The History Channel's four-part overview of the Roman Empire spans more than 3,000 years, from Rome's mythologized founding by Mars's twin sons Remus and Romulus to Latium's expansion and domination of the Mediterranean world to the rise of Christianity and Rome's ensuing fall. At once informative and entertaining, Ancient Rome
is a terrific example of all that is good on television today; in video it is a wonderful boxed set for any history buff--or teacher--to own.
Hosted by Joe Mantegna, Ancient Rome focuses on the four key periods in Roman history. Volume 1, "The Republic of Rome," examines the overthrow of the Etruscan monarchy and the conquest of Carthage and establishment of the two-class plebeian-patrician republican system. Volume 2, "The Age of Emperors," is first and foremost a history of the end of the republic and August's defeat of Marc Antony, as well as a biography of Julius Caesar. Volume 3, "Building an Empire," focuses on Rome's golden age and its still-visible heritage--including art and science and the systems of laws and roads that still connect and direct Europeans' lives. Finally, volume 4, "The Enduring Legacy," looks at Rome's early indifference to Christianity and how this religion came to dominate the world through Rome's dominance, even as the empire itself was about to crumble. Although this series suffers at times from a superficiality inherent in any cut-down documentary on so great a topic, it nonetheless remains--with thousands of beautiful images from Roman sites recontextualized to illuminate their ancient significance--an ideal introduction to all that was Rome. --Erik Macki