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Unit information: Pagan Religions of the Roman Empire in 2017/18

Unit name Pagan Religions of the Roman Empire
Unit code CLAS17003
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Sandwell
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The ancient city of Rome had its own distinctive set of religious practices and institutions that we can call Roman religion. Acquisition of empire brought the imperial city and its religion into contact with numerous other pagan 'religions', including Greek religion, the religions of the western provinces and numerous 'mystery' or 'oriental' cults. The transition from republic to empire also introduced new religious experiences to Rome in the form of the imperial cult and the reorganization of Roman religion around the sole ruler. This unit will explore the main characteristics, institutions and practices of Roman religion, before turning to the other 'pagan' religions of the Roman empire. It will seek to understand the nature of pagan religions in the early empire, to compare this with modern, Judeo-Christian understandings of religion and to put under scrutiny the very meaning of terms such as 'religion', 'pagan' and 'belief'.



1. To convey the chief characteristics of the pagan religions of the Roman empire and to explore how these religions were different from the religions of the modern, western world.

2. To familiarize students with the main types and bodies of evidence available for the study of the pagan religions of the Roman empire and to give them the tools to analyse those sources.

3. To enable students to question what is meant by religion and to develop new concepts and intellectual tools for analysing religion.

Intended learning outcomes

1.Have a good knowledge of the varied sources available for studying the pagan religions of the Roman Empire as well as the best way to make use of these sources.

2.Have developed a good knowledge of the specific characteristics of the pagan religions of the Roman imperial period and an understanding of how to approach these.

3.Be able to use the knowledge acquired in lectures and through their own researches to construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on different aspects of the subject.

4. Have had an opportunity to develop their skills in oral and written communication, in small groups and general discussion, and in an essay and a written exam.

Teaching details

1 hour of lecture, 1 hour of discussion based teaching a week.

Assessment Details

1 essay of c. 2,000 words (50%) and a 1 and a half hour exam (50%).

Reading and References

  • M. Beard, J. North and S. Price, Religions of Rome vols. 1 and vol. 2 1998.
  • S. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, 1984.
  • J. B Rives, Religion in the Roman Empire, 2007.
  • J. R�pke, The Religion of the Romans, 2007.
  • R. Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire, 1992.