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The Archaeology of Early Roman Imperialism


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master Archaeology programme, and participation in the BA seminar Archaeology of the Mediterranean or an equivalent course.

To make the most of this inspiring course and for all participants to begin at the same page, you are required to study Bradley, G.J., "The Roman Republic: Political History", in E. Bispham (ed.) Roman Europe (Oxford, 2008), and the Cambridge Ancient History chapters by Harris and Morel (listed below under reading list) at the start of the course.


The question how Rome won its empire is as old as the study of Roman history, and continues to dominate modern scholarship. An important difficulty these studies encounter is that the available textual sources from the imperial period (1st-3rd centuries AD) describe and explain Roman imperial success from hindsight, i.e. centuries after the key phase of Roman expansion in the Mediterranean (4th-2nd centuries BC) and its initial phases (6th-5th centuries BC).

Now, recent and ongoing research increasingly demonstrates that radically different models and motivations may have been at the basis of early Roman expansionism. The character of early Roman expansionism and its dynamics are best grasped by looking at the development of Rome itself and its Mediterranean competitors from an isochronic perspective, using primarily contemporary archaeological and epigraphical data.

In this course, we will explore the functioning of the formative phases in Roman expansionism using primarily archaeological data from the Western Mediterranean, and confronting these with current models of Roman expansion. We will focus on the archaeology of the Italian peninsula, study various theoretical and methodological approaches, and establish parameters to explain early Roman society and its performance in military, demographic and socio-economic respects. In particular, we will evaluate influential models of Roman colonisation in light of the growing body of archaeological evidence, including Leiden-based research projects on Roman colonialism.

Course set-up

Weekly 2-hour sessions combining lecturing and discussion, prepared by self-study of reading materials, and ultimately the writing of an essay (self-study).

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the main theories on Roman imperialism;

  • Knowledge of the recent debate about (models of) Roman colonisation in the Roman Republican period;

  • Ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of these theories and debates;

  • Ability to assess practical, archaeological approaches to test these theories;

  • Ability to translate these theories into archaeologically testable models;

  • Ability to report and discuss such archaeological model testing both in a clear and well-structured written text and orally.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA and MSc time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Short videos and self/group-study;

  • Tutorial.

Due to COVID-19 measures in place, and depending on developments in the situation, the mode of instruction may change before or during the course.

Course load

  • 7 × 2 hours of lectures and tutorials (1 ec);

  • Ca. 280 pages of literature (2 ec);

  • Essay of 3,000-3,500 words (2 ec).

Assessment method

  • Essay (60%);

  • Class participation (40%).

Both participation and essay should be graded with at least a 5,0 to pass. A retake is only possible for the final essay (in case of a retake, a new topic needs to be submitted).

All exam dates (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the MA and MSc examination schedule.

Due to COVID-19 measures in place, and depending on developments in the situation, the assessment method may change before or during the course.

Reading list

  • Bradley, G.J., 2008. "The Roman Republic: Political History" in: E. Bispham (ed.), Roman Europe. Oxford;

  • Harris, W.V., 1989. "Roman Expansion in the West" in: Astin et al. (eds), Cambridge Ancient History Volume 8: Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 BC (2nd edition);

  • Morel, J.P, 1989. "The Transformation of Italy, 300-133 B.C. The Evidence of Archaeology" in: Astin et al. (eds), Cambridge Ancient History Volume 8: Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 BC (2nd edition) (

Per meeting there will be one or two chapters/papers to read. The reading list will be distributed 2 weeks prior to the start of the class. Make sure you are registered for this Brightspace module in time.


Registration via uSis is mandatory.

  • The Administration Office will register all BA1 students for their tutorials (not lectures; register via uSis!).

  • BA2, BA3, MA/MSc and RMA/RMSc students are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time.

  • The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, students are not required to do this in uSis.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. T.C.A. (Tymon) de Haas.


Compulsory attendance. Max. 1 session can be missed, but only with permission request beforehand and an additional assignment to show you have studied the materials (to be handed in within one week).