Grade level: 6-8 subject area: World History credit

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Ancient Rome


Two class periods



World History

Audrey Carangelo, freelance curriculum developer.


Students will understand the following:

1. Leaders of the Roman army and enemies of Rome are known to us not as faceless soldiers but as real men.

2. Historical drama, like other historical fiction, is rooted in history but contains imaginary elements as well.


For this lesson, you will need:

History textbooks
Reissues of classic histories of Rome and biographies of leading figures
Reference sources such as encyclopedias

1. Tell students that they are going to participate in small-group drama workshops. Each group will write a one-act play based on a single event they have learned about while studying ancient Roman warfare.

2. Elicit from students a list of the leaders they consider most fascinating in their study of ancient warfare. The list will probably include Scipio, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Augustus as well as others. Ask each group to select one leader to focus on; depending on the number of groups and the number of leaders on your list, decide if more than one group can work on a given figure.

3. Direct each group to review multiple reference sources (primary and secondary) to learn more about their leaders. In particular, explain that students can lend authenticity to their dramas by finding passages from their subject's personal writing that they may want to include in the character's dialogue. If necessary, help groups to determine which group member should scour which reference source. All members should then report back to the group, which will by consensus pick one event from the leader's life to dramatize.

4. Go over with the class the following important elements of a one-act play:
- The script of a one-act play must contain both dialogue (the conversation of the characters) and stage directions (descriptions of setting, characters, and action).

- A one-act play usually deals with a single problem, or conflict, which occurs in a single setting.

- As one or more characters try to solve the problem, the act builds to a climax, or point of highest intensity. Then the play shows the characters' reactions to the climax and moves on to a final outcome.

- A play based on a historical event must stick to some historical facts but can also include fictional details—especially dialogue, but also actions.

5. In a series of minilessons, as enumerated below, teach or review with students how to proceed from prewriting the act, through writing, to revising and editing. Give the groups time to apply each minilesson.


- In addition to a main character (one of the leaders, selected above), the act needs at least one other character—a friend or a foe of the main character. Therefore, each group should list one or more characters, real or fictional, and decide when to put them on stage.

- The characters need to have a problem or conflict between themselves or with someone else. Ask the groups to brainstorm possible problems involving their characters—either real-life problems they faced or problems that the group decides the characters mighthave faced. Selecting one of those problems, each group should then think about and prepare notes on how the characters will respond to the problem and how the problem will be solved.

- Each group should imagine how its characters look (including how they dress), sound, and act—and jot down notes for later use.

- Each group must also be clear on where and when the act takes place, so the students should jot down their thoughts on background scenery, furniture, and props.

- When students in each group are ready to move on to the actual drafting stage, let them figure out how multiple authors can work together. Review with them, if necessary, the mechanics of listing characters and of writing stage directions and dialogue.

- Advise students to follow their prewriting notes to unfold the scene—introducing characters and the problem, building suspense, and winding up with a believable solution. They should, however, be free to abandon prewriting notes that may take them to dead ends—and rethink their act.

- Rather than let an act simply peter out, remind students that the audience needs to know what each character's situation is at the end of the act.

- If they have not done so earlier, the students should now title their act.

Revising and Editing

Share with students a checklist such as the following, giving them time to revise as necessary so that they can answer “yes” to all the questions:

- Content

Does the dialogue or stage directions clearly show the character(s) facing the problem, lead up to a solution, and always include characters' reactions?

- Style

Is the dialogue realistic and easy for an actor to say?

- Grammar, Usage, Mechanics

Have you checked to make sure capitalization, spelling, and matters such as agreement, comparison, and pronoun references are correct?

6. Ask each group to perform, or at least read, its act for the rest of the class.


Adaptations for Older Students:

Expand the assignment to a three-act dramatization so that students have opportunity to develop more characters, a chance to include multiple settings, and the experience of dealing with a subplot as well as the main plot.

1. Explain what made the Roman army that fought the Punic Wars different from armies of other nations.
2. Hypothesize what might have happened to the balance of power in the Mediterranean if Hannibal had conquered the city of Rome.
3. Even though the Carthaginian Empire was defeated, the Romans destroyed the city of Carthage. What do you think led to such actions?
4. In your opinion, what were the characteristics that made Julius Caesar one of history's greatest generals?
5. What were the changes that took place in Rome when Emperor Augustus took power?
6. Why was control of the Mediterranean of such strategic importance?

You can evaluate each group's historical drama using this three-point rubric:
- Three points:inclusion of historically accurate elements; well-formulated story line with problem and solution; smooth, realistic dialogue and clear stage directions
- Two points:some basis in historical fact; inadequately developed story line; some unrealistic dialogue and incomplete stage directions
- One point:absence of historical accuracy; inadequate solution to problem of the act; unrealistic dialogue and incomplete stage directions
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining the minimal length for each dramatization.

Chronicles of the Alps Passage

Ask students to imagine that they are Carthaginian soldiers under the leadership of Hannibal. Direct the students, first, to find out more about the treacherous march through the Alps to Rome and, then, to incorporate their findings into entries in a first-person journal account. (One good resource for this information is Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Enigma Re-Examinedby John Prevas [Sarpedon, 1998].) Students should include descriptions of the hardships of the journey as well as feelings about the loss of life incurred during the trek. Remind students to build in details such as the clothing the soldiers wore, the food they ate, and the complications of moving elephants through the Alps. Students may also illustrate their journals with a map of the route.

Tracing Tribes of the Empire

Explain to students that the Romans called people who had no written language barbarians. Barbarian tribes such as the Gauls, Goths, Visigoths, and Franks—who lived in what is now Europe—poured into the Roman Empire after A.D. 200. Tell students to create an illustrated map that indicates where these tribes originated and shows the routes they took into the empire. Students should include on the map call-outs that describe each tribe and its contribution to the Roman Empire as well as note what each tribe later evolved into (for example, the descendants of Franks and Gauls are the French).

The Legionary

Peter Connolly. Oxford University Press, 1998.

This simple book describes the life and training of Roman soldiers. There are colored illustrations and pictures that illustrate how soldiers erected tents and pontoon bridges and descriptions of their weapons, armor, and clothing. Did you know that each centurion had about 12 mules—10 for legionaries and two to carry the centurion's baggage and equipment?
The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare: The Triumph of the West

Geoffrey Parker, ed. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Pictures, maps, illustrations, and portraits help the reader understand the role of war in the West from ancient times to the present day. Read the author's analysis of the Roman way of war, warfare, and army organization. Learn about Gaius Marius and the radical changes he brought to the army.

Hyperhistory Online

Online clickable world history timeline.
The Ancientsites Virtual Classroom

Offering a virtual tour of Rome and background information, your students will find this site exciting.
Roman Law Resources

This site provides information on Roman law sources and literature.
Legion XIIII

A wonderful array of color photographs of Roman reenactors.
Victori: The Roman Military

Student created pages look at tools of war, strategy and tactics of Roman Empire.


A state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority.


Roman armies tried to put their own generals into power, creating a Roman government that was in a state of upheaval, anarchy, and lawlessness.


Devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause.


The Roman army showed its loyalty and allegiance to Caesar by crossing the Rubicon with him.


A military or naval movement or training exercise.


The Roman army's military dominance was due to strong soldiers who constantly practiced their battle techniques and war maneuvers.


One skilled in the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions.


Hannibal successfully employed the art and science of warfare and is known as one of history's finest military strategists.


A government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler.


Rome became a tyranny when Augustus made himself emperor and absolute sole ruler of Rome.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands major global trends from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 300.


Understands the development of large regional empires (e.g., the significance of military power, state bureaucracy, legal codes, belief systems, written languages, and communications and trade networks; and how trade networks, merchant communities, state power, and other factors contributed to the economic integration of large regions of Afro-Eurasia).

Grade Level:

6-8, 9-12

Subject Area:

world history


Understands the imperial crises and their aftermath in various regions from A.D. 300 to A.D. 700.


Benchmark 6-8:

Understands political events that may have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire (e.g., the consequences of nomadic military movements in the western part of the Roman Empire; the nomadic invasions of the Roman Empire as described in secondary sources; significant battles, internal divisions, political changes, and invasions between the third and seventh centuries A.D. that led to the fall of the Roman Empire; and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Roman Empire).

Benchmark 9-12:

Understands political and social elements during the decline of the Roman Empire; the links between military, social, and economic causes for the decline in the Roman Empire; and the impact of barbarian movements on the regions of Europe.

Grade Level:

6-8, 9-12

Subject Area:

world history


Understands how major religious and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean basin from 500 B.C. to A.D. 300.


Benchmark (6-8):

Understands influences on the economic and political framework of Roman society (e.g., how Roman unity contributed to the growth of trade among lands of the Mediterranean basin; the history of the Punic Wars and their consequences for Rome; and the major phases of Roman expansion, including the Roman occupation of Britain).

Benchmark (9-12):

Understands shifts in the political framework of Roman society (e.g., major phases in the empire's expansion through the first century A.D.; how imperial rule over a vast area transformed Roman society, economy, and culture; the causes and consequences of the transition from republic to empire under Augustus in Rome; and how Rome governed its provinces from the late republic to the empire).
Copyright 2001

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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