remember this basic
everyone loves a
The important thing is to follow paths
that will be interesting to you and to
your learner. Find a topic that makes
those young eyes light up and start there.
Teaching about Rome, for example, need
not be a litany of emperors or a list of
battle dates. When reluctant students
start to hear about real-life details, their
imagination should kick in. Soon they’ll
When battle elephants became the
trendy fashion in warfare, the Romans
(who had no elephants) discovered that
pachyderms are petrified by pigs. 1 At the
siege of Megara, when the Roman army
grew desperate to turn the enemy away,
they tried to unleash a herd of pigs into
the battlefield to chase off their elephant-mounted foes. Alas, the piggies would not
budge from their doomed city. The desperate Romans slathered the whole herd
of pigs with oil and set them on fire. The
terrified elephants trampled their own
army once they caught sight of all that
flaming bacon speeding toward them. 2
Speaking of elephants, Gaius Julius,
known for his military prowess and his
bold moves, inherited the name Caesar
from dear old dad. Gaius would have his
peers think the name Caesar came from
an ancestor who once killed an elephant.
Others think the name meant “hairy”
because his ancestors were apparently
known for their lush locks. 3 The family nickname spotlighted the one thing
about which Julius Caesar was self-conscious: an impressive bald spot. It was a
happy day for Caesar when he was voted
the honor of wearing a laurel wreath full-time. Henceforth, he would use that formal foliage to cover up his naked noggin.
Prior to this honor he sported history’s
first attested comb-over hair style. 4
Speaking of baldness, the emperor Ca-
ligula was so embarrassed about being
covered in hair everywhere but on his
head that he made mentioning goats in
his presence a crime punishable by death. 5
In his imperial court, the mere mention
of goats (or looking at the emperor’s head
from above) could get a person in trouble,
but uttering praise for his favorite horse
was entirely a different matter. He built
the beast its own house and filled it with
the most fashionable furniture, along with
jewels and an ivory food trough. 6 Why not
give the horse all the trappings of power?
Caligula planned on granting the top po-
litical office in Rome to his horse. Maybe
the horse would have made better deci-
sions than the emperor.
There are countless
in history, plenty
to spark interest
for even the most
diver gave a yank and Antony reeled it on
board and realized he’d been discovered
by the queen. 7 Cleopatra quipped that
Antony shouldn’t quit his day job.
So how do you find the quirky and off-
beat details to make history more interest-
ing? When kids are younger you might
need to spend just a little more time at
the library or work with primary sources
online but, once they are older, send them
on historical treasure hunts of their own.
Don’t just rely on textbooks as your sole
source of history. Museums, documen-
taries, and reenactments not only count
as history lessons, but they also still have
a spark of life left in them. Naturally,
the best way to foster a love of history is
through travel. Sure, you can read about
If you find the
right hook, even an
can get reeled in
by a lifelong love
Julius Caesar’s funeral, but did you know
that you can still visit his actual funeral
pyre in the Roman forum, where people
still place fresh flowers daily?
There are countless peculiar and remarkable events in history, plenty to
spark interest for even the most reluctant
learner. If you find the right hook, even
an indifferent student can get reeled in by
a lifelong love of history.
Amy Barr is a homeschool mother of
three and a full-time instructor of other
home-educated students as co-founder of
The Lukeion Project, www.lukeion.org.
As an archaeologist, she spent more than
a decade excavating sites throughout the
Mediterranean and teaching Classics at
the college level. Now she and her husband,
Regan Barr, offer their expertise through
live online workshops and college preparatory high school courses about the Classical
world, Latin, and Greek. The two of them
lead annual family tours to the Mediterranean and invite you to join them for a tour
of the best sites in Greece.
1. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8. 1. 27.
2. Aelian, de Natura Animalium 16. 36.
3. Aelius, Historia Augusta 2. 3.
4. Suetonius, The Life of Caesar, 45.
5. Suetonius, The Life of Caligula, 50.
6. Ibid., 55.