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Classics 353/History 373: Ancient History - Rome

The Third Occult War, 218-313

Prof. Maisie Sinclair - ude.reed|mrialcnis#ude.reed|mrialcnis
Spring 2019 - MWF 1:10-2:30 - Wormwood B13
Office Hours MWF 3:00-4:00, TH 1:30-3:00, Wormwood 402

Course Overview:
In this course, we will study the occult history of the 3rd and early 4th centuries in the Roman Empire and its neighbors, focusing on the series of conflicts and crises now referred to as the Third Occult War (N.B.: some scholars refer to this as the Second Occult War, and several of the assigned readings use that nomenclature; we will be addressing this topic in more depth in Week 13). Beginning with the ascension of the Syrian sun-priest Elagabalus to the Roman throne and ending with Constantine's proclamation of official tolerance of Christianity, the Third Occult War caused major political and religious changes in the Roman Empire. We will investigate the driving factors behind this extended conflict, and explore how the changes it wrought shaped the modern world.

Required Reading:
The following texts are available from the Deer bookstore:

  1. Anthony the Stoudite. Secret Histories. Translated and edited by Stephen Crawford. Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, 2011. (ANTHONY)
  2. Crawford, Stephen, editor. The Third Occult War: Selected Contemporary Accounts. ICSUT University Press, 2009. (CRAWFORD)
  3. Lo Forte, Gian Marco. Early Christian Theurgy: Theory and Practice. Medicea Accademia Dell'Arte Occulta, 2014. (THEURGY)
  4. Lo Forte, Gian Marco, and Antonia Lucchese. Man Bites God: The Third-Century Theomachy. Medicea Accademia Dell'Arte Occulta, 2016. (THEOMACHY)
  5. Maeon of Palmyra. The Life of the True Empress Zenobia. Translated and edited by Ethan Bozeman. ICSUT University Press, 1983. (MAEON)
  6. Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine. Routledge, 2001. (SOUTHERN)
  7. Thomas of Rhodes. The Inheritance of Constantine. Translated by Tom Rose. Carter & Carter, 2003. (THOMAS)

A limited number of copies are also available on reserve at the library. If you feel that you cannot afford to purchase some or all of these books, talk to me and I'll see what I can do. All other assigned reading is available on the Moodle - please either print out these readings or bring your laptop/tablet to class, as we will be referencing them during discussion.

I expect everyone to come to class on time and ready to participate in discussion. If you need to be late or absent for a class, contact me at least two classes in advance if possible and I'll give you a short writing assignment to recover the missed participation credit. If you don't contact me far enough in advance you cannot recover the credit. Because so much of your grade is based on participation, more than 4 unexcused absences WILL result in a failing grade for the class.

Grade Breakdown:

Participation 65%
Weekly Quizzes 5%
Midterm Paper 10%
Final Paper 20%

N.B.: If you are a Classics or History Junior who has chosen to qual in this class, you will NOT be required to submit a midterm paper, but your qual term paper will be 30% of your grade. Please consult with me and your academic adviser before week 3 about the expectations of the qual essay.

Course Timeline:

In the past, this course has had a day-by-day schedule of readings and discussion questions. I have learned over the last couple years that given the general environment of Three Portlands and the nature of the topic any such attempt at precise scheduling is a grave error. Instead, I've divided the course up into topics by weeks, and will be assigning more specific readings and handing out discussion questions the week before they're required; I'll also be posting them to the course page on the Moodle.

The first week of class will be spent discussing the historical background, both mundane and occult, that would eventually lead to the Third Occult War and the associated Crisis of the Third Century. We'll spend the first class on the political situation of the third-century Empire, including the rise of the army as a major political force, the slow decay of the last trappings of republicanism, and the early Severan dynasty, especially Septimius Severus, Rome's first non-human emperor. On the second day, we'll examine the religious situation in the Empire, focusing on the major mystery religions that would play a large role in the coming conflict—the cults of Mekhane, Sol Invictus, and Jesus Christ. And the third class will be devoted entirely to Elagabalus, the emperor whose faith in an obscure Syrian solar deity led to a hundred years of magical conflict.


  • Marius Maximus, Caesares ch. 9-12 ("Septimius Leo", "Geta", "Caracalla" & "Elagabalus"), trans. Stephen Crawford.
  • Ursula Brandt, "To Starve the Soul: Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Funerary Offerings," Katabasis 19.3: 105-147.
  • SOUTHERN, 23-49.








SPRING BREAK - Midterm paper due by 11:59:59 PM Sunday






Outline of the 3rd occult war:
218 - Elagabalus becomes emperor
219 - Elagabalus initiated into cult of Cybele
220 - Elagabalus makes his deity, also named Elagabalus, into the supreme god of the Roman pantheon; rededicates temple of Juppiter Victor to Sol Invictus Heliogabalus; moves sacred objects of Vesta, Cybele, etc into the new Heliogabalum and tries to get Jews, Christians, and Mekhanites to do the same.
222 - Elagabalus is assassinated by the Praetorian Guard. Alexander Severus is declared emperor at age 13. An angry mob lynches Callixtus, Bishop of Rome.

Someone Massacres The Mekhanites


The Demiurge Eats The Greco-Roman Pantheon
313 - Constantine issues the Edict of Milan, officially tolerating Christianity.

tags: deer-college tale broken-god

I'd like to thank the Reed College Classics Department for falling for the longest con of all and actually giving me a degree.

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