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Classical Home School Lesson: Roman Historiography and Historians

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Historia – Story, Investigation, Inquiry

Julius Caesar and Gaul Tribal Leaders (Public Domain)

This week’s word of the week is Historia. Historia is feminine, 1st declension singular, nominative. This is where we get the English word History. This week’s post is going to be geared toward older kids (5th grade and up.)

Our Community is talking about implementing Critical Race Theory in our public school system. This is alarming for many different reasons (It’s Marxist) – but the arguments I am hearing that is for Critical Race Theory is that we need to be teaching our kids better history. Better as in, a different revisionist version. “History is written from the perspective of the victors”, “They don’t teach black history in schools”, “Stop burying the truth about racism”, are all comments in my Facebook feed right now. And I don’t disagree with them. We do need to teach better History in school. If we taught better history, maybe we wouldn’t be arguing about teaching kids Marxism disguised as racial equality.

I’m not here to talk about Critical Race Theory. I am here to talk about History.

History is a record of our past. Historians use research and investigation to tell us what happened and sometimes why it happened. Ask your kids to think about a time they were playing with a friend. What did they do that day? What was their favorite part? what did they eat? If I were to ask them and their friend the same questions, it is likely I would get different answers. This doesn’t mean their friend is lying or wrong, it just means different parts of the day stood out to them, than what stood out to your kid. Historians take multiple accounts and find the common themes and answers and present them as a record of what they believe happened (or what most likely happened), and why they believe it happened.

History can be influenced by the writers’ beliefs and desires. That was definitely evident in the writings of Roman historians! We can learn a lot about Rome through their writings, and we can also learn a lot about the art of Historiography (history writing).

Roman Historians

Much of what we know about the Romans today comes from the writings of Roman historians. The different writers of history all had different styles and perspectives that together give us a picture of life in ancient Rome.

The writing of history became a popular upper class hobby. It was often a way esteemed romans spent their retirement.

There are two different traditions that were typically followed by Roman Historians: The annalistic tradition and monographic tradition.

The Annalistic tradition

These writers wrote histories year-by-year. They would start with the founding of Rome, and end with the time they were living in.

These writers wrote about the founding of Rome, wars of Rome, and political ails of Rome.

The Monographic Tradition

This tradition is more like modern history books. They cover a single topic. From this tradition, biographies became popular. These authors could be known to write history with a certain bias.

In times of political unrest or social turmoil, historians would re-write history to suit their personal perspective. Many historians would produce many works that showed two different sides. Later, the great Roman Historian, Livy would use these sources to balance out the account.


Despite the differing perspectives, Roman history has clear characteristics that set it apart. Allegiance to the Roman state, variety of moral ideals, the factional nature, the two distinct categories, and even the rewriting of history are all markers of the Roman tradition of history writing.

Roman historians wrote history not for the sake of record, but to convince their audiences. Propaganda was a key function of Roman history. They did not set out to be objective observers, but had specific moral and political agendas. Some sought to convey patriotism and national pride and confirm the prestige of Rome.

You can read more about  Roman Historiography here.

Major Roman Historians

  • Julius Caesar – wrote De Bello Gallico – an account of the Gallic Wars. In this work, he portrayed the wars as just and pious and made himself a military hero.
  • Livy – Wrote Ab Urbe Condita – Sought to memorialize the history of Rome and challenge his generation to rise to the same level – used history as a moral essay.
  • Sallust – Wrote Bellum Catilinae and Bellum Jugurthinum. Known to exaggerate, a major theme in his writings was Rome’s moral decline
  • Tacitus – Wrote many different works, had a style that was short and to the point. He was very critical of Rome emperors.
  • Suetonius – Wrote biographies for Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors. He wrote to evaluate the emperors and focuses on their fulfillment (or lack there of) of their duties.

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1 thought on “Classical Home School Lesson: Roman Historiography and Historians

  1. […] Last week’s word Historia gave us insight into how Romans recorded history. Indeed, they paid close attention to their past and applied that knowledge to their present. They believed that the values of the ancestors were theirs to pass down. This resulted in social norms for Roman culture and created the core concept of Roman Traditionalism. This idea is called Pietas or devotion (we get the word piety). Romans used the word Pietas to describe acceptance of duty or obligation placed on them by fate, the gods, family, and community. They had about seven values that made up the mos maiorum (ancestral custom). […]

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