Fall 2019 (Deactivations ONLY)
Ancient Med Empires
What constituted an empire in antiquity and how was imperialism legitimized? Which measures were used to maintain and organize imperial power? How did foreign rule affect the daily life of people all over the Mediterranean? In this course we will discuss and compare ancient empires from Achaemenid Persia to Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic kingdoms of his successors to the emergence of Rome as one of the most successful and influential empires in world history. Topics that will be discussed include ancient ideas and concepts of imperial rule, patterns of political, economic and cultural power and their interrelations as well as imperial crises and local resistance. All texts will be discussed in translation. There are no prerequisites.
CLST 146 - Ancient Mediterranean Empires
Your department or program fields a variety of courses to meet distinct educational needs. Please explain how this course fits into your department's plan for participating in the general education curriculum of the College. The sector panel will want to know what is distinctive about this course along with the other courses your department lists in the sector that makes them suitable for the sector requirement.
Prof. Wilker's comments on "Place in the Curriculum" below already address much of what I would have said about the course's role for students beyond our major and indeed beyond SAS. This course has been taught virtually every year since 2012, and it has attracted a great deal of interest from students, but has remained capped fairly low (20-30). Now that the demand for this course has been demonstrated, we are increasing the cap to 50, adding a TA, and offering it as a component of the History & Tradition curriculum in the College. We believe it has a unique role to play in making accessible a topic of broad concern within ancient studies.
Course usually offered in Fall term
History & Tradition Sector
Within the College curriculum, and also as an opportunity for students in other schools such as Wharton or Engineering, the course provides an opportunity for students to consider a topic of general contemporary interest (empire, imperialism) in a context that is historically distant, involves both western and eastern examples, and is often prone to over-simplification or misunderstanding.
Within the Department of Classical Studies, the course serves as a sequel to other general courses such as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, inviting more cross-cultural comparison and more specific theorization of empire and imperialism. In this course, students are required to interpret ancient history using a broad set of evidence involving multiple languages, media, and conventions.
The main goal of this class is to engage students in thinking about various forms of imperial rule in antiquity and beyond. To this end, it introduces them to seven different empires, spanning a period almost 1000 years, and encourages students to take a critical, analytical approach towards power relations and organization of imperial rule as well as representations and perceptions of political and social hierarchies.
The comparative approach teaches students to consider and distinguish different modes of imperial control and analyze their similarities and differences from the perspective of the central power and the viewpoint of those subjected to this power. Since the class examines empires from the eastern and western Mediterranean, the course also discusses cultural confluences and encourages students to assess and challenge commonly held assumptions critically.
Through a focus on interpreting ancient evidence from various perspectives, students realize that our modern reconstructions of (ancient) history are the result of an analytical process. Over the course of the semester, they become familiar with the methodological tools that allow them to engage in such an interpretative process.
3 short response papers (1000-1200 words)
1 final essay (10 pp.)
1 Midterm, closed-book, in class.
Participation in class and through posts on the Canvas discussion boards
Sector II - History and Tradition
All lectures and discussions of the class are based on and centered around primary sources. Students are introduced to different types of evidence, ranging from literary sources and inscriptions to documents, pieces of art, and material culture and learn to read them from different perspectives. In class, we model interpretative approaches by going through text passages sentence by sentence and detail by detail. Strong emphasis is laid on intended and implied messages and how representations of imperial rule would have resonated with different audiences. Over the course of the semester, students become increasingly familiar with these lines of interpretation and practice them in the classroom discussion, on the discussion board on Canvas, and in the short response papers.
Four times the semester, the students work in groups to discuss how an event described in a literary text, an imperial proclamation preserved in an inscription, or the visual representation of a Roman emperor would have been interpreted from a certain perspective, depending on a certain cultural background, social status, or a specific socio-political agenda. In the following general discussion, each group shares its respective reading. Through this exercise, the students become familiar with different modes of interpreting primary evidence depending on the questions that are asked and the approaches that are taken.
The course covers a lot of material, yet it does not focus on a narrative of events. Instead, the readings, lectures, assignments, and discussions in class are centered around a structural analysis of each empire. To provide students with the necessary background and context needed for such an analysis, each unit begins with a historical overview. The assigned readings for the first week dedicated to each empire already offer a concise overview and historical introduction for the respective unit. This general narrative is picked up again in the introductory lecture for each unit, highlighting those events and turning-points that are significant for the following in-depth discussion of the respective imperial rule. Through this approach, even students without any previous background in ancient history are put in a position that allows them to follow and contribute to the discussion, contextualize the primary sources that form the basis of these discussion, and conceptualize the issues that are discussed.
All of the class discussions are organized around case-studies that speak to each other both within the respective unit and in comparison with other empires that have been discussed earlier in the semester. For each empire, two or three specific regions serve as such case-studies, allowing the students to discover overarching imperial strategies and distinguish local responses. Certain key regions such as Egypt, Judea, Babylonia, and Asia Minor serve as case-studies for different empires and thus reappear numerous times over the course of the semester. Students can thus compare the respective empires in much greater detail, drawing on what they have learned about a previous empire’s approach to this region. This comparative framework allows students to contextualize the various types of imperial rule and their expression in the primary evidence both synchronically and diachronically.
The syllabus and the weekly discussion board on Canvas highlight questions that will guide the students’ reading of the primary sources and scholarly readings assigned for the respective class. Each class is then organized around two or three central questions that we approach together from different angles, assuming different points of view, and using different sets of evidence. The discussion board on Canvas provides the students with a forum to add comments pertaining the readings or follow-up on the classroom discussion; they are also encouraged to use the board to pose questions they would like the class to address. Over the course of the semester, students become more and more confident not only in weighing in but also in developing their own questions, increasingly taking ownership of the discussion in the classroom.
Visual and material objects are featured in every unit and, in fact, in every single class. The material evidence that we use for our discussions ranges from visual representations of the Persian Great King or the Roman emperor to symbols of power minted on coins, from the reconstruction of road networks as a measure of imperial control to the visual effects of monumental inscriptions in a rural marketplace. Over the course of the semester, students become acquainted and increasingly comfortable in reading visual representations from different perspectives. They learn to interpret different modes of signifying hierarchy and power relations, discover cross-cultural adaptations of style, and distinguish between different types of audiences.
While material culture plays a significant role in all classes, this emphasis is made even more explicit in Week 14 of the semester, when both classes are held in the Penn Museum. On these days, the class (split into smaller groups) visits the Middle Eastern, Greek, Roman, and Upper Egyptian Galleries to look at several objects that are of relevance to the themes discussed in class. Several of these artifacts will have already been discussed in earlier classes; seeing the actual objects on display makes the students remember the issues and interpretations discussed in class and thus also serves as a review of content covered in earlier parts of the semester.
During this week, the students also have to set aside some time to visit the Penn Museum again on their own in preparation for the third short writing assignment. For this essay, they have to choose three objects on display in the Roman Galleries. Based on their observations and further research using the Penn Museum’s database and some additional resources, they write a report on these objects and presenting a concept of how these objects could be featured in the context of an exhibition on the Roman Empire. This exercise encourages students to not only interpret an artifact in its broader historical context, but in turn also think about how an abstract such as “empire” can be represented through objects.
Over the course of the semester, students write three short response papers that give them the opportunity to explore further some of the approaches discussed in class and practice different modes of academic writing. For the first of these assignments, they are asked to provide a close reading of a primary source passage that relates to some of the core characteristics discussed for the Persian royal court. For the second essay, students write a response to a scholarly article. They have to summarize the argument, engage critically with it, and assess its approach for our modern reconstruction of the imperial goals of Alexander the Great. The third short writing assignment finally asks them to engage closely with three artifacts from the Roman Gallery in the Penn Museum (see above). For this essay, students are encouraged to think creatively how the artifacts they have chosen could be used to communicate one central aspect of the Roman Empire in the context of an exhibition. This exercise puts them in the position of communicating what they have learned so far in a different context and allows them to take greater ownership of their interpretation.
With these three short essays, students are well prepared for working on their final paper. For this, they can choose among four different prompts. Each of these prompts asks them to compare the Roman Empire to one of the other empires discussed in class in regard to one particular aspect (role of the army, ruler cults, role of urban centers and cultural change, presentation of imperial rule). They thus have to review material discussed earlier in the semester and out it in direct comparison with the recently discussed Roman Empire. For each prompt, students are provided with relevant primary and secondary sources; they are also encouraged to draw on the portfolio of primary sources assembled over the course of the semester, the secondary readings previously assigned, and the shared comments on the Canvas discussion board.
In the first two classes, we establish a core of central features and questions that are to be explored for each of the empires in question. This catalog is developed together with the students based on a comparison of some key passages from relevant primary sources and modern definitions of “empire.” Each unit also follows a stringent model of alternating between the perspective of the central power and the imperial subjects. This model provides students with a firm framework to assess and analyze each of the empires in question. The diachronic comparison of empires, in general and even more so based on returning key regions as case-studies, allows the students to analyze the confluences and differences, how imperial powers emulated their predecessors or learned from their mistakes. Whereas this framework remains stable for the whole semester, the catalog of questions still needs to be adjusted and adapted for each units. Students are made aware of these adjustments and realize that they are necessary to analyze the change of imperial concepts over time adequately. In the last class, we return to the notes the students made in the first week and reassess how their own assumptions and definitions have changed.
For the central catalog of features and questions that the class develops in the first week, we use a set of various definitions of “empire” from encyclopedias from the 19th to the 21st century. Already through this comparison, students are made aware of the changing notion of empire in general and the how the perceptions of ancient empires have changed over the past century alone.
Through the focus on different perspectives, especially by juxtaposing how certain events or representations would have resonated with different audiences, students come to realize that our modern reconstructions of ancient history are based on a careful analysis of primary evidence. Whereas changes in modern interpretations are highlighted throughout the semester, we return explicitly to these issues in the context of the Roman Empire. In week 13, one part of class is dedicated to comparing modern approaches towards the phenomenon of “Romanization” and cultural change. In this unit, we compare interpretations of Roman imperial rule from the early 20th century with assessments from the 1970s and early 2000s, each representing a different stage in modern scholarly interpretation. These issues are picked up again in the last week when we discuss the reception and remembrance of Roman rule and local resistance against the empire in modern-day Britain as a case-study.