Final year Ancient and Medieval History (V116) module descriptions

Dissertation

This module develops from work undertaken in second year Research Methods (Dissertation Preparation). Students work to complete research undertaken and focus their energies on preparing drafts of chapters for their dissertations. Students undertake a wide range of research activities enabling them to engage directly with contemporary debates in history and examine and interpret diverse sources such as letters, diaries, newspapers, government, business, church and parish records, statistical sources and media representations of varying kinds etc...

Students studying this module are required to prepare a 12,000 word dissertation within either Medieval History or Ancient History and Classics.  Some students elect to research an area to which they have already been introduced via a taught module and some students seize the opportunity to pursue a research interest that they have been unable to develop elsewhere in the curriculum.

  • Value: 40 credits
  • Assessment: 100% 12000 word dissertation due in late spring
  • Contact: total of up to 6 hours one-to-one supervision available

History Special Subject

Each of the following modules are worth 20 + 20 credits at final-year level and run in the Autumn and Spring terms. 

History Special Subjects are assessed in the summer term by 2 equally-weighted exams; one will be essay-based (3 hour unseen) and the other primary-source (or ‘gobbet’) based (take home exam). You will have a total of 3 formal seminar-based contact hours per week, plus up to two weekly staff office hours for one-to-one consultation at your request. 

GAME WITHOUT THRONES: SAGA AGE ICELAND C. 900 – C. 1250 

How would you organise a brand-new society set up by people drawn from diverse geographical and social backgrounds? How would that society function if it were remote from other places and where material conditions were poor? What would you make of this society if the major written sources it produced were soap-opera-like epic stories dominated by tales of bloodfeuds, zombies, and where when people were not fighting with weapons they fought with sexual insults? Questions like these are ones historians consider for early Icelandic society, one of the world’s most distinctive societies in one of the world’s most unusual physical landscapes. 

The ‘viking’ colonisation of Iceland is one of the most unusual events in world: in the late ninth century a completely new society was established from scratch in a country which had never been inhabited before. Why people went to Iceland and how this new society of migrants evolved forms the first part of this module. Equally intriguing is how this society functioned in later centuries. Iceland had no king, just a series of public assemblies where legal and social business was carried out. It was materially poor and political power was weak. The most important figures were often regional leaders (chieftains) whose charisma and personal qualities mattered as much as their wealth and military muscle. While Christianity arrived in Iceland in c.1000 it was slow to take hold. 

VIOLENCE AND DEVOTION IN THE CRUSADING WORLD 

From its origins in 1095, through its zenith in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, crusading was an act of devotional violence that was defined by a central concern with the recovery, possession and transformation of sacred spaces and objects that were believed to be threatened or polluted by religious ‘others’, whether Muslims, pagans, or heretics. In this module we will examine the religious beliefs and devotional practices associated with crusading and Latin frontier settlement in the central Middle Ages through a wide-ranging study of texts, images and objects. We will ask: Why were medieval Catholics so obsessed with the idea of bringing the Holy Land under Latin Christian rule? What religious objects and images were prized and venerated by crusaders, and why? How were non-Latins affected by these dramatic expressions of Catholic piety? In what ways were the religious sensibilities of medieval Christendom reshaped by victories, defeats and disasters in the East? What was the ongoing appeal of crusading as an act of Christian piety? To what extent was crusading an ‘extreme’ display of medieval Catholic devotion? 

VILLAGE LIFE IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND C. 1100 – 1500 

Peasants made up the vast majority of the population and so defined later medieval society.  Therefore  the  roots  of  the  great  social  and  economic  changes  which occurred  in  the  later  medieval  period  are  to  be  found  in  village  communities. Peasants therefore matter, and this course will examine a number of aspects of peasant life from ca. 1200 to 1500.

How did peasants live, what did their villages look like and what were their typical daily trials and tribulations? How did rural society cope with famines and harvest failure? What was the impact of the Black Death in village communities, and how important was lordship to the daily peasant experience? 

Peasants were not simply victims of either the vagaries of the weather or lordship. They were on the whole competent, skilled and intelligent people, who planned ahead, and who had a very high level of understanding of various legal matters, which meant that they spend quite a lot of time suing each other. Some had experience of warfare as soldiers and archers, and some used this knowledge and experience in fighting back against lordship. Peasants were not all the same: some were free, some unfree, and some were well off and others were extremely poor, so we will look at such divisions within peasant societies, including the division arising from gender. What was it like to be a peasant woman? Can we define concepts of masculinity or femininity in peasant society? 

We have a wealth of primary sources available which shed a lot of light on these questions. Local court records (manorial records), can tell us a great deal about the daily experiences of peasants in this period, from how much land they held, over whom they got into arguments and fights with at the local ale house. We also have poems and chronicles which can help us explore contemporary perceptions of peasants  as  well  as  their  actions  and  aims  in  peasant  revolts.  We also have archaeological sources, which can help us to explore the material culture of rural society. 

THE WORLD’S LARGEST EMPIRE: THE MONGOLS AND CHINA 

The Mongols ran the largest land-based empire ever known in history. The drama of the initial conquests by Chinggis Qan (whom you may know better as Genghis Khan) is matched by the ambitions of his successors, not least Qubilai Qa’an (Khubilai Khan), who completed the conquest of China and founded the Yuan (1260-1368) dynasty there. Although the Mongol empire extended out from Inner Asia to the limits of Persia in the west and to China in the east, the attention of Europeans was riveted by the Mongol invasions of Eastern Europe in 1240-2, and subsequently by the extraordinary travelogue recounting Marco Polo’s twenty-year sojourn (1271-92) at Qubilai’s court in China and journeys to neighbouring countries. Thanks to Marco Polo, the Mongols in China have remained on Europeans’ radar ever since. We will work with some of the many primary materials accessible to those with no knowledge of the original languages, including Marco Polo, Rashid al-Din and the Secret History of the Mongols. We will investigate where the Mongols came from and the different ways in which their expansion was received: were they embraced, tolerated, resisted, and who sought their support? We will examine relations between the Mongols and the conquered peoples, and address issues such as collaboration and assimilation. The module gives you the opportunity to develop a deep appreciation of what many regard as the first truly global empire. 

LAW AND SOCIETY IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND 

Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries England developed a legal system that was independent of the previous Anglo-Saxon principles and of other legal traditions. Initially mainly dealing with disputes of land and thus concerning the aristocracy and those immediately subordinate to them, it gradually widened its scope to include many other types of legal conflict such as trespass or debt, disputes which could affect many other social groups as well. As the scope of the law widened it affected an ever wider social sphere, extending also to the unfree. Their legal actions were heard in royal law courts, based on the king’s court, which emerged from the last quarter of the twelfth century. The courts were staffed by expert personnel, responsible only to the king and formed part of a sophisticated system of government. 

This special subject will trace the development of the English Common Law as a part of the development of English society and royal administration, beginning with the state of the law after the Norman Conquest. It will address the legal changes under king Henry II, and look at the mechanisms of the main royal courts, including the Eyre, the Court of Common Pleas and the King’s Bench. Major documents like Magna Carta will be analysed as to their legal and political significance. It will also include aspects of the law which were relevant to large sections of society: Forest law, the workings of manorial courts and the legal status of people – freedom and villeinage. 

Students will deal with extracts from the rich documentation which survives in the form of legal records, statutes as well as legal treatises. These will be available in modern English translation. 

Ancient History option modules: Autumn

Examples of modules may include:

EGYPT IN THE FIRST MILLENNIUM

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.

Assessment: 4000 word essay

GREEK AND ROMAN WALLPAINTING

Painting and pictorial realism, as we know them, were invented in the fourth century BCE. Their effects have survived in the Hellenistic tomb paintings at Vergina, and elsewhere in Macedonia and Thrace, and their ideas have been described by ancient authors. This course examines the surviving Greek and Roman paintings together with ancient sources in order to shed light on the deployment of the pictorial repertoire of classical antiquity. 

The lectures will look at Aegean Bronze Age wall-paintings from Crete, the Cyclades and the Greek mainland and the extent to which they were related to later Greek art, the relationship of painting to ceramic art in the archaic and classical periods, the evidence of ancient texts on renowned Greek painters of the classical period, the Hellenistic tomb paintings from Macedonia and Thrace, Greek, Etruscan and Italic tomb paintings in Italy, the appropriation of the Hellenistic repertoire of images in the Roman period as evidenced in wall-paintings and mosaics, and the creation of a new taxonomy of images in the Roman period. 

Assessment: 4000 word essay

HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY OF WESTERN ASIA 

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.

Assessment: 4000 word essay

LOVE IN ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE AND THOUGHT

Love, Erōs, 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.

Assessment: 1,500 word comparative commentary (40%) and 2,500 word essay (60%) to be submitted as a portfolio and assessed as one piece of work. 

PALACE SOCIETIES 

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.

Assessment: 4000 word essay 

SPARTA

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.

Assessment: 4000 word essay

THE AGE OF NERO

‘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).

Assessment: 4000 word essay

Ancient History Option Modules - Spring

AGE OF EMPIRES: DOMINATION AND FREEDOM IN GREEK INTERSTATE RELATIONS (403-306 BC)

For city-states of the Greek world, the fourth century was age of great uncertainty and change. Old empires and long-established powers were overturned, new challengers rose and fell, and the most basic structures of interstate relations were transformed. 

In the fourth century Aegean, agency in interstate relations resided at many different levels. At the highest level, great cities, leagues of cities, empires and kingdoms vied for resources and power as well as prestige. However, these actors operated in a fragmented, anarchic world which was made up, at a fundamental level, of more than a thousand smaller city-states (poleis). The central problem for greater powers was to find means of controlling and channelling the resources of these minor Greek cities, which had their own local interests and agenda and were increasingly keen to assert their local autonomy and freedom. We will explore how a succession of different actors managed or failed to manage this basic tension, and the perspective of these minor communities themselves. 

We possess a particularly rich record of evidence for this period – consisting of historical narratives, contemporary speeches, and a large dossier of original documents preserved as inscriptions on stone. In this option we will use this material, with a particular focus on the original documents, to explore the central events and dynamics of interstate relations in the Greek world in this pivotal period from the end of the Peloponnesian war to the dawn of the Hellenistic age. 

In order to reconstruct the development of interstate relations in this period, we will examine the key events of this period by means of a sequence of regional case studies, examining the ways in which different actors rose to power at particular times and the nature of their relations with allied or subordinate states: Spartan Supremacy (404-380); Athenian Resurgence (380-370); Theban Hegemony (370-360); Persia; Philip of Macedon (359-336); Alexander and the Greeks (336-323); and the Dawn of the Hellenistic World (323-306). In the four final lectures concluding this course we will discuss themes of central importance for understanding interstate relations in the Greek World which have emerged: empire and domination; freedom and autonomy; big cities and little cities; the role of individuals; economics and religion; war and peace.

Assessment: 3 hour exam

GREEK MYTHOLOGY 

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.

Assessment: 3 hour exam 

HUMAN REMAINS: FROM FORENSICS TO DISPLAY 

This module will focus on the archaeology of human remains, from forensic analysis through to the display of human remains within museums. It will introduce students to how human remains are encountered in archaeology, how they can be examined forensically, and what types of information can be discovered. The course will also explore the storage and presentation of human remains, such as within museums, addressing questions relating to the ethics and practice of exhibiting them and how this varies in different countries. The course is taught through a combination of lectures, hands-on practical sessions and museums visits.

Assessment: 3 hour exam

LATE ANTIQUITY 

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

Assessment: 3 hour exam

Languages

Egyptian Language Modules

Introduction to Ancient Egyptian A (Autumn, 20 credits)     Assessment: 3 hour class test                                       Introduction to Ancient Egyptian B (Spring, 20 credits)     Assessment: 3 hour written examination

NB: Students may select only Introduction to Ancient Egyptian A or they may select both modules. If in doubt about linguistic study, consult a member of academic staff.  

These very challenging and demanding modules introduce 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.

Intermediate Egyptian: hieratic (both terms, 20 credits)

This course is for 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.

Assessment: 3 hour exam

Greek Language Modules

Introduction to Greek language (both terms, 20 credits) 

The module is an introduction to the Greek language and its use for beginners. 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.

Assessment: 3 hour exam

Beginners Greek 1 (Autumn, 20 credits)

This module gives students an intensive introduction to the ancient Greek language, focusing on classical Attic prose. Classes introduce the basic concepts required to understand and learn an inflected language, cover the essential elements of accidence and syntax, and focus on a core vocabulary of common words. At the same time, they progressively introduce students to examples of real Greek usage drawn from literary texts and historical sources , and nurture an awareness of differences of register, tone and style. Class exercises provide practice in both passive and active use of the students’ developing knowledge of Greek.

Assessment: Three language tests (100%) set as homework or in class, all to be completed by the end of Semester 1.

Beginners Greek 2 (Spring, 20 credits)

This module assumes a sound knowledge of the basic principles of Greek grammar and the more common inflectional forms, along with a good grasp of basic vocabulary. Students will build on this foundation to gain a knowledge of all common noun and verb forms, along with a wider vocabulary.

Assessment: 4 short class tests/off-site assessments, of which the best three count for 10% each (total 30%) and 1x 90-minute exam (70%).

Greek Prose Texts (both terms, 20 credits)

This module is for students who have successfully completed Beginners’ Greek 2. In this module students improve their linguistic ability by reading a range of Greek prose texts, practising their commentary and translation skills. Students will analyse different literary translations of the same Greek text with view to improving their own comprehension and translation skills. Students also practise and improve their unseen translation skills.

Assessment: 10 minute presentation based on a text or passage from a text read in class (25%); 2,000 word commentary essay comparing two translations (25%); 1.5 hour examination (50%)

Greek Verse Texts (both terms, 20 credits)

This module is for those who have successfully completed Greek Texts Level I during the 2015-16 year. In this module students read, translate and interpret a range of Greek verse texts, and work on their literary, cultural and stylistic significance and contexts. Texts will vary year by year. Unseen translation will be practised throughout the year.

Assessment: 15 minute research presentation based on a range of set texts (25%); 3 hour examination (75%)

Latin Language Modules

Introduction to Latin Language (both terms, 20 credits)

The module is an introduction to the Latin language and its use for beginners. 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.

Assessment: 3 hour exam

Beginners’ Latin 1 (Autumn, 20 credits)

This module gives students an intensive introduction to the Latin language. Classes introduce the basic concepts required to understand and learn an inflected language, cover the essential elements of accidence and syntax, and focus on a core vocabulary of common words. At the same time, they progressively introduce students to examples of real Latin usage drawn from literary texts and historical sources, and nurture an awareness of differences of register, tone and style. Class exercises provide practice in both passive and active use of the students’ developing knowledge of Latin.

Assessment: Three language tests (100%) set as homework or in class, all to be completed by the end of Semester 1.

Beginners Latin 2 (Spring, 20 credits)

This module assumes a sound knowledge of the basic principles of Latin grammar and the more common inflectional forms, along with a good grasp of basic vocabulary. Students will build on this foundation to gain a knowledge of all common noun and verb forms, along with a wider vocabulary.

Assessment: Four short class tests/off-site assessments, of which the best three count for 10% each (total 30%) and 1x 90-minute exam (70%)

Latin Prose Texts (both terms, 20 credits) 

This module is for students who have successfully completed Beginners’ Latin 2. In this module students improve their linguistic ability by reading a range of Latin prose texts, practising their commentary and translation skills. Students will analyse different literary translations of the same Greek text with view to improving their own comprehension and translation skills. Students also practise and improve their unseen translation skills.

Assessment: 10 minute presentation based on a text or passage from a text read in class (25%); 2,000 word commentary essay comparing two translations (25%); 1.5 hour examination (50%)

Latin Verse Texts (both terms, 20 credits)

This module is for those who have successfully completed Latin Texts Level I during the 2015-16 year. In this module students read, translate and interpret a range of Latin verse texts, and work on their literary, cultural and stylistic significance and contexts. Texts will vary year by year. Unseen translation will be practised throughout the year.

Assessment: 15 minute research presentation based on a range of set texts (25%); 3 hour examination (75%)