Recent Doings in the Roman Senate

I’ve not posted on the goings on in the Rome class for a bit, I realize. The reason for that in part is that we’ve been gearing up for a “Reacting to the Past” game, which started last week. Reacting is a pedagogy that requires students to take on a historical role and argue from that postion. Reacting started at Barnard College and McDaniel is a member of the Reacting consortium. Many faculty here at the college have used this pedagogy in courses ranging from FYS, to SIS, to English Comp as well as in upper level major courses. To read more about Reacting, check out www.barnard.edu/reacting.

The game we’re using in the Roman art class is entitled “Beware the Ides of March: Rome in 44 BCE.” It is still in develoment (meaning not published) and written by two classicists – Keith Dix and Carl Anderson. The game is set after the assassination of Julius Caesar. *Right* after; indeed, the *day* after.

The students in my class are all Roman senators (and one Cleopatra!)and have a mixture of feelings about Caesar. The students read texts by Cicero, Suetonius, Plutarch and others that they use to support their positions in speeches that they give in the Senate.

I chose to use this game — in an art class — because one of my goals for the class is for them to think about the Roman urban environment and what it would have been like to live in it. Rhetoric was so important to the Romans – and power was linked to speaking well and often. They are getting a chance to live that.

They are also dealing with real world problems. In the last Senate meeting they had to put down a mob that seized the gardens that Caesar gave to the public through his will. But the mob was getting rowdy. As my class knows, there is no police force in Rome, and the population was about 500,000 people. When “my” Senators decided to go “ask” the mob to disperse, I was a bit worried. The day before their way of dealing with this unruly mob was to give them wine and have some games in the arena. Finally Octavian offered to take some troops out to set things right. But now some are fearful that Octavian may use his troops to march on Rome….and he is Caesar’s adopted heir. What might he want?

The students are clearly engaged and while the game has some structural problems, which will get worked out over time, they have done well. Still two more meetings of the Senate, during which they’ll need to decide what to do with Caesar’s Acta, and how to deal with the assassins, who some call liberators!

Stay tuned.

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