Classics and Ancient History postgraduate modules

Indicative module descriptions

Ancient Egyptian Religion

This module covers diverse aspects of religion in ancient Egypt, including ideas about creation, the gods and the afterlife, religious practice in the community as well as in the temples, the interrelationship between religious and political authority, and funerary religion. Three different kinds of evidence, each with its own problems of interpretation, in combination provide as rounded a view of the subject as is possible: 1) texts, whether monumental or on papyrus; 2) pictorial evidence from temples, tombs, stelae etc.; and 3) other archaeological artifacts and contexts.

: 4,000-word essay

Akkadian Language

This course is the entryway to the study of cuneiform and Akkadian, the most important language of ancient Mesopotamia. We will learn approximately 100 cuneiform signs in the first term as well as the basics of the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian. The Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian was the language of the Code of Hammurabi and the letters from Mari as well as a host of other ancient texts from Mesopotamia, including legal contracts, extispicy records and astrological omens. By the end of the first term you will be able to parse nominal and prepositional phrases as well as simple (G-stem) verbs. In the second term of this two term sequence we will learn a second set of 100 cuneiform signs and move into the study of the derived verbal stems in Old Babylonian Akkadian. We will also begin to read legal statutes from the Code of Hammurabi and our first examples of Old Babylonian letters and royal inscriptions. This two-term sequence is based on Huehnergard’s A Grammar of Akkadian. Assessment: In each semester you take 4 short in-class texts, of which the best three are counted (10% each) and a 90 minute exam (70%). 

Aspects of Byzantine History

Topics covered vary from year to year. Previous modules have included: 

  • Byzantine Society: this module takes a broad perspective on Byzantine society, concentrating on the middle Byzantine period (7th-11th centuries). We work our way from the top – the emperor, the court, the bureaucracy – to the bottom of the social ladder, i.e. the peasants and the unfree. We approach the social structures of Byzantium from a variety of angles, looking at the court, family structures, provincial society, merchants etc. We use a range of sources, from the court hierarchies defined in the Taktika to legal sources on land ownership, and from historiography to first-hand accounts of captivity, and apply a comparative approach when useful.
  • Narrative and the Material: this module focuses on the narrative account of Nicholas Mesarites, an eyewitness to the failed usurpation attempt of a member of the aristocracy, John Komnenos 'the Fat' (1200). One of five contemporary accounts, Mesarites' report is distinguished by its great attention to detail, expressed not only in descriptions of the buildings of the palace and the relics kept there but also by attention to the physical, the body, the sounds and sights of the 24-hour coup. The module studies the way that Mesarites constructs his narrative but also the way modern historians construct their narratives of this event.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Byzantine Archaeology and Material Culture

The module surveys the history of archaeological practice as it concerns the post-Roman East, and explores key aspects of the Late Roman and Transitional (‘Dark-Age’) archaeological record, different archaeological strategies, and how archaeological literature can be used to understand some of the major long-term changes that characterise the period AD 300-800. It focuses in particular on interpretative themes such as Christianisation, invasions, demographic changes, the transformation of urban culture, and changes in rural settlement, agriculture and artisanal production.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Egyptian Culture in Context

This module provides you with a thorough grounding in this key period for Egyptian history and culture. It covers the dramatic shifts in power and ideology as Pharaonic Egypt clashed first with Persia, then with Alexander the Great, before it finally came into contact with the new superpower: Rome.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

Egyptian Language

This is a beginners’ course in Middle Egyptian, so you will start from scratch learning to read ancient Egyptian texts and translate sentences written in hieroglyphs into English. Two contact hours per week will enable us to make fast progress so that you are able to translate even unseen texts from the age of the Pharaohs into English by the end of term 2. Concentrating purely on what is called Middle Egyptian, which was the language introduced during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 BC), will build a strong basis for any further studies of Egyptian language.

Assessment: Class test or examination 

Empire and Identity

This module is in two parts, both linked by questions of how contact with the Roman empire changed peoples' perceptions of themselves and how this was represented in particular through their material culture. The first part considers the ‘Romanisation’ debate of the last hundred years, from the ‘top-down’ view of Haverfield and his successors, who brought to bear their own experiences of European colonialism and imperialism, through to more recent ‘bottom-up’ analyses employing post-colonial and related analyses, to the current position where the term can be seen as counter-productive.

The second part looks at the construction of ‘barbarian’ identities in the later Roman period (mainly the 4th and 5th centuries). It considers the construction of ‘ethnicity’ in the 20th century, from Kossinna on, and its relationship to material culture (if there is any). The recent discussions of the construction of ‘identity’ rather than just ‘ethnicity’ are considered. Particular use is made of the rich textual and archaeological evidence for the (Visi-)Goths.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

Gender in Byzantium

This module explores the construction of gender and social identities in the Byzantine world c.330-1453. Drawing together a wide range of literary, archaeological, visual and papyryological sources, this module will explore how ideas about gender and social status were constructed by writers and how these ideas and conventions impacted upon the daily lives of men, women, eunuchs and children in Byzantium. Observing differences across regions of the empire and across centuries, this module will also explore the fluidity of gender and social experience in Byzantium from Late Antiquity until the Later Middle Ages.  

Greek/Latin (Beginner)

These modules provide an intensive introduction to Greek or Latin. They aim to provide you with the basic linguistic skills needed to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek or Latin for the purposes of research.

Assessment: Class test or examination 

Greek/Latin (Advanced)

These modules consolidate linguistic skills to enable you to work independently on Greek or Latin texts in the original language, building upon existing knowledge. They develop analytical and critical skills by means of advanced grammar and reading classes focusing in detail on a text or texts. Texts chosen will generally reflect the interests of students in the group.

Assessment: Take-home paper or examination 

Herodotus and Ancient Worlds

This module explores the theory and practice of historiography in the ancient world, with particular emphasis on the role of Greek-speaking peoples and the cultures with which they came into contact. The module is centred on Herodotus' Histories, enabling you to develop strategies for reading and understanding the rhetorics of history, in conjunction with study of the cultural contexts which produce them.

The module investigates the different ways in which texts produce, and are produced by, cultures, and the interfaces between civilisations that generate them. It investigates the connections between theories of history, reception and hermeneutics, and the development of cultural identity and historical consciousness.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

Ideas, Ideals and Ideologies

This module explores the ways in which Romans thought about the world around them, their place in it, and ideas and ideals through which they shaped their society. Focussing on the periods of the late Republic and early Empire, this module allows you to engage with a range of different media including literary sources (authors such as Cicero, Sallust, Seneca, and Pliny the Elder), documents, inscriptions (epigraphy), coins (numismatics) and material culture, in order to investigate how the Romans conceptualised their world. You will also learn how to evaluate the ancient evidence within theoretical frameworks, starting with models of Rome’s world view, and then narrowing down the focus to a societal level, and then still further to the level of the individual and their experiences.

This module will cover themes including the relationship between humans and the divine; humans and the physical/natural world; Rome and the provinces; ethics and government; political ideology; and socio-cultural ideals and models of behaviour 

Assessment: 4,000 word essay.

Imagining the Past: Tolkien and Medievalism

In this module, we examine the works of J. R. R. Tolkien against the backdrop of nineteenth-century reimaginations of the mediaeval period. Topics covered may include the Catholic Revival, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Arts and Crafts Movement, Arthurian traditions in English literature, Beowulf and Old English literature, Indo-European philology. Names to look out for: Augustus Pugin, Christina and Gabriel Dante Rossetti, William Morris, John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, the Brothers Grimm, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Rackham, Andrew Lang. Consideration may be given to aspects of Tolkien's legacy (e.g. the Peter Jackson films). Students taking this course should know the books of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and should be ready to read The Silmarillion and others of Tolkien's works.  Assessment: 5,000 word essay, on a topic agreed by tutor and student

Numismatics for Research and in Museums

In this module you will be working directly with the coins held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Of the ten two-hour sessions over the course of the semester, six will be devoted to numismatics as a discipline within historical studies, and the remaining four will be devoted to coins in museum collections. As part of the museology section you will be asked to conceive, propose and design a museum display case relating to any aspect of numismatics but within the constraints of the Barber’s coin collection.

Assessment: 3,000-word essay and 1,500-word exhibition plan 

Seminar for Social History

The Seminar for Social History is a new interdisciplinary module which explores a different theme each year across the range of different cultures represented in CAHA. In 2019-20 the seminar will examine ‘Ancient Slaveries’ and explore how we should write the history of these particularly marginalised and oppressed groups in the ancient world. Participants will gain an understanding of the different textures of evidence for slavery which survive from the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, and the latest scholarly approaches in these different fields. We will explore the value and limitations of comparative approaches in understanding the nature of different unfree groups and statuses in the ancient world, their significance in defining the position of free citizens in specific societies, and how far we can identify particular cultures or communities as ‘slave societies’.  

Assessment: 4,000 word essay on a topic defined by participants in consultation with the seminar convenors.

Research and Scholarship in Classics and Ancient History

This module ensures that students across the range of sub-disciplines in Classics and Ancient History acquire the necessary generic and specific skills needed for further research. These will include advanced bibliographic skills, familiarity with theoretical and critical approaches and schools of thought, technical skills such as techniques of epigraphy or numismatics where appropriate. Delivery will take place in seminar formats, with sub-disciplines offering different break-out sessions as needed.

Assessment: Two written assignments and a 10-minute presentation

The Economies of the Late Roman, Byzantine and Frankish East

This module introduces the economic history of the post-Roman East (4th-15th cc.). Lectures first review critically a range of approaches to pre-modern economies and explore their value for historical enquiries; then the study of parameters of long- and short-term change (environmental, demographic and technological); key trajectories (e.g., in land-use, artisanal production, trade, redistribution, and monetisation); evolving forms of land tenure and taxation; the state’s involvement in the economy; the roles of the Church and the law; and the impact of the Italian mercantile republics.

In the seminar component you will have the opportunity to consider this predominantly empirical history in the light of the more theoretical approaches, and in the light of the burgeoning archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean, confronting some of the problems of the relationship between theories, texts, and archaeology.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

The Methodologies of Byzantine Studies

This module provides an introduction to predominant research methodologies in Byzantine studies. You are given introductory training in a variety of subject areas, such as historical writing, charters and documents, art history, numismatics, epigraphy and sigillography. Emphasis is placed on the primary sources and the analytical and bibliographical skills required for interpreting narrative, documentary and material evidence relating to the Byzantine past.

Assessment: Four 1,000-word essays
Please note that the optional module information listed here is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year and depending on your programme of study. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.