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The Roman Empire: introducing some key terms
The Roman Empire: introducing some key terms

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1 Preliminary exercise

Before you start work on this course, please watch the video sequence ‘Introducing the Roman World’ below. This visual introduction will introduce many of the terms to be defined in this course and set them in context. It will also show the kinds of sources you might work on for evidence of culture, identity and power in the Roman Empire if you continue to study this topic. You may wish to replay this short sequence as you work on the course, but for now enjoy looking at the wide range of ideas and material it shows!

Exercise 1

In the sequence you will hear a reading from Virgil, Aeneid 1.279, ‘To Romans I set no boundary in space or time. I have granted them dominion and it has no end’.

To help you focus quickly on some of the central questions as you watch, answer the following questions:

How did Rome see its role in the world?

What key questions follow from this?

Introducing the Roman world (video 8 minutes)

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Introducing the Roman World
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The answer to the first of these questions is that Rome saw its role as an imperial power with a mission to civilise the rest of the world. This was certainly the view held by Romans such as Pliny the Elder (whose comments are paraphrased in the video sequence), and men who thought and wrote about the empire and went out to the provinces as governors and officials. But the empire involved many other, ordinary people of various cultural backgrounds, and this raises two key questions: what impact did the empire have on them, and what did it mean to be ‘Roman’? As you will soon discover, we must not make easy assumptions about who is described by this term. The Romans I mention above were all people associated with Rome itself and with the imperial authorities there – a small elite group. But in what sense did those who were not part of this group consider themselves ‘Roman’? This question is central to the course.

The period covered by the course is roughly from the middle of the first century BC to the early part of the third century AD, and material from many parts of the Roman Empire will be examined.