THE ROMANS: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CLASSICAL WORLD
This course aims to introduce the ancient Roman world through the study of the Classical period of its history, the end of the Republic and the emergence of the Principate under Octavian; later known as Augustus, he was called ‘First Citizen’ but for practical purposes was the first Roman Emperor. This period saw both a great cultural flowering, particularly in literature, and violent political and social upheaval culminating in a series of bloody civil wars, involving such titanic historical figures as Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. Students of Rome in the 1st Century BC focus on one of the defining moments in shaping the history and culture of the Western world. Historical and literary texts will be studied in English translation: no knowledge of Latin or Ancient Greek is required.
We know a surprising amount about the politics of the time and about key political and military figures, through biographies of individuals and a range of other sources, including the voluminous writings of the lawyer and politician M. Tullius Cicero, a major political figure and a great writer of speeches and letters. Poets of the period, including Horace and Virgil, illuminate the conflicts of the Late Republic and provide responses to Augustus’ eventual victory.
- The nature and extent of the sources available to us. Why study literary texts as well as history?
- Key concepts for the study of the Roman world, including the Senate, the Plebs, the traditional career in public office (the cursus honorum), the role of the army, citizenship, the crucial political factions of optimates and populares, dictatorship.
- What were the principal problems faced by those who led or aspired to lead the Roman world in the last century of the Republic?
- The Ancient Greeks habitually thought of politics as the struggle of the many against the few – does this also apply to the last century of the Roman Republic? If so, who won?
- The beginning of the end of the Republic: from the Gracchi to Sulla. The powers of the people and their representatives. Conflict between Sulla and Marius. The importance of military success.
- The early careers of Pompey, Caesar, Cicero. Different routes to prominence.
- The consulship of Cicero. Catiline’s conspiracy. Underlying issues. Has Cicero saved the Republic? Is he just a politician? Just a lawyer? Just a historical source?
- The First Triumvirate of Pompey, Caesar and Crassus.
- Caesar outperforms Pompey. Civil War. Reflections on the personal rivalry between Caesar and Pompey. How important was the Senate? Who eventually won the Senate’s support?
- Caesar’s dominance. Elected dictator for an unlimited term. Assassinated by a conspiracy including close friends. Another attempt to save the Republic.
- The Second Triumvirate of Antony, Octavian and Lepidus.
- War between Octavian and Antony. Cleopatra and the East. Octavian emerges victorious at the Battle of Actium.
- Octavian rules as Caesar Augustus, First Citizen till his death. His answer to the problems of late Republican politics. The diminishing role of the Senate. Rome effectively under the rule of an Emperor for centuries. Who was and who was not satisfied?
- The role of the poets. Culture of the period and its reflection of the turmoil of the last century. Was this a Golden Age for Rome? Poets’ reaction to Augustus and why. Contrast the non-political poets of earlier generations, such as Catullus and Lucretius.
Example Essay Assignments
- How important was military success to success in Roman politics?
- How far do the sources suggest that the conspiracy of Catiline was crucial to the fall of the Republic?
- Did Caesar disregard the law when necessary?
- Did Horace and Virgil do as Augustus told them?
- To impart information about the history and literary culture of the Late Republic and the beginning of the Principate
- To develop good study practice such as note-taking, speed reading, class discussion
- To encourage critical skills through reasoning
- To teach and improve essay writing skills
- To foster an admiration for the sophistication and civilization of the ancient world and to appreciate its relevance to the contemporary world.
- Tutorial teaching and discussion are a crucial part of the learning process for this course, and students will be asked to take notes
- Students will consolidate class knowledge and further their understanding by reading both primary (Latin and Greek in English translation) and secondary (textbook) sources in private study time after which they should be able to explain the significance of what they have learnt
- There will be frequent recapitulations of already taught material
- Maps of the ancient world will be used as required
- Research and consolidation will be set as private study assignments as preparation for essay writing
- Essays will be written as required in students’ private study time
- Students will be required to give one prepared oral presentation to the tutor
- To demonstrate knowledge of the events, significant people and developments, including key cultural developments, of the Late Roman Republic and the beginning of the Principate of Augustus.
- To demonstrate skills in researching the ancient sources for information.
- To complete regular assignments set using a range of sources of information.
This class is normally delivered over one term, with 90 teaching contact hours or equivalent in the Michaelmas term, and 60 teaching contact hours for Hilary and Trinity terms. For students requesting credit, we recommend the transfer of three college credits for Michaelmas and two college credits for Hilary and Trinity, on successful completion of the class.
All students must fulfil the following formal assessment requirements:
- An essay to be written every two weeks in students’ own study time (60%)
- One oral presentation in class on a set topic (10%)
Students’ performance in these individual components will be discussed in detail one-on-one with the tutor.
The remaining 30% of the assessment will be based on the student’s application to private study and oral contributions in class throughout the course
The list below is for guidance and to supply some ideas for preliminary reading. We recommend that you do not purchase the books on this list before arrival and certainly not all of them; most should be available from a good library. Your tutor will recommend the most appropriate books for purchase at the first class of term.
Primary Sources in Translation
Sallust Catiline’s Conspiracy (Oxford World’s Classics)
Cicero Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics)
Plutarch Roman Lives (Oxford World’s Classics)
Suetonius The Twelve Caesars (Penguin)
Cooley and Wilson The Age of Augustus, LACTOR 17 (A collection of sources.)
Note that for Sallust, Cicero and Plutarch above the Oxford World’s Classics edition should be used, NOT the Penguin edition.
Textbooks and Reference Books
Boardman, Griffin and Murray The Oxford History of the Roman World
Hornblower and Spawforth Oxford Companion to Classical Civilisation
Melissa Lane Greek and Roman Political Ideas
Cary and Scullard A History of Rome
Robin Lane Fox The Classical World: an Epic History from Homer to
If you are unable to obtain books locally, they may be ordered from