Final exam: Thursday, May 22, 8:30–10:30 a.m., CA 212.
All papers and revisions due by email no later than Tuesday, May 27.

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Course Syllabus

Civilizations of the Ancient World

"History is philosophy teaching by examples." — THUCYDIDES

Course Info

HIS 246, section 01W
Spring 2014
Room CA 212
Tuesdays and Thursdays
9:30 - 10:45 a.m.

Mark Wilson
(718) 960-8288

Office Hours
Room CA-292
Tuesdays and Thursdays
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.


Our entire lives are conditioned by concepts like civilization and society, yet we seldom stop to think about how they shape our behaviors and expectations. By traveling back to the very emergence of civilization, we can experience both the revolution in how humans related to each other and the proliferation of new kinds of societies-each with their own distinct ideas about communities and individuals, communication, trade, protection, gender, mortality, and the wild, unbounded realms of the gods. All of this forms not just the background but the substance of the modern world-how we think, and what others think of us. The everyday hubbub of ancient worlds vibrates in the bones of our own societies.


In this course we will explore the Mediterranean world, beginning with the first humans and tracing the development of civilization from Mesopotamia and Egypt to the ancient Greek city-states and the rise and fall of Rome. Our plan will be to compare the principles and practices of these societies, toward a stronger understanding of human society in general.

Specific Learning Objectives

In this course we'll be pursuing a number of goals, including:

  • Exploration of the emergence of civilization and its implications for humanity
  • Exposure to the cultures and beliefs of a wide array of diverse Mediterranean civilizations
  • Exploration of evolutionary changes in the realms of politics, economics, military techniques, religious beliefs, social norms, writing and literature practices, artistic patterns, and science and philosophy
  • Examination of how the many interactions and transformations of ancient civilizations developed into a Western identity, part of the origin of the modern Western world
  • Development of the skills associated with the study of history, including the interpretation of primary sources and other evidence.

Course Readings

The following three books are required:

Nagle, D. Brendan.
The Ancient World:
A Social and Cultural History,

8th edition.
New York: Prentice Hall, 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-205-94150-6.

George, Andrew R.
The Epic of Gilgamesh.
London: Penguin Books, 2003.
ISBN: 978-0-140-44919-8.

Aristophanes, and Peter Meineck.
Hackett Publishing Co., 2000.
ISBN: 978-0-872-20516-1.

Make sure you get the right edition, especially if you're buying a used copy. The eighth edition of the textbook is new and the page numbers will not match up with earlier editions.

I strongly recommend the Andrew George edition of Gilgamesh because he translated directly from the source. It also has a useful introduction. If you get another edition, make sure it is based on the Standard Version of the epic. There is not a good version online, so you're best off with the Penguin.

The Clouds itself is widely available, but we'll also be working with the translator's annotations and interpretations, so you'll want to get this version if possible. Another possibility (used previously for this class) is the translation by Marie Marianetti, ISBN: 978-0-761-80588-5.

All are available from Lehman College Bookstore, either in person or online. (The website URL for the bookstore is .)

All three are also available from Amazon and other online retailers. If you order online, make sure you do so enough in advance that you'll receive the books in time for the assignments. For more info on getting the books, click here.


Class attendance is required. Missing classes will damage your grade. The textbook is designed to give you the basics; it's in class that we try to make sense of things and sift out what's important. Missing classes means you miss out on a key part of our trying to put things together. Plus, if you miss classes or habitually arrive late, you'll miss quizzes, which will put a big crimp in your grade for the course.

Religious observances that affect your class attendance should be discussed in advance.

Make-up exams are given only in cases of documented medical emergencies.


Your grade for the course will be determined from the following:

Quizzes 15%
Interpretive Essays 30%
Midterm 20%
Final Exam 35%

I do not give extra credit opportunities except to the entire class. I do not grade on a curve.


  • We'll have short quizzes at the start of class, roughly every other class (they will not be on a regular, predictable schedule). These are to help gauge our relationship with the material in the readings.
  • Quizzes are based on the readings for that class in both the textbook and the two ancient readings ( Gilgamesh and Clouds , when they're assigned). If you did your reading for the class, you should be prepared for the quiz. Quizzes are always based on the readings listed on the assignment sheet, even if I am slightly behind the syllabus in the topics I discuss in class. Make sure to do the assigned readings.
  • Missed quizzes are not made up. If you come late to class and miss a quiz, you'll get a zero for that quiz. Therefore, please make sure you come to class on time and prepared.

Interpretive Essays

  • You'll write three interpretive essays:
    1. One on the portrayal of society or religion in The Epic of Gilgamesh ;
    2. One on Clouds and its relationship with actual events in classical Athens; and
    3. A response to your choice of various nonwritten artistic depictions of the ancient world, including sculpture, painting, performance, or film, comparing the history with how it has been represented.
  • We'll talk in class about what's expected, and I'll have a handout with the specific assignments.
  • You can submit a draft of the paper to me up to a week before it's due; I'll give general feedback (but not a grade).
  • Because I accept drafts, I do not allow students to submit revised versions of their final paper after the due date.

Midterm Exam

  • The midterm exam will cover the course up to that point. We'll discuss the content and structure the previous week, and a review sheet will be provided.
  • The exam take place during our regular class meeting on the day indicated on the schedule.

Final Exam

  • The final exam will cover from the midterm onward-except for the essay portion, which will be cumulative. We'll discuss the content and structure the previous week, and a review sheet will be provided.
  • The final exam last two hours and will take place on the day indicated on the schedule.

Submitting Assignments

You may email me your written assignments, but it doesn't "count" unless you get an email back from me saying I received it. Unless I reply back to you, I didn't receive it. If there's any question about whether I'm receiving your emails, please talk to me about it in class. I will accept only the following file formats: DOCX, DOC, RTF, ODT, and PDF.

Late assignments will be marked down. Written assignments will be marked down one letter grade per class meeting after the assignment due date, up to a maximum of 30 points. That means you're still better off turning in your paper late, and having it be marked down, than not turning it in at all.


Don't waste this opportunity! Make the most out of this class.

Please use me as a resource. Come to my office hours, talk to me after class, or send me emails with any questions you have-whether they relate to the requirements of the course or ideas we're reading about or discussing in class.

Be on time and prepared. By prepared, I mean you should come into class having done the readings for that day and thought about them. Come in ready to talk about your reactions to the readings and the questions they raised in your mind.

Check your email. Make sure I have a good email address for you and check it, as I occasionally send information and updates by email. If you have not gotten an email from me within the first week after school begins, check your spam folders. If you can't find an email from me, email me to let me know.

Cell phones and electronics need to be silenced and stowed. A phone ringing during class is hugely disruptive. Texting during class is just as rude and insulting as talking on the phone.

Talk to me if you're struggling. Come to me in office hours or after class, and the sooner the better. Don't wait until it's too late to turn things around.

Academic Policies

Academic Integrity

Lehman College is committed to the highest standards of academic honesty. Acts of academic dishonesty include-but are not limited to-plagiarism (in drafts, outlines, and examinations, as well as final papers), cheating, bribery, academic fraud, sabotage of research materials, the sale of academic papers, and the falsification of records. An individual who engages in these or related activities or who knowingly aids another who engages in them is acting in an academically dishonest manner and will be subject to disciplinary action. Plagiarism includes the incorporation of any material that is not original with you without attribution, whether from a book, article, web site, or fellow student, in any paper or assignment. Assignments that include any plagiarism will receive a zero and the offending student will be subject to additional action by the College. Students engaging in repeated instances of plagiarism will fail the course outright and will be remanded to the College for disciplinary action. For more:

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Lehman College is committed to providing access to all programs and curricula to all students. Students with disabilities who may need classroom accommodations are encouraged to register with the Office of Student Disability Services. For more information, please contact the Office of Student Disability Services, Shuster Hall, Room 238; phone number: (718) 960-8441.

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Schedule of Readings and Assignments




Jan 28

Introduction and Evidence



Jan 30

Introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh
Nagle: pages 1-5
Gilgamesh: Introduction (George xiii-xvi and xxxi-xxxii)
(optional: xxxii-li; xvi-xxx)

The Bronze Age



Feb 4

Sumer: The City-State
Nagle: pages 6-14
Gilgamesh: Tablet 1



Feb 6

Egypt: The King as God
Nagle: pages 14-22
Gilgamesh: Tablet 2



Feb 11

Minoans and Mycenaeans: Global Economy
Themes in The Epic of Gilgamesh
Nagle: pages 26-28, 59-66
Gilgamesh: Tablet 5



Feb 13

End the Bronze Age: Climax and Calamity
Nagle: pages 23-26, 28-35
Gilgamesh: Tablet 6

The Iron Age



Feb 18

Canaan: Seagoing Trade
Nagle: pages 36-42
Gilgamesh: Tablet 7


Feb 20

No meeting (Monday classes)



Feb 25

Babylon: Cultural Radiance
Nagle: pages 42-46
Gilgamesh: Tablet 11



Feb 27

The Hebrews: A National God
Nagle: pages 51-58



Mar 4

The Persians: The Secrets of Empire
Paper #1 due (on the Epic of Gilgamesh)
Nagle: pages 46-51



Mar 6

Early Greeks and Italians: Origin Stories
Nagle: pages 66-68, 168-174



Mar 11


The Greeks



Mar 13

The Greek Archaic Age
Nagle: pages 68-73, 76-82
The Clouds: Introduction (Meineck pages vii-xlii)



Mar 18

Sparta: The Art of War
Nagle: pages 73-74, 82-88
The Clouds: Section 1 (Meineck pages 3-11)



Mar 20

Athens: Radical Democracy
Introduction to The Clouds
Nagle: pages 74-76, 119-123, 126-131
The Clouds: Section 2 (Meineck pages 11-28)



Mar 25

The Persian Wars
Nagle: pages 89-96, 104-107
The Clouds: Section 3 (Meineck pages 28-42)



Mar 27

Thought and Deed
Nagle: pages 107-119
The Clouds: Section 4 (Meineck pages 42-61)



Apr 1

War Among the Greeks
Themes in The Clouds
Nagle: pages 96-103, 131-134
The Clouds: Section 5 (Meineck pages 61-80)



Apr 3

The Rise of Macedon
Nagle: pages 135-146
The Clouds: Section 6 (Meineck pages 81-100)

The Romans



Apr 8

Kings and Senators
Nagle: pages 174-176, 197-201



Apr 10

The Roman Republic
Paper #2 due (on The Clouds)
Nagle: pages 176-182, 201-205


Apr 15
Apr 17
Apr 22

⎥Spring Break



Apr 24

Rome and Italy
Nagle: pages 183-189



Apr 29

Rome and Carthage
Nagle: pages 190-193, 205-209



May 1

Rome and the East
Nagle: pages 193-197, 210-217



May 6

The Roman Revolution
Nagle: pages 217-227



May 8

The Fall of the Republic
Nagle: pages 227-235



May 13

Princeps, Imperator, Augustus
Nagle: pages 236-248



May 15

The Crises of Empire
Paper #3 due (on Representations and Images)
Nagle: pages 249-259

Important Dates

Thu Feb 20 Monday classes meet
Tue Feb 18 Last day to drop
Thu Apr 24 Deadline to withdraw
  Apr 14-22 Spring Break
Tue Mar 4 Essay 1 (The Epic of Gilgamesh) due
Tue Mar 11 Midterm Exam
Thu Apr 10 Essay 2 (The Clouds) due
Thu May 15 Essay 3 (Representations and Images) due
Thu May 22 Final Exam (8:30 -10:30 a.m.)

Tablets in The Epic of Gilgamesh

Page numbers refer to the Andrew George (Penguin) edition. Only the starred tablets are assigned for meetings.

1. The Coming of Enkidu* pages 1-11 Read for 2/4
2. The Taming of Enkidu* 12-22 Read for 2/6
3. Preparations for the Expedition 22-29
4. The Journey to the Forest of Cedar 30-39
5. The Combat with Humbaba* 39-47 Read for 2/11
6. Ishtar and the Bull of Heaven* 47-54 Read for 2/13
7. The Death of Enkidu* 54-62 Read for 2/18
8. The Funeral of Enkidu 62-69
9. The Wanderings of Gilgamesh 70-75
10. At the Edge of the World 75-87
11. Immortality Denied* 88-99 Read for 2/25

Sections in The Clouds

Page numbers refer to the Meineck edition. Any good edition will have line numbers; see me if yours doesn't.

1. Strepsiades's Problem lines 1-132 pages 3-11 Read for 3/18

2. The Thinkery lines 133-365 pages 11-28 Read for 3/20

3. Gods and Memory lines 366-518 pages 28-36 Read for 3/25

Clouds' Response 1 518-626 37-42 "

4. Hen and Cock lines 627-888 pages 42-61 Read for 3/27

5. The Debate lines 889-1114 pages 61-75 Read for 4/1

Clouds' Response 2 1115-1130 75
Old and New Day 1131-1213 76-80 "

6. The Creditor lines 1214-1320 pages 81-88 Read for 4/3
New Morality 1321-1492 88-98
The Purge 1493-1510 98-100 "
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Writing Assignments

Remember that, as always, I am looking for your opinion and how well you support it with evidence; these essays are less about “right answers” than they are about well-supported ideas.

For each essay your conclusion should address the following: How, specifically, does the source material, as you have interpreted it, reflect what the creators are trying to say about their society?

You may, but are not required to, use (and cite) secondary sources to add perspective to your analysis.

Essay #1 (on The Epic of Gilgamesh)

Due Tuesday, March 4

Write a 3–4 page essay taking a position on ONE of the following topics:

  1. Choose any of the mortal characters from Gilgamesh and discuss his or her relationship with the gods. Give three examples and discuss what these episodes reveal about the character and about his or her society’s attitudes toward religion and what it means to be human. Consider physical, emotional, economic, religious, or other relevant factors.
  2. Choose any of the female characters from Gilgamesh and discuss her relationship with the other characters and their society. Give three examples and examine what these episodes reveal about the character and her femininity as conceived by the creators of the epic. Consider physical, emotional, economic, religious, or other relevant factors.
  3. Mortality is one of the major themes of Gilgamesh, but what is the epic saying about it? Choose three scenes in The Epic of Gilgamesh that involve death or mortality, and discuss analytically how these scenes contribute to the story’s depiction of Sumerian ideas of human mortality.

Essay #2 (on The Clouds)

Due Thursday, April 10

Write a 3–4 page essay taking a position on ONE of the following topics:

  1. Some say that The Clouds, by ending with violent incidents, offers an inconsistent message on morality. Make an argument for the consistency of the moral argument of The Clouds by comparing it with a tragedy from the Greek classical period in which morality is a key issue (examples include Medea, Elektra, and Antigone). Build your case using three key incidents from The Clouds, comparing each one in turn with a relevant incident in the tragedy. Where do both plays stand with regard to the Athenian debate on relative morality (nomos vs. physis)?
  2. The surviving plays of Aristophanes range over a long and turbulent period of Athenian history. Compare The Clouds to another play by Aristophanes. What themes and ideas are present in both plays? Is his approach or methodology different in the other play? What conclusions can you draw about Aristophanes’s approach to writing, and the consistency of his overall philosophy?
  3. Compare the “Socrates” found in The Clouds with the one depicted in works by his student, Plato. (Possibilities might include Phaedo, which has Socrates discussing life and afterlife on the brink of his execution, and Apology, a version of Socrates’s self-defense against charges of irreligion, among others.) What characteristics of Socrates and his philosophy were most exaggerated by the two authors (either in ridicule or praise), and why? On the basis of these depictions, using incidents from both sources, make an argument for why exactly some Athenians feared Socrates so greatly.

Essay #3 (Representations and Images)

Due Thursday, May 15

Write a 3 page essay based on ONE of the two following topic questions.

Whichever option you choose, the purpose of this essay is NOT to describe the works in question, but to interpret their meaning and discuss analytically what they tell us about how different kinds of artists and creators represent the ancient peoples and their world.

Option 1 – Artifacts comparison

Visit any museum exhibition or collection of art, architecture, or other artifacts of the ancient world. Choose two or three comparable artworks from different eras, from different places, or both.

The question: If art is an expression of cultural values, what do the differences between these works tell you about the respective cultures they come from? What do their similarities tell you about what these ancient societies have in common?

Make sure to look for items with the same, or comparable, subjects, that come from different times or from different places. For example: a Greek statue of a young man and a Roman statue of a young man, or a decorated vase from the Greek Archaic period and one from the Classical or Hellenistic period. (For possible venues, see next page.)

You must describe in detail how what you see leads you to concrete conclusions about these ancient peoples. Be bold, be provocative, and be specific.

Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of each work, the artist, the approximate date it was created, and the name of the museum gallery where the work can be found.

Also on the “Works Discussed” page, paste in photographs of the items. If it’s permitted at the museum, take a picture of the items while you’re there. If it’s not, find pictures of them on the museum’s web site or via a Google Images search.

Option 2 – Films and sources

Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient world and compare it with a primary source—written evidence about that society or those events.

The question: Both the movie and the written evidence are artistic interpretations of reality. Use at least two specific events or characters to compare the filmmakers’ intent and message with that of the writers of the source material. What do they want you to believe?

(For some suggested possibilities, see the next page.)

Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of film, year, director, stars and studio. Then list the book or books you drew your written evidence from, using standard citation style.

You may also employ secondary sources to help you interpret the film, the primary source, or both.

Some possibilities for Essay #3

Option 1 possibilities

Possible venues for the artifacts comparison option include:

You are, of course, not limited to these venues, and you are not limited to New York.

Option 2 possibilities

Some possibilities for the film and sources option include (this list is not exhaustive; I can give you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):

Film Possible Primary Sources to Compare
300 (2007) Herodotus, The Histories book 7
Alexander (2004) Plutarch, Alexander; or Arrian, Anabasis
Boudica (2003) Tacitus, Annals 14.29–39, Agricola; Cassius Dio Roman History 62
Caligula (1980) [warning: explicit sex] Suetonius, Caligula; Cassius Dio, Roman History 59
The Centurion (1961) Polybius, The Histories book 38
Cleopatra (1963) Plutarch, Caesar; Plutarch, Antony
Electra (1963) Euripides, Elektra; Sophocles, Elektra
Gladiator (2000) Cassius Dio, Roman History 73; Herodian History 1.15; Historia Augusta, “Commodus”
Helen of Troy (1956) Homer, Iliad 3, Odyssey 4, 23; Euripides, Helen; Ovid, Heroides 16; Isocrates, Helen
I, Claudius (1976) [1-2 episodes] Tacitus, Annals books 11–12; Suetonius, Claudius
Intolerance (1916) [Part 1] Herodotus, The Histories book 1.70–144; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 10–11
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999) Old Testament, Genesis 37–50
Masada (1981) Josephus, The Jewish War book 1
One Night with the King (2006) Old Testament, Esther
Pompeii: The Last Day (2003) [or other Pompeii films] Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus
Quo Vadis? (1951) Tacitus, Annals 13–16; Suetonius, Nero; Cassius Dio, Roman History 61–63
Rome (2005–2007) [use 1-2 episodes] Various (see me)
Solomon and Sheba (1959) Old Testament, Kings or Chronicles; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews book 8
Spartacus (1960) Appian, Roman History 116–120; Plutarch, Crassus 8–11
The Eagle (2011) Tacitus, Agricola
The Odyssey (1997) Homer, Odyssey
The Prince of Egypt (1998) Old Testament, Exodus
The Ten Commandments (1956) Old Testament, Exodus
Troy (2004) Homer, Iliad

Many of these primary sources are available through the list of ancient sources and translations on my website ( via the “Ancient Texts” link at the top of the page.

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Requirements for All Papers

Basic requirements

All papers submitted to me must:

  • Be typed, double-spaced, in 12 pt. Times or Arial, with one-inch margins. Please spell-check and, if you’re not sure about your writing, have a friend read it. I will not mark down for grammar, but clarity is vital.
  • Have a cover page with the title, your name, my name, and the date; and have page numbers on each page after the cover. On the course web page there’s a link to a DOCX essay template that you may find helpful.
  • Include both (a) citations for all quotations, paraphrases, information, and ideas that come from any source other than your own head, AND (b) a bibliography that lists all the sources you used. See below for more.
  • Run the required length specified in the handout for that paper—full pages mind you—plus the cover page and bibliography.

Sources and citations

Citations are crucial. All direct quotations, indirect quotations, and ideas from other sources MUST BE footnoted according to a standard citation style, and referring to a bibliography at the end of the paper. This is extremely important and failure to do this will seriously affect your grade. (See the booklet for more on citations and bibliographies.)

Note that providing citations only for direct quotes is NOT sufficient. This is a common mistake and will result in your paper being marked down. You must cite all information, paraphrases and ideas from your sources—anything that is not your own discussion and analysis.

Quality of evidence. The arguments you are making in your paper MUST BE supported by evidence from primary and/or secondary sources—ideally a balanced mix of the two. (The number of required sources depends on the assignment.) You may NOT use tertiary sources for any assignment you hand in to me. Tertiary sources include textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, my lectures, and almost everything on the internet.

See me for guidance. I am available anytime, by email or in office hours, to discuss your sources, citations, or any other aspect of your paper. There are also resources about structuring, researching, writing, and footnoting position papers on the Student Resources page of my website.

Submitting your paper

Handing it in  

The paper may be (a) handed in in class, or (b) submitted by email in a DOCX, DOC, PDF, ODT, or RTF format to Note: Your email submission only “counts” if you receive a reply back from me saying I got it. Please do not leave your paper in the bin outside my office door. As stated in the syllabus, any late submissions are marked down 10 points per class meeting.

Optional draft  

For any paper you can submit an optional draft no later than two class meetings before the due date. I won’t grade it, but I’ll give you some feedback about how well you’re addressing the topic and thesis of your paper. Your draft should be most of the paper (generally three quarters at least); for the parts you haven’t written, please insert a note in brackets that outlines what you intend to write.

General grading criteria

Your paper should

  • Start with an introduction stating the problem and your opinion on it (the thesis statement);
  • Then give evidence in the main body that supports your thesis statement, ideally in three sections treating three different aspects or issues related to the topic;
  • Then conclude by summarizing how the evidence supports your opinion.

(See the elephant booklet for more on thesis statements and structuring your paper to support your argument.)

I grade a paper by evaluating how it succeeds in a few key categories. I consider all of the following expected of a college-level position paper.

  • Introduction  The introduction is a paragraph that outlines the issue or question that the paper will address; arouses reader’s interest, fits purpose, and indicates the point of view; lays out the argument to be made in the paper; and leads up to a thesis statement of position that could be disagreed with by an informed reader, rather than a bare factual statement.
  • Organization  The paper is organized in a logical sequence, presenting a succession of ideas in turn that are each in support of the thesis, each section effectively building to develop the thesis in order to convince the reader of the argument being presented.
  • Analysis  The writer uses evidence to demonstrate the thesis; examples and evidence are discussed and analyzed to show the ways that the evidence illustrates the thesis; adequate research and sources are used; analysis predominates in the body of the paper over mere description; and the paper offers, and discusses problems with, an opposing viewpoint (counterarguments to your thesis).
  • Sources  The paper shows good use of primary and secondary sources, with no tertiary sources; the sources used are relevant and appropriate; and the discussion retains independent voice with judicious use of quotes.
  • Conclusion  The paper ends with an appropriate concluding statement; the conclusion effectively closes the paper, tying together all arguments and reinforcing thesis.


If you don’t meet the basic requirements of the paper, you’ll be marked down. So make sure you look over the requirements before submitting your paper!

Deductions you can reverse: Some kinds of deductions can be remedied by submitting a revised version of the paper within a week of the graded paper being returned. The paper will not be regraded for content. The reversible deductions are: No cover sheet; no page numbers; no bibliography; some or all citations missing.

Deductions you can’t reverse: I’ll mark you down if the paper is submitted late (10 points per class meeting up to 30 points) or if it does not meet the length requirements (significantly too short or too long). Plagiarized papers will, of course, receive a zero and possible academic disciplinary action. A successive violation will result in failure of the course and academic disciplinary action. Make sure you understand about academic dishonesty; see the syllabus for more.

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Writing a Position Paper

Writing a strong, effective position paper means taking a position and using evidence to convince your reader. You will find that the skills involved in planning, structuring, and executing a strong, effective position paper will be useful to you not only in other academic assignments, but in any situation in which you want someone else to believe something.


The most important component of your paper is the position you want to convince your reader of. In a position paper, this takes the form of the thesis: a sentence at the end of your introductory paragraph that states an opinion that someone could disagree with, which you will then seek to prove in the body of your paper.

The Problem

One way of looking at a thesis is as the answer to a problem—something about a time and place that seems to need explaining. This can be phrased as a question. But it's important to take a close look at your question and see whether it will work for your paper. You need to test your question in two ways: (a) are there two or more sides historians might argue, and (b) is the scope too big or too small for the paper I am writing?

For example, if you're interested in Hannibal's war with Rome, you might first want to look at the big question: "Why did Hannibal lose?" This is a good one in terms of the first test, because historians have given lots of conflicting answers over the last 2200 years. But it's also huge, which might mean you'll be in trouble on the second test. In this case you'd want to narrow it down to a more specific question about Hannibal's war that still has different possible answers, like "Why didn't Hannibal attack Rome?" or "Did Hannibal's elephants really make a difference?"

The first test—are there different answers?—is crucial. If your question were something like "Why did Hannibal attack Rome?" you could write a long paper answering it, but it wouldn't be a position paper because there's really no disagreement: Rome was Carthage's economic nemesis; their expanding interests created inevitable conflict, leading to a previous war—one result of which was Hannibal being raised to despise the Romans. Unless you've unearthed some radical, game-changing new evidence, it would be very hard to imagine two sides to this question.

That's why I recommend that your introduction include a statement of the problem, followed by statements that might be made by historians arguing different, opposing answers. You should be able to express these competing ideas in a "some say… others say…" formula. For example, here's the start of a sample introduction:

Hannibal Barca, the great Carthaginian general, brought 37 war elephants with him over the Alps into Italy, and at the climactic Battle of Zama he had a front line that included 80 elephants. Did Hannibal's elephants really make a difference? Some say that Hannibal's elephants were crucial in establishing the morale of his troops against the legendary Roman legions and in intimidating other armies along the way into alliances; but others say that Hannibal's elephants did the Carthaginian side more harm than good in their fight with Rome.

Here the introduction is shown with three of its four important elements: setting, problem, and possible positions.

The Thesis

Your thesis, then, must provide your answer to the problem or question you've posed. If your problem meets the two tests—it has two or more possible positions and it has a manageable scope—then your thesis should easily meet the main requirement, which is that it must be a statement of opinion that someone could disagree with.

That's why something like "Hannibal Barca was a Carthaginian general" would make a bad thesis. There's no conflict, there's no possible disagreement. No one would want to read a paper attempting to prove this.

In fact the rule here is to go as far as possible in the other direction. The more radical, the better—as long as you have evidence to back it up. (More on evidence in a moment.) For example, a thesis like "Hannibal was really an extraterrestrial from the planet Mondegreen" is a wonderful thesis. Everyone would want to read the paper trying to prove this thesis—which is where the whole supporting evidence thing comes in.

The best thesis is one that states a position, and gives an extremely concise summary of the "reasons why" that you're going to give. You should be able to express your thesis using the formula "I believe… because…". For example, here's a thesis statement that might complete the partial sample introduction quoted above:

I believe that Hannibal's use of elephants was a mistake, not because war elephants were a dumb idea in general, but because Roman adaptability meant that they would inevitably find a way around them.

This thesis not only sets out what you're going to prove in your paper, but gives you the magic number of topics to cover in the body of your paper—three. Using your thesis as a guideline, you know you'll need sections on (a) why war elephants could be effective in ancient battle scenarios; (b) adaptability as a key and intrinsic trait for the Romans, especially in war; and (c) how that adaptability ended up trumping the usefulness of elephants when the Carthaginians faces the Romans. Now you just need to assemble, and discuss, the evidence available in each of these three areas.

Notice that you're supporting your thesis with three assertions that in themselves are statements of opinion—they are sort of mini-theses. This logical structure is why a position paper works to convince the reader. Your thesis rests on opinions A, B, and C. You can prove A easily using evidence. You can prove B, too, with the evidence related to that assertion. And then C flows naturally from A and B, brought home using the evidence related to C. Demonstrating that A, B, and C are true convinces your reader that your thesis is true, too.

A good thesis, in other words, provides you with the skeleton for the body of your paper.


I said before that three "reasons why" your thesis is convincing is the magic number. You can think of them as pillars, because what they're doing is supporting your argument. Plenty of papers have been written with more than three pillars, and you might be able to support an argument (for some readers) with two or even one pillar. But long experience suggests that three pillars is the most sturdy and aesthetically effective way of supporting a thesis in a position paper like this one.

The body of your paper, then, will have three sections. Each starts with the assertion you hinted at in the thesis statement. Then you provide evidence supporting that assertion, and finally you interpret that evidence, showing the reader how it effectively illustrates the assertion, and so in turn supports your overall thesis.

What evidence do you need to assemble and describe? In most historical situations, you want to provide two kinds of evidence: (a) examples from the time and place that show what you asserted was what actually happened, and (b) expert testimony from scholars who have deeply studied the relevant events or texts. In other words, you ideally want to provide both primary sources and secondary sources.

For example, in my sample thesis the first topic—my first pillar—involves discussing why war elephants are not normally a bad idea, or, to put it another way, to show that the reason Hannibal's elephants were a mistake was not that elephants were a mistake in general, because what my paper is really about is Roman adaptability as the thing that threw a wrench in the works. So I need to show that war elephants were effective in other contexts—ideally, for the Carthaginians in other wars, if possible. I do that by providing examples of effective elephants from the ancient literature. For example, I could summarize primary sources that show Alexander of Macedon using elephants effectively at the Battle of the Hydaspes River, the Seleucids using elephants well at the Battle of Ipsus and against the Maccabees, and the Ptolemaic Egyptians at the battle of Raphia. (See the Rule of Threes surfacing again? Remember, each of your three sections is making its own argument that requires convincing your reader, so three pieces of evidence are ideal.)

Primary sources provide accounts or narratives of events; you next need to talk about how and why the elephants are effective. Here's where secondary works come in. In this case, you want scholars who specialize in either ancient military tactics or specifically in Macedonian-style warfare, talking about theory behind elephant warfare and why the ancients kept turning to it during this period.

The last paragraphs of this section are for your interpretation, where you make connections between your sources. Your interpretation shows how your sources demonstrate the assertion you're making in this section, and makes it clear that this helps support your overall thesis. The rule is, you can't just throw the evidence at the reader: first describe it, then tell the reader what it means.

That means the structure of the paper so far is going to be something like this:

I. Introduction
 A. Context
 B. Question
 C. Possible positions ("some say… others say…")
 D. Thesis statement  ("I believe… because…")

II. Elephants were not a dumb idea in general
 A. Examples from primary sources
  1. Alexander
  2. Seleucids
  3. Ptolemaic Egyptians
 B. Expert opinion on the effectiveness of elephant warfare
 C. My interpretation of what the evidence means and why it shows that
  elephants were not a dumb idea in general

Sections III (Roman adaptability) and IV (How Roman adaptability trumped the effectiveness of elephants) will follow the same structure as section II.

Finding Evidence

Finding evidence for any given historical problem is easy. Finding the right evidence that will help you make a convincing argument is hard. Therefore, my rule of thumb is, start with the evidence that's easy to find, and let it point you toward the evidence that it relies on.

For example, it's often easier to find the secondary sources than the primary. But remember the definition of a secondary source: it's the work of a scholar using primary sources to provide his or her own interpretation of events. So a scholarly secondary source is going to be based on primary sources—and the secondary source's text, footnotes, and bibliography will tell you which ones and where to look in them.

Finding books. So, start by looking for books. Tertiary sources like textbooks and encyclopedias can help you here: just as secondary sources are based on primary sources and can point you toward them, tertiary sources are based on secondary sources and can point you toward them. A textbook on ancient history or ancient Rome will usually have a "Suggested readings" section for each chapter and/or a Bibliography; these will give you the names of books that you might want to try to find. History-related articles in online encyclopedias, while notoriously unreliable, normally have a sources section that lists relevant books on the subject. (Remember: tertiary sources cannot be used as sources of evidence in your paper. This includes textbooks, encyclopedias, and almost everything on the web.)

If there's a book that's obviously useful—say you've come across references to the book War Elephants by John Kistler—the next step is to try to get that book through the library system by looking up the book title in the online catalog. In this case, it's not at the Lehman College library; but it is at John Jay, which is within the CUNY system. So all you have to do is click on the "Request" button, and John Jay will send it to Lehman for you in a few days.

If the book weren't in the CUNY system at all, you'd still have the option to have it sent to you through an online Interlibrary Loan request: if it's at another regional library you'll get it delivered via ILL in a week or two. Another option would be to check the book's availability at the NYPL, using the online catalog at If it's at the main library on Fifth Avenue (and many, many books that aren't available elsewhere are available there), and it's essential to your paper, it might sense to plan an afternoon in midtown to make use of what you can find there. (You can't borrow books out from the reading room there, but you can photocopy important pages and take notes.)

Another tactic is browsing the topic. Start by searching the online catalog for relevant keywords: ancient war, Roman wars, elephants, Hannibal, Zama, etc. As you do these searches take note of the call numbers for books that seem like they might be useful. The call numbers will start to cluster in two or three different areas. For example, Roman military history is around DG89 (history–ancient Italy–armies), but also U35 (military science–Rome). Books on Hannibal will be in DG249 (history–ancient Italy–Second Punic War). War Elephants, the book I noted above, is at UH87 (military science–other). And so on.

So here's the big trick: Once you find the call number clusters, go and look at the shelf for each of them and see what's next to the books that came up in your search. Because every time I do research, the book that's most useful to me is on the shelf next to the books that came up in the catalog search. Take down books with likely titles—and, before you even carry them to your table, check two things: the Table of Contents and the Index. They'll tell you if that book covers subjects that will be useful to you and your thesis. If you've got a book on Hannibal in your hand, but the index doesn't list elephants, you can confidently put it back—it won't help you with this paper.

Once you have a book in hand, you can harvest its sources by checking the footnotes and bibliography for (a) mentions of other secondary sources that seem to be the seminal books in the field and (b) important primary sources and the relevant passages in them. So a book on the Second Punic War will often mention both the most important scholarly books on that war, some of which you'll want to try to find. It will also refer not only to the primary source authors who wrote about that war, but it will specify the crucial passages in those works.

In this way, using what you have, you can assemble what you need.

Finding journal articles. In addition to scholarly books, you'll want to look for another kind of secondary source: journal articles. Books are generally comprehensive approaches to a general subject, with titles like Hannibal or The Second Punic War or War Elephants. Journal articles are much more narrow and circumscribed. Like a position paper, they're usually written to answer a very specific question.

Most of the classics and history journals are archived in JSTOR, an online database, available through the CUNY library websites, where you can (a) search by keywords and authors, and (b) retrieve full-text PDFs of the articles. xFor example, a JSTOR search reveals that there is a journal article called "Magister Elephantorvm: A Reappraisal of Hannibal's Use of Elephants" by Michael B. Charles and Peter Rhodan that argues that Hannibal's use of elephants at Zama illustrates his tendency to take risks in battle; and another by Charles, "African Forest Elephants and Turrets in the Ancient World," that takes on the very particular and contentious question of whether ancient warfare with the small African forest elephants involved the use of turrets, or howdahs.

From searches like these you can find a wealth of information. You may find articles that are spot on for your subject, and will be directly useful both (a) as expert secondary evidence you can quote or summarize in your paper, and (b) as directories of the most important classical and secondary sources on the subject. (Charles and Rhodan's copious footnotes cite every important book, article, and classical source on Hannibal and elephants.) Even without articles that perfectly intersect with your thesis, just the search and a glimpse at the resulting articles, even the ones that aren't exactly what you need, give you useful information—like who's writing about these subjects (apparently Prof. Charles is one of the experts on ancient war elephants) and what the burning issues are in this field.

You can also use JSTOR to find a particular article referenced elsewhere. For example, you might have come across a footnote citing the Charles and Rhodan article in a book you've found; you could then look for the article in JSTOR.

Finally, a JSTOR search may return book reviews of books that might be helpful; you can then go and find that book. For example, my JSTOR search on the keywords "war elephants hannibal" turned up a review of a book called Hannibal's Elephants by Alfred Powers; that book might have been worth investigating. (Do not use just the review as a source. The reviewer will have picked only the elements of the book that stood out to him to write about, making the review both a subjective and an incomplete treatment of the material covered in the book.)


The final section of your paper summarizes the arguments made in the paper and connects them, showing how they support the thesis you made at the beginning.

Counterarguments. To make your position as convincing as possible, one thing you'll want to consider is: What would someone say if they wanted to disagree with you? The reason this is important is that your reader may remain unconvinced because you haven't dealt with an objection he or she already knows about and is mentally setting against your arguments. Your paper is not effective because you haven't countered the opposing argument.

Suppose you were writing a paper that said that Louis XIV was a great king who made France stronger. Anyone familiar with French history, reading your paper, might be thinking, "Yeah, well, what about revoking the Edict of Nantes? Exiling the artisan and middle-class Protestants was a huge and long-lasting blow to the French economy, wasn't it?" Your argument and your evidence might be well structured and impressively interpreted, but your reader may still set down your paper unsatisfied, still thinking to herself, "But what about the Edict of Nantes?"

So before you begin your conclusion paragraph, consider a paragraph where you address what an opponent in a debate, for example, might say to rebut you after you've had your say. You should be able to phrase this paragraph using a formula like "Some might say… . In fact, however, …". In this example, you want to show why revoking the Edict doesn't tarnish Louis XIV, either because the impact wasn't that major or because the other things Louis did outweighed it in benefiting France in the ways you've previously described.


Citations are absolutely essential in any academic paper, but particularly and especially in history. All information that is not from your own head must be cited, whether it's a direct quote, a paraphrase, or even just an idea.

Citations are how we can tell the difference between what you're claiming is your research and analysis, and the work of others. If you don't cite others' work, you're claiming it for your own, and that's plagiarism. Plagiarism is not tolerated at any academic institution; the lightest you'll get off is a zero for the paper, but in many cases harsher penalties are invoked, including an F for the course and academic disciplinary proceedings that may result in a range of transcript-damaging punishments.

It is therefore crucial that you distinguish evidence you've gathered from primary and secondary sources from your own discussion, interpretation, and analysis. You do that with citations.

Consider the article by Charles and Rhodan I alluded to above. There are a number of ways that that article might crop up in your paper. You might quote it directly:

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. "Scipio had the answer to the elephant question, and the Punic elephants, when they were not doing damage to Hannibal's own troops, were unable to inflict any real damage on the enemy infantry against which they had been arrayed."

Or you could paraphrase it:

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. Scipio was ready for them, and Hannibal's elephants, even setting aside the injury they did to the Carthaginians, ended up not causing any real damage to the Romans.

Or you might just use the idea:

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. When Hannibal's elephants attacked at Zama, the Romans were ready for them.

All three of these assertions require a citation, because all of them derive not from your own head, but from Charles and Rhodan. Making these assertions in any form without acknowledging that you got them from Charles and Rhodan is plagiarism and deserves a failing grade.

The citation system in your paper has two components: the bibliography and the footnotes.

The Bibliography

The Bibliography goes at the very end of your paper. It is a list of all of the books and articles you used for the paper. Every book and article you used as source material must appear in the bibliography, once.

Each entry in the bibliography gives the reader all the information they need to find that book or article if they need to. For a book, you have to give (a) the author, (b) the year, (c) the title of the book, and (d) the city and name of the publisher. For an article, you give (a) the author, (b) the year, (c) the title of the article, (d) the journal name, (e) the volume number, and (f) the pages within that volume that the article covers.

A bibliography listing all the books and articles referred to in this guidebook so far would look like this:

Charles, Michael B. 2008. "African Forest Elephants and Turrets in the Ancient World." Phoenix 62: 338–362.

Charles, Michael B. and Peter Rhodan. 2007. "Magister Elephantorvm: A Reappraisal of Hannibal's Use of Elephants." The Classical World 100: 363–389.

Kistler, John M. 2006. War Elephants. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Powers, Alfred. 1944. Hannibal's Elephants. New York: Longmans & Co.

The bibliography is alphabetized by the authors' last names, and is not numbered.


I described the bibliography first because what footnotes do is point to an entry in the bibliography. For example, in the sample uses of Charles and Rhodan above, each of them needs a footnote after what comes from the article:

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. "Scipio had the answer to the elephant question, and the Punic elephants, when they were not doing damage to Hannibal's own troops, were unable to inflict any real damage on the enemy infantry against which they had been arrayed."1
1Charles and Rhodan 2007, 388.

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. Scipio was ready for them, and Hannibal's elephants, even setting aside the injury they did to the Carthaginians, ended up not causing any real damage to the Romans.1
1Charles and Rhodan 2007, 388.

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. When Hannibal's elephants attacked at Zama, the Romans were ready for them.1
1Charles and Rhodan 2007, 388.

Note that each footnote is actually pointing to an item in your bibliography. In each case, a footnote gives two pieces of information: (a) which book or article and (b) what page in that book or article—that is, which page would a reader go to in order to find the information you've just referred to?

You can think of the relationship between the footnotes and the bibliography like so:


The first footnote in this illustration is shorthand for what you're really telling the reader: "You can find this information on page 34 of the book in my bibliography that's written by Smith and published in 2007."

Usually author plus year is enough to identify a particular work. If an author has written more than one book or article that you're using that was published in the same year, then the years are given in the bibliography as 1999a, 1999b, etc., and the book is referred to in the footnotes by "Jones 1999b."

Citation Formats

In these examples I've used the citation style that I normally use, which is based on author–date Chicago style and is derived from the Chicago Manual of Style. The 16th edition of the CMS is current, and information and samples can be found at

Author–date Chicago style allows for in-text citations instead of footnotes. For example:

It's clear that Roman adaptability rendered the power of elephants moot. Scipio was ready for them, and Hannibal's elephants, even setting aside the injury they did to the Carthaginians, ended up not causing any real damage to the Romans (Charles and Rhodan 2007, 388).

The idea is the same: after material that comes from a source, refer to that bibliography item and give the page.

Other academic documentation systems, such as Modern Language Association or MLA style, also have in-text citations. (For more on MLA cites you can consult, e.g.,

I don't care what citation style you use, or whether you use footnotes or in-text cites. What matters is that the cites are there and that you've properly documented the evidence you've collected from primary and secondary sources.

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Eras of History

Major eras of human history

Ages of Technology

Major ages of human technology

Iron Age Civilizations

Social development across the iron age in different regions


Egypt Timeline

Periods of Egyptian history

Hebrew Timelines

Concurrent events involving Hebrews and Neo-Assyrians


Periods of
Greek History

Major periods in Greek history

Peloponnesian Wars

Phases in the development of the war between the Greeks

Fourth Century

Wars for hegemony and the rise of Macedon


Periods of
Roman History

Major periods in Roman history

Wars in Italy

Rome's progress in dominating Italy

Mediterranean Wars

Rome's advancing power in the East


Chief events in Augustus's career

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Getting the Books

All of these books are available via the Lehman College Bookstore or through online retailers. If you get the books online make sure you get the right edition and that you allow enough time for shipping before we start meeting.

The textbook is also available in rental and digital e-book versions (see below).

The Textbook
The Clouds

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Digital version of the textbook: Save 60% off compared to print; get immediate access; email notes within the CourseSmart reader; study on mobile devices

The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History, Eighth Edition
by D. Brendan Nagle
Price to Student $38.99

Make sure you get the right edition, especially if you're buying a used copy. The eighth edition of the textbook is new and the page numbers will not match up with earlier editions.

I strongly recommend the Andrew George edition of Gilgamesh because he translated directly from the source. It also has a useful introduction. If you get another edition, make sure it is based on the Standard Version of the epic. There is not a good version online, so you're best off with the Penguin.

The Clouds itself is widely available, but we'll also be working with the translator's annotations and interpretations, so you'll want to get this version if possible. Another possibility (used previously for this class) is the translation by Marie Marianetti, ISBN: 978-0-761-80588-5.

All are available from Lehman College Bookstore, either in person or online. (The website URL for the bookstore is .)