Ancient Rome


Professor Eric  Orlin                                                        


Office:  Wyatt 139

  Office Phone:  x2717 

Office Hours: M 3-4, Tu 10-11, F 11-12                            




Course Description and Objectives


Who were the Romans? And why should someone living in the 21st century care about them? On the one hand the elements from Roman society - legal systems, political structures, engineering abilities - that have been incorporated into the modern Western tradition make them seem very familiar, but on the other hand we are separated from them by two thousand years of history and infinite technological change. Despite these changes, the issues that the Romans encountered are indeed similar to those that we ourselves still encounter today: Who are we? How did we get to where we are? And where do we go from here? The best way to learn about any people is to let them speak for themselves, and that is what we will do for the next fifteen weeks: we will read what the Romans themselves wrote and we will analyze the material remains that the Romans left behind. It is only through a combination of sources that we will be able to reconstruct some hypothetical answers to our questions.  We will follow the city of Rome from a small village on the banks of the Tiber River to the dominant power in the Mediterranean basin and from a monarchy to an aristocratic republic and back to a monarchy, and we will observe how these changes affected Roman life and how the Romans affected the lives of all those they encountered.  By the end of our work together, dedicated study will give you a firm grasp of the outlines of Roman history, the differences between the Romans and ourselves, and a deeper appreciation of what ancient Roman culture has contributed, for better or for worse, to our own civilization today.


Class Format:

All of the material we are using is capable of multiple interpretations and has in fact been used by scholars in support of different positions.  Our class time therefore will be devoted as much as possible to discussing possible interpretations of that material, rather than lectures introducing the material.  My role in this course is similar to a coach, helping you to develop your own abilities and interpretations.  Your role is to be prepared for class by introducing yourself to the material through the assigned readings, and coming to class with questions and observations.  It is important to develop your own questions because what is ‘relevant’ or ‘meaningful’ in historical work depends greatly on the interests and background of the individual historian, and you can only be sure of discussing an issue of interest to you by bringing it up yourself.  My classroom is ‘democratic’ in the sense that I will let you determine the direction of discussions in class, and I expect you to assume the responsibility that goes along with that freedom.

Goals of the Course

Students enrolled in this class will develop their abilities in the following areas:

·        Close reading

Classicists more than most academics depend on close reading, because of the scarcity of our sources.  Not only must you be able to report accurately what you have read, but you must be able to highlight a few key phrases that may be buried in the midst of an otherwise ordinary paragraph.  You also need to gain an accurate sense of chronological narrative, remembering that events in 44 BCE cannot have caused events in 48 BCE, since dates BCE count down towards zero.

·        Recognizing that ‘the past is a foreign country’

While the Romans appear familiar to us, their assumptions about the world, human beings’ place in it, and human nature in general were vastly different from ours.  You will need to understand the scope of Roman history and become familiar with the major figures and trends that affected the structures and belief systems of Roman civilization.


·        Realizing that published works have authors

This includes both primary and secondary sources, and includes paying attention to authors’ personalities, potential biases, and attempts to organize material in a certain way.  Such attempts do not mean that a source is useless, but does affect the way we should utilize that source.  You should know who wrote our textbook and be aware of how it is organized with chapters and subheadings.

·        Perceiving historical theses

Closely connected with the  previous point, you must recognize that historians argue about the past, they do not merely present the past.  They debate, for instance, how and why Rome built her empire, and they organize material in order to make a convincing case.

·        Using written sources as evidence

This is a key point: facts are not evidence.  Facts only become evidence when they are brought forward in relation to a particular thesis or explanation.  Ancient literary sources provide the bulk of evidence for the Roman world, but the scarcity of written sources means that you often must utilize archaeological and visual evidence as well.

·        Stating and defending a thesis

Accurate and specific examples are the key to providing solid evidence here.  Secondary source authors often provide good models of how to construct and defend an argument.  You will learn both how to defend a thesis put forward by another scholar, and how to choose and defend your own thesis.

·        Defending a thesis against counterarguments

Agreeing with one modern scholar is not enough.  You must learn to recognize pitfalls in your own argument and say why you have rejected carefully argued opposing views.  Again, accurate and specific examples and evidence are the key here.


Course Requirements: 


Students in this class will take a final exam, but not a midterm exam.  Instead, students will engage in a research project on a topic of their own choosing, culminating in paper of roughly six pages, but preceded by several smaller submissions.  We will have quizzes every two weeks to ensure that students are mastering the factual material of the course, and students will also be expected to participate actively as a good colleague in this class.  Each of these assignments is an opportunity to impress upon the instructor your preparation for class and your knowledge of the material.  I will quickly and fairly evaluate your work, but ultimately the grade you receive is based on the quality of work you do.  Specifically, your grade will be comprised of your performance in the following areas:


·        Collegiality:  In essence, this part of your grade is determined by how good a colleague you are to your fellow students.  Among other things, collegiality may be demonstrated by: your on-time arrival and attendance throughout class; preparation of the assigned readings prior to class; bringing the assigned readings with you to class each day; active participation in all class activities; and your ability and willingness to master the course material in a creative and sophisticated manner.  On a regular basis I will begin class by asking you to write down a response to the reading; these questions will be drawn directly or indirectly from the questions included on the syllabus below, and these informal writing assignments will form an important part of your collegiality grade.

- A note on class participation:  While many assume that participation is synonymous with talking in class, I would encourage you to think about participation as both talking and listening.  A good colleague is one who listens to his or her colleagues, the instructor and the authors, then adds to the existing conversation.  To be a good participant, you need to listen, think about what you have heard, and then offer your own voice to the discussion.

·        Research Assignment and Position Paper: Students in this class will build up to a paper that defends a position on a particular historical question in Roman history chosen by the student.  In the course of working on this paper, students will submit a review of an article on the subject, write an analysis that evaluates the usefulness of a particular ancient source for your chosen topic, and submit a bibliography and exploratory essay.  The final paper will ask you to defend a position on the question you have chosen.  Full details on the assignment will be handed out separately.

·        Quizzes:  The regular quizzes at two-week intervals will consist of a combination of the identification of important names or terms, map questions, and chronologies.  Quizzes are given at the beginning of class, and no extra time will be allowed for people who arrive to class late.

·        Final Exam:  The final exam will consist mostly, if not entirely, of essay questions.  One of these will focus on the source material we read over the semester, while the other(s) will focus on the issues we have discussed.  The final will be given on Wednesday, May 11, at 8:00 a.m.


Requirements summary:


Collegiality (including informal writing):


Formal Quizzes


Research Assignments (Article Review, Source Analysis, Bibliography & Essay)


Position Paper (due May 4):


Final Exam:




Please note the following general policies.


·                    The dates of the assignments given on the class schedule are firm.  To ensure fairness for all students, I do not give extensions except in cases of documented medical or family emergency.  Late papers are penalized one-half grade for every day they are late.  After two weeks, late papers are not accepted at all and are scored a zero. 

·                    Please come see me as soon as possible if you are having trouble keeping up with your work.   I know that crises sometimes arise unexpectedly in the middle of the semester, and one of the ways in which you will be judged as you enter the ‘real world’ is how you handle such crises.  You will find that I am quite sympathetic to those who notify me as soon as they notice a problem, but I have a ‘tin ear’ for those who send me an email on the morning a paper is due.  I want to see everyone in this class succeed, but you need to take responsibility for your own success.  My office hours are for you: I guarantee to be there at those designated times, but I am usually in my office at other times as well, and you are encouraged to schedule an appointment with me outside those hours if you like.

·        I will strictly enforce the University policy on academic honesty.  The Academic Handbook states: "Academic dishonesty can take many forms, including but not limited to the following: plagiarism, which is the misrepresentation of someone else's words, ideas, research, images, or video clips as one's own; submitting the same paper for credit in more than one course without prior permission; collaborating with other students on papers and submitting them without instructor permission; cheating on examinations; mistreatment of library materials; forgery; and misuse of academic computing facilities.”  Read the complete policy at:

·        Special Note on Electronic Resources:  The Web is both a blessing and a curse.  It provides a great deal of information that might otherwise not be easily available, and we will make extensive use its resources.  But there is also a tremendous amount of unreliable information on the Web, since anyone can create a website and post anything they want, accurate or not.  In order to save you from hours of searching which leads to a pile of rubbish, my policy is that you may not use information taken off the web unless the site is directly linked in Blackboard.  Please respect this policy; if you find a website you think is respectable, let me know.  I will explore it and create a link it in Blackboard if it checks out.



The following required texts are available at the bookstore

P. Jones, & K. Sidwell, The World of Rome (= Jones on the schedule)

Mellor, R., The Historians of Ancient Rome (= M on the schedule

Coursepack (Items in the Coursepack are indicated by a CP on the schedule below.)


In an effort to save trees and save you money, we will also make use of readings that I will post in Blackboard.  These readings are indicated by a BB on the schedule below.  If you have any problems accessing these files, let me know as soon as you can.  You may want to print these out in the library, or I would be happy to create a supplementary coursepack for any who wish to purchase it.  Students should regularly check Blackboard for updates; it will also hold an array of materials to help you with this course, as well as an archive of all materials handed out in class.

Class Schedule: 

Though I will make every effort to stick to the schedule, it is subject to change, especially if weather or other conditions intervene. 


Topic and Readings

Study Questions

Jan. 19

Introduction & Overview    


Jan. 21


The Origins of Rome

Using Historical Sources, A Sense of History: Some Components, The Need for Source Criticism (BB)

Jones, 1-10

Livy, Preface & Book I (= M, 169-186, 196-205)

Why do we study history? Why did Livy study history? How should we evaluate Livy as a source?

Jan. 24

The Republic & Struggle of the Orders

Jones pp. 10-13

Livy, Book III.33-37; 44-49; 56-58 (=M, 215-227)

The Twelve Tables of Roman Law (CP)

For fun: Visit the Roman Forum

What type of society can we reconstruct from the surviving Twelve Tables? What is the relationship of that world to Livy's story?

Jan. 26



The Roman System of Government 

Jones pp. 89-109, 112-121

Quintus Cicero, Advice on Running an Election Campaign (BB)

Polybius, Book 6.1-9, 11-18, 56-57 (=M, 50-65)

Sketch an outline of Roman republican political structures based on Jones. Based on Cicero, what influenced voting in these electoral and legislative assemblies?

Jan. 28

Roman religion

M. Beard, et al., Religions of Rome , 18-54 (BB)

Archaic Roman Sacrifices (BB)

Browse through the Roman calendar for Roman festivals (BB)

How were Roman social, political and religious systems interrelated during the republic?  Pick a festival off the Roman calendar and identify how these factors interacted there.

Jan. 31

The Roman Family

Jones pp. 208-234

Cato the Elder, On Farming, Preface and paragraphs 1-2, 5, 142-143 (BB)

What kinds of relationships can you see between Roman family structures and socio-political structures? How do these systems work together?

Feb. 2

Militarism and Expansion in Italy

Jones, 13-15, 121-124

Livy, 5.34-49 (=M, 227-241)

Livy, Book 8.13-14, on the Latin League (BB)

Livy, Book 42.34, on Spurius Ligustinus (BB)

How did Rome's rapid military expansion affect the developing state? How was the military built into Roman society? What effects might we anticipate this to have had?

Feb. 4

The First Punic War

Jones, 15-17

Polybius, Book I.1-14; II.1-2, 7-12 (= M, 15-32)

Why did the First Punic War break out?

Feb. 7

The Second Punic War

Jones, 17-18

Polybius, Book III.1, 4, 6-17, 20-30 (= M, 32-50)

Livy, Book XXI.1-2, XXII.44-51 (= M, 242-243, 271-277)

Map of The Second Punic War (BB)


What significant differences do you notice in the accounts of Livy and Polybius?  How do you account for those? How do you decide why the Second Punic War broke out?

Those interested in Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants can read M, 249-257.

Feb. 9

Rome and the East

Jones, 18-22

Livy, XXXI.1-9; XXXIII.6-10, 33-33, 38-40; XXXIV.1-8; XXXVI.15-19; XXXVIII.37-38; XXXIX.51 (= M, 288-320)

See map of the Hellenistic kingdoms to follow the various campaigns. (BB)

Are there any patterns in the wars that the Romans fought in this period?  Consider the following: Why did the Romans go to war?  What were their aims in each case?  What do the peace settlements in each case reveal about the Romans’ aims?

Feb. 11

DEBATE: Roman Imperialism

W.V. Harris, “On War and Greed in the Second Century BC.” (BB)

J. Rich, “Fear, Greed, and Glory: : The Causes of Roman War Making in the Middle Republic.” (BB)

(Readings from Roman Imperialism, ed. C.B. Champion)

Read both articles, but make an outline only of the one you are assigned.  Bring your outline and a one-paragraph summary to class.


How and why did the Romans conquer the Mediterranean world?  

Feb. 14

Economic & Cultural Changes

Jones, 22-25

K. Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, 1-19, 48-54 (BB)

Plutarch, Cato the Elder (CP)

What can we learn from Cato about what it meant to be a Roman in this period?  about Roman attitudes toward Greek culture?

Feb. 16

Religious changes

Jones, 172-174

The Magna Mater in Rome (BB)

On the Worship of Bacchus (Livy, Book 39.8-19 & Senate decree on Bacchanals) (BB)

Why did the Romans treat the cults of the Magna Mater and Bacchus in such different ways?  What do the reactions to these cults tell you about changes in Roman society at this time?

Feb. 18



Feb. 21

Slaves & Other Lesser Statuses

Jones pp. 145-172

E. D'Ambra, Roman Art, pp. 39-57 (BB)

What are some key status groups into which Roman society was divided? How were these statuses defined, claimed or enforced?

Feb. 23

The Tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus

Jones, 25-29

Appian, Civil Wars 1-26 (= M 65-79)

Plutarch, Tiberius Gracchus (CP)

Why did Tiberius Gracchus cause such a fuss?  What was at stake here?

Feb. 25

Marius and Sulla

Jones, 29-35, 124-133

Appian 1.55-83, 95-107 (CP)

There is a timeline of the Late Republic in BB.

Which of these two politicians had a more lasting impact (caused more lasting harm?) on Roman society and the Roman system of government?

Feb. 28

The Catilinarian Conspiracy

Jones pp. 39-41

Cicero,  1st Oration against Catiline (=M 117-128)

Cicero, 2nd Oration against Catiline (CP)

Cicero, Letter to Atticus I.2 (= M, 128)

What evidence does Cicero present concerning the conspiracy? How does his speech to the people differ from those delivered to the senate?

Mar. 2

The Catilinarian Conspiracy II

Sallust, Catilinarian Conspiracy (=M, 81-115)

How does Sallust's presentation of events differ from Cicero's? Why?

Mar. 4

Pompey the Great & the First Triumvirate

Jones, 36-39

Cicero, Selected Letters 5-11, 14-16, 22, 23, 28, 35-38

Plutarch, Julius Caesar  13-14 (BB)

What do Cicero’s letters reveal about

the state of politics in Rome at this time?  How can these letters be used productively as a source?

Mar. 7

Julius Caesar

Jones, pp. 41-43

Cicero, Selected Letters 42-43, 56, 59-61

Caesar, Civil Wars, chapters 1-18 (CP)

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar (M, 347-381)

How did Caesar's story change over the time these various documents were written?

[An extensive timeline of Caesar’s life is available in Blackboard.]

Mar. 9

Civil War & Assassination

Jones, 43-44

Plutarch, Julius Caesar  60-66 (BB)

Cicero, Sel. Letters 66-72, 81, 98, 105, 110, 112-14

Why was Caesar assassinated? What were the motives of the assassins?  Does his dictatorship and death mark the end of the Republic?

Mar. 11

DEBATE: The Fall of the Roman Republic

When and why did the Republic fail?



Mar. 21

Cleopatra and the Triumvirs

Jones, 45-48

Plutarch, Antony (CP)

Timeline, from Caesar's death to Actium (BB)

What are Plutarch's sources of information? How useful is he as a source on Cleopatra, Octavian and Antony?

Mar. 23


Jones pp. 49-60, 109-11, 133-39

Augustus, Res Gestae (=M 321-330)

Ancient Comments on Augustus (BB)

How does Augustus present himself and what he had accomplished? Did later commentators agree with his self-presentation?

Mar. 25

Augustan Social Legislation

Augustus' marriage laws & later legal commentary (from Lefkowitz & Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome, pp. 83-91) (BB)

Horace, Ode 3.6 (BB)

K. Galinsky, "The Legislation on Morals and Marriage" in Augustan Culture (BB)

What are the key provisions of the laws? What did their author aim to achieve? What is Galinsky's explanation for Augustus' persistent interest in these statutes, even in the face of strong opposition? What is your explanation?

Mar. 28

Augustan Religious Program         

M. Beard, et al. “The Re-placing of Roman religion”, pp 181-210 (BB)
Horace, Secular Hymn (BB)

Inscription honoring Augustus (BB)

What do the religious activities of the Augustan period reveal about Roman society at this time?  What is meant by ‘ruler cult’ and to what extent did Augustus consciously encourage it?

Mar. 29


WYATT 139, 2:00 p.m.

Mar. 30

Augustan Visual Imagery

P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, 172-223 (BB)

Art & Architecture from the Augustan Age (BB)

How does this information change the way you think about the empire? How does the visual imagery relate to the themes of the Augustan period? 

Apr. 1

Augustan Literature

Virgil, Aeneid, excerpts (CP)

Ovid, Amores 1.1, 1.5, 1.8, 2.4, 2.19, 3.4 (BB)

How does the history of this period affect how we read its literature?  How does it relate to the themes? 

Apr. 4

Benefiting from the System

G. Aldrete, “Feeding the City” from Life, Death and Entertainment in the Roman Empire (BB)    OR

P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, pp. 135-166 (BB)

How does each author present the effects of empire on different social groups?  How does this information affect your opinion of the Augustan age?

Apr. 5


WYATT 139, 2:00 p.m.

Apr. 6

The Imperial System

Jones, 60-78

Tacitus, Annals (= M, 427-28, 451-459, 471-481)

Senatorial decree relating to Gn. Piso (BB)

Senatorial decree on powers of Vespasian (BB)

How do Tacitus’ feelings about the empire emerge in his account?

How do the inscriptions contribute to a fuller understanding of the development of the imperial system?

Apr. 8


Tacitus, Annals excerpts (= M, 498-510)

Suetonius, Nero (BB)

How do Suetonius and Tacitus present Nero?  Why?  What does each find most offensive about him?

Apr. 11

Jews and the Romans

Josephus, on Jewish privileges (BB)

Josephus, on the outbreak of Jewish Revolt (BB)

Josephus, on Masada (= M, 332-345)

What was the position of Jews under the Roman Empire?  How does Josephus position himself and his community relative to Roman power?

Apr. 13

Jesus and the Romans 

“The trial of Jesus” (BB)

Questions are included on the website with the reading.

Apr. 15

Christians and the Romans

Tacitus, Annals, XV.37-44 (= M, 510-14)

Letters of Pliny and Trajan (= M, 536-538)

The Passion of Perpetua (CP)

Timeline of events in the rise of Christianity (BB)

Why might the Romans have seen the Christians as a problem? How might stories such as Perpetua’s have contributed to the survival of the Christian movement?

Apr. 18

Christianity: The Early Years

The Gospel of Thomas (BB)

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (BB)

Marilyn Mellowes, “The Emergence of the Canon” and “Gnostics and Other Heretics” (BB)

What are the most significant differences between these Gospels and the canonical ones?  Who might have wanted to suppress these texts, and why?

Apr. 20

Pompeii: Housing

Juvenal, Satire 3 (BB)

A. Wallace Hadrill, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, pp. 3-37. (BB)

Explore clickable map of a Roman house (BB)

How useful is Juvenal for trying to understand life in a Roman city?  How does the use of domestic space reflect Roman socio-political structures?

Apr. 22

Bread and Circuses 

Juvenal, Satire 10 (BB)

D. Potter, “Entertainers in the Roman Empire” from Life, Death and Entertainment in the Roman Empire (BB)

In what ways did the gladiatorial contests function as an essential element of the Roman imperial system? How she we understand their popularity?

Apr. 25

Romans and Foreigners

Tacitus, Agricola  (= M, 428-450)

Tacitus, Annals 11.23-26 (= M, 490-493)

For Fun: View Hadrian's Wall in England (BB)

What does the Agricola tell us about how Tacitus viewed the place of foreigners within the Roman Empire?  How does it compare with Claudius’ view?

Apr. 27


R. MacMullen, “Romanization in the Time of Augustus” (BB)

G. Woolf, “Becoming Roman”  (BB)

P.S. Wells, “The Barbarians Speak” (BB)

(All readings, from Roman Imperialism, ed. C.B. Champion, pp. 215-258, in BB)

What does ‘Romanization’ mean?  How and why did this process occur?  Would you draw any lessons for ‘Americanization’ from studying this phenomenon?

Apr. 29


Ammianus Marcellinus, “Goth Invasion” (CP)

Procopius, “Alaric Sacks Rome” (CP)

Priscus, “At the court of Attila” (CP)

Jordanes, Origins and Deeds of the Goths (CP)

Pay attention to the different authors, and to the differences they present (if any) between Goths and Huns?  How can one tell a barbarian from a Roman in the 4th and 5th centuries?

May 2

The End of the Roman Empire?

Jones, 80-81 

E. Gibbon, General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire (BB)

B. Bartlett, How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome (BB)

For fun: Lead and the Fall of Rome: A Bibliography (BB)

How does each author choose to see the events of the 4th and 5th centuries?  What factors might have led these writers to reach such different conclusions? 

May 4