History of The Roman Empire


The political history of the Early Roman Empire confronts us with a curious story. In a nutshell, it is this. A man, ultimately best known as Augustus, manages to orchestrate the dissolution of the old governmental system, nominally a democratic republic, and creates an autocracy, with himself as the sole decider of everything. However, since one of the Romans’ most deeply and emotionally held political ideals had always demanded that there should never, ever be rule by a king (or emperor), Augustus could not possibly admit to what he was doing. He therefore pretended to be restoring the traditional form of government, after, and as the solution to, a long period of horrific civil strife. What is more, he managed to persuade, as it would seem, the entire Roman world to play this charade with him. So, the Romans suddenly found themselves being ruled by one man, while they steadfastly refused formally to admit that fact, and contrived in every conceivable way to maintain the fiction that they were still living under a regime that somehow resembled their old, quasi-democratic, republic. This breathtakingly paradoxical situation led to many years of fear, anxiety, confusion, doublespeak, terror, and more. And then, we face what is perhaps the greatest paradox altogether. This was the period of the High Roman Empire, often viewed from the distance of modernity as one of the most successful and happy political regimes in all of human history. This, then, will be the history that we follow in this course. We will try to understand how a group, which assiduously lies to itself about its own most basic political institutions, nonetheless contrives to function – and to function, in many senses – quite well. We will attempt to understand this all, though, trough Roman eyes – not our own.

Identical to V57.0206. In the spring of 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of senators disgruntled with his monarchic ways. However, Caesar's adoptive son and heir, Octavian, was quickly on the scene and in little more than a decade managed to establish himself as Rome's first emperor. About three centuries later, Constantine the Great would rise to imperial power and with him came a new state religion--Christianity. This course examines the social and political history of the Roman Empire from the time of Augustus to that of Constantine and also closely observes the parallel growth of Christianity.






Fall 2022

Kevin Michael Feeney
MW: 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM SILV 520