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‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ (L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between) - however much our modern western culture is influenced by Roman architecture, literature, and law (to name but a few influences), the Roman world is no exception to this statement. This module seeks to explore what was distinctively ‘Roman’ about Roman culture and society, both at its centre in Rome, and all around its empire, from Britain to Bulgaria, and from the Nile to the Euphrates. The module will cover topics from the late first century BC to the early third century AD, exploring the impact on Roman society of the emergence of sole rulers and dynastic powers, and the gradual opening up of society to provincials.

How did cultural change occur, and to what extent was there resistance in the provinces to adopting a Roman way of life? How did people in the provinces know that they were living in the Roman empire? To what extent can we widen our picture of society beyond the sphere of the élite, who dominate our literary sources? These issues will be explored through a whole range of source material (literature, archaeology, coins, inscriptions, art, and architecture) and students will be encouraged to form their own views on both the usefulness and drawbacks of painting a picture of Roman culture and society from them.

In this module, we examine the ways in which people's private lives were structured, considering the impact of an individual’s legal status, place of habitation, and religious attitudes. The interaction between different social strata through patronage of various kinds is a theme common to many of the lectures. We also look at the public, political context of art, literature, and religion; in the final term, we visit the British Museum in order to find out what new possibilities open up to the historian from examining individual artefacts.

Six seminars allow us to explore in depth certain aspects of the Roman world, touched on more briefly in lectures. It is essential that students prepare for these seminars, so as to be able to join in the informal discussion of topics. This will help develop the ability to develop arguments in a lucid, well-structured manner in the more formal framework of assessed essays.

During the course of the module, we shall revise crucial study skills, including note-taking, footnoting, time management, using internet resources, essay planning, and compiling a bibliography.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Develop a broad knowledge of Roman culture and society from the late first century BC to early third century AD, laying the foundations for further study.
  • Understanding of the different sources available for the study of Roman culture and society, and the methodologies to approach these
  • Cultivation of key research skills necessary for the study of Classics and Ancient History
  • Development of critical thinking skills and analytical skills