Watch A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome

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From Ben-Hur to Spartacus to Gladiator, get a front-row look at the great movies that have shaped ancient Rome's role in popular culture and memory. These 12 episodes cover over 50 years of cinematic history and talent, and immerse you in the glory and grandeur (and even the folly) of classic and contemporary films set in Roman antiquity.

A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (12 episodes). The series first aired on January 3, 2020.

Where do I stream A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome online? A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome is available for streaming on The Great Courses Signature Collection, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon online.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 12 Episodes
January 3, 2020
Documentary & Biography
Cast: Greg Aldrete
Watch Episodes

A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome Full Episode Guide

  • The Hunger Games, The Matrix, The Running Man, Rollerball, and Ready Player One are wildly different sci-fi films which derive their premise from a line of poetry by the ancient Roman satirist Juvenal. How has a simple motif about "bread and circuses" powered some of the most memorable sci-fi plots in cinema?

  • While both were Italian productions, Scipione l'africano and Fellini Satyricon couldn't be more dissimilar in style. Examine how these two films (one a pompous work of propaganda from 1937, the other a subversive piece of overindulgence from 1969) are best seen as products of the eras in which they were made.

  • To get a sense of what living in ancient Rome was really like for the average person, the best place to look is the HBO miniseries, Rome. Learn how, despite its flaws, this short-lived series offers accurate (if gritty) views of different religious beliefs, the role of slavery in ancient Roman society, and more.

  • Why did big-budget epics of the ancient world fall out of fashion? How did the 2000 film Gladiator single-handedly resuscitate a genre that had been dormant for nearly 40 years? What has recent scholarship revealed about the film's portrayals of gladiator battles and the lives of ancient Roman emperors: their truths, falsehoods, and embellishments?

  • What would a parody of sword-and-sandal films, with all their genre conventions and cliches, look like? Discover how Monthy Python's Life of Brian, a witty parody of both biblical and Roman epic films, took on gladiatorial games, ancient Roman society and religion, and the human tendency toward factionalism and tribalism.

  • Consider the 1976 BBC production of I, Claudius, which has been credited as one of the most influential and memorable portraits of the ancient world ever to appear on the screen (big or small). Set between 24 BC and AD 54, the miniseries created an intimate look at the reigns of emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius.

  • With its $19 million price tag and its $4.75 million in returns, The Fall of the Roman Empire was an unmitigated financial disaster. From its connections to 1960s global politics to its elaborate reconstruction of the Roman Forum to its bleak ending, explore why some critics and scholars regard this as a sophisticated take on ancient Rome.

  • How did the 1963 film Cleopatra bring about the destruction of the golden age of epic films set in ancient Rome and destroy the old Hollywood studio system? How does this film treat the historical accounts of figures like Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian? Why do its grand costumes and sets still deserve admiration?

  • Discover what makes Spartacus (despite being one of the best-known cinema epics of ancient Rome) something of an oddity. It's a gladiator film with only one scene of combat. Its production was rife with conflict. Its narrative misrepresents the real-life Spartacus's goals. And it played an important role in Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist movement.

  • Ben-Hur, from 1959, was an enormous financial risk that nevertheless became a cash machine for MGM Studios. In this episode, unpack the intricate tensions between the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur and the Roman aristocrat Messala, then analyze the historical accuracies (and inaccuracies) of the film's iconic naval battle and chariot race sequences.