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Roman Empire in the First Century, The 4x55

An EMPIRES Special

Two thousand years ago, at the dawn of the first century, the world was ruled by Rome.  The Roman Empire struggled with problems which are surprisingly familiar: violent coups, assassination, overarching ambition, civil war, clashes between the classes as well as the sexes and questions of personal freedom versus government control.

But from the chaos, the Roman Empire would emerge stronger and more dazzling than ever before.  Soon, it would stretch from Britain across Europe to the shores of North Africa; and from Spain across Greece and the Middle East to the borders of Asia.  It would embrace hundreds of languages and religions and till its many cultures into a rich soil from which Western civilization would grow.  Rome would become the world’s first and most enduring superpower.

Through the experiences, memories, and writings of the people who lived it, this series tells the story of that time – of the emperors, slaves, poets and peasants who wrested order from chaos, built the most cosmopolitan society the world had ever seen, and shaped The Roman Empire in the First Century

Millions of people — both famous and uncelebrated — play parts in the astonishing rise of Rome.  Above them all is Caesar Augustus.  Born in times of crisis and raised amid civil war, Augustus comes to personify the people he leads.  He is contradictory: capable of both brutal violence and tender compassion.  He is influential: forging the image of Roman grandeur that endures to this day.  And he is enormously popular.  But those who cross Augustus — his rivals Marc Antony and Cleopatra; the love poet, Ovid; even his own daughter, Julia — face dire consequences.  The story of Augustan Rome is the story of greatness at a price.

In the year 14 A.D., Caesar Augustus dies and the Empire stands at a crossroads.  Will Rome continue the course set by its first emperor – or return to chaos?  A reluctant new emperor confronts mutiny and intrigue.  At first, Tiberius struggles to emulate his predecessor, but he soon abandons the effort.  His ultimate decline from ascetic ruler to reclusive despot ushers in one of the most notorious rulers of the ancient world: Caligula.  As fear and conspiracy grip Rome, crisis roils the provinces.  In Judaea, a charismatic leader named Jesus challenges the religious and political establishment.  The local furor barely touches Rome but the legacy of Jesus will one day engulf the empire.

In the aftermath of Caligula’s madness, Claudius, the most unlikely member of the imperial family, rises to become one of the greatest emperors of the Roman Empire… only to fall victim to a brutally ambitious wife.  A principled philosopher named Seneca finds himself compromised as tutor to the erratic young Emperor Nero.  In Britain, a warrior queen named Boudicca battles Roman legions… and from Judaea, a revolutionary named Paul begins spreading the words of Jesus across Roman lands.  Back in the capital, Nero’s disastrous rule shakes the empire to its foundation.  Rome nearly burns to the ground.  The empire is on the edge of disaster.

With Nero’s death, the dynasty of Augustus comes to an end.  Once again, the Empire faces an uncertain future.  Rival generals fight for supremacy in the streets of Rome.  A new dynasty brings another tyrant to the throne, and Mount Vesuvius erupts, burying Pompeii and thousands of people beneath a torrent of ash and mud.  A young citizen survives the disaster and records the night of terror.  But the Empire weathers the traumas.  As the first century draws to a close, the Emperor Trajan expands the empire to its greatest geographic extent and offers new prosperity to a greater number of citizens.  He sets the course for generations to come and projects the collective voice of ancient Rome across the ages.