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Kenan Eminent Professor of Classics

Ph.D., 1990, Stanford University

James Rives

I received my B.A. in Classics from Washington University in St. Louis, and my Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1990. After teaching eight years at Columbia University and eight years at York University in Toronto, I joined the faculty at UNC in 2006.

My main area of scholarly interest is religion in the Roman imperial period, particularly the interrelation of religion with socio-political power and the nature of religious change between the 1st century BCE and the 4th century CE. I also have interests in ancient historiography, especially the ethnographic tradition, in Latin prose, in ancient scholarship, and in the cultural and intellectual history of the high empire.

My books include a study of religion in Roman Carthage (1995) and a historical/historiographical commentary on Tacitus’ Germania (1999). In my book, Religion in the Roman Empire (2007), I attempted to sketch out the major aspects of religious life in the imperial period in all its variety, taking into account both the numerous cultural traditions within the empire as well as the full range of religious activities. I have also prepared new editions of two books for Penguin Classics, for which I revised the translations and provided new introductions and notes: Robert Graves’ translation of Suetonius (2007) and Harold Mattingly’s translation of Tacitus’ Agricola and Germania (2009).

I have recently completed a major monograph entitled Animal Sacrifice in the Roman Empire (31 BCE-395 CE): Power, Communication, and Cultural Transformation, which is currently in production with Oxford University Press. In this book I explore the central role of animal sacrifice in the world of the Roman empire and trace the changes in its social function and cultural significance during the period when that world became Christianized.  By focusing on the evolution of this specific practice, I attempt to illuminate the larger phenomenon of the religious and cultural transformation that took place in the Graeco-Roman world in the third and fourth centuries CE

In addition, I have published articles on a range of topics, including the Roman law on magic, the Roman persecution of Christians, the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Apuleius’ Apology. For further information about my research, including downloadable copies of many of my articles and papers, see my website here.

Since receiving my Ph.D., I have taught courses in a range of areas, including Roman history, Latin prose, and ancient culture (especially myth and religion). In the 2023-24 academic year, I am teaching an introductory lecture course on classical mythology and a graduate course in Latin prose composition in the fall, and in the spring an undergraduate course in Roman law and a new interdisciplinary course on changing worldviews in astronomy from antiquity to the early modern period.

E-mail: jbrivesATemailDOTuncDOTedu
Curriculum Vitae