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The Roman Republic: The Virtue and Fragility of a Republic  

Douglas Kenning We begin with Romulus killing his brother and founding a village of shepherds and farmers. Then, women end a regional war, a woman’s virtue ends Etruscan domination, and a Republic is born. Plebeians (the 99%) force the patricians (the 1%) to share power, reshaping the Republic into one that the American Founding Fathers imitated. Greek art, architecture, literature, law, and religion arrive to reshape these bumpkins into civilized citizens, who nevertheless continue to stand on a bedrock of uniquely Roman agrarian civic virtue. Ever more powerful, they conquer Greeks and Carthaginians, despite Pyrrhus and Hannibal. But power corrupts and the Republic falls apart in civil war, as Julius Caesar is assassinated, Antony and Cleopatra die in each other’s arms, and Octavian rises from the chaos, astride the world as Caesar Augustus. Class 1: Beginnings. We begin with Bronze Age Italy, the major sources of our history, the Æneid, and the legendary foundation of Rome by Romulus & Remus. Kings rule Rome and the city grows by aggressive acts against neighboring peoples. Rome is conquered by Etruscans leading to a dynasty of Etruscan kings. Finally the Etruscan Tarquins. are expelled, kingship abolished, and a republic set up. Class 2: Inventing a Republic. A look at government, laws, and social classes, showing how the republic is dominated by the aristocracy, the 1%, until they are forced grudgingly, step-by-step, to share power with the rising middle classes. Power in the hands of the people leads, of course, in time to despotism. Class 3: Entering the Game. As it absorbs its neighbors, Rome finds itself increasingly embroiled in big power central Mediterranean politics with Etruscans, Greeks, and Carthaginians. We look at the Roman military and the power of roads. Class 4: Winning the Game. Roman expansion southward leads to wars against the Greek poleis (city-states) of southern Italy and their champion, Pyrrhus. Winning this, Rome almost backs into a regional conflict with Syracuse and Carthage that turns into the hundred-year war against Carthage (the three Punic Wars). Rome emerges from this crucible a dominating superpower. Classes 5: Hellenization of the Romans. We will look at how folks live and worship in the Roman republic, and how Greek culture--arts, philosophy, architecture, literature, religion—overwhelms them. Class 6: Republics Die by Civil War. The Roman value system, based on an agrarian, village society, does not survive the power and wealth of empire, multicultural rule ,and imperial administration. Ironically, because the middle classes have political power means that military men begin to dominate government Simultaneously, the “golden age” of Roman literature arrives It is a time over-shadowed by overweening egos: Sulla, Cicero, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cleopatra VII, and Octavian. Douglas Kenning (PhD, Edinburgh) has taught at universities in Tunisia, Japan, and Italy. Besides a university professor, he has been a biologist, actor, army officer, Manhattan taxi driver, academic administrator, and writer. He divides each year between the Bay Area...lecturing on Mediterranean histories and cultures, and Sicily...where he runs Sicily Tour, a small tour guide business.


  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State University
    835 Market Street, Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
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