Roman Republic & Empire Discussion Questions

August 29: Early Roman History Discussion
Readings: Livy 1, The Twelve Tables

  1. What does Livy consider to be the main purposes of history, and how objective and accurate does he feel he needs to be?
  2. How does Livy know about the regal period? What clues does he give us to his sources?
  3. Which stories told by Livy are reminiscent of other stories you may have heard, and why?
  4. What does Livy’s account of the regal period suggest about the Roman character? Based on the stories Livy recounts, what themes seem to be important to Rome’s conception of her own history?
  5. What does it tell us about the Romans that the 12 Tables remained valid law for the entire history of Rome?
  6. What do these laws tell us about the state of Roman society in the mid-5th century? Pick out a couple of specific examples from the tables.

September 12: Polybius Discussion
Readings: Polybius 1, 3 (excerpts), 6

  1. What does Polybius tell us about his subject and approach, and why does he begin his history where he does? How does Polybius’ view of history differ from Livy’s?
  2. How believable are the reasons Polybius gives us for Rome’s involvement in Sicily?
  3. Why does Polybius think understanding the First Punic War is important for his main theme?
  4. What do you think of Polybius’ discussion of the causes of wars and the framework he gives. What does he regard as beginnings, pretexts, causes? Why does he provide this analysis? How well does it apply to any other war you might know about?
  5. What role does Polybius seem to assign to Fortune in the outcome of the Punic War, and how does it relate to the nature of the Romans and Carthaginians themselves?
  6. What is Polybius’ account of the Roman constitution supposed to explain, and how successful is he?
  7. How is Rome’s constitution “mixed” and how stable is it?
  8. How well does the account of the regal period in Livy I fit (or not fit) Polybius’ understanding of government and how it eventually fails?
  9. How might the organization of the Roman government not be as great a check on one group’s gaining power as Polybius thinks?

October 1: Cicero Discussion
Readings: Cicero: Speeches against Catilina, In Defense of Rufus, In Defense of Milo

  1. What is the position of Pompey (Pompeius) in Rome according to these speeches? Does it change in the 15-year interval between On the Command of Pompeius and the Defense of Milo? What can we glean about Cicero’s own relationship with Pompey?
  2. How does Cicero portray finances and economic conditions in his speeches? What does this show about money, finances and their place in the turmoils of the late Republic?
  3. What do Cicero’s speeches show about the nature of the aristocracy? How does Cicero compare it to Rome’s past?
  4. How does Cicero use the example of Catilina and the Catilinarian conspiracy in his later speeches?
  5. What do Cicero’s speeches reveal about the young men of Rome? Does Caelius Rufus seem to follow the patterns laid out in the Catilinarians?
  6. What can we glean from Cicero’s speeches about Clodius, Clodius’ base of support, and Clodius’ plans for Rome? Does Cicero try to account for Clodius apparent popularity at all?
  7. How does Cicero present himself, his achievements, and his character in these speeches? What effect might this have on his audience?
  8. How does Cicero’s tone and approach differ between the speeches addressed to the people (On the Command of Pompey, 2nd Speech Against Catilina) and to the Senate (1st Speech Against Catilina)?

October 5: Civil War and Aftermath
Readings: Caesar: Civil War (excerpt), Cicero: In Support of Marcellus, First Philippic

  1. How does Caesar justify invading Italy at the start of the Civil War? Does he come across as reasonable, or do his enemies seem to have been justified in forcing the issue?
  2. How does Caesar portray his own character and how does he contrast himself with his enemies?
  3. How does Caesar portray the Roman aristocracy, and how well does this fit what we have seen in the speeches of Cicero?
  4. How does Cicero’s praise of Caesar in the In Support of Marcellus compare with his praise of Pompey 20 years earlier? How does it compare with Caesar’s portrayal of himself in The Civil War?
  5. What is the state of the Roman aristocracy in the In Support of Marcellus as compared to the earlier speeches?
  6. How is Caesar depicted in the 1st Philippic? What, according to Cicero, were Caesar’s crimes, and why is Antonius worse?
  7. In the First Philippic, does Cicero leave open any chance of compromise or reconciliation with Antonius?
  8. In the final summation, why does the Republic fall?

October 22: Augustus Discussion
Readings: Res Gestae, Suetonius: Life of Augustus, Tacitus: Annals 1.8-11, Cassius Dio 53, 56.29-47

  1. For whom was the Res Gestae intended? How successful is it at accounting for the facts of Augustus' life? How convincing is it?
  2. How much does the image of imperial power given by Dio (esp. in 53) differ from what emerges in the Res Gestae?
  3. What does Augustus' seem to be the most proud of in the Res Gestae? What understanding of the aims and purposes of his reign can we gain from it?
  4. How does Augustus reconcile absolute rule with the Republican ideal?
  5. How does the Res Gestae depict Augustus' foreign policy?
  6. How do the four different summations of Augustus' life (Dio, Suetonius, Tacitus, and the Res Gestae) differ in their portrayals? Is it possible to reconcile them? Can we ultimately understand Augustus?

October 26: Tacitus Discussion 1
Readings: Tacitus: Annals 1.1-81, 2.41-43, 2.53-88, 3.1-19, 3.22-30, 3.52-72, 4.1-22, 4.27-41, 4.52-67, 6.1-27, 6.45-51

  1. Why does Tacitus, who is famous for writing with passion and with an agenda, claim to write "without indignation and partisanship"?
  2. Does Tacitus admire Germanicus, or not? How does Germanicus' performance compare to that of Drusus? How do you rate Germanicus' handling of the mutiny? Why does Tacitus give Germanicus so much attention?
  3. How do the various German leaders (especially Arminius, note his obituary) serve as foils for the Romans and what is Tacitus trying to tell us about the state of Roman civilization through these Germans?
  4. What role does Sejanus play in Tiberius' reign? Is he entirely a negative influence, or does he exercise any restraint on the emperor?
  5. How does Tacitus compare, directly or indirectly, the Republic with the Principate? Note especially 3.25-28.
  6. What are Tacitus' purposes in writing history? Look especially at 4.32-33, but also at the ends of the individual books. What other passages are revealing about why Tacitus writes history? What messages might Tacitus have for his readers?
  7. What is Tacitus' basic picture of the reign of Tiberius? (Be prepared to identify specific passages which relate to this issue) How effectively does this analysis account for the facts that Tacitus presents? How does the obituary of Tiberius at the end of 6 fit into this?
  8. What, in Tacitus' view, is the duty of a senator under an emperor like Tiberius?

November 5: Tacitus Discussion 2
Readings: Lyon Speech, Tacitus: Annals 11.1-12.69, 13.1-7, 13.11-29, 13.45-52, 14.1-22, 14.29-65, 15.23-25, 15.33-74, 16.1-35

  1. Compare the Lyon Speech with Tacitus' version. How does Tacitus rework what Claudius says? What does this show about how ancient historians deal with their material? Does Tacitus make the speech stronger? Does he support what Claudius is saying? Note also 12.6
  2. Tacitus has four very prominent female characters in these later books: Messalina, Agrippina, Poppea, and Boudicca. How are the four contrasted and what does Tacitus want us to take away about the proper role of woman and the state of Rome and the Romans?
  3. How does Tacitus set up the reign of Nero to parallel that of Tiberius? Based on Nero, what qualities define a good emperor?
  4. What is Tacitus’ opinion of the Stoic philosopher Thrasea Paetus and his manner of opposing Nero? How does this compare to the role the Stoic philosopher Seneca plays?
  5. Why is the Pisonian conspiracy so important? Based on the figures Tacitus portrays in the conspiracy and aftermath, what are the qualities he admires, and does any figure truly merit unadulterated admiration? What can we draw from all this on Tacitus' views on the duty of a senator under a bad emperor?
  6. How does Tacitus portray the Britons (and the Germans) compared to the Romans?
  7. How does Tacitus define Liberty, and how does this relate to his views on the Republic versus the Principate?

November 16: Tacitus Discussion 3
Readings: Tacitus: Agricola, Germany

  1. Based on the life of Agricola, what is the duty of a senator under a bad emperor? Is this consistent with what we saw in the Annals?
  2. What qualities in the Britons does Tacitus particularly emphasize? How are they similar/dissimilar to the Romans?
  3. How would Tacitus define “civilization?” Is Agricola portrayed as bringing civilization to the Britons?
  4. How does Agricola contrast with Calgacus? Does Calgacus bear any similarity to other Roman enemies Tacitus has portrayed?
  5. How does Tacitus' portrayal of the Britons compare with the Germans? What does he admire most about the Germans?
  6. How does the landscape influence the nature of the Germans?
  7. How do the Germans of the Germany compare to the Germans of the Annals? What does Tacitus want his Roman audience to take away from his portrayals of the Germans?