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New Course Report

Rome: Republic to Empire (HS 253)

by Belle Tuten

On the first day of this course, I decided to show a short clip from the film Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979). A ridiculous anti-Roman group, the People's Front of Judaea, is sitting around planning their next act of public disobedience. Someone says angrily, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" After a moment, somebody pipes up: "Roads." "The Aqueducts." "Sanitation." "Education." After a few minutes the leader of the group has to call a stop to a long list of accomplishments.

But let's face it: most of my students have been watching the miniseries "Rome" (which is a lot of fun, by the way) and seeing movies like "Gladiator." We're impressed by Roman technology and power, but we really like the violent stuff. I'm not immune myself. So how to approach a course like this one, especially since my graduate training didn't include Roman history?

I decided to start by keeping the emphasis on the primary sources, most of which are easy to obtain and inexpensive. We started by reading sections from Livy's History of Rome. We worked our way up through Polybius and Appian, Plutarch's Life of Marius, and part but not all of Suetonius's Twelve Caesars. I really think Suetonius should not be missed, especially since most of the more scurrilous behaviors we attribute to the Roman emperors can be traced directly to his work. We're about to launch into our exploration of Roman social life in the early empire, for which there are many wonderful sources, and we did a military project in early April that saw us clustered out in the field behind BAC, playing with gladii like extras from a Cecil B. DeMille sword and sandals epic.

It's an adventure, as always.

Students in Rome Presentation

Frank Stoy '09 and Brock Swartz '09 demonstrate the training techniques of the Fighting XVIIth Legion (a legion that was, in fact, destroyed in AD 9).

Class drilling
The class discovered that Roman soldiers had to march a lot faster than they thought: approximately 20 miles in 5 hours. We also were'nt all that great at staying in line.

Belle wearing pack

Roman soldiers carried between 45 and 60 pounds of weight in their packs. I could barely stand up, much less march.