About this Recording
NA228712 - GRIFFITH, H.: Great Rulers of Ancient Rome

Hugh Griffith
Great Rulers of Ancient Rome


The Romans lived so long ago that you might think nothing they did matters any more. But in fact we can’t avoid them—though mostly we don’t realise it. They left their mark so strongly, and in so many places, that we are constantly bumping into things they have left us. Very often these things are so familiar that we hardly think to look at them or wonder where they came from. In the United States the banknotes show an eagle carrying a scroll with the words E PLURIBUS UNUM: ‘one out of many’, meaning one nation made up of many states. And in Britain the coins have letters stamped around the Queen’s head—D G, REG, and F D. D G stands for Deo Gratia, ‘by the grace of God’, REG is short for Regina, meaning ‘Queen’, and F D stands for Fidei Defensor, ‘Defender of the Faith’.

These phrases are all Latin, of course, the language spoken by the Romans. You can find on page 9 a list of some other Latin words and phrases that are still commonly used. And this is only a small selection—there are plenty more. Then there’s our own English language, which has a huge number of words with a Latin origin, such as ‘relate’, ‘injure’, ‘solid’, ‘transfer’, ‘capable’, ‘quality’, ‘decimal’, ‘benefit’. We can’t say anything at all without borrowing from the Romans. It’s easy to think we’ve grown far beyond the people of earlier times because of all the things we now have which they never knew—cars, phones, the internet, GPS, power-driven machines that carry out almost every task you can think of. But the more we look at the Romans, or other people who have been before us, the more we tend to find that they did the same sort of things as we do, but using very different methods. And the Romans are of special interest to us because they created the plan on which our world has been based for the last 2,000 years or so.

Here are the stories of the great Roman emperors and the enduring legacy that they left for later generations. As you listen you can discover many curious and interesting things about the Romans and the world in which they lived. But one simple element is worth pointing out at the start, and that is the sea. The Roman empire reached up as far as Britain in the north, but it grew up around a sea, the Mediterranean. The Romans called this Mare Nostrum, which means ‘Our Sea’, and that tells us what a central part it played in their lives. We need to keep the sea at the forefront of our minds whenever we think about the Roman world, because in those times moving things around was far more easily done on water than on land. Moving large quantities of anything by road was almost impossible, because a single cart pulled by a horse (or mule) could carry so little in comparison to a boat. As far as possible, all goods went by sea or up and down the largest rivers. For this reason not just Rome, but all the cities of the past, were built next to the sea or on a great river.

One other important fact about the ancient world is worth keeping in mind: slavery. All societies of that time made their captives into slaves and used them to do the hardest work. It makes no sense to blame the Romans in particular for this, unless we are going to say that all ancient societies were so bad that we want nothing to do with them. Slavery is unjust, as it means that some people own others and treat them as their property. But it was then a universal practice and we have to accept that there were different rules in those days. Slaves were usually those who had been captured in war, and their possible fate ranged from the horrendous to the fairly pleasant, depending on their owner and the tasks they were given. Those who worked in mines had a short and terrible life, and to a lesser degree life was hard for all other sorts of labourers. But a household slave might have very light duties and be treated as part of the family. For many slaves there was also the chance to earn money and buy their freedom. If that was not possible, there was still a good chance that when their master died he would leave instructions in his will to have them set free. So for a slave in those times, unlike the African slaves deported to America and the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries, there was hope that they and their children would come to enjoy the benefits of freedom.

Notes by Hugh Griffith



753: legendary founding of Rome by Romulus
c.510: last king expelled from Rome
390: Gauls invade and sack Rome
218–01: war with Carthaginians, led by Hannibal
100: Gaius Marius consul for sixth time
87–86: Marius uses his army to seize power in Rome
83–79: Cornelius Sulla rules Rome as dictator
58–49: Julius Caesar in Gaul
48: Caesar defeats Pompey at Pharsalus
48–44: Caesar rules Rome as dictator
42: Mark Antony and Octavian defeat Brutus and Cassius at Philippi
31: Octavian defeats Mark Antony at Actium
27–AD 14: Augustus

14–37: Tiberius
37–41: Caligula
41–54: Claudius
43: Romans invade Britain and make it a province
54–68: Nero
64: great fire of Rome; Christians persecuted
68–69: Year of the Four Emperors
69–79: Vespasian
79: eruption of Vesuvius
80: Colosseum completed in Rome
98–117: Trajan
113: Trajan’s Column completed in Rome
117–38: Hadrian
122: Hadrian orders building of his Wall in north of England
138–61: Antoninus Pius
161–80: Marcus Aurelius
260: emperor Valerian defeated and captured by King Shapur
284–305: Diocletian
306–37: Constantine
312: battle of the Milvian Bridge
324: Constantine makes new capital at Byzantium

Map based on original available at: http://rome.mrdonn.org/emperors.html


A selection of Latin phrases still in common use

ab initio from the beginning
ad hoc for this [particular occasion or purpose]
ad lib (ad libitum) at [your] pleasure (i.e. whatever way you choose)
ad nauseam to the point where it causes disgust
alibi [proof of being] somewhere else
a.m. (ante meridiem) before midday
bona fide in good faith (hence genuine)
carpe diem enjoy the moment (while you can)
caveat let him beware (a warning)
caveat emptor let the buyer beware (the buyer must accept the risk)
compos mentis possessing a mind [that is sound] (i.e. sane)
cui bono? who gains [from this]?
de facto / de iure in actual reality / by legal right
de mortuis nil nisi bonum [speak] nothing but good of the dead
deo gratia by the grace of God
dramatis personae characters of the drama
dum spiro spero while I breathe I hope (while there’s life there’s hope)
e.g. (exempli gratia) for example
e pluribus unum one out of many (meaning one nation made up of many states)
fiat iustitia, ruat caelum let justice be done, though the heavens fall
fidei defensor defender of the faith
fons et origo the source and origin
i.e. (id est) that is (introducing an explanation of what went before)
lapsus linguae slip of the tongue
locum (tenens) holding the position (i.e. a deputy or substitute)
magnum opus great work (i.e. the greatest achievement in someone’s life)
mea culpa my fault
modus operandi method of working
ne plus ultra nothing further (i.e. the summit of perfection)
nemo me impune lacessit no one attacks me without suffering punishment
nil satis nisi optimum nothing but the best is enough
N.B. (nota bene) note well (take careful note of the following)
pari passu with equal pace (at the same rate)
per annum per year
persona non grata person who is not welcome
p.m. (post meridiem) after midday
post mortem after death (examination of a dead body)
primus inter pares first among equals
quid pro quo something for something (i.e. returning a favour)
regina queen
sine qua non without which not (i.e. an essential feature)
status quo (ante) the state in which (i.e. the existing state of affairs)
sui generis of its own kind (i.e. not like any other)
timeo Danaos et dona ferentes I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts (from Virgil’s Aeneid: used of old enemies who are still not trusted, however friendly they may seem)


The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue:

SCHUMANN Overtures 8.550608
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Johannes Wildner, conductor

SCHUMANN Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 8.550485
Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra; AlexanderRahbari, conductor

SCHUMANN Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4 8.550923
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor

Music programmed by Sarah Butcher

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