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

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

Byzantine Art and Architecture

This module ensures a thorough grounding in the monuments of Byzantium, and an understanding of the methodological issues and problems confronting modern scholars. Lectures provide a chronological survey of the monuments from the foundation of Constantinople in 324 until the end of the Byzantine empire (1453).

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 

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 

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 

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

Translation, Adaptation, Performance and Reception of Ancient Greek Drama in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

The 20th century saw ancient Greek drama in performance reach a level of popularity (not only in Europe but world-wide) unparalleled since Athens in the fifth century BC. In the 21st century, performances and adaptations of Greek plays continue to proliferate. Directors turn to them both as ‘timeless classics’ and as opportunities for shocking iconoclasm. They are invoked as celebrations of shared heritage (Greek, other national, European, or human/ global) and as ‘transcending’ political difference but also as engaged theatre serving a wide range of political causes, perhaps especially as giving a voice to groups oppressed on grounds of sex, gender, ethnicity or religion and to victims of violence and war.

There has also been a growing interest in the cognitive and psychological dimensions of Greek tragedy in particular, which has found a prominent place in the growing fields of theatre-in-education and drama therapy. Re-creation of Greek drama runs the gamut of theatrical practice from conservative to radical, from popular cultural traditions to intellectual experimentalism (often combining elements of both). New editions of ancient plays, new online archives, databases, and search engines, and other developments in digital scholarship have combined with advances in methodology to open the way for research into ancient drama and its reception of a depth and diversity hitherto impossible.

This module draws on all these resources and on the constellation of expertise in CAHA and elsewhere in the College of Arts and Law to realise this potential.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay
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.