Imperial Insanity: Mad Emperors of Rome

Subject ANCW30006 (2012)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2012.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 3 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2012:

Semester 1, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period not applicable
Assessment Period End not applicable
Last date to Self-Enrol not applicable
Census Date not applicable
Last date to Withdraw without fail not applicable

On campus

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 2.5
Total Time Commitment:

84 hours





Recommended Background Knowledge:


Non Allowed Subjects:

Students who have passed Imperial Insanity: Mad Emperors of Rome with the codes 107-213 or 670-369 are not permitted to enrol in this subject.

Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Students Experiencing Academic Disadvantage Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Description, Subject Objectives, Generic Skills and Assessment Requirements of this entry.The University is dedicated to provide support to those with special requirements. Further details on the disability support scheme can be found at the Disability Liaison Unit website:


Dr Rhiannon Evans


Rhiannon Evans

Subject Overview:

This subject examines the history and representation of Roman emperors often represented as insane or psychopathically tyrannical. During the first three centuries of the Imperial period, major historical sources, such as Tacitus "Annals" and Suetonius "Lives of the Caesars", depict the Roman imperial court as a place of intrigue, scandal and corruption, while the actions of the emperor himself are often represented as arbitrary and incomprehensible. This course investigates the prevailing themes of madness and despotism, and considers the reasons why such hostile sources might be generated. Chief attention is given to the emperors Caligula, Nero, Domitian and Commodus, whose reputations for irrationality and psychopathic or savage behaviour are most marked in the historical tradition, both ancient and modern. The development of these narratives in historical fiction, cinema and television, and representations such as those found in I, Claudius, Quo Vadis and Gladiator are studied in relation to the reception of Roman imperial culture.


Students who successfully complete this subject should:

  • be able to demonstrate familiarity with narratives of political power in Ancient Rome.
  • be able to demonstrate familiarity with rhetorical strategies for representing emperors in Ancient Rome.

A 2500 word research essay 65% (due during the semester), and a 1.5 hour exam 35% (during the examination period).

This subject has a minimum hurdle requirement of 75% tutorial attendance. Regular participation in tutorials is required. Assessment submitted late without an approved extension will be penalised at 10% per day. After five working days late assessment will not be marked. In-class tasks missed without approval will not be marked. All pieces of written work must be submitted to pass this subject

Prescribed Texts:

A subject reader will be available.

  • Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Oxford World Classics
  • Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, Penguin Classics
Breadth Options:

This subject potentially can be taken as a breadth subject component for the following courses:

You should visit learn more about breadth subjects and read the breadth requirements for your degree, and should discuss your choice with your student adviser, before deciding on your subjects.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:
  • be skilled in critical thinking and analysis.

  • possess effective written communication skills.

  • have an understanding of social, ethical and cultural context.

Links to further information:
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: Ancient World Studies
Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Studies Major
Classical Studies and Archaeology
Classical Studies and Archaeology
Classical Studies and Archaeology Major
Related Breadth Track(s): Roman Studies

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