Eminent classical historian Robin Lane Fox embarks on a journey in search of the origins of the Greek myths. He firmly believes that these fantastical stories lie at the root of western culture, and yet little is known about where the myths of the Greek gods came from, and how they grew.
About 2000 years ago, Tacitus noted that “the climate is wretched”, Herodian said, “the atmosphere in the country is always gloomy”, Dio said “they live in tents unclothed and unshod, and share their women” and the historian Strabo said on no account should the Romans make it part of the Empire because it will never pay its way. But invade they did, and Britain became part of the Roman Empire for almost four hundred years
But what brought Romans to Britain and what made them stay? Did they prove the commentators wrong and make Britain amount to something in the Empire? Did the Romans come and go without much trace, or do those four centuries still colour our national life and character today?
Edward Gibbon wrote of the decline of the Roman Empire, "While that great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol."
But how far is the growth of Christianity implicated in the destruction of the great culture of Rome? How critical were the bawdy incursions of the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and the Vandals to the fall of the Roman Empire? Should we even be talking in terms of blame and decline at all?
St Augustine wrote about the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, Edward Gibbon famously tackled it in the eighteenth and it is a question that preoccupies us today.
Around 550BC, Lucretia, the daughter of an aristocrat, was raped by the son of Tarquin, the king of Rome. Lucretia told her family what had happened to her and then, in front of them, killed herself from shame. The Roman historian Livy describes what was believed to have happened next:
"Brutus, while the others were absorbed in grief; drew out the knife from Lucretia's wound, and holding it up, dripping with gore, exclaimed, "By this blood, most chaste until a prince wronged it, I swear, and I take you, gods, to witness, that I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his wicked wife and all his children, with sword, with fire, aye with whatsoever violence I may; and that I will suffer neither them nor any other to be king in Rome!". The King was duly expelled from the city and the Roman Republic was founded and lasted for 500 years.
But in what form did this republic evolve, what were its values and ideals and what ultimately caused the end of the world’s first true experiment in constitutional government?
The Penguin Atlas of World History: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution v.1: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution Vol 1
Hermann Kinder, Werner Hilgemann , Penguin Books Ltd , 1995
This is the first volume of the hugely successful PENGUIN ATLAS OF WORLD HISTORY, which covers events from the beginning of world history to the eve of the French Revolution. A wide-ranging, chronological summary of the main cultural, scientific, religious and political events of the period is accompanied by detailed maps that clarify complex historical situations, and make this an essential reference book for students and for the home.
John Romer & Elizabeth Romer , Michael O'Mara Books Ltd , 1995
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World symbolise all that was magnificent and mysterious in the pre-Christian West. In this book, archaeologists John and Elizabeth Romer create images of these great wonders using the words of ancient writers and modern archaelogical techniques
Classicist Dr Michael Scott journeys to Athens to explore how drama first began. He discovers that from the very start it was about more than just entertainment - it was a reaction to real events, it was a driving force in history and it was deeply connected to Athenian democracy.
Classicist Dr Michael Scott looks at the dramatic decline of Athens and the remarkable triumph and transformation of theatre. During the 4th century BC Athens would lose its Empire, its influence and even its democracy.
Archaeologist and historian Richard Miles explores the roots of one of the most profound innovations in the human story - civilisation - in the first episode of an epic series that runs from the creation of the first cities in Mesopotamia some 6,000 years ago, to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
n Richard Miles\'s epic story of civilization, there have been plenty of examples of the great men of history, but none came close to the legend of Alexander of Macedon, known to us as \'the Great\'. Uniting the fractious Greek city-states, he led them on a crusade against the old enemy, Persia, and in little more than a decade created an empire that stretched from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan in the east.
Archaeologist and historian Richard Miles looks at the winners, losers and survivors of the great Bronze Age collapse, a regional catastrophe that wiped out the hard-won achievements of civilisation in the eastern Mediterranean about 3,000 years ago. In the new age of iron, civilisation would re-emerge, tempered in the flames of conflict, tougher and more resilient than ever before.
From swords of the samurai to the tranquillity of a temple, Dan Cruickshank experiences the extremes of Japan. Then, in China, he walks the Great Wall, contemplates the massed ranks of the Terracotta Army and finds peace in the Empress of China\'s marble boat
The rarely visited trading domes of Uzbekistan and Fire Temple of Azerbaijan get an incisive Dan Cruickshank appraisal, before he moves on to scale a cliff face towards arguably the biggest archaeological puzzles of the 19th century.