The Demented Despots of Ancient Rome

This class has passed
This class has passed

What’s it all about?

Do you like your history chock full of sex, violence, paranoia and farcical murder attempts? If so, come and learn about some of the maddest emperors ever to rule over Ancient Rome! During the period 14 – 222 AD, several of Rome’s emperors were paranoid, power-hungry tyrants who thought nothing of cross-dressing, incest, matricide, fratricide, uxoricide, and the odd bit of self-deification. You’ll hear these stories, learn a bit about interpreting ancient sources, and find out if Caligula really did appoint his horse as co-emperor. Come for the gossip, stay for the crazy, leave with a whole new perspective on the ancient world.

What will we cover?

In this class, we will look at the case studies of six Roman emperors who are considered especially insane. We’ll read the ancient texts and discuss some of the most extreme stories. We’ll also watch some modern films and TV shows to see how these stories are depicted. You will also learn which activities were considered particularly heinous to the Romans, and which activities were seen as comparatively benign. The results may surprise you!

You’ll also learn a bit about how to interpret historical texts, and to understand their biases. We’ll look at the ancient biographers themselves to see if there was any personal animosity towards emperors (hint: there was) and we’ll examine alternative theories for some of the more outlandish imperial behaviour. You’ll leave with some knowledge about Roman society and culture, as well as a bunch of great dinner party stories to tell.

Who will be teaching?

Avalon has a Bachelor of Arts in History, as well as a Postgraduate Diploma in Classical Studies and Archaeology from the University of Melbourne. After deciding that she wasn’t already nerdy enough, she is now learning Latin and writing academic articles about Roman history. In her spare time she reads whodunits, but never manages to guess the murderer.