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 OneIntroduction. 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 TwoThe 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 ThreeThe 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 FourThe 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 FiveThe 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 SixAnarchy 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 SevenThe new foundation. Octavian (Augustus) through Hadrian (to the death of Plutarch) [Assigned reading: Seutonius, "The Twelve Caesars"; Plutarch, Life of Galba, Life of Otho.]