Nipissing University

HISTORY 2055  -- Ancient Civilizations


Revised March 24, 2008

Now available:  Fall term study sheet

Booklist for winter term paper

Assignment sheet for winter term essay

Study sheet for final exam.

 Instructor: Dr. Steve Muhlberger
Office: H-312

Office Hour:   Wed. 4 pm
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:

  • First Term (buy both)

Bryan Ward-Perkins,  The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization

Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress

  • Second Term (you will buy one book, from a list TBA)

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. 6 -- 25%


The first paper will be an extended comparison of two books, Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and Wright’s A Short History of Progress, both of which draw large conclusions from ancient history.  More details on the assignment to follow.

2. Midterm exam -- Dec. 4 -- 20%

Study sheet

3.  Second Paper -- due Feb. 7 -- 25%

The second paper will be an analysis of a primary source.  The following sources may be used (all available in Penguin Classics translations):

Julius Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul (usually called The Gallic War)

Euripides, Medea and Other Plays

Plautus, The Pot of Gold and Other Plays

Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome

Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

4.  Final examination --  April TBA -- 30%

The final exam will focus on material from the second term.

 Returning papers:   When I have finished grading an assignment I will bring all the papers back to class once.   If you are absent, you must come to my office after class or during office hours to pick up your paper.  

Course Outline -- Lectures and Required Readings

Lecture notes for this course can be found on-line at /muhlberger/2055/anclect.htm.


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.

Sept. 6  Introduction to the course

Sept. 11 Prehistory to the Agricultural Revolution

Sept. 13 An Early Town -- Catal Huyuk

Sept. 18 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. 20 Sumer and Akkad to the Time of Sargon


The Legend of Sargon of Akkadę

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. 25 Gilgamesh


Hymn to Shamash
A Prayer to Every God and Goddess

Discuss early Mesopotamian religious ideas in the light of these two prayers.

Sept. 27  Nomads and Citizens in the Second Millenium B.C.


Epilogue of the Code of Hammurabi (NU)


Oct. 2  Men and Women in the Second Millenium B.C.


Family Law in the Code of Hammurabi (NU)

Oct. 4   Early Egypt

The Palette of Narmer


What do we learn about the earliest Egyptian monarchy from this artifact?


Oct. 9 & 11 -- Thanksgiving and Fall Study Week


Oct. 16   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. 18  Early Developments -- Metalworking 

Oct. 23  Early Developments -- Writing

Oct. 25  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?

Oct. 30  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. 1  Ancient Israel


Abraham's Covenant (NU)
The People Demand A King (NU)


Nov. 6  The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires


The Assyrian Army Attacks a City
Tiglath-Pilaser's inscription (NU)
Description of Babylon (NU)




Nov. 8  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. 13  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. 15  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. 20  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. 22  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. 27  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?

Nov. 29   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. 4  Midterm exam

Jan. 8  The Trial of Socrates

              Use the Internet or the library to look up the background for the Trial of Socrates.

Jan. 10  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. 15 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. 17 Alexander's Conquests


Plutarch:  Life of Alexander (NU)


Jan. 22 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. 24 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. 29 The Roman Conquest of Italy

Jan. 31 The Punic Wars

Polybius: Rome and Carthage Compared (NU)


Feb. 5   The Conquest of Greece and the Roman Response to the Greeks


Plutarch:  Life of Marcus Cato (NU)


Feb. 7  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. 12  Origins of the Roman Revolution: The Gracchi to Sulla


 Plutarch:   Life of Tiberius Gracchus (NU)


Feb. 14 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. 19 & 21  Study Week

Feb. 26  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?

Feb. 28  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. 4  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. 6   The Arena


Seneca: The Gladiatorial Games (NU)


Mar. 11  The Early Emperors


Tacitus:  Tiberius Becomes Emperor (NU)


Mar. 13  The Jewish War and the Birth of Christianity


Paul:  Letter to the Galatians (NU)


Mar. 18  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. 20  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. 25  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. 27  The Spread of Christianity


The Roman Attitude toward Foreign Religions

Can a consistent Roman attitude about religion be seen in these excerpts?

Apr. 1  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. 3  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?