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

Year 2

Investigating Rome and Investigating Greece

These 20 credit modules outline the main themes of Roman (1st-2nd C AD) and Greek (5th-4th C BC) history and historiography. Rome will take place in semester 1, Greece in semester 2. Students will become familiar with the range of literary, epigraphic and archaeological sources that historians use to reconstruct the ancient world. The modules will deal in detail with the problems of using this source material including the agendas and social climate of those who produced them. They will consider processes such as acculturation (including Romanisation) and theoretical models such as structuration theory and Marxist readings of history.

Subjects covered will range from political structures; imperialism and its social, political and economic effects; patronage both central and local; influence of military structures on society; role of individuals in the construction of the past; regional histories. Many of these sessions will consider the “othering” of non-elite male groups.

Year 3

Western Asia and Early Greece and Egypt in the New Kingdom

The sessions on Ancient Western Asia will cover the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages and aim to outline historical as well as cultural developments. Beginning with the palace societies and the world of the Amarna diplomacy links will be forged with Egypt and, in greater detail, the worlds of the pre-historic Aegean and early Greece. The course will introduce students to the latest research on the many peoples and cultures that shaped the Near East during this period.

The New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1539-1292 BC) saw the transformation of Egypt from rule by the Hyksos to an empire stretching from the Euphrates in Syria to the fifth cataract on the Nile in modern Sudan. It’s 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’. This module presents an overview, addressing different topics and themes in a broadly chronological framework, and always emphasising primary sources. Whether you’re fascinated 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 for you.

Years 2 and 3

Option – From Mummification to Burial

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.

Option – Pompeii and Campania

The focus of this module will be on the Italian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, and their region. It will examine the society, culture and religion of the cities through a range of literary, inscription and archaeological evidence. Students will be introduced to the problems that each of these types of material poses for the historian. The module will address many different aspects of life within the cities including public and private display; the demonstration of loyalty to the emperor and empire; elite patronage; religious cult; work at the cities; public entertainment including gladiators and public deviance; elections and governance. Additionally the module will consider the heritage management of the material remains at the sites and will address perceptions of Pompeii in popular culture (including for instance painting, film and TV, and popular novels). Comparisons will be drawn between the cities and their importance as examples of Roman urbanism more generally will be analysed. Relevant comparisons to other Italian cities will also be made. Finally, the module will consider what the cities can teach us about urban change during the Roman empire.

Option – Sparta

Sparta is an enigma. A society of so-called ‘equals’ whose equality was dependent upon the enslavement and exploitation of others, Sparta 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 attempt to get behind the ‘Spartan mirage’ through detailed study of the ancient evidence and a wide-ranging examination of its society and institutions. It looks at the military ethos of the Spartans, the role of the Spartan education system, the relationship between the Spartans and their Helots, and the place of women in Spartan society. 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.

Option – Late Antiquity

This module covers the late third to the fifth centuries AD, the period known as Late Antiquity. Late Antiquity is a crucial period in the Roman World encompassing the destruction of the Empire in the West and its survival in the East. The module deals with the transformation of the ancient into the medieval world. The module will address 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.

Seminar – Egyptian Literature and Society (100 things you didn’t know about Ancient Egypt)

Did you ever want to know which sacred spells were spoken during the mummification process and how they worked? Did you know that an Egyptian prince battled the Amazons before falling in love with their leader or that Egyptian magicians fought duels using fire, storm and transformation long before Hollywood?

This module consists of two parts. In the first term you will be investigating funerary literature and recitation texts to understand the different genres of texts and how to read the Book of the Dead. We will also discuss how religion, myth and ritual influenced non-funerary literature (belles lettres). During the second term, you will explore life in ancient Egypt as reflected in the fascinating legacy preserved in stone inscriptio ns and on papyri, from temple and tomb texts, to wisdom literature, funny stories and travel tales, love poetry, autobiographies and letters, including sometimes undiplomatic ‘diplomatic correspondence’. We shall draw on translated texts from the whole time-span of the pharaonic period from the Old Kingdom to Roman times, providing ample scope for individual students to pursue their own particular interests within this very wide field.

Seminar – Greeks vs. Barbarians

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 course 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.

Seminar – King of the World: The neo-Assyrian Empire

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.

Seminar – The Roman Army as a Community

This seminar looks at the ‘real life’ experience of being a soldier in the Roman army in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and also the experience of other members of the wider military community such as servants, slaves, women, children, traders. It lays emphasis on using the direct, physical evidence produced by the Roman army. Sometimes this is in the form of the forts and buildings of the army, sometimes objects used by different members of the community, and often it is written evidence produced by the Roman army including inscriptions or administrative documents (such as the Vindolanda tablets from northern Britain). All this evidence will be available in English, whether it comes from Britain or elsewhere, even if it was originally in Latin.

Questions that will be addressed will include:

  • How did the Roman army turn a spotty 18-year-old into a Roman soldier?
  • How did the Roman military community mark itself out as different and special through such things as dress, speech, law?
  • What was the career path of a Roman soldier from enlistment to retirement?
  • What informal social and power structures existed within the army alongside the formal command hierarchy?
  • 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?
  • Were Roman forts really the isolated, all-male world of traditional scholarship?
  • How did soldiers relate to the wider world in the provinces in which they served?

The overall aim is therefore to try to understand 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 Roman soldiers and the Roman army other than ‘emperors and battles’ histories.