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New Undergraduate Course Supplement 2022

GOVT 86.50 Roman Political Thought: Freedom, Law, and Empire

This course provides students with a broad overview of Roman political thought, with attention to how it has come to shape our own political landscape.  Our central focus will be on how Romans explored, and struggled with, the problem of ambition.  Perhaps more than any society, before or since, Romans were preoccupied with ambition, which they understood to be more than just ‘desire for power.’  Romans understood ambition to be an insatiable appetite for dominance, which could drive a person to insanity and precipitate unspeakable horrors, and they dealt with it accordingly – as an exceedingly dangerous passion that cannot be allowed to roam freely, lest it destroy everything in its path.  But they also recognized that, when appropriately molded and shaped, ambition could prove to be a source of extraordinary political accomplishment; and furthermore, they believed the genius of their own society was (or had been) its capacity to do just that.  Our study of Roman political ideas will aim to recover and explore this perspective, with a view to what it might have to offer us today.

Distributive and/or World Culture


The Timetable of Class Meetings contains the most up-to-date information about a course. It includes not only the meeting time and instructor, but also its official distributive and/or world culture designation. This information supersedes any information you may see elsewhere, to include what may appear in this ORC/Catalog or on a department/program website. Note that course attributes may change term to term therefore those in effect are those (only) during the term in which you enroll in the course.