Mar 17

Homeschool Conference Schedule for 2014

Heritage History is attending four Homeschool Conventions this year and will be presenting workshops at three of them. As usual, most of our Convention activity is in the Northwest where we are based, but we are also traveling to California and Texas. If there is any chance you could make to one of the Homeschool Conferences listed below, we love to meet our customers in person and are always happy to talk to other history lovers.

Our son David, whose voracious appetite for history helped inspire the Heritage History website, manned the booth at WHO a few years ago.

Our son David, whose voracious appetite for history helped inspire the Heritage History website, manned the booth at WHO in 2011.

This year’s workshops include two sessions that discuss historical topics of general interest and a vendor workshop that introduces the Heritage Classical Curriculum. The first general workshop, “Teaching without Textbooks“, offers advice and resources for teaching history using a Living Books approach. The second general workshop is entitled “Traditional Children’s Authors Every Homeschooler Should Know“. The topic is one I’m especially excited to present because I get to talk about several dozen of my favorite history authors for children. Some of these, such as John Haaren, Helene Guerber, and H.E. Marshall are already well known to many homeschooling families, but others, such as Alfred Church, Robert van Bergen, Charles Morris, and Paul Du Chaillu are not as widely known and read as they should be.

Our 2014 Conference Schedule is as follows:

March 29, 2014: Spokane Valley, Washington
The Keynote speakers for the Christian Family Home Educators Conference in Spokane will be our friends Hal and Melanie Young, homeschooling parents of six boys and two girls and authors of several helpful books for parents of boys, and homeschooling families. We’ll be presenting our “Teaching without Textbooks” workshop in an afternoon session.

May 9-10, 2014: Arlington, Texas
We’re excited to be vending for the first time in Texas at the Homeschool Book Fair in Arlington, Texas. This convention has a wonderful reputation among both vendors and attendess, and the fact that one of our older sons recently moved to the area means that we may very well make this an annual event.

June 13-14, 2014: Puyallup, Washington
In June we’ll be back home in Washington at the WHO Convention, the largest homeschool conference on the West Coast. We’ve exhibited at WHO several times before, but this year we’re presenting two general workshops and are looking forward to an especially exciting experience.

July 25-26, 2014: Modesto, California
The Valley Home Educators Conference in Modesto is our favorite California conference, but it has been three years since we last visited. This year we’re presenting two general sessions and a vendor workshop there as well. We’re looking forward to seeing some of our old friends in California, where we lived for several years when our children were young.

We hope to see you at one of these conferences but if we’re not visiting your region of the country, don’t give up. Next year we hope to attend several conventions on the East Coast and in the Midwest. This year, we are still doing much development on our website and making a few revisions to the Heritage Classical Curriculum. Once our current projects are finished, we hope to have more time for promoting Heritage History at distant venues.

Jan 27

American Liberties from the Outside, Looking in

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done. —Ronald Reagan

As Ronald Reagan once said, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

No wonder American History is such a favorite among homeschoolers. It is filled with fascinating characters, heroic battles, and turbulent statecraft. It can be entertaining as well as inspirational, and the dilemmas faced by American patriots in every generation provide terrific food for thought.

The groundwork for American religious freedom was laid during the English Civil War.

The groundwork for American religious freedom was laid during the English Civil War.

Why then, study anything else? Why learn about Ancient Greece or Rome, the Middle Ages or events in Modern Europe, when there is so much to discover about our own boisterous democracy?

Perhaps it is because—as many liberty-loving immigrants can testify,—the full significance of American freedoms are most clearly seen from afar. We cannot help loving America because it is our home, but Americans who have never known anything but liberty and prosperity often take much for granted. No matter how a history teacher emphasizes the courage and foresight of our founding fathers, students who have never known oppression or studied civilizations in which American liberties were absent, have a hard time appreciating the full significance of our hard-won rights.

This Russian scientist escaped from a prison camp where he was  tortured by Soviets.

This Russian scientist escaped from a prison camp where he was tortured by Soviets.

Let me give a vivid example of how learning the history of another civilization can help illuminate American ideas of government. In my high school civics class we studied the 5th amendment—that is the right to “refuse to testify against oneself.” I memorized the terms and passed the test but it was not until I read I Speak for the Silent, a riveting, but horrifying, true account of a Russian scientist who was arrested by the Soviet Secret Police, that I fully understood the importance of such a guarantee. The author of the book was subjected to months of unspeakable tortures in order to force him to “confess” to crimes against the state. Since the state had no evidence against him, they relied on forced confessions; first, to justify an appalling system of slave labor, and second, so the government would have scapegoats when their utopian schemes went amiss. The right to “refuse to testify against oneself” is one of many essential brakes on government power provided by the Bill of Rights, but this is more clearly appreciated by reading Soviet history than studying American civics.

And this is just one instance. Almost everything about how the United States government operates is best understood in light of a deep reading of “non-American” history.

The execution of Louis the XVI initiated a period of murderous anarchy in Revolutionary France.

The execution of Louis the XVI initiated a period of murderous anarchy in Revolutionary France.

For example, the American founders’ insistence on “separation of church and state” is best understood by studying the period surrounding the English Civil War. England’s commitment to religious tolerance came only after a costly struggle and the loss of many lives. The “Religious liberty” that now strikes most Americans as an obvious good was achieved only after a long conflict in which all other possibilities were exhausted.

Another example of how the history of other nations can illuminate American history is the French Revolution. If students study only the American Revolution they may have difficulty appreciating the dangers faced by the founders or the many ways in which the revolution might have gone wrong. Students who are familiar with the horrors of the French Revolution, on the other hand, are likely to have a better understanding of dangers of anarchy and the difficulties of democracy than those who only study the “successful” revolution.

These are only a few incidents in American History that are best understood with the perspective provided by a broad reading of world history. But this is not surprising. For if America really is “a shining city upon a hill” it is important for all students of American history to get a good look at that city from afar.

Jan 07

Teaching History to Beginning Readers

The object of the Young Readers curriculum is . . . to introduce history as a fascinating drama rather than a chore. This is because we believe that interest in history is a necessary condition for understanding it and that it is better for beginning readers to skip history altogether than to view it as drudgery.

A Classical Approach to History for Young Readers

Young Readers Classical Curriculum

Young Readers Classical Curriculum

By the time most students are in fifth or sixth grade they are advanced enough to read entire books and the door to learning history is wide open. But what should you do about history for children who are still in the process of learning to read fluently?

At Heritage History, our solution is the Young Readers Classical Curriculum. We understand that there is an enormous variation among younger students—not only in reading ability, but also in interest. Instead of recommending a one-size-fits-all program of study, the Young Readers curriculum provides dozens of short, easy-to-read histories, so that every student—no matter where their interests lie—can find books that will engage them.

Horatio keeps the bridge.

Horatio keeps the bridge
Stories from Roman History.

All the histories included in the Young Readers curriculum are child-friendly and no tests or busywork are required. Many of the books are historical fiction and feature children living in remote times. Others introduce historical characters by way of anecdotes or folklore, and sometimes the line between history and legend is a bit blurry. The object of the Young Readers curriculum is not to teach students to reiterate specific historical facts, but to introduce history as a fascinating drama rather than a chore. This is because we believe that interest in history is a necessary condition for understanding it and that it is better for beginning readers to skip history altogether than to view it as drudgery.

Instead of struggling through a set program of study, children using the Young Readers curriculum work at their own pace and select books that most appeal to them (with input from Mom, of course). As long as they make steady progress, students may take as long as they need to work through the material. There is a broad enough selection of books to keep beginning readers busy for many months and by the time a student does outgrow the Young Readers collection, he or she will have been introduced to hundreds of historical characters and will have a great foundation for future learning.

Queen Elizabeth knights Drake on the deck of the Golden Hind

Queen Elizabeth knights Drake on the deck of the Golden Hind
The Story of Francis Drake

Instead of trying to cover history in sequence, the Young Readers curriculum introduces students to an assortment of characters, including heroes from American, Biblical, European, and Ancient history. Legends and hero stories, as well as true stories from history are included in the collection, because they are always favorites of younger children, and are important in terms of helping students achieve cultural literacy.

Students can focus on one time period, or move around from topic to topic. Many of the books in the collection are short enough for a strong reader to complete in a few hours or a novice reader to complete in four or five sittings. In either case students will have a chance to read many books instead of one and will have a real sense of accomplishment with each success. Allowing students to select topics of most interest to them will also help them see history as a field of wide interest.

Lincoln reads the emancipation proclamation

Reading the Emancipation Proclamation
The Story of Abraham Lincoln

History is a subject that can appeal to a wide range of students, as long as it is presented in an age-appropriate manner. Obviously, students who are excellent readers can absorb more information, more quickly, than struggling readers, but history—especially children’s history—is not rocket science, and it is not the exclusive province of “A-students”. The stories and characters of history are appealing to students of all abilities and the Young Readers curriculum provides just the flexibility needed to make sure that history is an enjoyable subject for everyone.

As of January 1st, the Young Readers Classical Curriculum is available as an Academy Course, as well as a Curriculum CD. Both options allow you to download hundreds books in both printable and e-book format, so students can read off-line. Learn more about options for studying the Young Readers Academy here.

Dec 02

About Heritage History: Academy Courses

For the last year much of our development effort has been dedicated to the Heritage Academy, an online study program that was created to complement the Heritage Classical Curriculum. It was an ambitious undertaking and we are still working on additional courses, but in December we released the Early America Academy Course, the fourth unit in our series.

Heritage Academy

Academy Courses offer access to dozens of classical histories. In addition, they provide a way for students to track reading progress, review study questions, take multiple-choice knowledge tests and print detailed progress reports.

The other three civilizations currently available as Academy courses are Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and British Middle Ages. Our Young Readers unit almost ready and we hope to have it released by January. British Empire and Modern Europe should also be ready by Spring 2014.

In our previous post we discussed the reasons we recommend an individualized “living books” approach to learning history, and told how the Heritage Classical Curriculum was developed to minimize busywork and maximize enjoyment of the subject.

What additional benefits then, do we expect customers to get from enrolling in the Heritage History Academy? A few reasons history lovers might appreciate the tools and resources provided by the Heritage History Academy are listed below. You can also compare features between Curriculum CDs and Academy Courses here or learn more about the Heritage History Academy here.

Reading Information

On the Reading Page, students can download e-books, make book selections, and check-off chapters read.

1) Convenience: The Academy provides an easy way to download resources directly from the website. You still get access to dozens of e-books and printable PDFs that enable students to do their reading off-line, but now they can be downloaded directly to any computer or mobile device. This is especially useful to some of our international customers, who would like to avoid the cost and delays of out-of-country shipping.

2) Accountability: Many families value the accountability provided by the Heritage History Academy. We encourage families to keep track of student reading. The Academy makes this easy to do by awarding “points” for each book read so students can progress towards a specific goal. The Academy also allows students to print progress reports listing specifics about each book read, as well as overall tests scores. These comprehensive reports can be used as course descriptions for homeschool based transcripts.

3) Study Review Questions: The Heritage Academy includes hundreds of multiple-choice study questions that are can be used to help students remember details and identify important characters and events. Study questions can be reviewed as many times as necessary to help students improve their test scores, and are a quick and easy way to improve retention.

Study Questions

Between 50 and 100 study questions are available for each historical era.

4) Easy Updates: Last year was a slow one for new book releases, but over the last ten years we’ve released between 30 and 50 new books per year. The Academy offers a flexible way to make new e-books and resources available to our customers as soon as we release them. This is much more convenient for everyone than waiting for a revision of the Curriculum CD.

5) Transition from Other Curricula: We’re hoping the Academy offers an easy transition for students have used other curriculum, but would also like to use the Heritage History resources for more in depth learning. The Level I study questions provided for each unit are based on our “required” reading recommendations but they cover facts of history that are common to many traditional programs.

Timelines,  Maps and other learning aids can be printed directly from the website.

Timelines, Maps and other learning aids can be printed directly from the website.


6) Parent/Teacher Accounts: We’re planning enhancements to make the Heritage Academy even more useful to parent and teachers. Parents can already create accounts that allow them to view the progress of each of their children. In the future, independent history teachers will be able to use similar accounts to track the reading and test progress of their entire class.

In addition to the current benefits of the Heritage History Academy, we believe there are many promising opportunities for future enhancements. Only a few years ago, few homeschoolers could even imagine reading books from an e-reader, but today thousands of families are enjoying the benefits of inexpensive electronic books. As technology improves, there are sure to be better options for independent learning, free from the tyranny of textbooks and government-sanctioned curriculums. Heritage History hopes to keep up with these changes, and the Heritage History Academy provides us with a way of offering low-cost classics to history lovers everywhere.

Nov 30

About Heritage History: Our Classical Curriculum

In the previous post I explained how the Heritage History Online Library began as a hobby and grew into a small curriculum business. It this post I’ll talk about how we conceived of the Heritage Classical Curriculum and what makes it unique.

But first I’ll need to talk about our own experience as history students because it has everything to do with our approach to designing a curriculum. My husband and I attended public schools and like almost all of our peers, we were utterly bored with “social studies” classes. Although we were good students and learned the facts as they were presented, we left school with no appreciation of history, no curiosity about previous civilizations, and no idea that the lessons of the past could possibly be relevant to the problems of the present.

old history books

We enjoyed these classical histories just as much as our children did.

We did not learn to love history until we started shopping at used book stores, and came to possess a collection of delightful old-fashioned children’s histories. Most were written long ago, when history was considered an entertaining pastime and libraries were full of popular histories for people of all ages. Once our curiosity was aroused, history became a self-sustaining obsession. The more we learned, the more we wanted to learn.

From this experience we came away with several conclusions. The first was that older history books, written before school boards and politicians got a strangle-hold on “history education”, are usually preferable to modern ones. We also concluded that engaging a student’s natural interest was critical to any meaningful history education. Teachers can force feed a few facts by repetition and drill, but to get any genuine insight from the study of history, interest and curiosity are fundamental.

No Textbooks

History textbooks often turn a fascinating subject into a chore.

When we began to teach our own children, we decided that cultivating a genuine interest in history was most important goal, so we took care to make it a drudgery-free subject. We surrounded our children with books and encouraged them to read the stories that most interested them, without busywork or drill. We provided suggestions and if they enjoyed a particular book, we looked for similar volumes. If they disliked a book we’d usually look for an easier one or let them move on to a different topic. Once our students were engaged, they willingly read more books than we would have ever considered assigning, and sometimes sought additional information on their own.

This philosophy of learning underscores our whole collection of Heritage Classical Curriculum CDs. First, we rely on older, classical histories and provide a large enough selection of books so that students of any ability are likely to find something of interest. Second, we advocate a “living books” approach, where student spend a certain amount of time per day reading books of their own choosing without relying on textbooks, worksheets, or testing. Third, we provide a whole range of histories on each CD; including very simple stories for young readers. Lastly, our core sequence for middle school provides an in depth study of those civilizations most essential for understanding western culture, (Greek, Roman, British, American) instead of a confusing and shallow smorgasbord of world cultures.

Because we rely primarily on classical, public-domain texts, we are able to offer families access to an entire library of high quality histories at a very low price. Because we are not bound by printing costs or common core guidelines, we do not need to prune our selections or limit students’ access to a variety of authors. You can see a complete list of all of the books included in each Curriculum CD by clicking on the “Complete Book List” Link on the Curriculum products page.

Ancient Greece Classical Curriculum

The Ancient Greek Classical Curriculum includes dozens of traditional histories in e-book and printable form.

The Heritage Classical Curriculum is the broadest and most flexible study program available to homeschoolers and history lovers. It was designed to cultivate a love of history and involves no busy work, memorization, or high-stakes testing. All that is needed is a fluent reader and a few hours a week to enjoy some of the best classical histories ever written for children.

In our next post, we’ll talk about how we made the Heritage Classical Curriculum even better, by including making courses available at the Heritage History Academy.

Nov 28

About Heritage History: Who we are, what we do

It has been quiet on the Heritage History blog for the last six months and some of our customers are wondering what is going on. We’ve had thousands of new visitors to the Heritage website during that time, many of whom have never heard of us and aren’t sure exactly what we’re up to. So we thought this might be a good time to take a few minutes to reintroduce ourselves.

The reason the blog has been so quiet is that we’ve been focusing on improvements to our main website. It is difficult to find time to promote all the wonderful books and curriculum we already have available while working on new projects. But we are wrapping up work on the Heritage History Academy and expect to have more time for blogging, announcing freebies, and promoting our offerings in the months to come.

In this post we will provide a little background and tell how Heritage History came about. In subsequent blogs we’ll talk about our current products, discuss what we’re working on right now, and try to provide an idea of what we’re planning for the future.

Family HomeschoolAbout The Roths:
Heritage History is operated by a homeschool family with some experience in computers and a large home library of classical children’s histories. It began as a hobby and has transitioned into a small home-based curriculum business. Most of our customers are homeschoolers but we provide resources that could be useful to history lovers of all ages. We promote narrative history and encourage young people to read history for fun and enrichment rather treating it as a poor-stepchild of “social studies”. We talk about our approach to history more thoroughly in our mission statement.

From the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s we worked as engineers in Silicon Valley but moved to the Rockies after we had children because, well, because Silicon Valley is insane. We decided to invest in our family instead of the stock market and looking back at all the fun we’ve had raising our kids, we have no regrets. We homeschool our children for a number of reasons, but mainly because we both attended urban public schools and we have no illusions about government-sponsored education. Also, we like having our kids around and enjoy being part of a child-friendly community—young people are a lot fun to work with. You can read more about our homeschooling philosophy here.

Heritage History BookshelfWe began collecting classical children’s history over fifteen years ago and spent many years digitizing and proof-reading our favorite books before we created the Heritage History website. For the first few years it was simply a digital library. Eventually we began to add additional study material that we’d prepared for our own history classes and about three years ago we organized all the books in our library in nine historical divisions, added Study Guides, and created the Heritage Classical Curriculum.

Every year we swear we’re going to do a better job of promoting the website, and every year we decide we’d rather digitize more books, write more study questions, or revamp the website than focus on “marketing”. Nevertheless, interest in classical children’s history is growing, slowly but surely, mostly by word of mouth and a few dedicated bloggers. We invite you to join our community and enjoy some of these wonderful books that have given us so much pleasure over the years.

We’ll write more about the Heritage History Library and Curriculum in our next post.

Aug 28

Heritage History Summer Blitz Comes to an End

It has been a long while since we last posted to the Heritage History blog. The long break has not been do to an extended vacation, world travels, family obligations, or even general laziness. Instead, the whole Heritage History Team, including six summer interns, has been working incredibly hard to rewrite the entire website and create a brand new online History Academy. We just released our completely revised and updated website a few days ago, and we will be introducing our newest feature, the Heritage Academy, within the next few weeks. Right now, however, I just want to acknowledge the young people who are largely responsible for these new features, because they will be returning to college in the next few weeks. We accomplished a great deal together this summer and I think the new website looks terrific. We could not have possibly made this much progress without their help, and can’t thank them enough.

Patrick, Amanda, Ben, Jake, David, and Hana.

Patrick, Amanda, Ben, Jake, David, and Hana.

Patrick, from Idaho State University, just joined us this year and is working on marketing. Amanda, our media expert from University of Idaho, does just about everything, but especially web design. Ben, from Spokane Falls College, and Jake, from Gonzaga, are mostly responsible for the Heritage Academy software. David, from North Idaho College, and Hana, from Steubenville, work with me on content, including study questions, documentation, and dozens of other miscellaneous projects. Not only are they hard workers, they work independently, contribute many of their own ideas to the projects, and are a lot of fun to work with. It has been a great summer.

You’ll be hearing much more about the new website, and especially the Heritage Academy in the next few weeks and months. But right now, I just want to acknowledge these wonderful young people who’ve done such exceptional work. Thank you all, thank you, and may many blessings come from your efforts.

Apr 29

Famous Inventors and Their Amazing Inventions

Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration,”
—Thomas Edison.

Thomas Alva Edison, 1847-1931: an American Hero

Thomas Edison stands out as an American icon because of his amazing combination of invention, energy, and entrepreneurship. His only modern parallel might be Steve Jobs, who like Edison, gained his initial fortune while still young, but whose creative energies continued throughout his life.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison at work on an early phonograph.

Meadowcroft’s Boy’s Life of Edison focuses much on his early years and shows that his irrepressible creative energies were evident even in his youth. Edison was instructed at home by his mother and worked far above grade level. By age twelve he was finished with most of his formal studies and decided to see something of the world by working as a newsboy on a local train circuit.

Unable to remain idle for any period of time, young Edison set up shop in an unoccupied train-car and ran both a vegetable market and a newspaper business out of it. Using his own funds, he purchased a second hand printer and began publishing the Weekly Herald, the first newspaper ever written, printed, and sold on board a moving train. As a young man he worked as a telegraph operator, but in order to avoid the boredom of waiting for messages during slow periods, he built a contraption that automatically registered telegraph messages. Instead of encouraging his invention, however, his boss fired him for “laziness”. After reading a half-dozen stories such as these that marked Edison’s youth, the prodigious creativity of his later years seems almost inevitable.

Early Printing Press

Early Printing Press

Edison is the most famous and prolific of early American inventors, but hardly the only one. Other eminent inventors of the 19th century, whose lives dramatically changed the technological landscape of the nation were Robert Fulton (steamship), Eli Whitney (cotton Gin), Samuel Morse (telegraph), Elias Howe (sewing machine), Cyrus McCormick (mechanical reaper), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Charles Goodyear (vulcanized rubber) and the Wright Brothers (air flight).

The vast majority of successful inventions, as it turns out, are much more than “good ideas”. Edison is quoted as saying, “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration”, and a review of the life stories of most important inventors bears out this observation. Most inventions, from Gutenberg’s moveable type to McCormick’s mechanical reaper, had been thought of by others, but previous efforts had failed to solve important problems with their realization. Successful inventors spend most of their time working to solve difficulties associated with their inventions, and frequently only succeed after many failed efforts.

Edison's horseshoe paper-filament electric lamp.

Edison’s horseshoe paper-filament electric lamp.

Gutenberg’s story, as told by Bachman, is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. Gutenberg did not actually invent “moveable type”, as he is sometimes credited with doing. What he did was solve dozens of problems, from the casting of suitable molds, to the development of specialized ink, that made the use of moveable type for printing practical and efficient. He spent his entire life perfecting his printing method because he was never entirely satisfied with its results. Likewise “Light bulbs” existed long before Edison’s time, but only in scientific laboratories. Edison saw the potential for their practical use, and spent much effort working to improve them. Just as importantly, he worked out many problems associated with implementing a community power grid, so that electric lights could be used in homes. Edison’s intense focus on practical problem solving was the root of his genius.

Recommended Reading

Many inventions have had a transforming effect on society and are as important for understanding modern history, as wars, battles, or political theories. Heritage History offers over a dozen books that cover major developments in science and inventions, but the three featured below focus primarily on the lives of famous inventors.

EdisonFour Inventors Great Inventors

A Boy’s Life of Edison, is an authorized biography written by W. H. Meadowcroft, a close associate of Edison. It contains many humorous autobiographical anecdotes and introduces the reader to a broad range of Edison’s astounding contributions to American Industry. Four American Inventors details the lives and achievements of several of the most important American inventors of the 19th centuries. Great Inventors and Their Inventions is an especially good book that we highly recommend for the study of the 18th and 19th century. It tells the life stories of many of the most interesting and important inventors in modern history, and emphasizes the personal qualities—especially perseverance and industry—that characterize successful entrepreneurship.

A Boys Life of Edison, and Four American Inventors can both be found on our Early America Library (available for free with the purchase of any other Classical Curriculum CD during the Month of May). Great Inventors and their Inventions is featured as one of the “core” reading assignments in our British Empire Collection.

Apr 17

A Failed Conspiracy against a Tyrant

The executioner advanced and laid his hand on the prisoner’s shoulder. He started at the touch, and grew ghastly pale. “Caesar,” he cried, appealing as a last chance to the feelings of the Emperor, “Caesar, we were once friends, and worshipped the Muses together. Will you suffer this?” Nero only smiled. He had long ago steeled his heart against pity. Lucan he hated with that especially bitter hatred which wounded vanity sometimes inspires. Then the unhappy man’s courage broke down. “Stop!” he cried, “I will confess. I am guilty of conspiring against the Emperor.”

The Life of Nero and the Burning of Rome

On April 19, 65 AD, a wide-spread conspiracy against the tyrant Nero was uncovered and dozens of Roman nobles were executed as a result. Some of the more famous Romans who lost their life during the episode were the poet Lucan and Seneca, who had been Nero’s tutor and minister. At least forty conspirators were identified, including 20 senators, and the incident only increased Nero’s tyranny and paranoia. Only three years later, another conspiracy by the praetorian guard to rid Rome of the depraved despot was successful, but it ushered in a two year period of chaos and civil war as four different generals contended for the Imperial throne.

Nero first attempted to kill his mother by wrecking her boat at sea.

Nero first attempted to kill his mother by wrecking her boat at sea.

Some men’s lives are worthy of study for their accomplishments and others for their courage in adversity. The lives of men such as Nero’s, however, are interesting mostly for their depravity and outrages. Nero came to the throne at the age of seventeen after his mother, the wife of Emperor Claudius, murdered her husband in order to make way for her son. He was a clever and good-natured boy but was too immature to handle the power and praise that was heaped upon him. Nero chose as advisors those who flattered and entertained him and before long sank into depravity and vice, leaving the empire in the hands of his evil favorites.

Nero’s career of murder started when he poisoned his step-brother Britannicus to make sure he had no rivals for the throne. He then arranged for the murder of his mother, Agrippina, his beautiful young wife Octavia, and all others who opposed his schemes. Over time his behavior became more erratic and decadent. At one point, he kicked his pregnant lover to death in a fit of rage, and then overcome with regret, dressed up a male slave in her attire, and married him. Not since the age of Caligula had a Roman Emperor indulged in such outrages.

Nero was the first Emperor to persecute Christians. Among other tortures, he covered them with tar and set them on fire.

Nero was the first Emperor to persecute Christians. Among other tortures, he covered them with tar and set them on fire.

The crime that Nero is best known for, however, is the burning of Rome. He is thought to have intentionally set a fire that burned much of Rome in order to clear a location for a new palace, and to have scheduled a musical performance for his courtiers while Rome burned. To throw blame off himself he blamed “Christians”—a sect gaining notice in the city for their piety and righteous living—which Nero and his degenerate companions scorned. He had dozens of Christians rounded up and tortured in bizarre manners before killing them; the first of many Roman persecutions. As Tacitus reports: “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

Nero’s death by suicide after he was deposed by the praetorian guard is also very memorable. Although he lived a life of power, murder, and depravity, his death was utterly pathetic. Chased down and cornered, he could not even find the courage to kill himself and begged for the help of his attendant. His last words—“What an artist dies in me!”—show the warped manner in which he viewed himself; not as a tyrant or a murder, but as a misunderstood poet.

Recommended Reading

The life of Nero is fascinating, not only because of its sordid aspects, because it sheds much light on the court of Imperial Rome. Heritage History offers two books about Nero that are both of enormous interest, although they are more appropriate for older student than younger ones.

NeroThe Burning of Rome

Nero, by Jacob Abbott, is part of the Makers of History series, and it covers the bloody legacies of the previous emperors Caligula and Claudius, before delving into Nero’s own reign of intrigue, murder, and atrocities. The women of the family, including Nero’s mother Agrippina, his wife Poppaea, and the empress Messalina, contribute their share of villainy to the tale, and the death of Nero provides a pathetic testimony to the cowardice that often underlies tyranny.

The Burning of Rome, by Alfred J. Church, covers a short but very dramatic period of Nero’s reign, including the catastrophic fire that destroyed Rome and the rebellion, known as Piso’s Conspiracy, that followed. Virtually all of the characters in this book are based on historical Romans, and the levels of treachery, cowardice, martyrdom, and villainy displayed by the characters in this drama would be incredible if they were not actually true.

Younger students will have to learn about Nero from a few chapters in some of our favorite Roman histories, Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren, and Story of the Romans by Helene Guerber. All four of these books, and many more are included in the Ancient Rome Classical Curriculum, available at the Heritage History store.

Apr 09

Hell on Earth: A Million “Casualties” at Verdun

Under the weight of superior numbers and superior artillery the French troops, brave as they were, were gradually cut to pieces. Except for two brigades, which came in toward the end, they were without reinforcements of any kind. Their mission was to hold to the very last, and right nobly had they fulfilled it. Their duty was to exact the greatest possible price for each yard of German advance, and right powerfully had they exacted it. For every Frenchman who went down, it is said at least four Germans did likewise. The slaughter was great. Verdun thus gained, almost instantly, the place it was to hold for many months as the graveyard of the contending armies. ”

April 9, 1916 – German forces launch a third deadly offensive

Accounts of modern warfare do not get more ghastly than those relating to the First World War. For the first time the technological juggernaut that had vaulted Western Civilization to unimaginable heights of comfort and luxury was turned on itself, and produced a murderous onslaught unmatched in human history. A generation of Europeans who had taken enormous pride in their peaceful and prosperous civilization were thrown almost without warning into an intractable war of unspeakable horrors.

Thousands of shells were fired on the defenders day and night for months on end.

Thousands of shells were fired on the fortifications, day and night for months on end.

The scientific advances that had brought so much material comfort to Europe during the 19th century were now laying waste to her cities and children. And even worse, the “pragmatic” philosophies of the age that derided “outdated” concepts of morality had overridden ancient notions chivalry and limited warfare. The human potential that modern thinkers had unleashed by “liberating mankind” from the shackles of superstition and original sin had turned out to be the potential for unspeakable evil.

The Battle of Verdun was the longest and deadliest battle of the First World War, lasting ten months, with 700,000 killed and hundreds of thousands of others wounded. Verdun was a strongly fortified region on the eastern border of France and the Germans determined that if they could take it, France’s defenses would collapse. German strategists realized it would be an extremely costly undertaking but calculated that it would be worth the lives of thousands of soldiers to achieve their objectives. The fact that the French were likely to defend the fortress with all available men was looked upon as an opportunity to killed tens of thousands of Frenchmen as efficiently as possible.

700,000 French and Germans killed at Verdun

700,000 French and Germans killed at Verdun

The Heritage History collection includes half a dozen books that cover the events of the First World War, and most were written in the first few years after the war. Some are written in order to showcase the heroics of the war while others try to provide a general overview. But the tone of all of them is distinctly shell-shocked. Most of the authors of the time, even when providing eyewitness accounts, don’t quite seem to be able to adjust to the terrible realities of the age. They dutifully report on the incidents, but struggle to make sense of events. As one officer reported in a letter home, “Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible!”

Recommended Reading

The Great War by Roland Usher provides an exceptionally good overview of the Great War and is richly illustrated. Even though it was published only months after armistice, it provides an excellent analysis of both the causes and the strategic objectives of the war. It acknowledges in the first chapters that this was a world war, fought on many fronts and that the motives and relationships of the combatants were complicated. It then proceeds to give a clear “birds-eye” view of the war, and explains the developing events chronologically, while providing enough details of battles and heroics to keep readers fascinated. Overall, it is one of the best accounts available. Fraser’s Boys Book of Battles includes battles from the Napoleonic Wars and American Revolution, but the last half of the book focuses entirely on World War I battles, and his accounts, which include many first-person passages, are vivid and exceptionally moving.

The Great WarBoys Book of BattlesGallipoliPrussians in Poland

Gallipoli by Masefield was written while the War was still in progress, and is therefore openly supportive of the allied war effort, yet the reporting of events is of the utmost interest. Masefield writes with a tone of bewildered patriotism rather than jingoism, and though he is anxious to portray the allied effort as heroic, the unprecedented carnage unleashed by modern weapons took its toll on eye-witnesses as well as combatants. When the Russians came to Poland is written from a civilian woman’s point of view, and chronicles the cruelty with which the Slavs were treated by the Prussians. Another moving account of the war, of enormous interest is Fix Bayonets, written by an American Marine who served at Belleau Woods, Soissons, and Argonne.

All of the books listed above, and many more, can be found on the Modern Europe Classical Library. Almost any account of the First World War is likely to be disturbing to students who are too young to deal with the nightmare scenario that is conjured up by images of modern warfare. But for students who are ready to face the tragic fate of a civilization that has abandoned God and descended into madness, the Great War is an excellent case study.

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