by Tony Kidder

Salve, amici.

I remember when I was in your shoes. The year was 2015. TikTok was still called, gay marriage had just been legalized, Undertale has just been released, and everyone was whipping and nae-naeing. Life was good. I sat in Magistra Hornick’s classroom, in a beanbag chair at the back because all of the regular seats were filled, but she welcomed me into the study of Latin and the Classics with open arms all the same. And now I’m almost done with my bachelor’s degree in Classics at FSU. Go figure.

Not long after that, I was tasked with selecting a Category to study for JCL competitions - as you may have guessed by now, I ended up with Geography, because history had too many names and dates to memorize, linguistic categories were finicky and bogged with semantics, and no one ever wins anything in Mythology because it’s so popular and competitive. Geography was not a popular category. I suspect it still isn’t. The study guide, as provided by the FJCL, is just a list of places, completely divorced from their contexts. Daunting to say the least.

This guide aims to fix this: to attach something more tangible to these toponyms. You don’t need to memorize these stories or dates to succeed in Geography; they serve merely as context, like putting a face to a name. (If you’re contemplating picking up a second category, I recommend choosing any of the Histories, or Classical Art, because that’s the bulk of the information here.)

The core question I aim to answer here is not one you may have considered: Why did the study guide writers choose to put this place on the list?

The likely answer for most of these is it was important to the Romans somehow. Shocking, I know. Maybe there was an important settlement or a monument there. Maybe there was a battle there. Maybe someone was born there. Alternatively, the place might’ve become important later; many cities across Europe began as Roman settlements, including London and Vienna. Who knows?! (Hopefully, in a little while, you.) I hope to cultivate an easy, comfortable understanding of the physical space the Empire took up, the relationships between these places, and thereby the relationships between the people who lived there. Because that’s what really matters at the end of the day, in my opinion: the people of Rome, and how they interacted with the world around them. Maybe you’ll even think more carefully about our own world!

Brace yourself for a lot of maps. I love maps. I’m astonished that the original study guide doesn’t have any.

I hope you find this guide helpful. If you don’t, please let me know! This is a living, evolving project, and I want to do whatever I can to make it as useful as possible.