AP/HIST3135 3.0 M: Spectacle and Society in Ancient Rome

Offered by: HIST

(Cross-listed to: AP/CLST3135 3.0M )


Winter 2025






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

This course traces the development of gladiatorial presentations, chariot-races and other public spectacles in Rome, Italy and the Roman Empire from 200 BC to 400 AD. It concentrates in particular on their changing nature, scale and socio-cultural function.

Course Start Up

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    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details


    Expanded Course Description

The course traces the development of gladiatorial presentations, chariot-races, and other public spectacles in Rome, Italy and the provinces of the Roman Empire from c. 200 B.C. to A.D. 400.  It concentrates on their changing nature, scale and socio-cultural function. Themes explored include: the social, political, cultural, religious and penal importance of public spectacles in Roman society; their economic organization; the diffusion of Roman public spectacles in the wider Mediterranean world, Roman imperialism and cultural change; the geographical origins and social status of gladiators, charioteers and other public performers; cultural attitudes towards gladiatorial presentations and other public spectacles at Rome.  The course involves study of a wide range of primary source material –literary sources, inscriptions, iconographic and archaeological evidence– and a selection of the scholarly literature on public spectacle in the Roman world.

    Required Course Text / Readings


Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars

A selection of various types of ancient sources (passages from literary work; extracts from legal texts, selected inscriptions, coins and archaeological and iconographic sources)


Eckhard Köhne & Cornelia Ewigleben, Gladiators and Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome (2000)

A selection of articles and book chapters about Roman spectacle and society

    Weighting of Course

*TENTATIVE Grade Breakdown*

Source Analysis             15%

Term paper                      40%

Final examination         35%

Class Participation       10%

    Organization of the Course

The course will be organized in weekly three-hour sessions, flexibly divided into formal lectures and more informal class discussions.

    Course Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students should have demonstrated an ability to:

  1. acquire detailed knowledge of the development of public spectacle in ancient Roman society (Rome, Italy, and the Roman provinces) from the mid-Republic to Late Antiquity and develop an awareness of the limited and contested nature of that historical knowledge;
  2. identify, describe, and analyze the various methodological and theoretical approaches to this field;
  3. handle relevant primary sources – literary, inscriptional, visual, archaeological, and numismatic – and demonstrate an understanding of the specific nature of each type of source, identifying and assessing the problems that arise in using them;
  4. read and critically assess some of the modern scholarship on public spectacle in Roman society, and demonstrate an understanding of some of the important debates and disagreements in this scholarship, developing an ability to critically evaluate critically these discussions;
  5. write clear and effective essays, making use of different sources and following appropriate standards of presentation, and communicate knowledge effectively in examination answers;
  6. make effective oral presentations of material relevant to the course in tutorials.
    Relevant Links / Resources