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COURSE NAME: "Peoples of the Roman World: Ethnic, Social and Cultural Identities"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Massimo Betello
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 4:30 PM 5:45 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.

Satisfies "Ancient History" core course requirement for History majors.

This course is discussion-based, not lecture-based. Comparison of student ideas and perceptions about the assignments are necessary to understand the fluid nature of “identity”. Every class will include a student debate.

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 (ebook) Free ebook from JCU libraryEbook  
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 libraryEbook  
A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient MediterraneanMcInerney, JeremyWiley Blackwell, 20149781118834312 Free ebook from JCU libraryEbook  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Peoples of the Roman WorldBoatwright Mary T.Cambridge University Press978-0-521-54994-3DG190 .B63 2012 
A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284-641Mitchell StephenJohn Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011978-1-118-34106-3 Free ebook from JCU library
The Art of the Roman Empire: AD 100-450 (2nd ed)Elsner JaśOxford University Press, 2018978-0-19-108109-5N5760.E484  

ParticipationParticipation will be evaluated during every class. Students are expected to show that the assignments have been done and digested. Comments, questions, perplexities, and analogies to modern day situations are welcome. The late submission polity does not apply.5
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. 20
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.25
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.25
Assignment and commentsAll the assignments (readings, videos, etc) are supposed to be completed, but only those readings/videos that on Moodle have a Perusall link are part of this assessment method, and thus evaluated. Perusall.com is the online platform where the assignments are to be done, and no other ways are accepted for these assignments. Perusall will calculate a positive grade based on the following: A) the amount of time spent doing active reading; B) whether the assignment was concluded on time; C) if the assignment was done in chunks (instead of trying to do it all at once); D) the quality of the thoughtful questions and comments posted, and if they are spread throughout the entire assignment. The late submission policy does not apply. The classes of the add/drop period are excluded from this assignment, but the topics assigned will be tested in the tests and exams.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. A 94 – 100; A- 90 - 93.99;
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. B+ 87 - 89.99; B 84 - 86.99; B- 80 – 83.99;
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. C+ 77 – 79.99; C 74 - 76.99; C- 70 – 73.99;
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. D+ 67 - 69.99; D 60 – 66.99;
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. F 59.99 >0;

Attendance will be taken at every class.
Up to 5 free absences are allowed in this course without consequences. More than 5 free absences--regardless of the reason (that is, missing more than 20% of the course)--will have you fail the course.
No justification for any regular absence is allowed in this course: 5 absences are enough to cover any event.
Only extended medical emergencies and other extraordinary events 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


Class number

01 week


Introduction: what we will study.

Expectations and assignments.


01 week


Review of Roman History (part 1 of 2)


02 week


Review of Roman History (part 2 of 2)


02 week


Race and Ethnicity in the Greek and Roman Worlds



03 week

Being Roman


1. Deadline: by today – before class – profile photo on moodle (see syllabus)

2. Deadline: by today—before class—students must have submitted through Moodle their presentation topic (starting from week 04 included)



03 week


The Romanization debate (part 1 of 2).

Romanization hellenization romanitas hybridization – creolization - fusion

Language and identity.



04 week


The Romanization debate (part 2 of 2). Here I can deal with the archaeology



04 week


The Etruscans (part 1 of 2)


05 Week


The Etruscans (part 2 of 2)


05 week


Black Athena and Greek identity 1


06 week


Greek identity 2


06 week


Greek identity 3



07 week


The Lucanians


07 week

The Phoenicians


08 week


MIDTERM EXAM on line on Moodle during class time


08 week




09 week


Germans and Britons


09 week


“Wild Card” Day: presentations, review, make-up etc

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



10 week


Hellenistic Egypt


10 Week


Roman Egypt


11 week


Ethiopia and Beyond



11 week


The Jews during the Republic



12 week


The Jews during the Empire


12 week


Economy and identity at the frontiers (Dura Europos and Petra)


By the end of this week (Sunday at 11:59 PM), the final paper must be submitted through Moodle.


13 week


The Christians pre-edict of Constantine



13 week


The Christians post edict of Constantine


14 week


Unbecoming Roman, becoming Barbarian: the Goths and Huns.



14 week


Unbecoming Roman, becoming Barbarian: the Goths and Huns.

Conclusions and review