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Roman Empire: Presentations & Critiques

Supports Dr. Ronald J. Weber's class on the Roman Empire.


Every paper should be properly formatted. (The formatting didn't all come over on the sample critique below. A link to the original Word document is on Blackboard.) Be sure your name, class number, and date are in a header. Use double spacing and 12-point type. Insert page numbers.

Be specific in your comments on the good and bad elements of the presentation. Don't give general remarks such as "This was a good presentation" or "This was not very well done".  What was good? Why? What was not so good? Why? How could it have been improved? Show that you have understood the thesis and arguments of the presenter. If you don't understand them well enough to comment on them, you should have asked questions in class at the time of the presentation. Any criticism should be tactfully phrased; we're all learning together and need positive feedback even on our mistakes.

Sample Critique

Presentation Critique: Susie Student                                                                          9/2/14

Eastern Religious Influences on Roman Religion

        Susie Student gave a coherent and well thought out presentation about Eastern religious influences on Roman religion. Intellectual history can be a challenge, since one is dealing in ideas and opinions rather than concrete remains and verifiable dates and events, but Susie handled it confidently.

The thesis was that by examining the worship of Isis and Demeter, we can see an example of how Greek religion influenced Roman religion. This was focused and specific, which made the topic quite manageable.

            Although Susie is clearly aware that Isis was not a Greek goddess, but an Egyptian one, this was not addressed early on in the presentation.  As she included Isis, she should have shown whether and how Isis-worship reached Rome through Greece.  Later in the presentation, she noted that Herodotus (ii, 156) discussed the syncretisation of Greek and Egyptian gods, including Isis with Demeter, but this might have been discussed earlier to justify the thesis. Otherwise, the thesis might more appropriately have been “how Eastern religions influenced Roman religion.” It seems possible that Isis-worship may have reached Rome directly through Egyptian immigrants, merchants, or slaves in Rome, as well as through a Greek filter. The assigned article by David Magie, “Egyptian Deities in Asia Minor in Inscriptions and On Coins” (American Journal of Archaeology 57.3, July 1953) provides evidence of this scenario.

            The primary source readings supported Susie’s thesis by giving us evidence from Apuleius of the treatment of the goddesses, and by discussing Cicero’s respect for faith alongside reason, as noted in his De Natura Deorum.  As Susie is basing her research on these two writers, they were very appropriate. Apuleius had lived in North Africa, and was not only exposed to the worship of Egyptian gods but was initiated into the cult of Isis, as described in his Metamorphoses.  Susie didn’t mention any other primary sources, but she should have investigated whether architectural remains would contribute anything to her topic. I wonder if religious architecture changed with the introduction of Greek and Eastern cults to Rome. Upon checking in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, I discovered that in Pompeii, for example, the remains of the Temple of Isis closely follows the normal patterns of Roman temple architecture by situating the temple on a high pedestal with decorations in the raised stucco decoration typical of Roman provincial architecture.

Susie mentioned several authors and secondary works, but I didn’t catch them. I’d have liked to have a bibliography.  Although she stated briefly what these authors discussed, she didn’t analyze whether they had similar or different interpretations of the evidence, or just how they contributed to her research.  

            Susie’s presentation was organized, but the organization could have been tighter; I couldn’t always see where she was going, and she sometimes came back to a topic she had already discussed.  An outline would have been useful as a handout or on a PowerPoint presentation.

            The description of Isis, Demeter, and their parallel characteristics and stories was very clearly presented, and Susie showed how Cicero’s thought seemed to be influenced by the mystery cults. Her conclusion reiterated that the Isis/Demeter cult influenced Roman religion and was a transitional connection between Roman polytheism and Christianity.


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Jennifer Urban-Flores

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