Credit points


Campus offering

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Unit rationale, description and aim

Rome was a breeding ground of religious ideas throughout its long history, from traditional Greco-Roman paganism, to Mithraism, Judaism, and Christianity. Consequently, its rich cultural and historic sites are imbued with religious significance, from the temples that adorn its capitol, the catacombs that enabled religious groups to escape imperial censure, and the church spires that came to dominate the skyline of the ancient city. Within the confines of its city walls these diverse religious experiences were born and practised, overlapping and intersecting one another, lived out and modified in dialogue with each other.

This unit aims to provide students with firsthand knowledge of the major religious sites of Ancient Rome, a greater appreciation for the complexity of religious belief and practice, and a nuanced understanding of how religious, historical, and cultural influences intersect in multi-layered urban topographies. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe key features of Greco-Roman religions, foreign cults and religious practices (GA1, GA8).

LO2 - Analyse complex monuments and texts to disentangle rhetorical arguments in visual and textual media (GA1, GA4, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10). 

LO3 - Use analytical skills to understand how narratives of continuity and change are created in a variety of religious experiences (GA1, GA4, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:

  • Varieties of Greco-Roman Religion
  • Religion and the Founding of Rome       
  • Sacrifice and Augury: Roman temples and altars
  • Household Religion
  • The Worship of the twelve Gods            
  • The Imperial Cult
  • The cult of Asclepius
  • Mithraism        
  • Judaism          
  • Isis and Magna Mater
  • Roman Christianity
  • Martyria and the first Christian Roman Shrines
  • Early Bishops of Rome and the transformation of civic religion
  • The Development of Public Christianity

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

With the city of Rome as its backdrop, this unit will assist students to develop skills in analysing complex monuments and texts, while also allowing them to better understand the development of Roman religion, and thus the development of western culture.

This unit brings students into the heart of Rome, to study in person its rich religious history across a range of contexts and sites. With this active focus on experiencing Rome first hand, they will gain fluency in navigating between ancient and modern layers in an immersive learning experience. In moving between classroom and city, students will work on-site, creating written, oral, and visual outputs which develop and apply what they have learned about a complex religious landscape.

Students will explore and analyse layers of the city that are superimposed upon each other, learning to navigate both the modern and the ancient city, thereby preparing them to work in complex cultural contexts with empathy and understanding.

Unit topics will each be investigated using a major monument or site in Rome. Over the course of the unit, students will thus develop knowledge and skills to think critically about religion in the city of Rome: both in terms of major ideas and beliefs, and with regard to household worship and daily practices. Traditional Roman religion will be explored as well as the influx of foreign cults, and in this context the development of Roman Christianity will be introduced and explored. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessments have been designed to encourage students to develop and apply their knowledge of the topography of Rome to the study of Roman religion, in an active and continuous way as they learn, and with reference to some key texts.

Assessment tasks will focus on students presenting material in a variety of formats: orally to their fellow students at sites in Rome, in written form for a course blog, and in artistic form via short videos filmed in-situ.

The first task, the Self-guided tour journal, will require students to use their own initiative to locate and explore key Roman sites/ items during the course of the unit, thereby providing them with a substantial learning experience as they complete the task. This piece of work will start early and will be submitted at the end of the unit.

The second task involves students preparing two short video presentations that analyse an aspect of Roman religion relevant to the chosen site.  

The major piece of work is an oral presentation (which may be presented on site), that is then followed by a written blog entry. The presentation requires students to give a brief site introduction to the class on the basis of textual evidence. This presentation will then be written up as a blog entry and featured on the unit blog. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Self-guided tour journal, completed throughout the unit and submitted at the end.  


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA4, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

Two short video presentations.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA4, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

An onsite in-situ oral presentation, with written blog entry.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA4, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Bodel, J. (2008) “From columbaria to catacombs: collective burial in pagan and Christian Rome,” in Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artefacts in Context: Studies of Roman, Jewish, and Christian Burials, pp. 177-242.

Peter Brown. (2014) The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago University Press.  

Claridge, A. (2010) Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Coarelli, F. (2007) Rome and its Environs: An Archaeological Guide. Berkeley: University of California Press.  

Edwards, C. (1996) Writing Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kaster, R. (2012) The Appian Way: Ghost Road, Queen of Roads. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Price, S.R.F. (1996) “The place of religion: Rome in the early Empire,” in Cambridge Ancient History vol. 16, 812-847.

Rajak, T. (1994) “Inscription and context: reading the Jewish catacombs of Rome T Rajak,” Studies in Early Jewish Epigraphy, 226-241.

Rüpke, J. (2020) Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Undheim, S. (2017) Borderline Virginities. Sacred and Secular Virgins in Late Antiquity. London: Routledge. 

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