Rome, from the Decline of the Republic through the Rise of the Empire,
through the writings of Plutarch.
Plutarch of Chaeronea lived about A.D. 46-120 as a Greek in the Roman Empire. He was a teacher and philosopher and a continuing
influence on the best minds of later generations including Shakespeare, the U.S. Founding fathers, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. His
works include several pieces ranging from philosophy to natural science to practical guides of the self-help type
(known collectively as the Moralia. Of his Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans 46 parallel lives and
four 4 single lives survive.
Why read Plutarch's Lives? There are many reasons; for this class it is his interest in character.
Purpose of this class is not to compare Plutarch's version of history and biography with that of other ancient or modern investigators.
In this course of study of seven weekly 90 minute sessions we'll explore the background
the events and persons who brought about the fall of the Roman republic and the first hundred years of the Empire.
|Week One||Introduction. Rome from its legendary founding in 753 B.C., through the
establishment of the Republic and growth to republican empire. Topics
touched upon include:
Rome's rise in Italy and the spread of her influence;
Vanquishing the threat from the Gauls who sacked Rome in 390 B.C. and
the wars with and final defeat of rival Carthage;
The political institutions of the republic; and
The religion of the republic.
[No assigned reading for the first session.]
|Week Two||The social fissures in the Republic. The struggle between optimates and
populares. Urban vs. rural. The increase in the servile population and the
displacement of poor but free Romans. Concentration of wealth. Attempts to
fit the governmental tools of a village republic to a far-flung empire.
[Assigned reading: Plutarch, Life of Tiberius Gracchus and
Life of Caius Gracchus.]
|Week Three||The threats from without. The Social War. The Celtic and Germanic
uprisings. Great military leaders who crushed the foes but failed to solve
Rome's internal problems.
[Assigned reading: Plutarch, Life of Marius
and Life of Sylla.]
|Week Four||The Crisis. Stubborn ideologues block all reform. Even some of the best
men of the time can't see the need for reasonable reform and so contribute
the fall of the republic. Political theory matched with rhetoric shows a way
out, but with few allies in the battle, even the noblest minds cannot save
the Republic. [Assigned reading: Plutarch, Life of Cato Minor
and Life of Cicero.]
|Week Five||The center cannot hold. The transition to autocracy.
[Assigned reading: Plutarch Life, of Caesar
and Life of Brutus (through
Ides of March, 44 B.C.); Caesar, "Commentaries on the Wars in Gaul" (selections).]
|Week Six||Anarchy is loosed. The destructive power of unbridled sensuality. The
dire prospect for a people left with no leader with vision.
[Assigned reading: Plutarch, Life of Brutus (from Ides of March 44 B.C.),
Life of Antony.]
|Week Seven||The new foundation. Octavian (Augustus) through Hadrian (to the death of
Plutarch) [Assigned reading: Seutonius, "The Twelve Caesars"; Plutarch,
Life of Galba,
Life of Otho.]