2018-2019 Catalog

CSLC 142 Prostitutes, Prophets, Soldiers, and Slaves: Non-elite culture in ancient Rome

This course attempts to recover the largely forgotten perspectives, experiences, interests, voices, and cultures of non-elite people in the Roman world, that is, the entire Mediterranean from 133 B.C.E. to 476 C.E. Today, we usually see Roman history and culture from the perspective of Rome’s elites, because the bulk of the surviving texts were written by or for elites. We shall steer a different course, examining texts and material artifacts produced by, for, or about ordinary people. Topics include Roman childhood and the Roman family, kinship relations, mothering and motherhood, child-rearing practices, children’s experience, the death of kin and commemorative practices; the economic circumstances of ordinary Romans, the nature of work, the terms of lending and borrowing, the experiences and cultures of slave-holding and of enslavement; women’s roles as girl (puella), girlfriend (amica), wife (matrona), prostitute (meretrix), and witch (venefica); sex, sexuality, and dirty songs; the people’s entertainments, such as theater, games, gladiator shows, and popular literature; popular politics and the role of the crowd and common person in public life; the culture of soldiering and the experience of peoples at the borders of empire; popular religious phenomena and the appeal of prophets, priests, and holy men in such movements as Isis worship, Mithraism, and Christianity. The goal of the course is for students to emerge with a holistic understanding of the details of and scholarly theories about non-elite culture in the Roman world, and hence with a heightened ability to identify and critically analyze contemporary discourses about “low” versus “high” culture, which most often remain entirely implicit.  


4 units

Core Requirements Met

  • Regional Focus
  • Pre-1800