The 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”  In a sense that’s true. We have plenty of biographies of emperors, popes, kings, queens, and leaders of the ancient world. But what about those who made up 99.999% percent of the population and didn’t have such illustrious lives? Professor Robert Garland has focused on the world of history’s anonymous citizens.

We discuss daily life for workers, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, refugees, women, children, slaves, and soldiers. This includes a Greek soldier marching into battle in the front row of a phalanx. Or a Celtic monk scurrying away with the Book of Kells during a Viking invasion. Or celebrity-worshipping Romans who all had their favorite gladiatorial contender.

For Garland, the true joy of studying everyday lives lies in seeing what life was like for ordinary people—and therefore what life would have been like for most of us if we had been born in a different era. Through archaeological evidence and literary records, we try to connect with a wide range of people over the ages and experience life from their perspectives. We see that although they lived in a different world, these people, loved, lost, fought, and died much like we do today.

 

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Robert’s course The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

Robert’s faculty page at Colgate University

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