HSTAM 313 A: The Roman Empire

Winter 2024
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm / CMU 228
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Picture of the triple capitolium at Sbeitla (Sufetula, Tunisia)

HSTAM 313 — The Roman Empire

Winter 2023

Professor Mark Letteney

Monday and Wednesday, 10:30–12:20

Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 1–2:30 PM, Smith 116B


HISTAM313 is a survey of the Roman Empire, beginning with Roman colonial expansion in the second and first centuries BCE and ending with the profound changes in governance, religion, and regional connectivity that coincide with the birth of a “New Rome” at Constantinople. Along the way, we will discuss historical themes that broaden our understanding of “The Roman Empire” beyond emperors, politics, and monuments — topics like religion, conquest, environment, army, enslavement and incarceration, and the ancient economy.

The function of this class is not primarily to teach you a chronological narrative about the Roman Empire — many wonderful books are available which do just that. Rather, our class aims to teach you how to extract historical data from a wide variety of ancient sources: from novels to speeches to coins an even to archaeological excavations. To that end, each session will comprise two parts: I will lecture for the first 50 minutes of each class, from 10:20 until 11:10, followed by a ten-minute break. We will reconvene at 11:20 for an activity — most days that will be a primary source workshop, in which we read and interpret an ancient text together.



  • Response papers (5): 50%
  • Map Exercise: 5%
  • Object Autobiography: 5%
  • Reading quizzes (9): 25%
  • Final paper: 15%


Weekly response papers

Throughout the quarter you will write five response essays of 400–500 words, submitted on canvas before class time on the following Monday. Prompts will ask you to think historically about a primary text and relate it to another reading or topic already covered in our course. The aim is for you to read closely and analyze, and as such the best essays will include short quotations from primary and secondary sources, and direct engagement with those sources. (Though direct quotations are not included in your wordcount.)

Topics will be announced at the beginning of each week and essays will be assessed on a √– (75), √ (90), √+ (100) scale. A √ signals that you have adequately completed the assignment — you have read and thought about the material assigned, and adequately answered the questions posed. A √+ indicates that you have done above average work, and usually indicates that you have gone above and beyond in discussing that source among other sources that we have discussed in their historical context. A √– indicates that you have not satisfactorily answered the questions asked, or that you have engaged in only a cursory or superficial way with the material.

You'll notice that there are six prompts on the syllabus: you are allowed to take one response essay “off,” at your own discretion. If you complete more than five, I will simply drop the lowest scoring essays from your final grade.


Reading quizzes

This is not a hard class. The largest proportion of work is simply to read in preparation for our sessions. I will hold time at the beginning of each class to answer specific questions about the assigned readings, but we will never ‘go over’ the reading in class and my lectures will not cover the same material. Rather, the selected readings serve as background, case studies, and primary materials which inform the lecture. I expect that when you arrive in class, you have read and taken notes on the assigned materials.

Because careful reading represents such a large portion of the work for this class, 25% of the grade that you earn results directly from it. Nine times throughout the semester there will be a short, three or four question quiz based on the reading assigned for the day. The task will be easy and will not take more than 5 minutes — if you read everything and did your best to understand, you should not have any trouble earning full points.



 Preparation for lectures, attendance, and enthusiastic participation in primary source workshops are mandatory. Email me at least 24 hours in advance if you are going to miss class. If you happen to miss a reading quiz and have already emailed alerting me to your absence 24 hours in advance, then you may come to my office hours after the next class to take a reading quiz.


Final paper

 Your final paper will build on skills that you hone while writing your response papers throughout the quarter. I will announce topics in mid-February, and the paper is due March 14th at 5:00 PM. Papers should be 750–1,000 words (not including direct quotations), and drafts submitted by March 8th at 5:00 PM will receive a preliminary grade and comments, after which you may revise and resubmit by March 15th if you choose.


Late Work

Late work is eligible for a maximum grade of 85. Work submitted more than a week after its due date is eligible for a maximum grade of 75. Final papers handed in late lose five points per 24-hour period.

Catalog Description:
Political, social, and cultural history, with special emphasis on the period of Cicero and Caesar.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
December 8, 2023 - 8:49 am