SOCS 634

Nicholas Adams and Laurie Nussdorfer

The Eternal City has been transformed many times since its legendary founding by Romulus and Remus. This course will present an overview of the history of the city of Rome in antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque period, and modern times. Co-taught by a historian and a historian of architecture the class will examine the ways that site, architecture, urbanism, and politics have interacted to produce one of the world’s densest urban fabrics. The course will include extensive study of Rome’s major architectural and urban monuments over time (e.g., Pantheon, St. Peters, the Capitoline hill) as well as discussions of the dynamic forms of Roman power, religious and secular.   In addition to visual evidence we will make use of literary and historical texts, documents, and film. All readings should be completed prior to the beginning of the course.

Written Assignments

3 page paper on Virgil’s Aeneid, due on day 1
3 page paper on The Life of Cola di Rienzo, due on day 2
Two in-class visual analysis exercises (day 2 and 3)
Final research paper (8-10 pages plus bibliography) due 21 July


Christopher Hibbert, Rome: The Biography of a City
John Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City
Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. A. Mandelbaum
The Life of Cola di Rienzo, trans. John Wright
Borden Painter Jr., Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City

Course Packet

The course packet can be ordered on line from Printing Plus ( Look for the Wesleyan icon and the course number SOCS 634 (n.b. courses are not listed in alphabetical order).

Contact Information

Nicholas Adams (
Laurie Nussdorfer (

Course Schedule

From the Seven Hills to Augustan Rome

We get acquainted with the site of the city of Rome and explore the evolution of its government and architecture from prehistoric times (8th c. BCE) down through the Roman republic. We end with the reshaping of the city by Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE), who laid the foundations of future imperial rule, and with his poet Virgil, whose epic Aeneid gave Romans a cultural claim to rival the Greeks. 


Hibbert, Rome: The Biography of a City, chs. 1, 2
Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City, chs. 1-4, 7, 13
Virgil, The Aeneid (trans. Mandelbaum), bks. 1, 8, 11, 12 

*Paper topic (answer based solely on Virgil’s poem): What do gods and goddesses want from mortals? Does piety pay?


From the Emperors to the Revolution of Cola di Rienzo 

We look at Rome and its monuments in the heyday of the emperors, especially Hadrian (117-38) and Constantine (312-37). We then trace the remarkable transformation of the city under the impact of Christianity, charting the rise of the Bishop of Rome to hegemony over the western Catholic Church, the development of pilgrimage sites, and the creation of a papal monarchy with Rome at its head. We conclude with the papacy’s departure from Rome in the 1300s and the local Roman attempt to restore the ancient republic led by Cola di Rienzo (1347-54).


Hibbert, Rome, chs. 3-6
Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City, chs. 6, 12
The Life of Cola di Rienzo, trans. J. Wright
Packet: Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City, excerpt 

*Paper topic (answer based solely on The Life of Cola di Rienzo): What specific Roman places, traditions, individuals, or texts from Rome's "double past" (classical and Christian) does Cola di Rienzo mobilize for his revolution?


The Renaissance, Counter-Reformation, and Baroque

The dream of returning to the grandeur of antiquity powered the Renaissance in Rome from 1450 to 1520, but the Protestant Reformation sparked a backlash and the remaking of Rome as a militant Catholic icon (1550-1600).  Emerging from this process in the Baroque period (1600-1700) Rome became a model early modern capital city emulated throughout Europe (and eventually its colonies) not just as a religious symbol but also as a leader in architecture and the arts. 


Hibbert, Rome, chs. 7-12
Packet: Petrarch, Familiar Letters, excerpt           
Raphael and Castiglione, Letter to Leo X            
Hersey, High Renaissance Art in St. Peter’s and the Vatican, ch. 3
Gregory Martin, Roma Sancta, excerpt
Girouard, Cities and People, ch. 6           
Krautheimer, Rome of Alexander VII, excerpt


From Traveler’s Destination to Capital of Italy

Images of Rome in the graphic arts gave the city a significance and impact far beyond its walls. In the morning we will see prints by Piranesi in a visit to the Davison Art Center. After looking at how Roman ideas (and ideas of Rome) influenced foreigners in the 1700s, we turn in the afternoon to the revolutionary changes in the city’s urban form after it became the capital of united Italy in 1870. 


Hibbert, Rome, chs. 13-16
Packet: Boswell on the Grand Tour, excerpt (Rome, 1765)           
Goethe, Italian Journey, excerpt (Rome, 1786-87)
Hall, Planning Europe’s Capital Cities, 255-62


Mussolini’s Rome 

The week culminates with the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s extraordinary attempts to renew the imperial glory of Rome. We will examine his dramatic transformation of the city in the 1930s and its influence on the face of  the present-day city. 


Hibbert, Rome, ch. 17
Painter, Mussolini’s Rome