Monthly Archives: February 2013

Powerpoint summaries that cover both Tiberius Gracchus and the Roman revolution topics

Senatus Populusque RomanusA bit early, but I might as well.  Note that some of the PowerPoint summaries go well beyond the limit of the Roman revolution topic.  I.e. it goes into Pompey/Caesar and the Triumvirates.  Nonetheless, they are useful for introduction and brief summaries.  You still need to develop notes on ancient and modern sources though.


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Did Spartans really throw away their babies over the mountain?

LeonidasStudents of Sparta will no doubt be familiar with the story of how Spartans would throw unhealthy babies over the mountain top.  Our main source for this is Plutarch, who wrote glowing moralistic accounts about Lycurgus and Leonidas.  Plutarch, also known by his Roman citizenship name, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, wrote his work Parallel Lives during the first century of the Roman empire.  So, his story about the Spartan warrior society and agoge should be approached with caution, since not only was he far from his subjects, notions about Sparta had become romanticised among Romans who travelled to Sparta as tourists to observe their exotic customs.

Back to the story about the throwing of unhealthy babies.

Spartans did not throw deformed babies away: researchers (AFP, 10 December 2007)

The Greek myth that ancient Spartans threw their stunted and sickly newborns off a cliff was not corroborated by archaeological digs in the area, researchers said Monday.

After more than five years of analysis of human remains culled from the pit, also called an apothetes, researchers found only the remains of adolescents and adults between the ages of 18 and 35, Athens Faculty of Medicine Anthropologist Theodoros Pitsios said.

There were still bones in the area, but none from newborns, according to the samples we took from the bottom of the pit” of the foothills of Mount Taygete near present-day Sparta.

It is probably a myth, the ancient sources of this so-called practice were rare, late and imprecise,” he added.

Meant to attest to the militaristic character of the ancient Spartan people, moralistic historian Plutarch in particular spread the legend during first century AD.

According to Pitsios, the bones studied to date came from the fifth and sixth centuries BC and come from 46 men, confirming the assertion from ancient sources that the Spartans threw prisoners, traitors or criminals into the pit.

The discoveries shine light on an episode during the second war between Sparta and Messene, a fortified city state independent of Sparta, when Spartans defeated the Messenian hero Aristomenes and his 50 warriors, who were all thrown into the pit, he added.

So the story is probably a myth.  Indeed it is difficult to fathom a warrior society as idealised by Plutarch – a society where violence against children was supposedly institutionalised, where helots were systematically terrorised, and whether men and women fit into rigidly defined roles and social exclusion against outcasts was systemically practised.  Plutarch was just a recipient of a Romanised version of Sparta who happen to have access to some ancient sources about Sparta.

In some sense, the myth of a perfect Spartan warrior society is a dangerous myth.  It has found echoes among the Hitler Youth during Nazi Germany, and more recently among a neo-fascist Greek organisation called the Golden Dawn, who recently invoked the story of the krypteia during one of their political gathering at Thermopylai.  (London Review of Books, 14 January 2013)  And of course, it is a story that fit your textbooks very neatly.  History students should seek to challenge that myth.


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Past essay question on Tiberius Gracchus – 2011, part (b)

Senatus Populusque Romanus(b) Discuss the reasons for the reforms of Tiberius Gracchus.  (15 marks)

The question implicitly asks you to give an analysis of the different theories regarding the reasons for Tiberius Gracchus’ reforms.  I have included the marking criteria for this question to help you along.  (Note I cropped out the marking criteria for Band 1 and 2, since those should be irrelevant to us.)

2011-hsc-TG-part B


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John Briscoe’s analysis of supporters and opponents of Tiberius Gracchus

Senatus Populusque RomanusClick on this link to a journal article by John Briscoe, in which he analyses the nature of support and opposition to Tiberius Gracchus’ land reform programme.

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Practice essay on the background and early career of Tiberius Gracchus

Senatus Populusque RomanusThis is from the 2008 HSC Ancient History exam.  The practice essay question is worth 10 marks.  Go through your notes, and have a go at it.  Preferably, write it up within time limit rather than type it out.  I will post a sample response later on this website.

(a) Describe the family background and early career of Tiberius Gracchs to 133BC.   (10 marks)

Note from the 2008 HSC exam markers:

  • Students need to avoid prepared answers.  Instead you should interpret the questions caefully to ensure you have addressed the specific requirements of the question asked.
  • Naming sources is not enough.  Students should integrate sources to support their responses.  Do not simply refer to “some historians”.  Including relevant sources is critical in Question a.
  • Better responses should include a range of sources. 
  • Average length of a higher band response should be around two pages of average sized handwriting.

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Journal article on the historiography of Tiberius Gracchus

Senatus Populusque RomanusThis is a link to a journal article on the historiography of Tiberius Gracchus by Andrew Swidzinki.

Download it.  Read it.  Discuss it.

Click here to download a linked study guide worksheet for this article.

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Rome during Tiberius Gracchus

SPQRThis is a link to a PowerPoint slide I prepared to guide my lesson on the Roman world during the time of tribune Tiberius Gracchus.

Students of Tiberius Gracchus are encouraged to use the PowerPoint as a guide to prepare notes.

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