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Introduction to Roman History - 20 credits (HS3102)

Staff: Guy Bradley, Kate Gilliver, Shaun Tougher

The Romans had a profound influence on the political and cultural history of the Mediterranean lands, particularly Europe. The languages, architectural styles, religions, legal and political institutions of many countries are based on or were influenced by the Romans. This  module provides an introduction to Roman history and society, with particular attention to the Republic, the transformation of the state to monarchy under Augustus, and the later Roman empire (c. AD 284–476), the adoption of Christianity and the creation of the institutions of early medieval Europe. The module will focus on social and cultural values as well as political and military events, with detailed reference to contemporary historical sources such as poetry, history, letters and legal texts, and key architectural and artistic works.

Core module for: BA Ancient History, BA Archaeology and Ancient History, BA Ancient and Medieval History, and joint degrees with Ancient History
Optional for: all other Humanities degrees (subject to timetabling constraints)
Availability: autumn and spring semester every year
Teaching: 20 lectures, 4 seminars, study group exercises
Assessment: one essay (35%); one group presentation (15%); one 2-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • the origins and early history of Rome
  • the Roman Republic
  • Roman expansion and the wars with Carthage
  • the late Republic and the civil wars
  • the establishment of the Principate under Augustus and his successors
  • the Roman city: social, political and religious life
  • the recovery of the Roman empire under Diocletian
  • Constantine and the adoption of Christianity


  • To provide an introduction to the major issues, historical sources and methods involved in studying the political, social and religious history of Rome.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of Roman history, in particular the foundation myths and values of Roman society, the transition from the Roman Republic to the Principate, and the later Roman empire.
  • an ability to analyse the historical sources for these periods, such as Cicero, and other literary, documentary and visual material.
  • an awareness of modern interpretations of these periods, and an ability to develop their own ideas.

Primary sources (to be bought)

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars (Oxford World’s Classics)

A sourcebook containing extracts from other ancient sources will be provided.

Preliminary reading

Secondary sources:
E. Bispham, Oxford Shorter History of Europe: The Roman Era (2008)
K. Bringmann, A History of the Roman Republic (2007)
M.H. Crawford, The Roman Republic (second edition, 1992)
P.A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (1971)
R. Alston, Aspects of Roman History (1998)
A. Wallace-Hadrill, Augustan Rome (1993)
C. Wells, The Roman Empire (1984)
W. Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion (2003)
P. Connolly and H. Dodge, The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome (1998)
A. Cooley, Pompeii (2003)
A. Cameron, The Later Roman Empire (1993)

Primary sources:
Livy, History of Rome, especially the early books
Tacitus, Annals
Cicero, speeches

Related modules

HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World

HS3101 Introduction to Ancient Greek History

all Ancient History Part Two modules