Nipissing University

HISTORY 2055  -- Ancient Civilizations


Revised November 29, 2005

Instructor: Dr. Steve Muhlberger
Office: H-312
Office Phone: 474-3461 ext 4458
Home Phone: 776-1247

What this course is about:

The subject of ancient history is vast, since most of humanity's existence qualifies as ancient. We will look at only a selection of topics to keep things manageable. Our focus will be on the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and the Mediterranean -- not because they are necessarily the most important, but because they are relatively well known and form the background for later European history. In the course of the year, we will examine social, political and economic topics, emphasizing the institutions and ideas that organized ancient societies.

We will especially be interested in Greek and Roman civilization, because they have consistently provided later generations with food for thought.

Required Books:

David Christian:  Maps of Time:  An Introduction to Big History

Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress

Apuleius, The Golden Ass

Aristophanes, The Birds and Other Plays

Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars

Xenophon, The Persian Expedition

Recommended Writing Manual:

Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History.  The answer to the question "What kind of footnotes do you want?" is "Look it up in the Rampolla book."


The course grade will be based on 2 papers, a midterm exam, and the final exam.

Each paper will be  8-10 pages.  Detailed assignments will be distributed later, and will be linked to the electronic version of  this document.

 In addition, you will be reading excerpts from primary sources (documents written during ancient times) throughout the year. The excerpts will be distributed to you via the Internet, which is by far the most flexible and cheapest way.   All students have Internet access through the university, but if you foresee a problem, please let me know.

1. First Paper  -- due Nov. 4 -- 25%

2. Midterm exam -- Dec. 7 -- 20%

3.  Second Paper -- due Feb. 15 -- 25%

4.  Final examination -- 30%


Course Outline -- Lectures and Required Readings

You will be asked, in connection with most lectures, to read an excerpt from a primary source.   Passing the midterm and final exams will depend, in part,  on your ability to discuss source excerpts intelligently.  Similarly, your second term paper will be an analysis of a primary source and reading and thinking about primary sources throughout the course will be good practice for you.

The source excerpts have brief introductions.   I have also provided questions to help you understand what is interesting about them.

Some of the source excerpts are in the Ancient History Sourcebook or elsewhere on the web.   For those excerpts, my questions are in the course outline below.

Some of the excerpts are on the Nipissing University web site (marked NU).   Go directly to the document to find my comments and questions.

See the home page for the course for links to lecture notes and outside sites that may be of help.

Sept. 12 Introduction to the course

Sept. 14 Prehistory to the Agricultural Revolution

Sept. 19 An Early Town -- Catal Huyuk

Sept. 21 General Characteristics of Mesopotamian Civilization

Umma and Lagash
These documents are good examples of the earliest "historical" writing of Mesopotamia.   In what sense are these documents "history?"  What seems to be important to the writers and their audience?   What are the limitations of the documents as records?
Sept. 26 Sumer and Akkad to the Time of Sargon
The Legend of Sargon of Akkadê
Sargon of Akkade was perhaps the first ruler to conquer all of  Sumer and Akkad.  What do we learn about Sargon from this document?
Sept. 28 Gilgamesh
Hymn to Shamash
A Prayer to Every God and Goddess
Discuss early Mesopotamian religious ideas in the light of these two prayers.
Oct. 3  Nomads and Citizens in the Second Millenium B.C.
Epilogue of the Code of Hammurabi (NU)
Oct. 5  Men and Women in the Second Millenium B.C.
Family Law in the Code of Hammurabi (NU)
Oct. 10 & 12 -- Thanksgiving and Fall Study Week

Oct. 17   Early Egypt

The Palette of Narmer
What do we learn about the earliest Egyptian monarchy from this artifact?
Oct. 19   Pharoahs and Pyramids
The Dead Pharaoh Ascends to Heaven
What are the chief religious ideas and values present in this document?   What if anything does this tell us about the ordinary history of early Egypt?
Oct. 24  Early Developments -- Metalworking 

Oct. 26  Early Developments -- Writing

Oct. 31  Civilization Spreads to the West

Reports of Minos and Knossos
These documents date from the 1st/2nd c. A.D. and the 5th century B.C.   What problems are there with using them as evidence for Cretan history?   How much difference would it make if these documents had been lost?
Nov. 2  Akhenaten
Akhenaten:  The Hymn to Aten
The Kadesh Battle Inscriptions of Ramses II (NU)
The Hymn to Aten is sometimes seen as a important turning point in human religious history.   What do you think?
Nov. 7  Ancient Israel
Abraham's Covenant (NU)
The People Demand A King (NU)
Nov. 9  The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires
The Assyrian Army Attacks a City
Tiglath-Pilaser's inscription (NU)
Description of Babylon (NU)
Nov. 14  Cities of the Western Mediterranean
Hellenes & Phoenicians
Once again, we have a Greek document written much later than the events it describes.   What can we learn about the history of the early Mediterranean from it?
Nov. 16  Politics in Archaic Greece
Documents of the Hoplite Revolution
Solon: Select Fragments
For the first reading:   Make the connection between military service (or capability) and the developing idea of citizenship.   What are the rights and privileges of the citizen?   For the second reading:   Solon was an aristocratic Athenian who was given the task of rewriting the Athenian constitution in a situation of threatening civil war.   What are Solon's political ideals?   What political methods did he think would be effective in attaining them.   What did he think of the demos?  What does demos mean?
Nov. 21  Sparta and Athens
Xenophon:  The Polity of the Spartans
Xenophon was an aristocratic Athenian who wrote after the defeat of his home city by the Spartans.   Why does he have such a sympathetic view of the Spartans?   What does he think makes "a good man?"   Are the virtues of the Spartans different from those of other Greeks,  or similar?
There will be no lecture on "The Republics of Ancient India" but you can read about them at:

Nov. 23  The Persian Empire

Cyrus the Great: The Decree of Return for the Jews
Compare the policy of Cyrus to that of Tiglath Pileser (Nov. 1 reading).   What are Cyrus' intentions?   How did the Jews interpret his policy?
Nov. 28  The Persian War
Demaratus on the Spartan Conception of Freedom
Discuss Demaratus' concept of freedom.   How much do you think other Greeks of the 5th c. B.C. would have agreed with him?
Nov. 30  Periclean Athens
Pericles' Funeral Oration
Thucydides' History of the Pelopennesian War includes this famous speech, attributed to the Athenian leader Pericles.    Compare this speech to Xenophon's discussion of the Spartan polity (written more than  a generation after Pericles' death).    In what ways are Pericles and Xenophon in agreement?   Where do they disagree?
Dec. 5   Peloponnesian War
Thucydides: Civil War in Corcyra
Thucydides gives a picture of bloody political conflict in Corcyra and elsewhere in Greece.   What were the issues that produced such conflict?   What characteristics of Greek life encouraged or allowed civil wars to spring up?
Dec. 7  Midterm exam

Jan. 9  The Trial of Socrates
                            Use the Internet or the library to look up the background for the Trial of Socrates.
Jan. 11  Early Rome and Carthage
Livy:  Institutions and Defense of the Roman Republic
(Selection from Book 2 only) Livy recorded the classic stories of the early Roman Republic as the Republic fell under the rule of emperors in the late 1st c. B.C.   What, for Livy, constituted Roman freedom?   What means were necessary to maintain it?
Jan. 16 The Macedonian Conquest of Greece
Diodorus Siculus:  The Battle of Chaeronea
Letter of Alexander the Great to the Chians
First reading:  What seems to be the advantage enjoyed by Philip of Macedon when fighting Athens and other Greek cities?  Second reading:   What does this letter tell us about the political changes made by Philip and Alexander in Greece?    What can be said about the democracy restored to Chios by Alexander?
Jan. 18 Alexander's Conquests
Plutarch:  Life of Alexander (NU)
Jan. 23 The Successor States and Hellenistic Culture
Athanaeus: The Great Spectacle and  Procession of Ptolemy II
Theocritus: Fifteenth Idyll
Both of these readings portray aspects of life in Alexandria, a Greek city founded in Egypt after Alexander's conquest.    What do we learn about Greek life in the new areas of conquest from these excerpts?   How does Alexandria differ from the cities of Old Greece?
Jan. 25 The Greek Heritage: Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics
Life of Hipparchia
We often think of Greek philosophers as early scientists or intellectuals.  What does this text show us about "philosophy?"
Jan. 30 The Roman Conquest of Italy

Feb. 1 The Punic Wars

Polybius: Rome and Carthage Compared (NU)
Feb. 6   The Conquest of Greece and the Roman Response to the Greeks
Plutarch:  Life of Marcus Cato (NU)
Feb. 8  Roman Imperialism
Slavery in the Roman Republic
What do these excerpts tell us about the conditions that slaves lived under, and about attitudes toward them?
Feb. 13  Origins of the Roman Revolution: The Gracchi to Sulla
 Plutarch:   Life of Tiberius Gracchus (NU)
Feb. 15 Roman Warlords -- Marius to Caesar
Sallust:  Life in Rome in the Late Republic
On what did Sallust blame the troubles of the Republic in his time?  If he had been able to talk to Livy about them, would they have agreed?   What made possible the rise of a man like Cataline?
Feb. 20 & 22  Study Week

Feb. 27  The Victory of Augustus

The Deeds of the Divine Augustus
This is Augustus' account of what he did for the Roman people.   Who were the Roman people at this time?  What did Augustus think had pleased them?   How does this list compare to other lists we've read?
Mar. 1  The Empire of Augustus
Petronius Arbiter:  The Banquet of Trimalchio
This excerpt describes a fictional banquet and cannot be taken literally.    What do you think the original audience would have found funny or telling, and why?   What social information can we gather from it?
Mar. 6  Latin Literature
Juvenal: Satire VI (On Women)
Pliny the Younger: The Decline of Oratory
Horace:  We All Must Die
These excerpts may seem to focus on "decline"(a constant Roman worry)  but look at them also for indications of the function of Roman classical and "Silver" literature.
Mar. 8   The Arena
Seneca: The Gladiatorial Games (NU)
Mar. 13  The Early Emperors
Tacitus:  Tiberius Becomes Emperor (NU)
Mar. 15  The Jewish War and the Birth of Christianity
Paul:  Letter to the Galatians (NU)
Mar. 20  The Good Emperors
Pliny and Trajan:  Correspondence
What do these letters tell us about the methods of government, the strengths, and the weaknesses of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century A.D.?
Mar. 22  Egypt and Gaul: Two Roman Provinces in the 2nd Century
Claudius: A Discourse  in the Senate
Egypt under the Roman Empire
What does the first reading tell us about Roman attitudes to the empire and its peoples?  What does the second reading tell us about conditions in Egypt (especially local life and government) under the Romans.
Mar. 27  The Military Emperors
Herodian of Syria:  How Didius Julianus Bought the Empire at Auction
What does this incident tell us about institutional and cultural change in the empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries?
Mar. 29  The Spread of Christianity
The Roman Attitude toward Foreign Religions
Can a consistent Roman attitude about religion be seen in these excerpts?
Apr. 3  The Age of Diocletian and Constantine
Certificate of Having Sacrificed to the Gods
Eusebius: The Conversion of Constantine
What does the first document tell us about the Later Roman Empire?   How would you relate the first and second readings?
Apr. 5  The Christian Empire
Theodoret: St. Ambrose Humiliates Theodosius the Great
What is the significance of this incident?   Does it mark a turning point in religious or political history?