Creating a Roman family Assignment

Creating a Roman family
Creating a Roman family

Creating a Roman family

Greek and Roman introduces-Here’s a quick summary of AW:R sources relevant to your final project; draw from these for your 12 primary sources. And please find attached to this announcement an abbreviated version of slides from the last week of lecture; ‘anchor’ events for your historical fiction flagged. The slides are especially handy for pinning down the required economic opportunities/setbacks that defined your family’s imperial experience.

14.4.1-4 (various complaints about creeping decadence and lost Roman virtues)*; 12.7 (on Caesar’s tactics against the Gauls)

14.5-8 (accounts of Augustus’ reforms, some disparaging); the res gestae of Augustus; 13.3-13.5 (attitudes toward women)


15.1, 15.3, 15.4, 15.7.1-2 (relations between Rome and conquered subjects); 15.5.2-3, 17.4.1 (family/paternal expectations); 15.6, 16.2, 17.3.1-3 (legal disputes and opinions); 16.3.1, 17.2.1-3, 17.1 (membership in social clubs, entertainment options, virtues of the simple rural life); 17.4.2-9; 13.7, 13.8, 16.3.4 (marital relations and domestic affairs)


15.2, 15.5.1 (ethnic diversity in Roman leadership); 18.1, 18.2, 18.4.1 (late imperial policies); 16.3.2-3, 16.3.5, 16.9.1-2 (religious practice and sexual mores); 16.3.6, ‘16.3,’ 16.4, 16.5, 18.3, 18.5.1-3, 18.6.1, 18.7.1-3, 18.7.2 (Christian theology and Roman responses); 18.4.2-3, 18.8 (the fading empire)


*take care in using these, since several report on events from the Republican period. As I noted in class, though, the accounts we have come from the transition to empire, so even if the Bacchanalian conspiracy happened far too early for you to mention it your final narrative, the general sentiments of Livy could be useful.


Caesar through Julio-claudians.pdf

(3.31 MB)

cls 1500 final project, due December 13th

I’ll talk more about what I expect for the final paper in upcoming classes, and some of the social transformations I mention here will come up more directly in lecture…but you should start thinking about the paper now. It’s due December 13th, 8-10 pages submitted electronically; I’ll cover submission details in a separate announcement.

Invent a family living somewhere in the Roman empire and, in their voices, narrate experiences spanning several generations. Situate this imagined family at some interesting historical or social juncture and write about how your particular Romans reacted to changing circumstances. It would take an entire semester to cover the imperial period in any detail; the idea for this project is for you to explore it on your own and capture at least a few salient moments from a plausibly Roman vantage. The focus is the imperial period, so you should start your narrative no earlier than the latter 1st century BCE (you can start much later if you like). The generations you cover should, then, take you at least into the latter 1st century CE; you can, of course, take this much later, as far as the 4th-5th centuries CE). In terms of famous Romans, start no earlier than the career of Julius Caesar, and take the narrative through the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula at least, and ideally through Claudius and Nero (and beyond if you’re bold).

There are three core requirements.

1) Employ voices from a family — not just men. Imagine the more typically silent contributions of women, for example, without relegating them only to domestic activities.

2) Cover several generations. Rather than a ‘day in the life’ snapshot, deal with longer term transformations…how your family reacted to changing social status, improving/worsening economic conditions, and shifting residence / cultural identities.

3) Build some significant cultural or social transformation into your family’s narrative.

On the last requirement: the Roman empire is well-suited for the kind of narrative you’re writing…the hundreds of peoples and statuses that the empire encompassed are perfect for crafting a dynamic family trajectory. Some possible angles: start with a man or woman enslaved by the Romans in conquest who later buys his/her freedom and whose descendants rise to citizenship and improved status (perhaps in part because of the freedmen bureaucracy instituted by Augustus and expanded under Claudius). Develop the life of an impoverished veteran who resettles in a colony in some exotic locale on the frontier, or who latches onto a road crew put to work for Augustus’ grand infrastructural projects, or a sailor who takes advantage of Claudius’ incentives for winter sailing. Each of these scenarios offered promotions in status and prosperity, but inevitably landed Romans in the middle of new cultural clashes as well. You can go the other way as well…a patrician family that gets caught up in the proscriptions (death/exile squads, essentially) of Antony and Octavian and ends up poor and out of place in some far-flung outpost with the distant hope of someday working its way back to Rome. The possibilities are endless in a status field more fluid for the Romans than for any other ancient society.

Whatever transformation you choose, cite specific events in Roman history that were turning points for your family. Pay attention to details like when citizenship was offered to various segments of the emerging empire, and how imperial policies in the provinces opened up new opportunities. Make it clear how a given event or policy had a direct and material effect on your family; don’t just write ‘I think Nero is a creep.’ Conversations about such policies could also open up disagreements in the family that elucidate generational conflict, status fault lines in mixed-class families, and the different experiences of men and women. And on that note, keep in mind that seismic shifts in family circumstances could come from realms other than traditionally masculine war and politics — women arranged marriages and were used as marital pawns to cement family alliances, transfer wealth, and advance social prestige; they mediated family disputes; they ran households and estates. And as was the case with Augustus, the imperial legal apparatus was often keenly concerned with such ‘women’s work.’

After you’ve outlined a framework for what these generations will live through, head straight to the information we’ve already covered. Don’t waste time meandering aimlessly around the internet: most of the information you need you already have at hand and in what I’ve posted on PILOT. Re-read the ‘Roman life’ sources in the textbook…make good use of them so that you can do more than guess at what Romans experienced — we have actual Roman sentiments from which to work. Cite at least 12 AW:R primary source documents from the era of Julius Caesar onward in your narrative; simply put an AW:R source number in parentheses to mark whence you derived a given attitude or the echo of a historical moment. In addition, I’ve posted relevant chapters from the companion textbook on the late Republic and on the imperial period in two parts (here and here) — those pages are rich in social conventions, rituals, and politico-economic structures…everything you need to fill out your narrative, but this secondary scholarship won’t count toward the 12 primary sources you need to document.

For one more view, check out a quirky video on the Roman city. It features the built environment that Romans lived with a ridiculous but plausible provincial Roman cartoon back-story; it’s worth a look. For other details that will make your narrative more realistic, look at the slightly strange online community nova roma, which is useful at least for Roman naming conventions. And if you include dates, do not number them the way we do (that is, BCE / CE), because the Romans certainly didn’t reckon time based on the birth of Jesus of Nazareth…not afterwards and (of course) not before he was born. They identified years according to who was consul, so instead of ’59 BCE,’ use ‘in the consulship of Caesar and Bibulus;’ see the list of Roman consuls on wikipedia. And from Stanford, a mapping app that allows you to estimate the time and money necessary to travel from any city in the Roman empire to any other one. This can add some realistic detail to your narrative if your family makes a big move at some point.

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4th narrative checklist

Have you…

*selected a triumph that celebrated a Roman victory in a war fought in the period 341-202 BCE?

*matched the plunder paraded through the streets with the likely wealth of the defeated enemy?

*written from the perspective of a clearly identified Roman: gender, social class, life experience, region of origin, veteran status?

*framed the entire narrative as a description of the triumphal procession itself, with social/political reactions making reference to particulars of that parade?

*captured plausibly complex attitudes toward war, relevant to your narrator’s identity? a pleb hoping for economic advancement but weary of sacrifice? an ex-slave recalling a humiliating march through Rome when captured? a patrician wary about the adulation showered on the victorious consul?

*cited primary sources (directly or obliquely) in support of your Roman’s sentiments?

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