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COURSE NAME: "Peoples of the Roman World: Ethnic, Social and Cultural Identities"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Massimo Betello
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 6:15-7:35 PM

This course explores the multi-ethnic dimensions of the Roman world with a particular emphasis on the Imperial period (31BCE-476 CE). From Rome's beginnings, its population was characterized by cultural diversity, and one of the Empire's greatest strengths was its ability to integrate diverse peoples into Roman political, social and cultural life. Nevertheless, as the Empire expanded into Europe and the Mediterranean, many peoples who came under Roman rule continued to maintain distinctive ethnic, social and cultural identities. In this course, we will explore the complex processes of social and cultural negotiation between local identities and Romanization that resulted from Roman expansion. In doing so, we will seek a better understanding not only of how and why the cultural identities of such groups differed from mainstream Romanitas, but also the ways in which these interactions contributed to the shaping of Roman identity.

The Roman world in its imperial phase encompassed all the territories that encircled the Mediterranean Sea, and it even reached the British islands in the Atlantic Ocean. What can we understand about all the populations and cultures that ended up into the orbit of Rome? How did they identify themselves? Moreover, Roman culture was not walled within the political boundaries of the Roman state, but it spilled into that of its neighbors and enemies who influenced and were influences by the “Romanitas”.

After a review of Roman history, the course will begin by discussing key words, e.g. “identity”, “race”, “phenotypes”, and “ethnicity”. Then it will lead the students to understand the ancient ideas about the diversities of human beings: mythical theories, genetic determinism, and climatic determinism. The limits and advantages of textual, archaeological, and artistic sources will be presented and discussed.

The identities of different groups will then be introduced: the Etruscans, the Lucanians, the Gauls, the Germans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Pheonicians, the Parthians, the Jews, the Christians, the Goth, and the Huns.

At the base of this course there are ancient texts in translation, supplemented by modern commentaries and material culture.


After a successful conclusion of this course the student will be to:

·         discuss the terminology used when talking about identity;

·         summarize the different ancient theories about human creation and modifications;

·         consider the temporal evolution of the identities of the discussed groups;

·         argue about the identities of the discussed groups using literary and archaeological evidence;

·         identify the different components that were used to talk and create identities in the past;

·         critically evaluate the stereotyped notions surrounding the discussed groups.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
Rethinking the Other in AntiquityGruen, Erich S.Princeton University Press, 2012978-1-4008-3655-0 Free ebook from JCU library   
Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Primary Sources in TranslationKennedy, Rebecca F., C. Sydnor Roy, and Max L. GoldmanHackett Publishing Co., 2013978-1-62466-089-4 Free ebook from JCU library   
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient MediterraneanMcInerney, JeremyWiley Blackwell, 20149781118834312 Free ebook from JCU library

ParticipationParticipation will be evaluated in every class (for a total of 5%) and in the bi-weekly Moodle forum (for a total of 5%). Every two weeks the student will reply to two posts from the Moodle forum DEADLINE: submission is through Moodle by Friday at 2 PM of the week when the questions will be circulated.12 % (6+6%)
PresentationEvery student (or group) will present to the class one of the topics of the semester15
Final PaperThe final paper (2000 words) is supposed to be an elaboration of the presentation, developed as a compare-and-contrast essay (Chicago style). The topic of the paper must be pre-approved by the professor. The paper is due by the end of the 10th week. 21
Midterm examIt will be made up by two parts: • one testing the student’s factual knowledge (events, date, people etc) using identifications, multiple choices, true-false, etc.; • the other testing the student’s understanding and knowledge of the concepts explained in class using open questions, essays etc.26
Final examIt will be made up by two parts: • one testing the student’s factual knowledge (events, date, people etc) using identifications, multiple choices, true-false, etc.; • the other testing the student’s understanding and knowledge of the concepts explained in class using open questions, essays etc.26

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance will be taken at every class.

Up to three absences are allowed in this course without consequences. Every absence beyond three will cause the final grade to drop by one degree (e.g. from A- to B+.) More than 6 absences regardless of the reason (that is, missing more than 20% of the course) will have you fail the course.

No justification for any absence is allowed in this course: six absences are enough to cover any event.

Only extended medical emergencies are justified absences. No other reason count as a justified absence: finger-print appointments, sickness, trips, etc. are not justified.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Week and day


01 week

Tuesday 22 September


Introduction: what we will study.

Expectations and assignments.

Review of Roman History (part 1 of 2)

01 week

Thursday 24 September

Review of Roman History (part 2 of 2)

02 week

Tuesday 29 September

Key terms in topics and terms: “identity”, “race”, “phenotypes”, “ethnicity”, “diversity.”

Language and identity.

02 week

Thursday 1 October

Theories of human origins and diversity (1 of 2) : creational myths and environmental theories

03 week

Tuesday October 6

Theories of human origins and diversity (2 of 2): genetic theories, cultural theories

03 week

Thursday October 8

The Etruscans

03 week

MAKE UP Friday

October 9

The Lucanians and other southern autochthonous people

04 week

Tuesday October 13


The Phoenicians

04 week

Thursday October 15

The Greeks (1 of two)

04 week


October 16

The Greeks (2 of two)

05 Week

Tuesday October 20

The Gauls

05 week

Thursday October 22

The Germans

06 week

Tuesday October 27


06 week

Thursday October 29


07 week

Tuesday November 3

Final PAPER workshops: appropriate sources, primary VS secondary sources, bibliography, notes, format.

07 week Thursday November 5

The Egyptians (1 of two)

08 week

Tuesday November 10

The Egyptians (2 of two)

08 week Thursday November 12


08 week

MAKE UP Friday

November 13

The Jews

09 week

Tuesday November 17

The Christians (1 of 2)

09 week

Thursday November 19

The Christians (2 of 2)

10 week

Tuesday November 24

Review of each final paper outline and methodology in the classroom.

India and the Romans.

10 Week

Thursday November 26

The Goths and Huns

11 week

Tuesday December 01

Foundation legends

11 week

Thursday December 03

Cultural interlocking and overlapping

12 week

Tuesday December 8


12 week

Thursday December 10

Final discussion and review



11-14 December