In many classes, the highlight of the year is the Roman feast, when students wrap themselves in bed sheets and bring in various attempts at Roman food. To add a new dimension to the feast, I created this role-playing activity to accompany the dress-up and food. This activity works best with a smaller, more advanced group of 6-12 students who are juniors or seniors and can be trusted to work well together.
In the role-play version of the feast, I assign everyone to play a different member of Augustus' family. I myself play Augustus. Before the feast, I take the class to the library and have them research the different family members. Each student needs to make a case about why they or their spouse or child should be appointed the next emperor. They are also told to look for "dirt" on different family members so that they could make a case that they should not be made the next emperor. If you are at all familiar with Augustus' family, you know that there are some pretty salacious stories about many of them. Realistically speaking, Tiberius, although not Augustus' first or second choice to be his heir was the only viable choice at the time of Augustus' death. Therefore for this to work, I have resurrected quite a few family members as characters for the feast who died earlier.
Then, to add further interest, I explain that some depictions of Livia, Augustus' wife, portray her as an accomplished poisoner. Therefore, I give each family team a sugar packet with a symbol. I explain to them that the packet represents a vial of unlabeled powder that you stole from Livia's private chamber. It may be poison, it may be make-up. You don't know. However, during the course of the feast, you may, if you choose, put a small amount of powder on the opposing team's plate. If they eat it, then possibly you have poisoned that character or perhaps you have just flavored their food with face powder. If you are caught, then the food is considered "not poisoned." That way we don't waste food that has simply had a small bit of sugar put on it. There are five sugar packets with five different symbols. One of them contains "poison." At the end of the feast, I reveal to the teams what the symbols mean and they reveal where they put the powder. From there we deduce, which members are left "alive."
The time-line of this activity is as follows:
Pre-planning: Assign students to family members and take them to the library to research their family members. Usually one class period suffices for this. Also hand our recipes and assign food to be brought in for the feast.
The day of the feast: Students bring in food, dress up in "Roman finery." We spend the first 10 minutes eating and milling about. Then, I arrange the students in a circle and ask each family member to tell me briefly who they think the next emperor should be and/or reasons why they think some family members should not be chosen. They can speak from notes but should not read a report. We clean up several times, serve different courses to allow people to get up and move and possibly "poison" each other. At the end, I tell them who made the best case to be emperor. We then reveal who put some of their sugar packet on which food. Should the next emperor have been poisoned, the second choice becomes emperor.
This activity has been hugely successful with my advanced class. The feast is best accomplished during a longer period - a block of 80-90 minutes if you have the time. If you are teaching A.P. Latin, this is an excellent break from the grind of translating. The hand-outs and activity description for students can be found in the google drive under "Stuff for Advanced Students." Happy Feasting!