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Unit information: Roman Emperors - A Survival Guide in 2020/21

Unit name Roman Emperors - A Survival Guide
Unit code CLAS30023
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. O'Gorman
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


"Those of you who admire the disregard of authority, know this: it is possible to be a good man even under a bad emperor." (Tacitus) How did the subjects of the Roman emperor achieve this? How did they negotiate between the dangers of incurring imperial displeasure, and the guilt of colluding with a tyrannical regime? And what difference did it make to the history of Rome? This unit will explore the interactions between senators, plebeians, soldiers, provincials and barbarians, and emperors from Augustus to Domitian. Through detailed analysis of the texts relating these interactions, we will examine how imperial subjects tried to ensure their survival and shape their political lives. We will observe how the position of emperor, which was never a formal constitutional position, emerges out of a dynamic interchange with these different individuals and groups, and is continually adapted to changing events.


To develop recognition and analysis of political interactions which shape the role of the Roman emperor;

To develop skills in detailed critical interpretation of ancient texts which represent and critique imperial power;

To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials;

To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be able

(1)To recognize, explain and analyze the political interests of different social groups in the Roman empire, and how they would drive interactions with the ruler.

(2)To describe and analyze the dynamics of imperial power and its evolution over the first century AD.

(3)To provide detailed critical interpretations of the texts from the first century AD which represent and critique imperial power.

(4)To describe and analyze in detail the contexts in which such texts were produced, and the range of modern critical interpretations of these texts.

Students will also be expected to show:

(5)skills in critical thinking and in written communication appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

This unit will involve a combination of independent investigative activities, long- and short-form lectures, and discussion. Students will be expected to engage with materials and participate on a weekly basis. Feedback will be provided for both formative and summative assessments, and this will be supported by meetings with tutors.

Assessment Details

3,000 word essay (100%).

Reading and References

Clifford Ando. 2000. Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire. Berkeley.

Shadi Bartsch. 1994. Actors in the Audience. Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian. Harvard.

Matthew Roller. 2001. Constructing Autocracy. Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome. New Jersey.

Tacitus. 2012. Annals. translated Cynthia Damon. Harmondsworth.