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CLAS 420 A: Freedom In Ancient Rome And The Modern World

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
SMI 105
Joint Sections: 
Alain M. Gowing

Syllabus Description:

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Freedom in Ancient Rome and the Modern World

Spring Quarter 2022 *** TTh 10:30-12:20 PM ** Smith 105




➜3/22/22: In accordance with the University's most recent directive about SQ '22 classes (3/8/22), this class will be taught entirely live and in person.  Attendance in class is expected.


Professor Alain M. Gowing

Spring Quarter Office Hours: Office hours for Spring Quarter will be by Zoom on the following days/times (and by appointment -- email me at;

Mondays, 11 AM - 12:

Wednesdays, 9-10 AM:

Course description:  Freedom – libertas, in Latin – was a fundamental concept in ancient Rome, central throughout its history to, and in all aspects of, its political and social life.  Indeed, the word libertas became literally synonymous with (that is, a name for) the ‘Roman Republic’.  This course examines 'freedom' in ancient Rome, from its founding in the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD, when Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire.  Through selected readings in both primary and secondary sources, we will examine the various forms of freedom important to Romans and how their views evolved (or remained the same) over time, specifically: personal freedom (including slavery), political freedom, religious freedom, and intellectual freedom (i.e., the freedom to write or say what one wants).  In addition, however, we will also examine various perspectives on ‘freedom’ expressed in the modern world, including (but not limited to) the United States, and what they owe or do not owe to Roman concepts.  Readings in Orlando Patterson’s landmark book Freedom, an historical overview of the concept, will provide a benchmark for this, but will be supplemented by other readings as well.

Required texts and readings:

  • Readings drawn from various primary sources (=ancient authors), including: Plato, Cicero, Livy, Horace, Seneca the Younger, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Epictetus, Appian, Marcus Aurelius, Cassius Dio, St. Augustine, etc.. (This list is provisional and subject to change and emendation!)
  • Patterson, Orlando.   Volume 1: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. Harper Collins 1991. PLEASE note that this book is NOT currently available in electronic form.  You WILL need a print copy of it.  If you plan to enroll in this class, you should obtain a copy BEFORE the quarter begins -- you will need it starting Day 1 of the quarter.
  • Powell, J., trans. (2009) Cicero. The Republic and the Laws. Oxford World's Classics.  Oxford University Press.  An e-version of this book is available from the publisher and through other sellers.
  • Additional readings in various secondary sources will be supplied or are readily available online through the UW Libraries (links will be provided on Canvas as needed) 

Course requirements:

  • (40%) successful completion of any 4 of 8 short, weekly ‘response’ papers (click HERE for a description of these papers and what's expected). For 8 of the 10 weeks, you will be asked to write a 'response' to the week's readings; the requirement for each of your four papers is '2 pages or 1 hour, whichever comes first'.  For each week I will post a guide to the week's readings, specifying various issues and questions to which I want you to give your attention and which may help you think in a directed way about the readings; I will also post the specific writing assignments under 'Papers' in the Assignments section.
  • (30%) 2 quizzes, each 15%. These will essentially serve to evaluate how well you are processing and retaining the information provided in the reading, and to some extent how effectively you are learning to think and write critically about the material.  The quizzes will be given online via Canvas in Weeks 5 and 9 respectively and will be available over a period of several days. You will be allowed to consult your texts and notes. General description of these quizzes may be found HERE.
  • (30%) In lieu of a standard final examination, you will write an 6-10 page paper, due no later than 6 PM (PT) on the date of the final exam (Tuesday, June 7, by 6 PM [PT]). Throughout the quarter I will keep and post a list of suggested topics, but you are encouraged to come up with their own ideas. Details available here as of May 2.

Learning Objectives.  At the conclusion of this class, you will be able to:

  • Think and write critically about fundamental perspectives on and ideas about ‘freedom’ in ancient Rome as expressed by a broad range of Greek and Roman writers and examined in variety of scholarly studies.
  • Relate the Roman material to a broad selection of ideas and perspectives on ‘freedom’ in the modern world, including (but not limited to) the United States from its founding to the present day.
  • Think and write critically about the role of ‘freedom’ in four essential areas: personal freedom (including slavery); political freedom; religious freedom; and intellectual freedom.
  • Acquire the foundations for a historically and culturally informed appreciation of and sensitivity to a seminal concept in the development of Western and non-Western societies

Important UW policy-related things to know:

  • UW Language on Face Covering in the Classroom (COVID): This is the current (as of 3/8/22 ) UW Guideline on masks:

"Following changes to state and local health policies, masks will become optional inside most University facilities starting March 28, the first day of spring quarter. Masks will continue to be required in clinical and other health-care settings and on public transportation, including UW shuttles. The UW Face Covering Policy will be updated to outline these specific settings. Please note that mask and testing policies for unvaccinated students and personnel are still under review and will be communicated prior to March 28. Additionally, UW locations and facilities not specified in state, local or University face covering policies should not set their own mask policies.   ...Because many people will be returning to campus from travel over spring break and mobility will be increasing in general, we strongly recommend wearing masks indoors during the first two weeks of spring quarter. Please monitor yourself daily for symptoms and stay home if you are sick. It’s also strongly recommended to get tested after travel."

For the full statement of the University's guidelines for Spring Quarter, click HERE.

  • The UW's Religious Accommodations Policy: “Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (Links to an external site.). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (Links to an external site.).”
  • The UW's Student Conduct Code: "The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at" (Links to an external site.)
  • Access and Accommodation: Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


Tentative schedule of reading and materials to be covered:

NB: This is merely a rough outline of the principal topics to be covered.  Each week I will post to this page/space on Canvas a weekly assignment (I will post this well in advance) that will include the primary and secondary readings to be covered as well as identify a few specific issues to think about in connection with that reading. You will probably get the most out of each lecture if you have done the assigned week’s reading prior to listening to the lecture.

You may find my 'Blackboard', PowerPoints, and other documents (other than texts) I use during lecture HERE.

Introduction (Week 1):

Detailed assignment for Week 1

Political freedom (Weeks 2-4):

Detailed assignment for Week 2

Detailed assignment for Week 3

Detailed assignment for Week 4

Personal freedom (including slavery) (Weeks 5-7):

Detailed assignment for Week 5

Detailed assignment for Week 6

Detailed assignment for Week 7

Intellectual freedom (Week 8): 

Detailed assignment for Week 8

Religious freedom (Week 9):

Detailed assignment for Week 9

Retrospective reflection (Week 10):

Detailed assignment for Week 10

Tuesday, June 7: FINAL PAPER due by 6 PM

Catalog Description: 
Examination of the concept of 'freedom' in Ancient Rome, from its founding in the eighth century BC to the fourth century AD. Special attention to comparing the Roman perspective with some modern views of 'freedom', including (but not limited to) the United States from its founding to the present day. Recommended: HSTAM 111, 302, 312, or 313; CLAS 122, 320, or 329 Offered: jointly with HSTAM 420; AWSpS.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 18, 2022 - 4:29pm