Impact of an Empire

Then and Now
The Roman Empire was one of the greatest and longest-lasting in world history. Within its huge territory, Rome ruled over an enormous diversity of tribes and groups with vastly different ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. This course looks at how the empire impacted those pre-existing communities. How did conquest and incorporation into the Roman Empire change the lives of individual people at grass-roots level?
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor, open to professionals
Session 3
28 July to 11 August 2018
Recommended course combination
Session 1: Decolonizing Europe: History, Memory, Redress (with Brown University)
Session 2: The Heart of Capitalism: Amsterdam 1600-PresentLaws in Antiquity: Crime and Punishment in the Ancient World
Co-ordinating lecturerDr Ton Derks
Other lecturersDr Joris Aarts, Prof. Nico Roymans, Dr Philip Verhagen
Form(s) of tuitionLectures, excursions, discussions, group work, short videos
Form(s) of assessmentOral presentation, short collaborative group paper
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours48
Total tuition fee€1150
Students and professionals from all disciplines with a general interest in the history and archaeology of the Roman Empire and/or a particular interest in the social effects of imperialism and globalization. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds.

To make sense of the enormous wealth of data available to help us answer the question of the impact of Roman imperialism, we take an anthropological approach. Alternately adopting a global and a local perspective, we look at the whole spectrum of evidence – from battlefields, military forts, cities, farms, temple sites, quarries and mines to papyri, writing tablets, monumental Latin inscriptions, coins, production stamps, votive offerings, agricultural implements, human and animal bones, pollen and ice cores. 

But our outlook extends far beyond the historical. This course also invites you to reflect upon “hot” current issues such as globalization and identity, migration, social exclusion, mass violence, colonialism and sustainability by considering similarities and differences between the modern and Roman worlds. We use the example of this empire as a pathway to reflect critically upon contemporary society and the globalizing world in which we now live.


At the end of this course you will have: 

  • Acquired a balanced view of the “achievements” of the Roman Empire.
  • Gained a general impression of the empire’s organization and workings.
  • Gained an understanding of the paradoxical contrast between globalization affected by imperial domination and cultural diversity.
  • Learned to use your knowledge of institutions and cultural processes in the Roman world for critical reflection on contemporary society.
  • Deepened your knowledge of Roman material culture.
  • Gained some understanding of the many ways the past of the Roman frontier is presented to contemporary society through academic texts, heritage presentations, museums, websites and apps.
  • Acquired a comparative and historically informed perspective of “hot” topics in contemporary society.


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Ton Derks wrote his doctoral dissertation (1998) about religious change in Roman Gaul, a topic that continues to have his interest. His recent work in this field has focused on the material dimensions of rituals of the human life course. More broadly, he is also interested in other areas of identity construction, particularly those generated by the Roman army. He has been working on seal-boxes and the latinization of the Lower Rhine frontier area, on constructs of ethnic identity in inscriptions of Batavian and other auxiliary soldiers, and on combs and bodily appearance of Roman army soldiers. His main field of interest are the northwestern provinces of the Roman empire. Since he was trained in classics as well as archaeology, he has always had a strong interest in Latin epigraphy. In most of his work he tries to combine archaeological, historical as well as epigraphic evidence. In the recent past he co-directed with his colleague prof. N. Roymans two NWO-financed research projects on Roman villa landscapes in the North: economy, culture, life-styles (2006-2010) and on the The villa of Hoogeloon and the settlement at Riethoven. Key sites in the Roman rural landscape of the Lower Rhine frontier zone between limes and loess (2010-2014), the main results of which are available in two volumes in the series Amsterdam Archaeological Studies.

"This course exploits the full variety of source material to understand the Roman past and make it relevant for the present and perhaps the future by focusing on issues that feature in the headlines of our newspapers. If you are interested to explore the historical depths of contemporary issues such as globalization and identity, immigration and in- and exclusion, or political leadership and patronage, this course might be something for you!"

  • Visit to Allard Pierson Museum, Roman department
  • Visit of military installations in Utrecht area, i.e. Roman fort at Utrecht-Domplein; on site Museum Hoge Woerd at Utrecht-De Meern with exhibit of Roman ship as well as reconstructions of Roman fort and Roman watchtower; Roman site of Vechten
  • Elst, near Nijmegen: Roman temple remains
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