How did the Roman Empire develop from a village of huts in central Italy to an international powerhouse that dominated the Mediterranean? What clues have been left behind for us to reconstruct the lives of the Roman people, from emperors to slaves, from gladiators to soldiers? This course addresses these big questions through the lens of art and archaeology. We begin with Rome’s humble origins in the Iron Age and conclude with the so-called “fall” of the Roman Empire in the 6th century CE. As we travel through time, we will investigate the influence of the Greek world, the development of a distinctively Roman culture, the spread of Roman imperialism, the impact of Christianity, and the continuing relevance of Roman institutions in modern society.
The course will comprise a mix of PowerPoint lectures, class/group/partner discussions, and hands-on practical applications. Our primary textbook will be David Soren and Martin Archer's new 2015 book, Art and Archaeology of Ancient Room: An Introduction. The instructor will also provide some primary texts and additional academic articles as necessary. Since this is an introductory archaeology course, we will practice fundamental methods in field archaeology and work with ancient artifacts from the vault at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, as well as those at RISD. For the last module of the course, we will read popular (rather than academic) articles from public news sources in order to evaluate the modern reception of the Roman Empire and discuss the relevance of learning ancient history.
Overall, this course aims to give students a broad understanding of the potential as well as the problems of the archaeology of the Roman period, and to provide them with an appreciation of the methods that archaeologists employ to address them. This course is designed to be accessible to anyone with an interest in past human societies. It serves to build a robust foundation for university-level courses in the fields of archaeology, ancient history, art history, and classics.
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
1. broadly articulate the development of the Roman Empire,
2. describe Roman social structures and social relations throughout their history,
3. interpret various artifacts and archaeological sites, taking into account their context as well as the multiplicity of possible interpretations,
4. analyze and interpret the archaeological evidence (primary sources), as well as the multiple interpretations (secondary sources) of this evidence.
Prerequisites: No prior knowledge necessary. This course welcomes anyone interested in ancient Roman culture and society, or past human interactions more broadly.