Ancient Rome History Essay Questions



Please write an essay of 5 pages which addresses one or two of the topics given below. The essay is due on the first Monday after spring break. The purpose of this essay is to show that you can take a wide range of information from class lectures and various readings and synthesize them into a coherent account of the development of civilization in the late Republic and transition to Imperial rule. I will be glad to discuss your papers with you and offer suggestions. Please make use of all the different sources, the textbook, the works of Suetonius and Plutarch,  and my lectures.  Please make an effort to include primary sources (Suetonius and Plutarch) directly whenever possible.

You do not need a separate bibliography unless you are using sources beyond the required texts. You may use whatever citation system you prefer (footnotes, end notes or parenthetical notes) as long as you are consistent. Illustrations are not required but page numbering is required. I expect 5 pages of  text.  If you find that your paper is 8 pages long that’s fine, but I won’t have much sympathy for a 3 and ½ page paper which includes 2 pages of illustrations and more bibliography as part of the page count! Graduate students should prepare a longer, more detailed paper (10-12 pages). Remember:you must submit both a hard copy to me and a electronic version to the website Please see the course syllabus for instructions.


Your paper should aim to show the main historical developments during the last century of the Republic and the transition to Imperial rule under Augustus.  Stress should be placed on the major historical figures and events which destroyed the Republic. Historical development– how things changed over time– is also very important.

Topic 1) The Republic in Crisis: Marius, Sulla and the rise of Great Men

During the last century of its existence, the Roman Republic was dominated by powerful and ambitious political warlords like Marius and Sulla whose political and military actions eroded and destroyed the Senate’s authority and the principle of shared power.  Describe the rise of these men and analyze their role in the civil wars at the end of the Republic.  Demonstrate how their actions violated the principles on which the Republican system of government was based. In what ways did they contribute to the rise of the first Emperors of Rome?  How did the Senatorial system discredit itself as a viable system of government during their careers?  What was the role of the Army in all of this? What social, economic and political problems festered in Rome while the Senate and warlords fought for control and how did these problems contribute to the breakdown of the system?

Topic 2) The Civil Wars & the Rise of Julius Caesar

What happened in the aftermath of Sulla’s retirement as Dictator?  His reforms to the Republican system of government ultimately failed. Why?  What led to the formation and dissolution of the first Triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus & Caesar?  Why was Caesar ultimately victorious?  Was his aim to become “king” as his detractors claimed?  How did he rule once he had defeated Pompey and gained absolute control of the state? How have ancient historians like Suetonius and Plutarch portrayed his rise to power? Was he fortunate, a political and military genius or both?

Topic 3) Beyond the Great Men: Why the Roman Republic Fell

Behind the story of the Great Men and their military conquests, ruthless political struggles,  vanity and ambitions, the Republic was not destroyed by one man (Julius Caesar) or even by several (Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Mark Anthony and Octavian). What role did the actions by and political divisions within the larger ruling class of Senators play in destroying the Republic. How did the growth of Rome’s empire and the economic and social disruptions this caused lead to a larger crisis in Roman society? Finally, how were the seeds of its own destruction built into the Republican system of divided government and fierce competition for political power and prestige? If Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar had never existed or never rose to power, would the Roman Republic have survived for another century or two or was it doomed by its own contradictions and by problems it was unable to solve?

 Topic 4) From Octavian to Augustus: the Death of the Republic & the Rise of the Principate

After Caesar’s death, how did his nephew Octavian rise to political power?  How did he overcome the much more experienced and seemingly powerful Mark Anthony to become master of the whole Roman world? After gaining sole power, how did Octavian, now Augustus, maintain the fiction that he had restored the Republic? Why did he pretend that he was anything other than a king?  How did Augustus bring stability to Rome, Italy and the Empire’s vast holdings?  How did Augustus lay the foundations of the Imperial system of government?

  1. Describe how the geography of Italy affected Roman civilization. Compare this with the effects of geography on Greek civilization.
  2. What did Roman civilization obtain from the Greeks?
  3. Why was it so difficult to bring about major changes in the law in the old Roman monarchy?
  4. Tradition says that the overthrow of the Roman monarchy in the sixth century B.C.E. was a revolt against a foreign oppressor. What other and more important factors contributed to that overthrow? What were its results?
  5. What effects did the wars of the Early Republic have on Roman civilization?
  6. The plebeians had a number of grievances, and won a number of apparent victories. How significant were the changes that came from their struggles?
  7. Compare the religion of the Romans with that of the Greeks.
  8. How did Rome's victory in the Punic Wars contribute to fatal problems for Roman civilization?
  9. How did Cicero's political philosophy differ from that of the earlier Stoics?
  10. Why did Stoicism have a stronger appeal to Romans than Epicureanism?
  11. Show how the political troubles of the Principate were an outgrowth of the civil strife of the late Republic and of the nature of the Roman constitution.
  12. Discuss the flaws in the economy of the Principate.
  13. What were the major accomplishments of Julius Caesar?
  14. Describe the position of women of the upper class under the Principate.
  15. In what way was the "natural law" a concept superior to the "civil law"?
  16. "For all their achievements in engineering, the Romans accomplished little in science." Justify this assertion.
  17. How did the Roman attitude toward manual labor contribute to the decline of Roman culture?
  18. Explain the statement: "Roman history is the real beginning of Western history as we know it."
  1. Do you agree with the authors that the similarities between Roman civilization and our own are overstated? Why or why not?
  2. The art and architecture of a people usually reveal a great deal about their aspirations, ideals, and character. With this in mind, compare Roman art and architecture with any of the following: a) Egyptian; b) Aegean; c) Assyrian; d) Hellenic.
  3. "Even without political problems the Roman Empire would probably have been fated to extinction for economic reasons." Discuss the validity of this statement.
  4. Read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and compare with Hellenistic Stoicism.
  5. Compare in as many ways as you can Ancient Rome and the United States. (You may wish to consult, among other works, Guglielmo Ferrero's Ancient Rome and Modern America.)
  6. Attempt to determine the extent of Etruscan influence upon Roman society and culture.
  7. Machiavelli (Discourses on Livy, I, 37) asserted that the Gracchan agrarian reforms and the dissension which they led to were a prime cause of the decline of the Roman Republic. Do you agree?
  8. In assessing the causes of Rome's decline, compare Toynbee's discussion (A Study of History, Vol. I, Part IV: "The Breakdown of Civilizations") with Rostovtzev, History of the Ancient World, Vol. II, Chap. XXV: "Causes of the Decline of Ancient Civilization."
  9. How was Roman civilization modified by contact with other peoples? Were these contacts beneficial or detrimental to Rome?
  10. Why were Roman achievements in the field of law so outstanding?
  11. How do you account for the fact that the Romans made little advancement in science despite the fact that the vast contribution of Hellenistic science was at their disposal?
  12. What do you think were the chief drawbacks of the civilization of ancient Rome?
  13. Examine in detail the various theories regarding the decline and fall of the Roman empire.
  14. In The Revolt of the Masses (Chap. 14), Jos� Ortega y Gasset identified Julius Caesar as one of the two "really clear heads" of the ancient world. Evaluate Ortega's judgment in the light of Roman history and of later European history.
  15. If appropriate to your locale, examine the influence of Roman architecture on contemporary Western buildings.

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