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Roman Culture & Society

CX 110

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ (L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between) - however much modern 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. During the second term, we concentrate upon examining major products of ‘high culture’, and in the final term, we focus upon revision in preparation for the examination.

Seminars allow us to explore in depth certain aspects of the Roman world, touched on more briefly in lectures. It is essential that you 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.

Embedded in the module is training in academic study skills. The module is team-taught by members of the Department, and is designed to help you decide what modules you might like to take at Honours level.

Trajan's Column, Rome

Aquae Sulis, Roman baths