Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I'm a Nerd. I Love History: Ancient Rome Edition

The Roman Empire is just so fascinating.  I'm teaching it to my seventh graders now.  Just finished Following Hadrian by Elizabeth Speller.  He's an interesting man, widely regarded a great Emperor of the greatest Empire the world has known.  Yet he is so insecure.  So unhappy.  Happiness is not wealth and power.

After finishing that book I went on a Wikipedia binge last night, clicking one article after another well past midnight.  The rainy weather lends itself to these sort of pursuits.

The usual stuff is interesting.  Gladiators and wars.  Legions and ever expanding Empire.  Barbarian hordes and collapse.

From Republic to the Empire's fall, Rome is so gloriously complex it's hard to wrap my head around.  I've been studying it casually for years, teaching it to middle schoolers for half a decade, and I feel as if I'm just beginning to understand it.

There is intrigue, murders, battles won and battles lost.  Treason, treason, and more treason.  There are dozens of famous names, used and used again with only "the elder" or "the younger" to tell them apart.  Hundreds of legacies that stay with us today.  One could spend a lifetime learning new things.

For example, did you know that at one time the Roman Empire looked like this?

This is Rome during the crisis of the Third Century, when two sizeable chunks of Rome broke away.  Rome almost fell in the late 200s.  Just learned that last night.  It was all reunited by a fellow name Aurelian, whose name lends itself to the French city of Orleans.  From there Diocletian (the only emperor to retire willingly) and Constantine propped things up, and on the Empire went for another 150 years or so.

The fascinating tidbits go on and on.  Diocletian, who when begged by the people to return to the throne, said he'd rather farm his cabbage.  Vespasian and his toilet tax.  The noble Cincinnatus who was later emulated by George Washington.  The reigns of Nero, Caligula and Elagabalus make for lurid reading.  It's fun sometimes to lose yourself in history.  More fun to see how history has left its mark on us, and what we can still learn from it.  More on that later.

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