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Life in Ancient Rome - 10 credits (HS4358)

Staff: Kate Gilliver

This module provides an opportunity to study what it was like to live in the city of Rome in the late Republic and early Empire, for both rich and poor. The course covers topics such as how the city was administered, 'Bread and Circuses', the various forms of leisure activity and more 'down to earth' subjects such as the quality of housing, the water supply and other urban amenities. Students will be encouraged to study the importance of social institutions in public and private life, and the changes that occurred from Republic to Empire.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (40%) and one 1-hour examination (60%)

Syllabus content

Introduction to the documentary and archaeological evidence; the city and how it was administered; housing, (un)employment; crime, violence, the 'urban mob' and the food supply; leisure and entertainment; patronage, changes between Republic and Empire, and the role of the emperor; death and burial.


To study the lifestyles of the inhabitants of Rome during the late Republic and early Empire, and the nature of the documentary and archaeological evidence relating to this, in particular the works of Martial, Juvenal and Pliny the Younger, and the archaeological remains in Rome.

Learning outcomes

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

  • a knowledge of the documentary and archaeological evidence relating to the administration of the city of Rome and the everyday life of all social classes in late Republican and early Imperial Rome; and of modern views and interpretations of that evidence.
  • an understanding of various issues, and the use of primary evidence to evaluate them, in particular:
    • how the city of Rome was administered in this period.
    • the social and economic conditions of Rome in this period.
    • the importance of various leisure and social activities and their relationship to public and private life.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Preliminary reading

(* = purchase recommended but not essential)
*O. F. Robinson, Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration (1992)
D. S. Potter & D. J. Mattingly (eds.), Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire (1999)
*J. Coulston & H. Dodge (eds.), Ancient Rome. The Archaeology of the Eternal City (2000)
Letters of the Younger Pliny (Penguin)

For something more challenging, try:
P. Veyne, Bread and Circuses (trans. 1990)
K. Hopkins, Death and Renewal (1983)

And if you want some more source material:
Juvenal, Satires
Martial, Epigrams
All available in Penguin Classics

Related modules

Prerequisites: HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World or HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3316 Conquest and Crisis: The Roman Republic

HS3317 The Roman Empire 31 BC - AD 138

HS4363 Houses in Roman Italy