Ancient History (V110): Selected Module Descriptions Y2-3

Second year

Our Ancient History core module develops your analytical skills and introduces you to advanced historical theory and methodology. You will engage in-depth with key periods and problems in ancient history, and examine the process of writing history itself..

A special feature of the second year is the Study Tour module which is a unique opportunity to visit the regions you are studying in the Easter vacation. With financial support from the University you plan a research project and travel with fellow students to a country relevant to your studies such as Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, France or Spain.

Reading texts in the original is a great advantage and you have the opportunity, if you wish, to learn one of the ancient languages – Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek or Latin. You can also choose from our unique range of options.

Compulsory Modules

Study Tour (20)

The Study Tour gives students the opportunity to plan and undertake travel to various parts of the world (usually Italy, Greece, or Turkey) to visit sites, monuments and museums of particular interest to their degree programmes. Group work is key to the module: students plan, travel and present work as a group of (normally 2-6 students in a group).

Semester 1 is the is the tour preparation section. In groups, students decide where they are going to visit, choose individual research topics, plan a detailed and annotated itinerary including two weeks of Study Tour activity, prepare a preliminary bibliography (academic and practical) and present these as an illustrated report. In addition they prepare a preliminary version of the university Risk Assessment form. In the course of the teaching period of Semester 2, students will liaise with their academic supervisor on two to four occasions to optimise their academic understanding of what is to be visited before setting out.

In the Easter Vacation each group will undertake a 14-day Study Tour as outlined in their first illustrated report.

Understanding Ancient Societies (20)

This module examines the four core regions of our Ancient History programme: Egypt; the Near East; Greece; Rome. It uses literary and non-‘literary’ texts to understand ancient societies beyond the carefully constructed outputs of canonical elite writers. It will consider approaches to a range of writing types potentially including: epigraphy of all types; numismatics; seals; clay tablets; ostraca and papyri. It will look at the relatively un-mediated presentations of emperors, pharaohs, kings on monumental inscriptions, coins and political documents. It will look at state organisation through inscribed laws and organisational texts. It will consider non-elites through such texts as funerary stele, altars and devotional objects. It will look at everyday writing on material culture and in the street – vases, paintings and graffiti and in doing so will consider literacy and who could read these texts.

Seminar II (choice of seminar topics) (20)

Optional Modules

Imperial Egypt (20)

 The New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1550-1070 BC) saw the transformation of Egypt from an impoverished country ruled by the foreign ‘Hyksos’ to an empire stretching from the Euphrates in Syria to the fifth cataract on the Nile in modern Sudan. It was thus an era of warrior pharaohs but also of Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. International trade and diplomacy figure prominently, as do enormous religious building projects, extensively decorated tombs such as that of Nebamun, the Book of the Dead, personal religion and the village of Deir el-Medina. It’s also the period of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, later deified, and Khaemwese, the ‘first Egyptologist’. 

The New Kingdom has left an extensive archaeological and historical record, richer in many respects than any other period of Egyptian history. This module addresses a range of different topics and themes in a broadly chronological framework and consistently emphasises primary sources. If you’re intrigued by Egyptian temples and gods, by what they believed about an afterlife, by famous pharaohs, by relief carving, painting and sculpture, diplomatic correspondence and private letters, or interconnections with Africa, the Near East and the Mediterranean, there is something here for you. Much of what you read about ancient Egypt is interpretation rather than ‘fact’, and this module will enable you to understand the evidence on which such discussion is based.

Imperial Rome (20)

This module will examine Roman society in the first to third centuries AD – the time when the empire was at its height, when huge building projects expressed the wealth and confidence and when one could travel from northern Britain to Iraq without leaving Roman control. There are three main strands to the module. One will examine the power structures of the empire: the state under Augustus; imperial rule – Caligula, Nero, and Hadrian; imperial women; imperialism and conquest; and imperial cult. The second will look at our writers – Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius and will consider how far our ‘Rome’ is a product of their agendas. The third will look at wider society: ‘muted’ groups such as the poor, women and slaves; Rome’s relationship with its eastern territories including the Greeks and the Jews; religion under Rome; Rome, the non-Roman and resistance; death and disease.

Cities of the Med (20) 

Looking at the past is important.  Most people in the ancient and medieval worlds could not read and did not have access to books.  Instead, they relied on visual communication, from monuments and their decoration down through the ornament on objects of daily use such as combs.  The module will teach you how to look at the past, and how to see the past in a new way. The Parthenon in Athens, the Pantheon in Rome, Hagia Sophia and the Sultan’s Palace and Harem in Istanbul are major monuments of the Mediterranean world, but in all cases their original meaning(s) have changed, sometimes dramatically, over time.  The Parthenon, for example, was a temple and focus of urban rituals; then a Christian church; then an arms depot; then became a symbol of ‘democracy’; and is now both a contested site (to whom do the Elgin marbles belong?) and a symbol of Greek cultural hegemony. This modulelooks at what these major monuments – and cities such as Jerusalem (successively Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and now split between Israel and Palestine) and Palermo – tell us about the creation of the past.  It is an excellent preparation for travelling in Europe.

Roman Women (20)

This module will examine the portrayal of Roman women, in contexts such as marriage, family, public life, religion, and in texts ranging from late republican to late imperial Rome. Sources will include Roman letters, historiography, epic, satire and elegy, as well as epigraphic material. Representation of historical characters such as Clodia Metelli, Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, or the empress Messalina will be studied alongside fictional creations such as Horace’s witch Canidia, or Propertius’ mistress, known as Cynthia.

Professional Skills Development (20)

Have you ever thought of getting work experience to increase your employability while at University? Then this might be it: together with the College of Arts and Law Careers Centre, CAHA has created a Professional Skills Module consisting of 20 weeks of experience and learning in a professional situation. In addition to gaining practical experience in organisations including Birmingham City Council, Charities and Social Enterprises, students will also be introduced to work processes on site. This option is fully credited and makes part of your BA degree. There will be up to 10 positions available for which students are invited to apply. Applications will go through an assessment process involving a written application, short interview and group problem-solving exercise.

Summeian Language/Culture (20)

“Almost everything that’s been invented was already invented by the Sumerians.” “A sumerologist is someone who knows the mostest about the leastest.” Both of these truisms tell us something about the study of the ancient Sumerians, their language and their culture. More than twenty centuries before the first Olympiad or the founding of Rome the Sumerians created an advanced civilisation with elaborate architecture, city planning, technology, science and writing. The range and sophistication of what was written in Sumerian allows us to gain an insight into the minds of men and women five thousand years ago, or to put it differently, about half way back to the beginnings of the Neolithic.

This option will investigate what it meant to be a Sumerian, and what the achievements of the Sumerians were, and how they were passed on to later civilisations, sometimes even surviving in their original Sumerian form, as for example in the case of our divisions of time and the circle. Perhaps most important of all are the texts that reveal to us the rich world of thought of the Sumerians, their mythology, legends, songs, courtship rites, stories and proverbs; all of these genres will be studied and debated in this module. But the module will also cover historical texts as well as the letters which the Sumerians wrote to each other – and sometimes also to their gods – and mundane matters from ancient admin to brewing.

 The seminar will be structured in such a way that AL will be introducing the language and culture during the first five weeks of the first term. Right at the beginning though each student will choose two topics that they wish to specialise in, for example a legal code, a myth, a social or historical phenomenon or an individual city and its architecture and life. After the first five weeks the module will take on a more discursive character with students’ informal presentation of their findings and discussion.

Artefacts and material culture (20)

Artefacts and materials provide us with insights into other ways of life, art, cognition, technology and the materiality of human existence - practically and in terms of symbolic expression and sensory experience. Artefacts are also the primary media for representing the past in museums - a key point of contact for public engagement with cultural heritage. Archaeology is at the cutting edge of material culture studies, heavily influencing – and being influenced by – new approaches in anthropology, art history, heritage conservation and museology.

The module is divided into two sections. The first part explores the collection, curation, interpretation and presentation of material culture in museum displays and repositories. This will include discussion of display methods (including digital media), and the values, meanings and aesthetics of artefact presentation. The second part of the module examines current approaches to the interpretation of material culture, focusing on social life in the material world, relationships between beliefs, knowledge, action and artefacts, and fundamental aspects of human existence such as technology, ritual, gender, age, cult, ethnicity and power. The themes explored by this module are relevant to all periods of study and all parts of the world. By the end of the module you will be able to interpret material culture from a range of perspectives, and critically evaluate how past material worlds are recovered, curated, displayed and interpreted for modern audiences.

Mummification to burial (20)

For the ancient Egyptians the most crucial part of life was their posthumous travel to the beyond without dying a second death. Each dead individual had to pass several stages before s/he could become an Osiris and lead his/her life as a circumpolar star in the beyond, “sitting and standing up with the gods”. In this option course we will be looking into the mechanics necessary to guarantee a positive outcome of this rite of passage in order to successfully socialise the deceased into the world of the dead. Textual as well as archaeological sources will help to unfold a detailed picture of the various processes and concepts involved. Among many other topics, we will look into several cemeteries in detail, discuss child burials, listen to recitations performed by priests in the embalming chambers and learn to understand how the Book of the Dead worked. The focus of this option course will be on funerary belief offering a complete picture of how a burial procession leading from the embalming chamber to the tomb was organised, including all rituals and personnel involved. It will enable you to understand ancient Egyptian funerary rituals and religion and will give you an integral picture of the complexity of ancient Egyptian ritual practice.

Thinking Athenian (20)

Classical Athenians saw themselves as special. Descended from kings born from the earth itself, championed by the goddess Athena (who had to fight Poseidon for the honour!), inventors of democracy, victors at Marathon and Salamis, inventors of the dramatic arts, home to the best minds in the world, the list goes on and on. This module will look at Athenian attitudes to a variety of issues including: bravery, leisure, sexuality, politics, religion, warfare, money, and imperialism. It will also focus closely on the Athenian tendency towards the “othering” of non-elite male groups such as women, slaves, and foreigners, and even the poor. Ultimately we will be aiming to answer the question of whether the Athenians were peculiar in how they thought about the world.

Roman Britain/Roman Army (20)

Britain was one of the most heavily militarised of all the provinces of the Roman empire, with the garrison in the 1st and 2nd centuries comprising some 10% of the entire Roman army. Roman military archaeology in Britain has been a major focus of excavation and research over time, making Britain one of the most comprehensively studied military areas of the empire (and written about in English). Britain is thus an excellent case-study for looking at the Roman army, and equally military archaeology is one of the defining characteristics of the Roman period in Britain.

The course will begin by focusing on the army of the first and second centuries A.D., the period of conquest and consolidation and the building of the great northern frontiers such as Hadrian’s Wall. It will look at the types of unit, the fortresses and forts in which they lived, the conditions of service of the soldiers, pay, equipment, how such a huge force was supplied and sustained. It will then move on to look at the creation of the built frontiers in the North, Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, using them as examples of wider trends in Roman military strategy and frontier development. The final part of the course will look at the third and fourth centuries, outlining the changes that took place in the army in Britain within the more general context of the ‘military crisis’ of the third century, and at the last of the great defensive systems in Britain, the forts of the Saxon Shore.

The course will thus be an introduction both to many aspects of the Roman army for students interested in Roman history and archaeology more generally; and to a defining aspect of Britain in the Roman period for those more focused on the archaeology of Britain itself.

Greek and Roman Epic (20)

This module examines the history of the epic poem in the classical world. This module aims to give a deeper understanding of the more familiar epic poems from antiquity, in particular the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, addressing topics such as the relationship between Homer's poetry and wider traditions of Indo-European and ancient Near Eastern mythology, the reception of epic themes in Greek tragedy, the reception of tragedy in the Aeneid, the ways in which the Aeneid addresses the bloody history of the first century BC. We will also be looking at some less familiar epics; these may include Apollonius Rhodius' Argonantica, Catullus' Peleus and Thetis, and Lucan's Civil War. In addition to this, we shall consider some of the ways in which ancient epic has been influential in English literature.

Field Archaeology (20)

This module provides an in-depth introduction to archaeological fieldwork methodology, project design and organisation in real-world contexts, accompanied by a range of practical project planning and technical and analytical skills classes (such as map work, environmental sampling, stratigraphic analysis and surveying). The module also aims to develop critical approaches to evaluating archaeological methods and results, and independent research skills in data collection, evaluation and interpretation. A key component of the module is participation in the archaeological field course in the summer, involving further practical and methodological training and opportunities to act as project assistants with responsible team leader roles.

Mediterranean and European archaeology (20)

How and from where did Mycenae get its amber? What was the importance of salt from Austria? Why is there Classical Greek pottery and metalwork in central Europe? Why had Roman amphorae already overrun Gaul long before Caesar? The Mediterranean and Temperate Europe are often regarded as two separate worlds before they were forcibly united by Rome. But in fact there was always contact between the two regions and they impacted on each other in crucial ways. This module will look at the evidence (principally archaeological, some textual) for these interactions from the later Bronze Age through the Iron Age to the eve of the Roman expansion out of the Mediterranean. It will look at the evidence for how contact was driven by the needs for natural resources and for luxury items and how these were obtained and how control of access to these resources resulted in profound social changes visible in the evidence for activities such as trade, warfare, ritual and religion, feasting, coinage. The evidence will include fortifications, settlements, funerary practice and material culture, with an emphasis on the long-distance links.

Third Year

Compulsory Modules

  • Dissertation (40)

  • Seminar III (choice of seminar topics) (20)   

Optional Modules

Sparta (20)

Spartan society is an enigma in the ancient Greek world. Its society excited the imagination of contemporaries from other Greek states and has continued to serve as both a positive and a negative social and political model up until the present day. This module will study the evidence (literary and archaeological) for ancient Sparta and look at how far we can assume an understanding of their society. It looks at the military ethos; role of the Spartan education system (agoge); roles of women in Spartan society; role of the image of Sparta in modern culture. This module also discusses the varied ways in which Sparta has been appropriated by ancient and modern writers, and the impact this has had upon academic study of Sparta. It also attempts to get behind the ‘Spartan mirage’ through detailed study of the ancient evidence and a wide-ranging examination of its society and institutions.

History and archaeology of Western Asia (20)

This module applies a broad-spectrum approach to the two heartland areas of the Ancient Near East, Assyria and Babylonia. The political history will be traced, including the diplomatic relationship and military interplay between these two areas. Also playing a key role in the module will be cultural history, including literature, religion and mythology. A strand that will give the module a unique identity will be a new investigation of the king, in both regions, as an individual.

Archaeology in the world (20)

Archaeology – more than any study of the past – is a truly global discipline, and no archaeologist works in a vacuum. All over the globe, archaeologists work within a common disciplinary framework, and a framework of laws and regulations that control and determine what they do. Moreover, the work of archaeologists has implications for the people on whose behalf they work. This module will place archaeology in its context as a global endeavour that takes place at the national and local level. The module will cover issues such as the nature of a ‘World Archaeology’, how the discipline is governed and regulated, the different systems in place in different parts of the globe, the ‘public’ on whose behalf archaeologists work (including sometimes diplomats and the military), and the social, ideological and political consequences of conducting archaeology. Overall, the module will locate the practice of archaeology within its real-world context and raise interesting questions about what archaeology is for.

The Age of Nero (20)

‘What an artist dies with me!’ Written out of history by the Roman Senate after his death, Nero – the last of the Julio-Claudian line – has gone down in history as the archetypal mad, bad Emperor who fiddled while Rome burned. This option explores the many facets of Nero’s legend – artist, builder, matricide, liberator, Antichrist. As well as finding out what we can about Nero’s actual contribution to history, we will sample the important literature of his reign – Lucan’s anti-epic of civil war, Seneca’s gory tragedies, Petronius’ scandalous Satyricon – and follow his story down to the modern age in fiction and film (The Sign of the Cross and Quo Vadis).

Palace Societies (20)

The palace-based societies that flourished from 2000 BC in Crete and mainland Greece were the first advanced, literate societies in Europe, capable of major architectural and engineering projects on the basis of flourishing agricultural and 'manufacturing' economies. Their position in the Mediterranean allowed trade and even diplomatic relations with Egyptian, Syrian and Mesopotamian civilizations on the one hand and considerable influence in the development of Late Bronze Age societies in the Central and Western Mediterranean on the other. In this module you will have the opportunity to explore such topics as the administrative systems, palatial architecture, wall-paintings and other artistic creations, military focus and maritime enterprise of the civilisation which were the forerunners, indeed ancestors, of that of Classical Greece.

Court Ritual (20)

This option examines the evolution of Byzantine court ritual through the two ceremonial books that have survived, one from the 10th century and the other from the 14th century. Ritual is studied in the context of its settings, the streets and monuments of Constantinople, especially the palaces of the city. Objects such as illuminated manuscripts, coins and seals, mosaics are studied in connection with ritual for what they can tell us about the dress of the emperors, empresses and other court members and about how ritual is portrayed in art. The ceremonial books will be complemented by descriptions of ceremonies by Byzantine authors and foreign visitors to the city. Particular emphasis will be placed on coronation and other promotions, banquets, processions.

Love in Greek Literature (20)

Love, Eros, fascinates Greek writers throughout antiquity. Love is personified by two deities, Aphrodite and Eros, each of them multifaceted and mysterious; love has power over even the gods themselves. From the judgement of Paris, it catalyses great stories of heroism and tragedy. It brings intense pleasure and suffering, misery and joy. It precipitates the worst of human conduct, but also the best. Poets struggle to express the duality of Love, glukupikros ‘sweet/bitter’ as Sappho calls it; moralists labour in vain to control it; philosophers find in it the key to humanity’s troubled journey through the darkest and brightest hours of earthly life, and to the human soul’s aspirations for a higher reality and for eternal life.

This module explores representations of love and the power of love in Greek texts across a range of periods and genres. Texts are studied in translation (but with plenty of opportunities to use any knowledge of Greek you may have). We trace love through many genres and periods of Greek literature: in epic from Homer to Apollonius’ Argonautica; in Sophoclean and Euripidean tragedy; in the poetry of love, from Sappho and Archilochus to Callimachus and Nossis; in the pastoral idylls of Theocritus and in Longus’ celebrated pastoral novel Daphnis and Chloe; and in the visions of physical and philosophical desire of Plato’s dialogue the Symposium. We also explore modern responses to ancient Greek evocations of love, not only in scholarship but also in the form of imitation, adaptation and translation.

Egypt in the first millennium BC (20)

This module will present an overview of the history of Egypt from the end of the New Kingdom to the creation of a Macedonian Greek dynasty in Egypt after Alexander’s conquest of the country. This fascinating era has only really begun to be explored in recent decades. It’s a period that saw the settlement of Libyans, invasions of Nubians, Assyrians and Persians, as well as the arrival of Greeks as traders and soldiers. In some respects, Egyptian culture may appear resolutely immutable, with its temples as bastions of cultural continuity. In reality it was constantly responding to new stimuli, and the archaeological and textual record shows both a strong interest in the country’s own past and a pragmatic engagement with the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. Many of the issues are encapsulated in Herodotus’ enthralling - and problematic - account of Egypt and its history

Age of empires (20)

Empire and imperialism were constant features of the Greek world in the Classical period. We need look no further than Sparta’s exploitation of her helots or Athens’ fifth and fourth century empires for evidence of this. But there was more to Classical Greece than Athens and Sparta. In addition to Athens and Sparta this module explores the roles that Thebes, Thessaly, Macedonia and various other Greek poleis and ethne played in shaping the political landscape of Classical Greece. Particular emphasis will be placed on the concepts of freedom, autonomy and imperialism. Through case studies of these varied and often conflicting interests you will explore conflicts such as the Persian, Peloponnesian, ‘Sacred’, and ‘Social’ wars from the perspective of various “empires” that were fighting for hegemony, political relevance, and even survival.

Death, burial and society (2)

The universality of the human experience of death, the presence of well-preserved bodies and artefacts in burials, and the prominence of funerary architecture and symbolism have led archaeologists to some of their most vivid encounters with past cultural worlds. In many cases, mortuary practices provide us with the richest sources of archaeological evidence for religious beliefs and social ideals, while at the same time offering insights into the life histories and deaths of individuals. This module explores the diversity and complexity of funerary ritual and representation through archaeological evidence, focusing on current approaches to the analysis of mortuary evidence and funerary monuments, and interpretative themes such as social reconstruction, death ritual, status, royal burials, spirit worlds and ancestors, identity and personhood, human sacrifice, power and cosmology.

These themes are examined with reference to the wide range of anthropological, sociological and historical perspectives that underpin the inter-disciplinary character of the archaeology of death. Case study material ranges from early prehistory and Roman and migration period Europe to the modern era, with comparative material from all parts of the world. By the end of the module you will be able to interpret burials, mortuary practices and funerary monuments from a range of perspectives, and critically assess how the evidence is used for interpretative purposes in all kinds of cultural contexts.

Greek Mythology (20)

Like most people, the ancient Greeks loved stories – but the stories they told, of gods and humans in wonderful far-off times which are somehow powerfully familiar to us, assumed an extraordinary significance. One of the Greek words for ‘story’, mythos, has become our word ‘myth’: a word we all know and understand but which no-one can quite define.

The Greeks inherited myths with the Indo-European language they spoke, and borrowed myths freely from their neighbours in Western Asia, living as they did on the edge of the sphere of influence of the great ancient cultures of Mesopotamia. Yet their myths as much as their language came to define their identity as Greeks, forming a Panhellenic network of shared gods, shared heroes and shared cultural reference-points. The place in the world which myth defined for them was not a comfortable one; Greek myths are full of cruel gods, wicked rulers, cursed and perverted families, hideous monsters and hostile chartless territories – as well as men and women of astonishing beauty, strength, and courage. The tradition of myth, and the challenges and questions it posed, shaped every aspect of ancient Greek life: religion, war, politics, history, philosophy and science, as well as drama, poetry and art. The power of myth helped make Greek culture such an attractive export: first to the lands conquered by Alexander, then throughout the Roman empire, and later to Europe, the Near East and the wider world.

In this option module we start with the early development and cultural context of Greek myth and our sources in art and text for the major groups of stories – the labours of Herakles, the voyage of the Argo, the descendants of Kadmos in Thebes, the house of Atreus and the Trojan war etc. We go on to study some of the literary texts in which the stories are elaborated and their significance explored, before investigating some of the wider roles of myths in Greek culture: as a pattern for religious ritual and moral conduct, as building-blocks for history and science, and as an object of philosophical inquiry. We ask how Greek myth spread through the ancient world and how it was transformed by the encounter with myths of other cultures in Egypt, Syria and Italy. We go on to chart the later influence and reception of Greek myth; the many theoretical approaches – ethnological, psychoanalytical, archetypal, structural, feminist and post-colonial – which have sought to explain it and to capture or challenge its power; and its enduring fascination and vitality as a creative principle in 21st-century literature and culture.

Late Antiquity (20)

Late Antiquity is a crucial period in the Roman World (roughly the late third to the sixth centuries AD) encompassing the destruction of the Roman Empire in the West and its survival in the East. The module deals with the transformation of the ancient world addressing the social and political history of the period through literature, archaeology and material culture, including analysis of key emperors such as the reformer Diocletian who is alleged to have created a more autocratic imperial model, Constantine, the first Christian emperor, and Julian who abandoned his Christian heritage to return to paganism. The module will cover the relationship between Christianity and paganism including conversion, the creation of new holy space and religious violence; imperial capitals such as Rome and Constantinople; the evolution of the imperial court; Rome and barbarians; the Persian Empire; family and gender structures including eunuchs and the effect of Christianity on these structures.

Destruction of images (20)

This module will examine iconoclasm, meaning ‘image breaking’, across a long historical period and diverse countries. We will explore what has motivated people to damage visual signs, the ways in which objects were damaged, how people sought to resist such treatment, how such behaviour was represented in texts and images, and the changing ways in which it has been discussed by scholars over the centuries. We will look at iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, in Byzantium, during the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, as a result of nineteenth-century empire building, during the French and the Russian Revolutions, the World Wars, up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring and beyond. The module will involve asking: ‘is it reasonable to call an iconoclast a vandal?’; ‘is iconoclasm always as much about making as it is about breaking’; ‘is all modern art inherently iconoclastic?’


The archaeology of urban communities (ANO)

This module will be taught by a new addition to the archaeological staff of CAHA who will be appointed next term, so a detailed module description is not possible. However, it will address issues of central importance in modern archaeological studies. The substantive cultural content will relate to a particular period and region appropriate to the research interests of the person concerned and a wide range of specific archaeological themes relevant to urban communities will be addressed within that framework.

Byzantine Imperialism

(Dimiter Angelov)

The Byzantine Empire is perhaps best known today as the medieval successor to imperial Rome and as a model for later empires in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. The course investigates imperialism as an idea and as a practice in Byzantium. We will proceed thematically and will focus on the period after the seventh-century transformation. We begin by looking at the role of the imperial metropolis and the methods of governance. Then we will turn to issues that have provoked—or will increasingly provoke—scholarly debate, such as the perceptions of empire among the inhabitants of the capital, provincials and frontiersmen, the role of ritual and religious belief, and the integration of local and ethnic communities. Primary sources, some of them specially translated for this seminar, and important secondary works will enable us to examine the specificity of Byzantine imperialism and gain deeper insight into empire as a historical phenomenon.

Greeks vs Barbarian

(Andrew Bayliss)

The stunning victory of the Athenians over the Persians at Marathon and the equally dramatic desperate last stand of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at Thermopylae were defining moments in Greek history. In many ways Greek identity was forged in these and other battles against the Persians. This course will consider what the Greeks thought of foreigners and their religions, cultures and politics, and what these beliefs and opinions reveal about the Greeks themselves. Often disdainful or dismissive of foreigners or ‘Barbarians’, the Greeks tended to regard non-Greeks as at best inferior, and at worst as candidates for conquest and enslavement.

This module will focus on the defining encounters between Greeks and non-Greeks, e.g. the Trojan War, the mythical encounters between Greeks and Amazons, the Persian Wars,  the wars between the Greeks in Sicily and the Carthaginians, and Alexander the Great’s conquest of Asia. The key primary sources that will feature will be Homer’s Iliad, Herodotus’ Histories, Aeschylus’ Persians, Xenophon’s March of the Ten Thousand and the Education of Cyrus, the various accounts of Alexander the Great’s Persian campaign, along with a wide array of visual material.

Egyptian Blue: ancient Egyptian magic

(Martin Bommas)

A distinction between magic and religion is not known of in ancient Egypt: magical power was regarded as a divine force and only experts were able to handle it, often alongside proper medical care. In term 1 we will investigate how magic worked in ancient Egypt, we will read and analyse magical texts (in English translations), and we will look into the roles of magicians and learn about the interaction between the living and the divine. In term 2, students will start thinking about creating their own mini-exhibitions. These include objects from the Eton Myers Collection of Ancient Egyptian Art and allow us having a fresh and exciting approach to magic by using a museum/educational point of view. Who is your target audience? What do you want to impress visitors with? Which objects tell your story best? Teaching during term2 will mostly take place in the OLRC on Selly Oak Campus where we will be joined by the postgraduate curator Ms Boonstra.

The Iliad and the Mahabharatra

(Ken Dowden)

The Mahabharata (muh-HAA-BAA-ruh-tuh) is the nearest thing in Indian literature to Homer. Composed in Sanskrit (the Indian equivalent of Latin), its kernel dates back to a century or two before Homer, but it has been colossally expanded since then. It tells of five brothers, the Pandavas, who win a wife, spend time in exile, learn religious and moral truths, interact with good, evil and often inscrutable characters – gods and heroes (in Greek terms), and win the great final battle that brings this heroic age to an end (just as the Trojan War does). Yudhishthira, the leading Pandava, then rules for 36 years, till – bearing a dog – he enters heaven. If Homer is the bible of the Greeks, then the Mahabharata enshrines an infinity of learning – it even includes the celebrated Bhagavad Gita.

This seminar is for pioneers and those interested in other cultures. I do not claim to be an expert in the material, but I know (from running this seminar on two previous occasions) that we can find our way together through it and learn a lot more about Homer too in the process.

I anticipate that students taking this seminar will have a reasonablish knowledge of Homer (Odyssey too), one way or another, and will be keen to spot the similarities and differences. We will use an abridgement of the Mahabharata (not a ‘re-telling’!), given its huge length (8 times the Homeric epics combined) and the absence of a complete translation in modern English, even if it were affordable. There is a complete English translation on line (1883-96) and we will occasionally turn to it. Mostly we will go book by book through the Mahabharata and pick up the Homeric resonances as we go along. The format of seminar and oral presentations is nicely suited to this exploration. We may also look at excerpts from dvd productions.

Text to buy (no alternative): The Mahabharata, abridged and translated by J.D. Smith (Penguin Classics, May 2009), ISBN13: 9780140446814.  Available cheaply eg from Book Depository:

For Homer, we will work with whatever translations you have to hand.

The Roman Army as a Community (Simon Esmonde-Cleary)

The traditional view of the Roman army is of a hierarchical, all-male world enclosed within its forts, with outside the forts women, children, slaves, the native population, all held at varying distances.

This seminar seeks to explore and understand the different sources of information available for looking at the Roman army in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. (the period for which the evidence is richest). This evidence will be part textual (including such direct evidence as the Vindolanda tablets), part archaeological. Some of the evidence will be taken from Britain, a lot of it not, but it will all be accessible in English.

Questions that will be addressed will include:

  • the ways in which the ‘Roman’ soldier was created;
  • the ways in which the Roman military community viewed and defined itself (e.g. through dress, speech, law);
  • what is the evidence for women and children (especially in view of the ‘ban’ on marriage for serving soldiers) and for others such as traders and the native population;
  • was the Roman fort really such an isolated, all-male world;
  • how did soldiers relate to the wider world in the provinces in which they served?

The overall aim is therefore to try to understand how we may approach the ‘reality’ of the day-to-day life of the Roman military community when there was no fighting (i.e. most of the time) and to appreciate the wide range of evidence we have for the Roman army other than ‘emperors and battles’ histories.

Ritual and religion: archaeology, anthropology and history

(Paul Garwood)

This seminar will explore ritual and religion from an inter-disciplinary perspective, focusing on recent approaches to ritual action and belief in archaeology, anthropology and history. There will be introductory sessions on the key theoretical and interpretative frameworks (rooted mainly in anthropology, sociology and cognitive psychology), and on the origins and global history of religion. The main focus of the course will be on a series of thematic seminar topics concerned with particular kinds of practice, representations, and beliefs in supernatural beings, forces and sacred domains. These include: rites of passage; ritual drama and theatre; sacrifice; ritual violence; magic and shamanism; pilgrimage; animism and totemism; ancestor-worship; deism and theism; symbolism and iconography; cosmography; religious communities; cult, shrines and ceremonial architecture; and power and ideology.

The approach in each case is comparative and cross-cultural, drawing on a wide range of archaeological and historical case studies. These range from prehistoric Europe (Palaeolithic cave art to Iron Age human sacrifice), pre-classical and classical Greece, the western Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, to Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica and Inca Peru. These are combined with numerous ethnographic and modern case studies from Britain, Europe, Africa, India, Polynesia, Australia, Siberia and North and South America. The themes explored in this seminar are relevant to all periods of study and all cultural contexts, and are applicable to other modules and individual research (e.g. for study tours and dissertations).

King of the world: the Neo-Assyrian empire

(Alasdair Livingstone)

For much of the earlier half of the first millennium BC the Assyrian Empire was the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean region reaching out of its heartland in northern Mesopotamia into Anatolia, controlling much of the Levant and at times even parts of Egypt. This seminar will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to the phenomenon that was Assyria and has a firm basis in the international State Archives of Assyria Project of which AL was one of the original contributing members. A key information and data source for the seminar will be the online and published resources of the Project which includes almost forty volumes of state of the art translations and studies of key Assyrian texts and cultural areas. In the context of the seminar this material will empower students to investigate and research subject areas of their choice over a wide range covering almost every area from the ruthless and bloodthirsty military through to zany love poetry. The seminar will focus on the key areas of Assyrian civilisation including subjects such as science, pseudoscience, economy, law, religion, mythology, politics, propaganda and much else. In terms of approach the emphasis will be on ancient written sources but material culture will also play a role. Students will learn how to brew Assyrian beer, prepare Assyrian blood soup as well as how to predict the future, for example by pouring oil on water or observing animal behaviour.

Aeschylus (Niall Livingstone)

Aeschylus is the author of the earliest surviving Greek tragedies, and his work thus inaugurates the whole tradition of European theatre. His earliest play, Persians (472 BC), is unusual in dealing with a historical subject: the battle of Salamis, where the combined Greek fleet defeated the invasion force of the Persian king Xerxes. Aeschylus, who like many in his audience had personally fought in the battle, makes a radical move in presenting it from the point of view of Persian non-combatants eagerly awaiting news in their far-off capital city of Sousa. His masterpiece is the Oresteia trilogy, in which the legacy of hate, blood-guilt and revenge which haunts the House of Atreus grows into a drama on a cosmic scale; Aeschylus makes the bold and brilliant move of twisting the myth of the Trojan War into a moral snare which can only be resolved by the creation of democracy in Athens. The Oresteia remains one of the most influential and widely performed works of world drama: a new production opens at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in August 2015.

In this seminar, we will study Persians and the Oresteia but also the less widely-read plays Seven Against Thebes, about fratricidal combat between Oedipus’ sons Eteocles and Polynices, Suppliants, in which the ‘Greek’ daughters of Danaus flee from forced marriage to their ‘Egyptian’ cousins the sons of Aegyptus, and Prometheus Bound, a play whose subject-matter and staging are so extraordinary (Zeus is a tyrant whose servants Force and Violence impose his cruel orders on the other gods; the stage building represents a mountain in the Caucasus, there is a chorus of Ocean-nymphs, and Io makes an appearance in the form of a cow) that scholars continue to debate whether it is really the work of Aeschylus. We will also study fragmentary evidence for some of Aeschylus’ lost plays. We will explore subjects such as Aeschylus’ adaptations of earlier versions of myth; the plays’ context in the history of democratic Athens and how they reflect it; Aeschylus’ stagecraft, characterisation and poetry; the religious and philosophical outlook of his plays; their influence on later antiquity, and their new life in modern reception, translation and performance.

Politics and Society in the Early Greek City-States, 600-479 BC

 (Will Mack)

Why were the Greek cities able to unite and resist the Persian invasion of Greece? Why did the Greeks and Persians come into conflict in the first place? This seminar will examine the politics and social history of the city-states of Greece and Asia Minor during the crucial century of change before the Persian invasion of Greece. It will seek to explore and understand the historical development of the Greek city states, including Athens and Sparta as well as others less familiar, such as Miletus, Samos, Cyrene and Aigina. We will explore a number of crucial themes: the role of writing and written law, religion and symposia, slaves and women, aristocratic culture and egalitarian ideology, tyrants and democracy, warfare and economy, and the Persian Empire itself. 

Herodotus, as our most important narrative history for the events of this period, will provide a central focus. However, in order to understand Herodotus’ methods and the ways in which the stories he was told were themselves shaped by historical processes of oral transmission and the construction of local identities, we will also compare and combine his account with other, contemporary evidence – including poetry, inscriptions, and archaeological evidence. 

Pleasures of Rome

(Gideon Nisbet)

Ever wanted to party like a Roman aristocrat, or cook a feast fit for an emperor? This seminar investigates the appetites of ancient Romans for the good things in life: sex, food, and luxury, in the company of a few good friends. We will examine the material and visual culture of Roman leisure and read authors including Ovid, Martial, and Apicius (some of whose recipes you will be encouraged to try out) for a practical guide to how to have fun 2,000 years ago.

Forging the Christian Holy Land, 324-1099

(Daniel Reynolds)

The reputed discovery of the True Cross and the Tomb of Christ by the Empress Helena in 324 catapulted Jerusalem into the centre of Late Roman imagination. Over the course of the next three centuries, the region of Palestine became a central focus of imperial elite patronage, as holy sites connected with the Bible were encased within some of the largest church constructions of the late antique world. Many of these sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem or the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, still define the sacred landscape of this region for Christians in 2015. The foundation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre also catalysed Jerusalem’s status as one of the world’s most contested cities as Christianity added yet a further veneer to the complex religious makeup of the region. Jerusalem, as with many cities of late antique Palestine, became an arena in which Christianity competed with the legacies of the region’s Jewish and pagan past. This module will explore how this competition was fought (and very nearly won) by Roman imperial ambition.

Yet alongside this imperial activity existed a diverse network of monks, pilgrims and peasants – groups fundamental to the creation of a Christian ‘Holy Land’ but whose voices  are never heard by modern historians. Through the use of archaeological material, epigraphy, mosaics, ostraka, papyri and literary texts, this course will investigate the contribution of such local communities and marginal groups in the forging of the Christian Holy Land.      

This is only, however, part of the story. By 650 the region of Palestine was absorbed into the rapidly expanding Umayyad Caliphate and was to remain under Muslim rule until the First Crusade. Following the construction of the Dome of the Rock c.691, Jerusalem and the holy land was once more placed at the centre of competing ideologies of faith and power.   

This module will explore how Christian communities adapted to the changing political, social and religious environment of the Caliphate and explore ways in which instances of contact, co-existence and confrontation between Muslims and Christians shaped both their understanding of one another and their own sense of identity. Having spoken and worshipped in Greek for nearly three centuries, in the space of a generation Christians in Palestine transformed themselves into a community whose fluency in Arabic was praised throughout Muslim world.     

Through the consultation of Arabic-Christian manuscripts in the University’s Special Collections and the coin collections of the Barber Institute, this module will explore how such a rapid transformation of identity and social role was achieved.

We will also address how, though their contacts with Byzantium, Charlemagne, Venice and King Alfred the Great, the Arabic-speaking church of Palestine emerged as one of the most effective diplomatic powers of the early medieval Mediterranean. 

At its conclusion, the course will focus on one central question whose answer we do not yet know.  What did the Crusaders encounter on their march to Jerusalem in 1099?
Note: all texts in this course (whether Greek or Arabic) will be accompanied by English translations. 

Classical Tradition in 20th/21st century English literature

(Elena Theodorakopoulos)

In this seminar we explore the impact made by Greek and Latin literature on 20th and 21st century verse and prose literature in English. Semester one will be focussed on the impact made by Greek literature, especially Homer. Semester two will focus on the influence of Latin works, especially the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses. Texts we will study include: Elizabeth Cook, Achilles; Alice Oswald’s Memorial; Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad; Ali Smith, Girl Meets Boy; Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia, as well as a selection of poems by, e.g. Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath, Michael Longley.

Ancient Greece and modern culture (Dimitris Tziovas)

This module will explore the relevance of the classical world to modern culture and will try to provide answers to the following questions: How does Greek antiquity stage and inform modern ethnic, cultural and political conflicts? Does modernity yearn nostalgically for a purer classical past, ignoring its darker aspects? To what extent is the myth of classical Greece one of the constitutive illusions of modern cultural life? Whether turning away from antiquity or harking back to it, exponents of modernity have taken ancient Greece as a benchmark by which to measure their own age. The module will explore the impact of Greek antiquity on modern culture by looking at Victorian attitudes to Classical Greece and Rome, conceptions of otherness informed by Greek antiquity, the representation of Thermopylae in the Western imagination, the different receptions of Homer, as well as the reinvention of the Olympic Games at the end of the nineteenth century, their appropriation by the Nazis and their cultural role today. It will also examine the political, cultural and national uses of the classical past and its role in shaping modern identities and heritage politics by engaging with debates over the symbolic value of antiquity, and by looking at the modern representations of Troy and Homeric figures such Helen of Troy, Penelope, Odysseus, Achilles, Philoctetes and others in texts and films. This will often involve comparisons between the ancient and modern sources.

Homer and the World of Odysseus (Ken Wardle)

It has long been fashionable to explore Bronze Age Greece with Homer in hand, as Schliemann did 130 years ago. Archaeological research, however, especially in the last 30 years has given us a much clearer picture of life and achievement in Homer’s own time – the 8th and 7th centuries BC – a picture which helps us to understand much better the background Homer used for his epics, particularly the Odyssey.
Taking Homer and his near contemporary Hesiod in hand, you too will be able to explore the evidence for architecture and burials, for ironworking and craftsmanship for adventure and colonisation, and for trade and warfare. These aspects of everyday life shaped the experience of Homer’s audiences and enabled his resounding epic poetry to be accepted as real history by his hearers – even if his cast of characters belonged to a much more distant epoch.

Latin/Greek Texts

These 20 credit modules run through semesters 1 and 2. Prerequisites are: A-level in Latin or Greek, or two years Latin or Greek at University level. Students will read, translate and comment on a range of prose and verse texts. Assessment will include commentary and comparison of translations, and translation and commentary examination paper in the summer. This module replaces Latin IV and Greek IV for 2014-15 and beyond, and is available to Level 2 and Level 3 students, provided they meet the prerequisites.


From 2014-14, Beginners language courses will be 40 credits rather than 20 as in the recent years. Those who want to start a language can either take the whole 40 credits across both semesters or 20 credits in semester one and an option in semester 2.

Beginners Egyptian

This very challenging and demanding module introduces students to the ‘classic’ phase of the ancient Egyptian language, known as ‘Middle Egyptian’. The first part of the year is devoted to study of the hieroglyphic script and to acquisition of a basic knowledge of the grammar and a working vocabulary. In the second part of the year, short literary and historical texts from the Middle Kingdom, such as the magical ‘Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor’ and commemorative stelae are read. The course requires regular submission of exercises for marking as well as class contributions from all.
By the end of the module, the student should be able to:

  • Recognise a wide range of hieroglyphic signs;
  • Transliterate them;
  • Divide passages into their component words;
  • Translate typical Middle Egyptian constructions.

Intermediate Egyptian: hieratic

This course is for 2nd/3rd year students who have already acquired skills in Middle Egyptian language. It will introduce you to the world of handwritten manuscripts in ancient Egypt: texts written mainly on papyri and ostraca. Apart from a palaeographical investigation of hieratic texts, you will learn how to transcribe hieratic signs into hieroglyphs, thus preparing the text for transliteration and translation. In the first term we will examine earlier texts dating to the Old and Middle Kingdoms.  In the second term hieratic texts of the New Kingdom will be studied and you will learn to decipher historical and literary texts as well as letters. This will require an introduction to the Late Egyptian phase of the language.

Beginners Greek

The module is an introduction to the Greek language and its use for beginners with some previous experience of language learning (e.g. at GCSE). Students will be introduced to the basic elements of Greek 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 begin to make use of parallel texts and dictionaries to facilitate understanding of the primary texts, and to begin to understand the process of translation. This module will be run in collaboration with the Department of Theology.

Beginners Latin

The module is an introduction to the Latin language and its use for beginners with some previous experience of language learning (e.g. at GCSE). Students will be introduced to the basic elements of Latin 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 begin to make use of parallel texts and dictionaries to facilitate understanding of the primary texts, and to begin to understand the process of translation.

Greek and Latin are also offered at other ability levels for those who have already completed the beginners’ modules:

a) Intermediate Greek/Latin for those who want to continue after one year of Beginners.
b) Latin/Greek Texts Seminar for those who want to continue after Greek IV or Reading Latin Texts. 

See also Latin and Greek seminars above.