How To Approach The History Of Rome

Let me inform anyone who may not know already that I am a classics geek. I love the study of ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as the communities of people that were never part of these civilizations, but did have intercourse with them – namely the Celts, the various tribes of Germans, etc. I find this world inherently fascinating – and a bit frightening.

With that out of the way, I can get to the point of my post, namely that I’m in the midst of creating a series of teaching tools for my daughter once she gets a bit older – the first of these will concern the history of Rome. Following that I’ll deal perhaps with a course on rhetoric, then a topic related to the history of science – probably biological evolution, then late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and so on. Since Chloe will be home schooled it is important to tackle this stuff early.

As a side note I will offer this as an example of my bona fides as a classics geek: early on I had thought of simply creating a series of courses based on the Roman model of the litterator, grammaticus and rhetor, but on further reflection I thought better of it.

So with that bit of introduction, the question is, how do you teach the history of Rome?

Well, you have to admit that for a modern American it is difficult to understand the length of Roman history, which, if you consider the eastern portion of the empire and its demise in 1453 CE (we normally call these people the Byzantines), stretches well over two thousand years (if you take as a starting point 753 BCE). That’s partly why you cut Roman history off at 476 CE (when Romulus Augustilus is dethroned as Western Emperor) – simply to make the topic manageable. Further, late antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Byzantine Empire are significantly different from the Roman world so as justify an entirely different course on the matter.

So clearly, even if you cut off Roman history at 476 CE, you have to figure out a way to organize the subject matter so as to make it intelligible and manageable (particularly for a young person). Otherwise anyone dealing with the topic is simply going to be swamped by the enormity of the subject matter. And this is true of most areas of study – an overall skeleton or plan of attack has to be created in order to get your arms around the subject matter. I think of it as creating a “hook” by which to grab onto a subject; a base by which to build greater understanding. That’s how I have learned everything I know at least; taking a kernal of knowledge and connecting it to lots of other dispersed bits of knowledge.

So here is what I plan to do in a nutshell. First, separate Roman history into three master-topics. Namely, politico-military history, social-cultural history and the history of art/science/literature in the Roman world. Then create outlines relating to each master-topic and attach primary and secondary documents to those outlines. Importantly you start with politico-military history for obvious reasons – it provides a sufficient way to attack the chronology involved here. The other master-topics are amorphous enough that it would be more difficult to do that with them. And of course the fact is with history periodization and chronology are important concerns.

So, how far have I gotten? Well, tonight I just finished the bones of the first master-topic, namely the chronology itself. From there I will fill in the blanks so to speak; I imagine it will take me roughly a month or two to create a workable first draft of the politico-military history of Rome. I will follow that with the second master topic, where I will discuss Roman attitudes, mores, folkways, practices, beliefs, etc. on a number of topics – everything from adoption to apartment living to religious worship to burial practices to parties to common recipes (on recipes one can think of Worcestershire sauce as being essentially a creation of the classical world). The third master-topic is self-explanatory.

Wish me luck.

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