building and it’s a little difficult to get an Italian tour guides to admit this but it was it was it was rebuilt during during the Mussolini era. They wanted they wanted they wanted to build it to give it was like a re It’s a reconstruction of what the building would look like because that’s a that’s a question that people would minimally have there like everything else is rubble except with this one perfectly preserved brick building like what’s up with that.
[ 00:12:13 ] And it was it was rebuilt by by Mussolini and he was rebuilt with any of the original material. I don’t know that. We have Roman ruins and a lot of things were over the ruins. So finish it off with my mind and that’s how this is where the search is the way that they have to do. It is like ruin these and you have the subway system as of right. So in its heyday what would it have been like to be they very crowded.
[ 00:12:48 ] And I would say it would have been very crowded.
[ 00:12:52 ] The Romans had no concept of personal space like it all like the Americans and I’m assuming most you know Western Europeans have a degree of like I need at least like a couple of feet between me and you for me to be comfortable like Americans even more so than almost anybody else in the world. The Romans didn’t have that at all. The Romans wanted to be around people they were actually really weirded out by being alone. So that’s a weird little quirk in their in their mentality. They they just didn’t like to be alone at all. And it’s not a huge area like if you go there I mean you can walk one end of it to the other and wherever like 10 or 15 minutes max if even that long you know probably not even that long probably walk it the end in five minutes. But it’s where everything happened. So you’re talking about. It was jammed and everything was jammed with like buildings it was jammed with statues and they were constantly tearing things down and rebuilding it like it went through. You know it was five six seven different iterations it wasn’t just one thing that remained static. So it was it was under construction. It was jammed with buildings and temples and people and it just would have been very crowded and very noisy and probably incredibly smelly. Right because I mean the Romans had good sanitation. But you know not what we would consider pretty.
[ 00:14:17 ] That was probably done on Dogon portion. Yeah.
[ 00:14:21 ] Well even like places you get like a hundred thousand American agents every effort. Yeah yeah I know.
[ 00:14:28 ] So it’s very hot teeming. Anything you like. You know Italy in the summer like that.
[ 00:14:34 ] That’s what it would be like.
[ 00:14:36 ] So because this was the center of Rome for so long in Rome was horrible for so you can cover some of the highlights of some historic events that would have taken place there. Is there anything that comes to mind is that when you think of the form. Yeah.
[ 00:14:53 ] I mean going back to the very beginning of the founding of the city itself like legendarily like this is how central it was like that there were there was like a battle between like the rape of the say by women. Like when the Sabin’s came to light you know confront the Romans about the fact that the Romans kidnapped all their women like that battle took place in the forum. So there’s a there’s a lot of like there’s a lot of mythology that was wrapped up there and then you go forward. Now a lot of it like is speeches you know like every every great orator is delivering speeches in that place every elections are happening in that place so like every every Roman that you’ve ever heard of spent a considerable amount of time there. Once you start getting to the late Republic I mean now we’re it’s like you know this is where the grock guy were when when those like when those great confrontations were going on. This is where Martius is you know confronting Saturninus. This is where the heads are being posted during the solid prescription. This is where Mark Antony is beaten up when he has to go back to Caesar Unfortunately it wasn’t where we know this now or I didn’t know this but now I do. When I went there for the first time I went I was probably 20. So there’s probably seven years before I did the history of Rome and I was very excited to see a place where Julius Caesar was assassinated and he was assassinated in the forum because Claudius Porter’s Claudius the supporters had burned down the Senate House. And the Senate House didn’t exist at that particular moment. So Caesar was actually assassinated outside of Pompey’s theater which is now a cat sanctuary. And. So when I was there the first thing we do is.
[ 00:16:43 ] This. So there’s that square with the free market there. And we had like presiding over lunch and we went to this restaurant one day and the bases summer season. And I was like oh OK well that’s in school. And I thought it was really weird. And then later several people told me that that’s actually legitimately not to be is part of the. Yeah it’s a part of obviously I’ve been I’ve been to that restaurant hour.
[ 00:17:14 ] A couple of three times of course.
[ 00:17:16 ] And like you know like and they’ve also you know got claim to it. Right. Like that’s it. I wouldn’t call it like a gimmick because they don’t like. Yeah they don’t market it heavily. But it definitely that restaurant is sitting right on top of the foundation of pompous theater.
[ 00:17:36 ] Yeah they were. We heard. They didn’t do anything and they were in the basement really. Yeah.
[ 00:17:43 ] But you like her. If you were to want to say I went to the place where Caesar was assassinated.
[ 00:17:48 ] Yeah. It’s that it’s that restaurant off of a cop come out of fury.
[ 00:17:52 ] Get right back into the street. And actually I went back the second time. When I had to stop over. And so I went past that restaurant again because I knew it was tasty. So it was like I had a pretty view of the square. So but I did.
[ 00:18:08 ] Well you only have to go there once. And that’s one of the things where you just like I checked it off my chest.
[ 00:18:15 ] Oh where we’re live from it are public and a lot of things happening there in my head actually. HBO The show is built around like that. What happened to it in the end. What happened at the forum in the Empire. I mean it was still a center of political power.
[ 00:18:35 ] Definitely. I mean like the center of political power really by that point has moved from. The forum per se.
[ 00:18:45 ] To the Palatine Hill. Right. With the emperors took over the Palatine Hill and turned into a giant complex so that by the by the by the time Augustus comes along and forward it’s really the Palatine Hill for the next 250 years. And the forum itself is still you know the center of civic life and the center of daily life. But not so much it’s not you know the elections no longer matter. Order is no longer matter you’re not nobody you’re never going to like hear anything necessarily interesting because you can’t say anything bad against the Emperors. Bob but very famously almost to the point of cliche Augustus when he says that he inherited a brown made a Breck’s and turned into a city of marble he’s talking a lot about what happened in the forum which is up and up until Augustus. So right around you know the 0 Rome was built out of brick. It was all brick all the buildings were brick. It was not the you know pure white marble edifices that people think of when you think of Roman civilization that’s what you’re picturing like white columns giant white buildings. All of that comes during the Imperial age during the high imperial age. So by the you know the first second century A.D.. So once you’ve moved out of the republic and into the Empire you know they’ve got they’ve got the wealth of God. You know the entire Mediterranean world has been flooding into the temple of Saturn which is sitting there in the forum.
[ 00:20:17 ] What do you do with all that money. You make it look way better.
[ 00:20:20 ] So here hear the imperialist form like and any time like you see some artists rendition of the forum. Right. They’re private. There’s a there’s a better than 80 percent chance you’re looking at what it would have looked like in you know around 100 B.C. during the 90s like during Hadrian and Trajan Marx rally it’s like that era is the absolute golden age heyday when it looked to the best when everything was there. You know it’s the Colosseum wasn’t even there until Vespasian which is around about 70 in the 70s.
[ 00:20:56 ] So it wasn’t even there yet. Do we know what room is from. Or how they felt about it. Like when I think about it what I feel I still feel patriotism Rafe you deal with your connection with this facility people that live in Rome proper.
[ 00:21:13 ] Well knowing what you know the average poor person thought about it is always tough when you’re talking about Roman history because you only ever hear about what what the rich people thought about everything because they were the only person. They were only people writing anything down. But for them at least during the Republic and I know and I know now more about the Republican era since I just finished this book the storm before the storm the beginning of the end up in Roman Republic for coming up with 24 2017 that it was it was absolutely the center of political life. And so when guys like Cicero Marcus Crassus the orator Marcus Antonius who was Mark Antony’s grandfather you know it was it was hallowed ground for them because oratory and that kind of public engagement they were trials would take place where you would shine it’s where you would make your name if you were a candidate for office. This is where you would come and canvass for votes. If you were a triumphant general you would pass through it on your way to the temple of Jupiter so it was it was very much hallowed ground politically. And then I would imagine just the poor urban clubs that was you know it was a place where you could come to you know watch a good speech get some get some cheap food. You know I was probably the same way that somebody who was living in Washington D.C. would think about the mall. I mean it’s kind of that way if it does have all the central shrines and all the central temples and all the central you know there’s a there’s a statue to the greatest of the Romans that are there. So if you’re living there probably just a place where you can sit down and have some shade. I imagine it’s one of the things that that the porter Romans would have thought about it.
[ 00:23:02 ] So what entires power moved east and Rome certain being attacked by all kinds of. It’s been awhile but I gotta say that it’s gotten right off the floor and has really lost control of Italy.
[ 00:23:25 ] Well yeah.
[ 00:23:27 ] Round about in the crisis of the third century which is like the mid 200. You know the emperors moved the political center of the Empire North to Milan. That’s that’s where they wind up moving because they have they had to bear to be on the frontier to battle all these people coming over the Danube and coming over the Rhine River you don’t want to be another couple of days further south isolated on the end of this peninsula. So for military reasons the Empire’s capital moved up to Milan. So now you know the forum had been the center of the greatest empire in the world and now it it wasn’t that anymore it lost its political you know any kind of political power. But Rome was still an enormously large city. It was still a very populated city. You don’t get to the point where like Rome is depopulated which will come later. So it’s still the center of Roman life it’s still the center of basically the largest city in the Mediterranean world even if it’s no longer the center of the greatest empire in the world that had moved on to Milan and then Constantine comes along and moves over to Constantinople. But you still had rich dudes living up on the Palatine Hill and you still had you know poor urban plebs running around looking for shade in the headlights into disrepair. Yeah. Well when once you start getting like so there’s a couple of sacks. Right. But even that even the sacks right. People think of the sack of Rome as being this great cataclysmic event. And it was but more like for for like morale reasons more than it was the capital when it was sacked and destroyed. So the goss tragedy. Fifty years later the vandals trashed it. And by this point yeah you start getting people moving away from urban centers at least in the Western Empire and Rome started to just slowly but surely year in and year out generation in a generation out starting to be depopulated. And so you can picture it going through into the 60s into you know what we used to call the Dark Ages. Now we have to call something else because we don’t want to offend the medievalists classicist that you have this huge infrastructure of a city that was once like a million people strong. It is now dwindling down to hundreds of thousands and I think it it when it hit rock bottom like the population of Rome might have been less than a hundred thousand. So it was you’re talking about like the ultimate almost ghost town is what it would have been like the 800 900 Zaidee again I’m not I’m not an expert on that period. But it was really really depopulated so it would have just been. And that’s when it starts falling apart in disrepair right. If people want to build a house for themself you know that the forum is right there and it’s full of all these buildings that nobody ever uses anymore and it’s got all these great bricks. I mean the Romans built great bricks. So they started to dismantle all of that stuff to build other things to build new shelters and new places to build new houses to build new barns silos. All that stuff like why. Why make your own stuff when you can just try to walk down to the forum or anywhere else in her home and you know pick it clean.
[ 00:27:01 ] So instead become the tourist destination in Rome.
[ 00:27:07 ] That’s that’s a good question.
[ 00:27:11 ] It always was for a certain type of person at a place of interest like going to Rome was it would would have been an interesting thing to do to go visit all these relics. And but by the time by the 18th century and then into the 19th century you started getting this like the Grand Tuer becomes a thing for these various like you know the British or French or wherever there was like kind of a circuit that you would start to run around as start getting more like bourgeois wealth is starting to come into things like what do you do with this money all gone like this. You know there’s this long tour and see the sights and Rome became one of the sites that you would want to see. And the crazy thing is by that point there had been so much debris and dirt and rubble that had built up that I want to say it was probably like 20 30 feet worth of just like rubble and debris that had built up over over the two thousand years or so over that like let’s say a thousand years since the fall of the Western Empire and you can you can look at those great Piran they say probably pronouncing that wrong PNAC like carvings like wood carvings with or even they like sketches you can see them on line and they show like The Arch of Titus is dirt up to almost where you almost can’t see the arch anymore. It’s just a guy sitting there next to like some sheep and that’s what it looked like at that time. So it didn’t really start to get excavated and studied and become what it is today which is a site that you go if you want to visit Roman history until like the eighteen hundreds all the 19th century is when you start getting that boom in archaeology. This is when around the time when Pompei would have been discovered like there was a there was a huge boom in interest in archaeology as a field and that’s when they started really excavating the bejesus out of the forum.
[ 00:29:11 ] This is the complete tangent. So if you don’t. Have any idea that’s really cool. So you see some of the most recently about Grieger ecology and how the Greeks got to keep so many of their. Obviously not a lot that’s on the Acropolis that they go if she it when they dug up a lot of things more recently and they’re going to keep it true. You laugh so much. Do we know Italy controls most of the relics the United Nations and if they lost them most of it they control.
[ 00:29:45 ] I mean there’s obviously things in the British Museum there’s there’s things everywhere. But what Rome in particular had going for it was it had the papacy. So the people who control all of that were the pope’s like all like the majority of it came under the control of the papacy of the Vatican it’s all in the Vatican. And that’s probably the single best place is the Vatican Museum.
[ 00:30:12 ] I haven’t done I have to go back and do that. All you have done the Vatican museum is only a very strategic room was going to go to that. So that’s the room.
[ 00:30:23 ] Yeah you do. Even the Vatican is you know famous for the Sistine Chapel and all the renaissance stuff.
[ 00:30:29 ] But they have unquestionably the best collection of classical sculptures classical classical everything. They’ve they’ve got it all so they control most of it so it didn’t have that there wasn’t that like diaspora of archaeological cool stuff right to Britain to visit to London or to tour the Louvre.
[ 00:30:51 ] Have you been. Have you been to the populous museum in the last like three years. I think it’s anywhere.
[ 00:30:57 ] No I’ve not I’ve never actually been to Greece.
[ 00:31:00 ] So the trouble and that in the video it is just century after century and other people stealing their stuff.
[ 00:31:12 ] And it is the most she’d ever see thrown by a museum and it isn’t that easy but it’s part of what you see in doing this I guess because I think it’s very different to see that.
[ 00:31:24 ] It’s all I’ve got to see. The point is if she is in Chicago and Texas and that is cool for me but it is not for posters that all of their stuff is fine.
[ 00:31:35 ] So it’s kind of interesting. Yeah.
[ 00:31:38 ] And we did you know we did the Istanbul archeological museum and they have you know they had a lot of stuff go to. But the guy that I had there you know she was she was pretty ambivalent about it. She was like you know would be nice if we had it.
[ 00:31:52 ] But like at the same time you know it’s on the British Museum you know the British are really good.
[ 00:31:59 ] Yet they still get out. You know they’re sitting on it and that’s a relic of their you know imperial crimes.
[ 00:32:05 ] But the British are really good at maintaining things they’re really good.
[ 00:32:09 ] They take it really seriously so she’s like if we get it back that will be great.
[ 00:32:13 ] But you know at least at least it’s safe it’s safe for this theory that way too. And this is what I. No they’re doing it again as well. Turkey doesn’t have the same affinity for its Byzantine past that Greece has for aces and for its group possibly I think it is that’s where the flame of the Byzantine Empire is kept alive in people’s minds.
[ 00:32:44 ] Really. Yeah yeah. When we went to Istanbul they did not want to talk about. They did not want to talk about the Roman period at all.
[ 00:32:52 ] We will forget you know like where any of us were at any particular point. But yeah you go walking by like some column be like what’s that called just laying there and it’s like oh that was erected by Constantine for some reason.
[ 00:33:05 ] They’re moving on. That’s really interesting. What do you mean that’s like a. OK. No they don’t it.
[ 00:33:12 ] I mean they don’t even like they don’t even like talking about the Byzantines let alone the Roman period. They just want to take it a Topkapi Palace and save the crown jewels of their ancestors.
[ 00:33:23 ] Really. Yeah. If they are ever so many centuries is like 8 to it. I believe it happens when you go to the museums there’s a lot more Byzantine but also the churches are worth it. And Asher I felt like you should if you want to see the Roman eastern Roman history you should go because that’s the stuff that if you want to learn about it from people they care about. I also need to stop in and then.
[ 00:33:49 ] Yeah. Yeah. Which I’ve I’ve never actually I’ve never been to Athens.
[ 00:33:53 ] We’re working on what you do. I think you would like it it’s a cool city.
[ 00:33:58 ] Yeah. It’s happening. I’m going to go there. I just haven’t done it yet.
[ 00:34:04 ] I feel so I did so I mean there’s a printed promise that I know we don’t need too much in five days. And like now I just do everything and so I get like that. A lot of cities there.
[ 00:34:16 ] I mean we could do we could do a whole we could do a whole one of these about Paris too many times.
[ 00:34:22 ] When’s it going to pay. What is a tomorrow. So we’ll have to do this math at least some place you want to do that. I’ll make sure to stop there. All right so let’s talk about your book is it. I first heard you wanted to read it but when I may. But this book is not the book that I think you were thinking about with in this book. How did you decide that this is going to be your topic.
[ 00:34:48 ] Well now now I’m actually curious what book was I going to write about. There’s always been something kicking around what did I say.
[ 00:34:54 ] Right. The time you said you’re going to write a biography of the pope or something within it which I think would be acceptable.
[ 00:35:00 ] I can see that. OK. That makes sense. So maybe. OK. So future book will be a grandpa or a biography of a rally. Now you can read the full. That’s true. Yeah. This is to answer your question. You’re mad at me.
[ 00:35:21 ] So it’s called the storm before the storm the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic and it covers the 50 or so years between let’s say 135 B.C. and about 80 B.C. which is the two generations before you get to Julius Caesar and Pompey and Crassus and Mark Antony and Cleopatra which is a story that everybody knows that there’s a book about Caesar almost every year there’s a book about Cicero that will come out. Everybody know that’s what the HBO Rome series was about like that generation that last generation Shakespeare you know has a play about the last generation that Brutus and Cassius these guys. So that’s the fall of the republic. What we don’t seem to talk about very much is it’s not like the Roman Republic was super healthy in 50 BCE and it just got crashed by this generation of random like things had been breaking down for quite a while. So let’s go back two generations and see what it is what started the process. Like Rome was triumphant Rome defeated Carthage Rome defeated the Greeks conquered the Greeks Rome had control of Spain Rome was the most dominant power in the Mediterranean world the Republic was by about 1 46 146 at the top of the famous point which states they simultaneously annex Greece and North Africa into the Empire. So now they are the strongest most dominant thing in the Mediterranean world. So what happened. It started to unravel. Here’s what happened. For a variety of reasons that I will go into in the book well the storm beginning of the end of the Roman Republic I’ll tell you all about it. The impetus for writing it a bit. It’s a it’s a fascinating 50 year period it’s the grock brothers it’s Maurice at Saala warse betrayal you know intrigue all the good stuff. But the question I got asked more than any other question the whole time that I was doing the history of Rome was oh it is the United States Rome is America Rome or we the new Rome if if we are the new Rome like are we having a similar historical trajectory and the whole time I was doing the podcast I was kind of put those questions off and it’s like now let’s just do Roman history and not worry about it too much. But it got into my head a little bit and I was like OK I’ll sit down or think about this. And if America is wrong like where would we be like on the timeline. So are we at the very beginning where it’s like I mean Rome was famously founded by a bunch of vagabonds and escaped slaves and kind of Russy it was not a it was not a great group of people when you look at the United States in the early colonization it’s like yeah these are kind of the castaways and the people who are trying to get away from you know the old world. They’re not fitting in. So they want to go someplace new. So then you have this little oligarchy gets together and overthrows their king. That’s what happened in five or nine that’s the founding of the republic in the American Revolution. Kind of the same thing you got the idea in the little real oligarchy clique of large landowners and you know shipping magnates get together they break away from the King they found a republic. Then you start expanding regionally which is roughly equivalent to the Samite wars the United States sort of expanding across North America. And then you had these big global war against the Carthaginians where the Brahman’s wind up at the end of that being the most dominant power in the world or in the Mediterranean world at least in the United States like we go through World War 1 World War II the Cold War kind of emerged from that where now the you know the most power arguably the most powerful country in the world. So that kind of kind of looks roughly the same like if you squint. That’s the timeline. And then you start honing in on what happened to the Romans after they achieved supremacy after they followed this trajectory like what happened to him. Eisner getting massive economic inequality as the rich are getting insanely richer and the poor are just getting poorer. Start having you know with no sort of great enemy to bind them together you start having political factionalism and the elites turning on each other you start getting the privatization of the armies. You start getting there huge questions about who should be allowed to vote who shouldn’t be allowed to vote who’s a citizen you have these you know these some these tears of Italian citizenship where if you weren’t a Roman Roman but you were an Italian you were like a second class citizen. And so the social war erupts and that’s all covered in the book so there’s a lot of you know echoes things I guess what I would call them as to what America is currently facing and what the Romans faced you know under something that might be considered similar circumstances like our current leadership with the war from this time period and breaking before the break.
[ 00:40:20 ] Or do you feel like it would be the result of a break like what we have right now. Yeah.
[ 00:40:28 ] Well problematically one of the things that allowed Caesar and then Augustus to topple the republic and not they’d never overtly declared an autocracy but to sort of slowly accrue the power one person slowly accruing the power that turned it into a de facto dictatorship even if they never said like I am now the Emperor of Rome. That never happened. One of the reasons that happened is because the Senate had just stopped being responsive to their people. The people who lived in the empire they they were so obsessed with protecting their own privileges and their own version of an of an oligarchical little city state that they wanted to maintain at all costs that it became very easy for everybody else to just be like well you people are not doing anything that helps me. This guy says he’s going to do some things that will help me. He’s talking land reform he’s talking a grand old like he’s talking about you know kicking you in the face which also sounds good to me. And that’s why people were sick to death of the Senate. In Roman times. So when I look at the United States and you know you see these the approval ratings of Congress are like abysmal. And you know kind of with good reason they don’t seem particularly responsive to what the citizens of the United States need or want. And so you know can get some brilliant you know some Caesar esque character that might come crashing through the doors generation or a generation or two from now I can see a lot of people being like how far Congress is great.
[ 00:42:16 ] Do it be like mine.
[ 00:42:18 ] I hate those people. And that’s what it is. You don’t dictators. At least in Rome you know. They didn’t. They did take over and everybody was mad about it. They took over and everybody was happy about it. Oh really I never really thought about that where. Yeah they were they were they were thrown into a lot of ways.
[ 00:42:36 ] It never went away. They just lost power. They just hate make love for rich and poor people they crack down.
[ 00:42:44 ] It becomes a becomes a little social club but it’s still it’s still prestigious to be a part of it. If you were a particular senator who had the ear of the Emperor you know you might you might have some power which is you know if if you project out and say oh I mean does the United States going to turn into an empire at some point like that. Probably.
[ 00:43:06 ] Not. But if you like so I see that it would just we would just have a president and the president would still exist.
[ 00:43:12 ] And you know the House of Representatives and the Senate would probably still exist but it would be a lot of it would be a lot more for show right than that. That’s the way that’s the way Augustus set it up to have all the forms still in place. All the language still be the same. He said there were still consuls that were elected every year right under the Empire. You still have elections every year. They were just all just all pantomime.
[ 00:43:36 ] You know as you see this the last two presidents have taken some of its power but they are tough like presidents and our current president is going to see a power that is breaking all the institutional norms and things. It’s kind of maybe they say no way that it might not have the same man.
[ 00:43:52 ] But you know I agree with that.
[ 00:43:55 ] You know in the last hundred years the last hundred years has just been the slow accumulation of power in the executive branch like starting with the Roosevelt you know going through Franklin Roosevelt going through everything that happened during the Cold War and then in the 90s and even in the 2000s there is a lot of just like Congress being like well the executive branch has figured out the executive branch will do it. And then once you start getting into gridlock between the presidency and congress you start getting more executive orders you start getting more things run directly out of the executive branch so the presidency right now is obviously. I mean anybody who knows the history of the United States the presidency is way more powerful than it was ever intended to be. And it’s brought the depth of what it actually touches on. And we have Jeff Trump has come along and he’s seems singularly uninterested in actually liking. It’s so weird like he seems so interested in the job that Congress is really taking the lead again and they’re about to get into that and say OK you little Bulgaria now you don’t have to feel all that.
[ 00:45:06 ] Why are you so shy about this stuff. It’s interesting to talk about it just because I watched a lot of Europeans who don’t really understand what’s going on. Axis of half-American about it. Well an American who doesn’t understand you know I don’t get legs.
[ 00:45:22 ] I don’t I don’t think anybody really understood I don’t even think that I don’t even think that Trump understands what’s going on. Like he was it was absolutely this is absolutely one of those like the dog that caught the car and now doesn’t know what to do. He I don’t think any anyone including the inner circle of his family expected him to win. And I don’t think that there was a plan for what to do if he did win. And yet here we are having to deal.
[ 00:45:49 ] So. All right so we’re going to read that book we’re going by the first and then we’re going to read it. We’re going to learn about out there that we should just interested in it might be for every pair we shot today.
[ 00:46:02 ] Yeah yeah. It’s a nerd it’s a narrative history. Right.
[ 00:46:06 ] So it’s it’s a 50 year 50 year history. That’s not oh this person is you know is Pelosi and this person is you know it’s not. But there’s a lot in there and it would be nice if one of the things that I’m kind of a practical historian I’m not an academic historian. So I’m comfortable believing that we can look to history to learn lessons from it. I mean people can use bad historical analogies and do bad historical analysis. But if if history is to have any purpose at all if it is to be worth studying for any reason except just like the knowing of facts it’s to try to make better decisions than maybe somebody else did to look at what decisions other people made whether they went well or went poorly and then say OK what can we do different or what should we do the same to maybe navigate our version of the same kind of sequence of events better than they did to look to the past to make decisions in the present to make a better future.
[ 00:47:13 ] That seems like a good use of history so I mean it and like to give this book to the people and have them read it and pay for it.
[ 00:47:21 ] Yes it is worth because we’re all so much free stuff. Anyone who is your stuff to just find one book.
[ 00:47:28 ] Yeah yeah.
[ 00:47:30 ] You know we’re coming up on almost 350 fifty episodes that I’ve put out for FREE.
[ 00:47:41 ] I’m out every week. It just shows up in your little podcast machine you can buy this one book for me.
[ 00:47:49 ] So there’s going to be league and foul play. And then you will still be at least the book by the book.
[ 00:47:57 ] You can preorder it and it comes out in October. Is it going to be impossible to really love. Yes.
[ 00:48:03 ] Are you going to do something now that I will be narrating.
[ 00:48:07 ] I know that I wonder if my favorite story is the effort but I can’t read history I have to do it. It’s not him. I heard him give a million interview so it’s weird to me that it’s not him.
[ 00:48:21 ] Who would you say. Timothy Snyder he did like blood man. And yet. But he doesn’t read our novel and say. I listen to you talk for hours. You do your own book. Have you recorded it yet.
[ 00:48:35 ] No I have not. Well at this moment the deal has been signed.
[ 00:48:40 ] I have a pub I have an audio book publisher but the book itself like it’s such a long process like actually coming out with the book the actual finished final proofed version of the book doesn’t even exist yet won’t exist for a couple of weeks.
[ 00:48:54 ] So once that is done then I will record it.
[ 00:48:58 ] And yeah I mean no audio book publisher worth their salt would get somebody else to read a book by a guy who made his bones in audio there would be a revolt.
[ 00:49:10 ] Like nobody nobody would except it to be able. It would be a it would be a marketing blunder. Not having read the book so I read the book chapter 1 the beasts of Italy.
[ 00:49:21 ] All right. You’re going to find a period of up and you’re also going to write a novel it. So yes.
[ 00:49:28 ] But you got to buy the hardcover book because we’re trying to make me an award winning podcast her and New York Times best selling author Mike Duncan. That’s the new plan.
[ 00:49:40 ] So you have to buy the you’ve got to buy the book because the audio book sales don’t count towards this really nebulous and weird thing that is the New York Times bestseller list which is like they had this secret sauce that they use they don’t hide it. They’re not transparent about it. I’ve been I’ve been researching it. The New York Times bestseller list is actually protected under the First Amendment as editorial content because an author one time sued them back in the 80s for not putting his book on the list and the supreme court actually ruled that its editorial content it’s not just a report of the number of books that were sold. It’s a very weird very weird thing to get.
[ 00:50:19 ] They got to buy the hardcover. You can also buy the e-book if you would like and then buy the audio book as a supplement.
[ 00:50:25 ] Yeah and let me guess in a way that people have this to say. Yes.
[ 00:50:29 ] You know 50 to 60 of your closest friends. They can all use this but it’s a good actually.
[ 00:50:34 ] Actually I’m really quite proud of it. I think it’s a good book. I just read it again for the nine million time and I’m sick of it yet.
[ 00:50:41 ] So awesome. Well thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming on and happy again after being friends with my friends. OK.
[ 00:50:50 ] Who the so that’s a wrap on Episode 1.
[ 00:51:11 ] I want to thank Mike Duncan again for coming on the show. A few notes real quick. First of all thank you for listening to this first episode that has driven growth. I guess I’m really excited about this. If you enjoy the episode you want to get more please go into iTunes and subscribe or subscribe wherever you get your pod cast. It’s would be immensely helpful if you would go into iTunes and write and review if you want to put one star or five stars. It’s up to you but it would really help if you would rate and review. The next episode is going to be about real a monastery which is a Byzantine monastery in Bulgaria that is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in has a really interesting history. And the guests will be Eric healthy from the Bulgarian history podcast so I’m really excited to share that conversation with you all. And in this week’s contest if you like to lend your very own copy of this story before the store go to history fan girl dot com. Fun article for this episode which is Episode One The Roman Forum and instructions will be posted
13 thoughts on “The Roman Forum”
It was a good podcast. I’ve subscribed and rated on iTunes. Thank you for making it.
Awe thank you so much! That means a lot! Any topic requests?
Thank you so much! I’m glad you’re liking it!
Really enjoyed the first episode. Great discussion, I’ve been to Rome twice but I really want to go back again now! I’ve subscribed and reviewed on iTunes (?!)I look forward to future episodes! Thanks
Thank so much! I don’t think there’s a limit on how many times someone should visit Rome-way too much to see! I have to head back myself sometime soon.
Thank you for the review-it’s so helpful!
Awesome podcast! Great for someone who hasn’t been to Rome, but wants to someday.
I’ll meet you there! =)
I just stumbled across your podcast and I really enjoy it!! I can’t wait for future content!!!
Thank you so much! That is so great to hear! Any topics you’d like?
I’ve been to the Roman Forum and really enjoyed learning more about the history of it through stories. Thanks, Stephanie!
Awe thank you so much! And thank you for the lovely review in iTunes!!!