HSTAM 313 A: The Roman Empire

Spring 2020
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm / BAG 261
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Roman Empire Map.jpg


'Power' as the term is now generally used in social science, has to do with whatever decisions men make about the arrangements under which they live, and about events which make up the history of their period. Events that are beyond human decision do happen; social arrangements do change without the benefit of explicit decision. But in so far as such decisions are made (and in so far as they could be but are not) the problem of who is involved in making them (or not making them) is the basic problem of power. [I]n the last resort, coercion is the final form of power. But then we are by no means constantly at the last resort. Authority (power justified by the beliefs of the voluntarily obedient) and manipulation (power wielded unbeknown to the powerless) must also be considered along with coercion. In fact, the three types must be constantly sorted out when we think about the nature of power.

Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination


HSTAM 313 is a survey of the Roman Empire from 44 BCE- 337 CE. Over the ten-week period, we will explore Roman imperial political and social history. The course begins with a focus on political developments of the Roman Empire. That is to say, it looks at the struggles that brought Augustus to power, the development of imperial institutions, the growth of the emperor's power, and the conflict between the emperor and the senatorial class. In this part of the course, we generally stay focused on Roman Italy and examine how the Julio-Claudians struggled to define their power and influence. While we will continue to trace how the role of the emperor developed by stopping briefly to consider the changes that the Five Good Emperors, Diocletian, and Constantine make, the second half of the course will primarily be a social and cultural history. Although Roman Italy will still play a major role, our focus widens to consider the broader Roman world. Specifically, we will consider Roman perceptions of “barbarians” and others outside of the empire, and the means by which those inside the empire were ruled. We will also look at social life within the empire—what was daily life like, citizenship and privilege, family and social life, and religious practices? Throughout the course, two thematic concerns will drive our investigation: 1) the organization and practice of power and 2) its representation in the writing of history and fiction as well as in building projects and daily routines.



  1. Identify social, political, and cultural developments in ancient Rome under the emperors, from Augustus to Constantine. 
  2. Learn the methods used in reading, analyzing and discussing ancient primary texts and material culture. Integrate this with analysis and discussion of secondary scholarship. 

  3. Improve writing skills for essays that meet the standards of the discipline of history.
  4. Practice different formats for public speaking and group work with peers.



Boatwright, Gargola, and Talbert, A Brief History of the Romans (Abbreviated below as BHR)

  • Optional


Apuleius, The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses)


Pliny, The Letters of the Younger Pliny


Suetonius, Twelve Caesars (abbreviated below as TC)

Tacitus, The Germania and The Agricola (in one volume of Penguin edition)



Roman Empire Syllabus 2020.pdf

Catalog Description:
Political, social, and cultural history, with special emphasis on the period of Cicero and Caesar.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
June 22, 2024 - 7:16 pm