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Roman Imperial History 31 BC-AD 138 - 30 credits (HS3317)

Staff: Guy Bradley, Kate Gilliver

The Principate created by Augustus ended the civil wars of the late Republic, and ushered in a new monarchical form of government that is often considered to have reached its apogee in the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian. This module uses historical writings and contemporary documents and monuments to examine the course of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties and their successors, and how under their control the Empire experienced a period of relative peace and prosperity. It considers the main developments and events of the period in Rome and the provinces, and charts the increasing importance of Rome's provinces, both socially and politically. In addition, the course examines the images and ideologies of imperial government created at Rome, and the extent to which this government was accepted or rejected in the provinces.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn and spring semesters in alternate years
Teaching: 30 lectures and 6 seminars
Assessment: one essay (35%); two class tests (15%); one 2-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • the major literary sources, including Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Martial, Juvenal, and the Res Gestae
  • other relevant types of source material, including epigraphy, archaeology and numismatics
  • the establishment of the Principate and its evolution over this period; the civil wars of AD 69, and the consolidation of the principate under the Flavians and their successors
  • the course of succession, the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties and their successors, and the character of individual emperors
  • the elite: senators and equestrians and the development of a 'civil service'
  • developments in the provinces and on the frontiers; the economy of the empire
  • relationship of emperor with the plebs, provinces and army
  • changing religious and moral ideologies
  • the image of the emperor and the imperial household


  • To study the establishment of the Principate under Augustus and the working of the new system with its new values and structures under Augustus and his successors.
  • To enable an understanding of the politics and society of the late first and early second centuries AD and the various influences from within and from outside the empire affecting them.
  • To achieve a critical appreciation of the rich and varied source material for the period, and in particular to use literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence together.
  • To marry the evidence of contemporary documents to that of later historical narratives, particularly the works of Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Tacitus and the Younger Pliny.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the political, military and social developments throughout the Roman Empire as well as the various internal and external factors that influenced them.
  • an ability to handle, with historical knowledge of the period, the available sources, including poetry, inscriptions and monuments as well as contemporary and later historians.
  • an awareness of historiographical issues in studying material which is distorted by bias, self-censorship and governmental constraints.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in assessed work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Primary sources

Texts to be bought:
Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, Penguin Classics
Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Oxford
Letters of the Younger Pliny, Penguin

Purchase recommended:
A. Cooley, Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Text, Translation and Commentary (2009)
M. G. L. Cooley, The Age of Augustus (2003)

Preliminary reading

R. Alston, Aspects of Roman History AD 14–117 (1998)
M. Goodman, The Roman World 44 BC–AD 180 (1997)
D. Potter, A Companion to the Roman Empire (2006)
R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939)
C. Wells, The Roman Empire (2nd edition, 1992)

More advanced:
Cambridge Ancient History, vols X and XI (2nd editions)
F. Millar, The Roman Empire and its Neighbours (2nd edition, 1981)
F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (2nd edition, 1992)
P. Garnsey & R. Saller, The Early Principate: Augustus to Trajan (1982)
W. Eck, The Age of Augustus (2003)
K. Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus (2005)
B. Levick, Tiberius the Politician (1976)
A. Barrett, Caligula: the Corruption of Power (1989)
B. Levick, Claudius (1990)
M. Griffin, Nero, the End of a Dynasty (1984)
B. Levick, Vespasian (1999)
J. Bennett, Trajan: Optimus Princeps (1997)
A. Birley, Hadrian, the Restless Emperor (1997)

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3316 Conquest and Crisis: the Roman Republic

HS3331 Roman Religion

HS4358 Life in Ancient Rome

HS4363 Houses in Roman Italy

HS4367 The Roman Army