From gladiator duels to Caesar’s last words: the myths of ancient Rome →

Fresh Air podcast:

Our guest, historian Mary Beard, can give you the real story of the Spartacus uprising. And in a bit, she’ll share what we think Julius Caesar really said as he was being stabbed by Roman senators. It wasn’t et tu, Brute?

Mary Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge University who’s spent a career studying Rome and written a dozen books. She also does TV and radio documentaries, writes a well-read blog and has become somewhat famous for taking on Internet trolls. Beard’s latest book covers about a thousand years of Roman history, but it isn’t just kings and emperors. She offers insights into the reasons for Rome’s prosperity and military expansion and provides fresh interpretations of turning points in Roman history.

And she makes ordinary Romans a central part of the story, describing both their impact on important events and their daily lives. Mary Beard’s book “SPQR: A History Of Ancient Rome” is out in paperback next month.

As a small boy, the ferocious mad Emperor Gaius was a pet of the Roman legions, who dressed him up in a child-sized uniform and gave him the nickname “Caligula.” History teachers today translate the name to “Little Boot,” but Beard says it’s more properly translated “Bootykins.” No wonder Caligula was always pissed off.

“SPQR” looks like a good one — I’ve put it high on my Amazon wishlist.