Ancient History (V110): Selected Module Descriptions

First year

You will gain a thorough grounding in Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern culture and societies, as well as opening up some wider interdisciplinary perspectives.

Core Modules

Greek and Roman History

The module provides an introduction to key aspects of Greek and Roman antiquity. In semester 1 you will examine Classical Greece, primarily Athens and Sparta, the development of hoplite warfare, the Persian wars, democracy, the role of women and Alexander the Great. In semester 2 you will examine the rise of the Roman empire, the relationship between Rome, Greece and the Carthaginians, changes in Roman society and class conflict, Roman religion, the destruction of the Republic and the creation of the Imperial system.

Early Civilisations: Egypt

This module provides an introduction to the culture and material remains of ancient Egypt from 3100-332BC. An account of the rediscovery of ancient Egypt is followed by a survey of its physical environment and of the different kinds of evidence to have survived. The Egyptian understanding of the world and the conventions which governed their society are described, as is the foundation of our knowledge of chronology. The textual, pictorial and archaeological sources are then used within a clear chronological framework, and with a particular emphasis on visual appreciation of the material remains, to encapsulate the major distinguishing features of each period.

Paired with:

Early Civilisations: Western Asia

This module provides an overview of the prehistoric cultures of Western Asia. In the historic period covered (c3000-300 BC) the principal civilisations taught are the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Elamite, Hittite and Syrian Neo-Hittite (Luwian). Particular attention is given for each of these cultures, as appropriate, to social history, technological advances, architectural, artistic and literary achievements.

Optional Modules

Greek and Roman Literature

The module provides an introduction to key aspects of Greek and Roman Literature. Students will look at a representative sample of primary materials. Semester I introduces Greek Literature, starting from the Homeric epics, and including other key texts such as archaic lyric poetry, Aeschylus’ Oresteia and other dramatic texts. Semester 2 introduces key Roman texts and authors, including the Aeneid, speeches by Cicero, and some Roman elegy and satire.

Byzantium & the Transformation of the Roman World

A survey of the history of the East Mediterranean from ca 300 to ca 850 tracing the transformation of the Roman world, the emergence of the (Christian) Byzantine Empire, and the rise of Islam. Lectures focus on the lands, peoples, cultures (including material and visual cultures), beliefs and socio-political history of the Late Antique, Byzantine and, to a lesser extent, Islamic worlds.

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Barbarians & the Transformation of the Roman World

The course surveys the history and archaeology of Western Europe between AD c400 and c800 - the period when the Roman Empire collapsed and the Early Medieval kingdoms started to emerge. In particular, it will examine the interaction of the Romans and barbarians, the movements of the barbarian groups, their impact on the areas they settled, and the way that new identities were forged. We will look at how post-Roman Europe was organised - how political and social structures were shaped and what religious beliefs began to take hold. We will examine the way that networks of contacts stretched across this ‘new Europe’, resulting in diverse trading patterns, episodes of violence and artistic development. Sources used in this course include literary material, settlement archaeology, artefact study and funerary evidence.

Greek Art and Archaeology

This module focuses on the art and archaeology of the Greek world between the Bronze Age and Hellenistic period. It has a broadly diachronic approach intended to provide students with a chronological framework within which specific themes and bodies of evidence will be examined, together with relevant theoretical and methodological approaches appropriate to the study of Mediterranean cultures.

Paired with:

Roman Art and Archaeology

This module focuses on the art and archaeology of the Roman world. It has a broadly diachronic approach intended to provide students with a chronological framework within which specific themes and bodies of evidence will be examined, together with relevant theoretical and methodological approaches appropriate to the study of Mediterranean cultures, with particular emphasis on Rome itself but also incorporating case studies drawn from other areas of the Roman Empire (which may include Roman Britain).Egyptian Language (Middle)

The module is an introduction to the Middle Egyptian language. Students will be introduced to hieroglyphs, the elements of Middle Egyptian syntax and grammar, and acquire some key vocabulary. Since the aim of the module is to enable students to use their linguistic skills in order to access primary materials, we will make use of parallel texts and dictionaries to facilitate understanding of the primary texts, and to understand the process of translation.

Project – Swearing and Cursing in Ancient Greece

Oaths and curses were of fundamental significance in many ways to the functioning of ancient Greek societies. When Greeks swore oaths they invoked the gods to uphold the truth of their declarations by putting curses upon themselves if their statements were false. Oaths were typically accompanied by an animal sacrifice, with the swearer often holding the bloody entrails and standing in a pool of blood while swearing to symbolise what might happen to him/her if (s)he were to swear falsely! The swearing of oaths was of fundamental importance across an enormously wide range of social interactions throughout the ancient Greek world, its binding force one of the most important contributions of religion to social stability and harmony. For this reason, oaths are uttered, prescribed, or referred to in almost every kind of text we have from archaic and classical Greece. Curses, both public and private, and often involving the use of lead tablets and ‘voodoo dolls’, are key features of the darker side of Greek religion – the use of magic to harm one’s enemies. This Project studies the nature of ancient Greek oaths and curses, the forms they took, and the ways in which they were exploited in interaction between individuals, in the workings of the community, and in relations between communities.

Project – Temples and Architecture in Ancient Egypt

Tourists returning from Egypt often complain about what they call stereotype temple architecture: 'If you've seen one temple you know them all'. In this project we will challenge this one-sided view: you will learn why Egyptian temples followed a canonical style and which similarities were intended to guarantee continuity. But apart from shared features you will also understand why ancient Egyptian temples were intended to be unique and purpose-built sacred spaces that were, however, not only restricted to shelter gods but also formed politico-economical centres. Since this project will investigate ancient Egyptian architecture in chronological order you will learn how sacred architecture developed from early shrines built in mud-bricks to huge temple precincts with towering entrances in Graeco-Roman Times. You will also see how architecture closely followed political and religious changes and how new patterns were implemented or sometimes revised. This project, therefore, aims not only to research into temple architecture but is also an introduction into history and religion of ancient Egypt.

Project – Akhenaten and the Amarna Period

This module draws extensively on the primary archaeological, pictorial and textual sources to place Akhenaten and his revolution in the context of Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt. Here is a king who, however briefly, overturned conventions that had endured for 1500 years and built an entirely new city on virgin soil to embody his ideas. What exactly was he trying to achieve and how do his numerous innovations interrelate? We will explore the dramatic changes in religion, art and royal iconography that characterise his reign and the motivation that lay behind them. We shall also study the remains of Amarna/Akhetaten, the best preserved city from pharaonic Egypt in the context of New Kingdom urbanism.

Project – Living and Dying in the Roman City

This examines different aspects of city life in the Roman world. We examine the games (hunts, gladiatorial combat etc), bathing, burial, the theatre, religion and sewage in order to explore the difficulties of reconstructing the ancient world through literature, archaeology and inscriptions. We examine what the different buildings and the events that went on in them tell us about the structure of Roman society as well as lived experience in the Roman town. We use a range of sites in order to do this including Rome itself, well known sites such as Pompeii but also other Italian cities such as Herculaneum and Ostia, and places from further afield such as Dura Europos, Lepcis Magna, Gigthis and Palmyra.