Back to Course Listings
  • Discipline(s): Classical Studies
  • Available: Fall Semester Spring Semester
  • Course Type: Standard Courses
  • Taught in: English
  • Credits: 3
  • Course Travel: Daytrip to Spoleto and Assisi


CLAS 345: Pagans and Christians: Ancient Mediterranean Religions

Important Note: This course was formerly HSRS 345.

Course Description
Religion has always been central in any community. It has been regulating and organizing social relationships, affecting cultural and economical development, providing the individuals with a sharper sense of the self. It has been used and abused by any category of rulers, statesmen, leaders. On the other hand, it seems to be deeply rooted in the social strata the less related to power.

This course provides a social and cultural history of Ancient Mediterranean religions, with a special focus on Greece, Rome, and Christianity. This broad field is approached with different types of documents, as well as with several methodologies. With this in mind, the course is organized along two parallel schematic itineraries: chronological and thematic.

The first aspect to be analyzed will be the concept of religion as documented by the ancient Mediterranean societies and constructed around the triad of myth, ritual, and history. How those three factors cooperate in creating a religious sense is an open question. How they work differently, in the Greek, Roman, and Christian religions, will be analyzed and discussed. Secondly, Stoicism, Epicurean, and Platonic philosophy will be re-considered in relation to their role as pioneers of new concepts–the self in relation to society and the self in relation to divinity—concepts that were eventually borrowed and developed further by early Christians.

The three major religious systems will also be thematically approached, focusing on some of the major aspects of them, such as: the place: temples, shrines, churches, and basilicas; the ritual, Greek and Roman sacrifices vs. Christian liturgy; the myth: the Greek epic, the Roman oral tradition, the Christian gospels; other central religious experiences in life: birth, initiation, rites of transition, death; and beliefs and conceptions of afterlife.

The last part of the course will deal with the construction of the Christian individual as a type, first classified as illegal, then tolerated within society, and finally seen as one with power. The discussion will conclude with an examination of the transition from the typical Christian to the Christian leader. In this section, Constantine will be the centre of the discussion, intended as both an exponent of ancient culture and the founder of a new way of exercising power and social predominance. Themes of rupture and continuity will be the main organizing elements in this concluding section, with much attention paid to ceremony and iconography.

Course Objectives

    • Acquire a sophisticated and in-depth understanding of the history of Ancient Mediterranean Religions
    • Gain knowledge of the principal religious and philosophical concepts
    • Acquire familiarity with and be able to analyze different kinds of documents: images, inscriptions and literary texts

Course Materials
Mandatory course reader