We’re taking a step back in time to examine the classic Rome on film presented in Ben-Hur, the 1959 epic extravaganza! The film builds on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ published by Lee Wallace in 1880. This means that there are many layers to parse from the perspective of historians!
Author: The Partial Historians
Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!
We take our last turn about the room with the enigma, the charisma, that is Spartacus. The final season of the Starz series Spartacus: War of the Damned, follows the final confrontation between the slave rebels and the might of Rome.
The Doctors tackle the sources and speculation that arise from an examination of the Starz series Spartacus Vengeance.
Spartacus: Vengeance follows the nascent slave rebellion in their journey from Capua and the challenges they face along the way. You may well ask what is up with Glaber and Spartacus – find out here!
In this episode, your intrepid Doctors continue to explore Spartacus and modern incarnations of his story. In 2010 the Starz series Spartacus Blood and Sand hit our television screens.
This season functions as a origin story, as our primary sources for pick up the story at the moment of Spartacus leading the slave revolt in 73 CE. With an eye for the historical sources, we consider how this series tackles the details of Spartacus’ life and the blurring of history and drama.
Dr Radford’s is a specialist in the history of Rome on film. And where better to start than with Spartacus, the 1960 epic directed (eventually) by Stanley Kubrick and starring the one, the only, Kirk Douglas.
This film has a highly complicated array of relationships to explore. There’s the 1951 novel that inspired the screenplay by Howard Fast. There’s the screenplay itself, where major credit is given to Dalton Trumbo. And there’s the complications that arise from the challenges of finding a director who could stick with the project. This is all before we even cut to the chase on the primary source material!
So what relationship does the film bear to the historical sources?
Cybele, also known as the Magna Mater (the Great Goddess) is an Eastern deity brought to Rome in the wake of the Punic Wars. In this listener request episode, the Doctors delve into background of this goddess. We consider her divine areas of influence, and follow her progress from the East into Rome.
Oh Nero … It’s a long way to the top, and when you get there it’s a long way to fall. We like to think of it this way, he sings “I didn’t start the fire”, but of course he didn’t fiddle while Rome burned. No, it was far more interesting than that!
Claudius is dead, and who should emerge as the new imperator … none other than Nero, the son of Agrippina. While we explore the early years of Nero’s rule under the guidance of his mother Agrippina the Younger, we also consider the influential roles of Seneca and Burrus.
With Messalina dead, Claudius begins the process that any good Roman man would: choosing a new wife. As emperor, Claudius just happens to be the most eligible bachelor in town. He has a pick of the ladies and decides on Agrippina.
This is an unusual match in a number of respects, not least because she is his niece! In this episode, Doctors R and G explore the various intricacies of the relationship between Claudius and Agrippina.
Valeria Messalina was a cousin of Claudius and there was quite an age difference between them. He was born in 10 BCE, while she was born in c. 20 CE. This thirty year age gap may go some way to explaining the character of the marriage as it developed over time. In this episode, your intrepid Doctors explore the myth, the legend, and the history that is her legacy.
In this episode, we consider Claudius’ less than illustrious beginnings and the progression of his career into Rome’s top job. Claudius’ expansionist policy, his relationship with the Praetorian guard, and the focus of the sources on his freedmen are all up for discussion!
We examine Caligula’s rise to power, the changes his principate means for the developing empire of Rome, and touch on the some of the shocking tales connected with his reign. It’s times like these, dear listener, that you begin to wish Tacitus’ account of this period had survived – could the sources be less balanced?
We take a detour from the Julio-Claudian emperors to examine one of the women pivotal to Augustus’ family and the future of his family line: Julia Maior, Augustus’ biological daughter. Who was Julia exactly? And why was she important?
In this episode, we tackle the issues Tiberius faced in his career as he tried to fill the political shoes of Augustus. We consider the following questions in regard to Tiberius’ leadership: What style characterised his rule? What troubles did he face and how did he address them? And what about those stories of sexual deviancy?
What was Tiberius’ early life like? What milestones mark his political career? And how does he journey to become the princeps of Rome? In this episode, we trace Tiberius’ life from his birth in 42 BCE to the moment of his transition from citizen of Rome to the leading man of the state in 14 CE.
Our exploration of Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE) takes a titillating turn as we consider some of the evidence for Augustus private life. With a reasonable degree of historian skepticism, we consider some of the challenges with the source material relating to sex in ancient Rome!
Octavian, later Augustus, rises to become the foremost politician in Rome and establishes the Principate (a percursor to the Roman Empire). From his humble beginnings being taken under the wing of Julius Caesar, he rises to become the most powerful politician and military leader of his generation. We explore his rise here!
Sex workers in the ancient world deserve our attention in part because they reveal the differences between our world and the world of ancient past. In this episode, we explore some of the issues on the topic of sex work in ancient Rome. CW: The language and terminology in this episode reflects in part when the episode was recorded and in part the differences in the way this subject is discussed in history rather than cultural studies.
If you are interested in further reading on sex in ancient Rome, the Partial Historians have compiled a list for your reading and thinking pleasure below: Sources: Sex in Ancient Rome Chrystal, P. 2015. In Bed with the Romans (Amberley Publishing Limited) Edwards, C. 1993. The Politics of Immortality in Ancient Rome (Cambridge University Press) Gardner, J. F. 1991. Women in Roman Law and Society (Indiana University Press) MacLachlan, B. 2013. Women in Ancient Rome:…
Were Roman matronae (wives) having sex? Why would they even want to do it? And what were the consequences when things turned a little bit kinky? It’s all here!
To our beloved listeners: We have decided to postpone the episode on ancient Roman sex on film (although it will come, oh yes… it will come). Instead, tune in for our next podcast on sex for those who behaved (married ladies) and those who didn’t (prostitutes). Until then!
Dr Greenfield is a specialist in the Vestal Virgins and in this episode we consider the cult in more depth. The trials and tribulations of the Vestal Virgins and their (possible) sexual escapades serve to create interest around the cult in the popular imagination – but what are some the implications for the priestesses?
Dr Greenfield introduces the Vestal Virgins! These priestesses are one of the stand out colleges of women participating in ritual in Ancient Rome. When we understand their place in the greater scheme of Rome we can start to appreciate their connection with the politics of the City.
In this episode we look at: the background of the cult of Vesta; the role that the Vestals played in Roman religious thinking; and, staying on the broader theme of sex in Ancient Rome, we’ll consider the reasons why these particular women weren’t getting any action.
For those of you who are dying to know more about episode two, we plan to have it ready in a month. Our next topic is going to be right up Dr Greenfield’s alley – the Vestal Virgins. We have picked these women as they didn’t have sex… or did they? Find out next episode!
Hello, oh those of very good taste! We would just like to remind you that you are welcome to use the comments section of our page to leave ideas for future topics. We want to satisfy your urges after all. Tell us what you would like to know about Ancient Rome.
What better subject to start an ancient Roman podcast with than sex? In this episode Dr Radford and Dr Greenfield address the most pressing issue in Ancient Roman history! We consider some infamous exploits and some of the major differences in the way the Romans thought about sex from society today. With passion and knowledge, we discuss, laugh, and spar our way through the ancient world.