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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Western Civilization I"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Fabrizio Conti
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:00 PM 4:15 PM

This survey course explores the foundations of Western societies and cultures and the transformations they underwent from prehistory through the Renaissance. Emphasis is placed on the ways in which diverse ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples interacted to lay the groundwork for Western civilization, the ways in which political structures and cultures changed over the time period covered, and the development of Western religions and cultures. In addition, through the examination and discussion of a range of primary source materials, the course serves as an introduction to the practice of history, i.e., how historians examine the past and draw conclusions about it.

This course introduces students to the civilizations that helped shape our world as well as to the historian’s craft. This course surveys Western civilizations and cultures from pre-history, through Near Eastern, Greek and Roman eras, to Medieval Europe, the Renaissance and Reformation. Special attention is given to the following topics: cities and urban landscapes; economic and social developments; empires, warfare, and imperial ambitions; heroes, myths, religious systems; literary and artistic forms of creativity.


The aim of this course is not only to guide students through the discovery of the main events and developments in Western societies between the pre-historical age and the age of the Renaissance and Reformation, but also and especially to give students the opportunity to build their own ideas of the multifaceted ways in which cultures, societies and mentalities developed and interacted through time. Students will develop basic analytical and critical reading and communication skills, with the ability to frame historical questions and research, take a stance, and craft a written argument, also by working with primary sources in English. 

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries - Vol. I - Seventh EditionNoble, Strauss, Osheim, Neuschel, Accampo, Roberts, CohenCengage Advantage Books978-1-133-61013-7 Ebook version accepted   

Paper You will be given a list of topics, among which you will pick the one you prefer and develop it in about 2000 words. You can also propose a different topic of your choice worthy of investigation. The relevant sources and the questions which serve as guidelines for the analysis will be posted on Moodle . The written assignment should be submitted to me electronically by 5pm of the due date at the latest. No late papers will be accepted.25%
Mid-Term ExamThis will be an in-class written exam composed of short answer and essay questions. Your grade on this exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments as well as the factual accuracy of your answers. More information about these exams will be provided as their dates near.30%
Final ExamThis will be an in-class written exam composed of short answer and essay questions. Your grade on this exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments as well as the factual accuracy of your answers. More information about these exams will be provided as their dates near.35%
Attendance and ParticipationIt is mandatory that: 1. you are in class, 2. have done the readings, 3. express your views and questions orally in class and are able to make connections with the topics that have been already covered. You will get points for participation for being active in class, rather than for being (always) right. 10%

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.


You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________


Letter grades and corresponding percentages for this class

94 – 100 points = A

90 – 93.99 pts = A-

87 – 89.99 = B+

83 – 86.99 = B

80 – 82.99 = B-

77 – 79.99 = C+

70 – 76.99 = C

60 – 69.99 = D

59.99 – 0 = F 

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.


All the readings apart from the textbook are available on Moodle




Week 1

4  M History as Our Story: Introduction to Course

-          March Bloch, The Historian's Craft, pp. 17-24 

-          Ernst H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World, Ch. 1 "Once Upon a Time", pp. 1-4


6  W Pre-History Roots

-         Western Civilization, Ch. 1: "The Ancestors of the West: Origins", pp. 2-9 ("The Emergence of Civilization" excluded)

-         Ian Tattersall, Becoming Human, selected pp.



Week 2

11 M Mesopotamia: The Cradle of Western Civilization

-        Western Civilization, Ch. 1: "Mesopotamia", pp. 9-16

-        "Between Two Rivers": https://www.vanityfair.com/london/2021/03/between-two-rivers

 -        The Code of Hammurabi, “Laws on the Household”: http://www.thenagain.info/Classes/Sources/Hammurabi-Household.html


13 W  Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian Early Urban Cultures

-        The Assyrian Epic of the Creationhttp://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/rp/rp201/rp20131.htm

-        Nissen, Heine, From Mesopotamia to Iraq (2009), pp. 21-41 (The First Urban Society and the Use of Writing)

-        Babylonians, not Greeks, developed geometry: https://www.arabnews.com/node/1906071/art-culture



Week 3

18 M    Egypt: The Land of Pharaohs

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 1: "Egypt", pp. 16-25

-          The Hymn to the Nilehttps://arcjohn.wordpress.com/89-2/


20 W   Egyptian Mythologies and The Sacred

-          The Book of the Dead, “Plate II”: http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/ebod/ebod14.htm

-          Rita Lucarelli, Demonology During the Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman Periods in Egypt (2011)


Week 4

25 M The Hittite Empire and the Phoenicians

-          The Phoenicians' Route (click on and read all items in "On the Route"): http://fenici.net/en/

-          Herodotus on the Phoenicians: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/430phoenicia.asp

-          Amir Gilan, Hittite Ethnicity? Construction of Identity in Hittite Literature (2010)


27 W  The Canaanites and Israel

-           Western Civilization, Ch. 2: "The Ship, the Sword, and the Book", pp. 28-39

-          1 Kings 21 "Naboth's Vineyard": https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings+21&version=NIV



Week 5

2 M   The Persian Empire

-         Western Civilization, Ch. 2, pp. 39-50

-         Herodotus, Histories, Book 1, "On the Customs of the Persians", pars. 131-139 only: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hh/hh1130.htm


4 W  From Polytheism to Monotheism: A Cultural Revolution 

-         Jan Assmann, The Price of Monotheism, Ch. 2 ("Monotheism: A Counterreligion to What?")



Week 6

9 M  The Greek Civilization 

-          Western Civilization: Ch. 3: “The Greeks in the Polis”, pp. 53-73 ("Classical Greece" excluded)

-          Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, I,1: “The State of Greece”: http://classics.mit.edu/Thucydides/pelopwar.1.first.html

-          Pericles’ funeral Oration, Excerpts from Thucydides: http://mccandlessa.people.cofc.edu/Thucydides.htm#Pericles' Funeral Oration


11  W  The Golden Age of Greece

-          Western Civilization, Ch.3: “Classical Greece”, pp. 73-88

-          Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, Parts I to V: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.1.one.html

 -         Herodotus and the invention of 

           History:  https://www.reed.edu/reed_magazine/september2011/articles/features/classiclecture/classiclecture.html


Week 7

16 M Alexander the Great and The Hellenistic World

       Western Civilization, Ch. 4: “Alexander the Great”, pp. 90-115

-        Arrian of Nicomedia, The Anabasis of Alexander, Book 3, Ch. 1: "Conquest of Egypt-Foundation of Alexandria":


18 W Midterm Exam 


20  F Make Up Day for Nov. 1

      Film Screening and discussion



Week 8

23 M Rome: From Monarchy to Republic

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 5, pp. 118-129 ("The Early and Middle Republic Abroad" excluded)

-          Titus Livius, History of Rome, Book 1, Chapters 4-7, 9, 16: 

-          Titus Livius, History of Rome, Book 1, Chapters 57-60: 


25 W  The Expansion of the Roman Republic

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 5: “The Early and Middle Republic Abroad”, pp. 129-148

-          Titus Livius, History of Rome, Book 2, Chapters 39-41: 

-          Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War, Book 7, Chapters 66-67, 75-87:


Week 9

 30 M  The Roman Empire: From Pagan to Christian

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 6: "Imperial Rome", pp. 150-175

-          Tacitus, The Histories, Book V: http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/histories.5.v.html

-          Documents on the persecution of the Christians: http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/xtians.html

-          Constantine’s vision of the cross: Eusebius, Life of Constantine:   http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iv.vi.i.xxviii.html

-          Edicts by Galerius, and Constantine: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/edict-milan.asp



1 W  NO CLASS (Make Up day: 20 Oct.)



Week 10

6 M  The Fall of Rome and the Late Antique Period

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 7: "The World of Late Antiquity", pp. 177-189, "The Rise of Christian Monasticism", pp. 189-207

-          An Interview on the Fall of Rome: https://www.bu.edu/historic/hs/perkins.pdf

-          Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Chapters XXIV, XXV, XXVI: 

-          Edward Gibbon on the Fall of Rome: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/gibbon-fall.asp



8 W  The Early Medieval World: Byzantium, the Islamic Civilization, and the Franks

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 8: "Early Medieval Civilizations", pp. 209-238

-          The Qu’ran, excerpts: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/koran-sel.asp

-          Corpus Iuris Civilis, excerpts: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/corpus1.asp

-          Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, excerpts: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/einhard1.asp


Week 11

13 M   Feudal Europe

-         Western Civilization, Ch. 9: "The Expansion of Europe", pp. 240-264

-         Fulbert of Chartres, On Feudal Obligationshttps://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/fulbert1.asp

-         Gregory VII, the Dictatus Papae (1075): https://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/344dict.html

15 W The Crusades 

-      Western Civilization, Ch. 9: from "The Crusades", pp. 264-270

-      Pope Urban II, Speech at Clermont (1095): https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2a.html

-      Soloman bar Samson, The Crusaders in Mainz: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1096jews-mainz.asp


Week 12

20 M Medieval Social Orders and Cultural Models 

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 10: "Medieval Civilization at Its Height", pp. 273-300

-          Anton Ervynck, "Orant, Pugnant, Laborant: The Diet of the Three Orders in the Feudal Society of

           Medieval North-Western Europe" (2004)

-         St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun (webster.edu)

-          The Fourth Lateran Council (1215), canons: 1, 2, 3, 13, 14, 21, 22, 67, 68, 69: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp


22 W  The "Black Death" and The Later Middle Ages

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 11: "Crisis and Recovery", pp. 303-327

 -         Boccaccio on the Black Death: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/boccacio2.asp



Week 13

27 M  The Humanist "Revolution" 

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 11: from "The Consolidation of Political Power", pp. 327-337; Ch. 12: "The Renaissance", pp. 340-357

-          Vergerius, The New Education: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/vergerius.html


29 W   The Renaissance and European Explorations

       Western Civilization, Ch. 12: "The Spread of the Renaissance", pp. 359-372; Ch. 13: "European Overseas Expansion", pp. 374-401

-         Cristopher Columbus, Journal of the First Voyage, paragraphs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 50-54: http://eada.lib.umd.edu/text-entries/journal/


Paper Due 30 Nov.



Week 14

4 M  Reform Movements 

-          Western Civilization, Ch. 14: from "The Reformation Movements", pp. 405-417 ("The English Reformation" excluded); pp. 425-431 

         Martin Luther, Address to the Christian Nobilityhttps://history.hanover.edu/texts/luthad.html

-          Paolo Giustiniani and Pietro Querini, Booklet to Pope Leo X, selected pp.



6 W  The Axial Age 

-      B. Wittrock, The Axial Age in Global History


Final Exam