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Ancient Romans at Work and Play: Reconstructing the Past

Instructor: Crispin Corrado [see profile]
Disciplines: History, Classics

The life of the ancient Romans was guided by two important concepts, otium, or leisure time, and negotium, a more structured use of time that we may associate with work of varying kinds. A good Roman life could, and often did, include both. This course will explore Roman daily life and the many activities associated with both otium and negotium. The business of ancient Rome was largely conducted in the central and market areas of the city, and we will study the ancient Roman Forum, the ancient river port in Rome and its associated features (wharves, warehouses, and rubbish heaps), as well as the ancient port city of Ostia. The leisure time of the aristocracy was noticeably different than that of the poor. They often spent leisure time in a relaxing environment outside of the city, such as villas, where they could pursue all types of activities deemed beneficial to the mind and body. The poor, instead, tended to stay in Rome, and spend their unstructured time at state-sponsored events and venues such as the games held in the Flavian Amphitheater, or at a monumental bath complex, such as the Baths of Caracalla. Alternatively, they would congregate in small taverns or popinae, or they might just sit on the stairs of a city building and play a game. We will visit and study the places where the Romans spent their leisure time, and we will and study more closely the activities themselves.

Throughout the course, too, we will remain conscious of the question, "How do we know what we know about the ancient Romans?" As we attempt to get to know the Romans by studying what they have left us in terms of physical and literary remains, we will discuss how much of what we "reconstruct" together from the evidence can ever be secure, and how much must remain debatable. This course will include visits to Rome-area museums and sites, and special outings to the Roman cities of Ostia and Pompeii.


  • a midterm
  • an object description assessment
  • a paper (6 pages)
  • a final exam