Final year Ancient and Medieval History (V116) module summaries

Dissertation

  • 40 credits

This module develops from work undertaken in the second year Research Methods module. 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.

History Special Subject

  • Each of the following example modules are 20 + 20 credits

History Special Subject example module summaries:

Game without Thrones: Saga Age Iceland c. 900-c.1250 (20 + 20 credits)

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 stories dominated by tales of bloodfeuds, zombies, and where people fought not only with weapons but with sexual insults? Questions like these are key when we consider early Iceland, 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 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 the course. 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 local or regional leaders (chieftains) whose charisma and personal qualities mattered as much as their wealth and military muscle. While Christianity officially arrived in Iceland in c.1000, the country was arguably slow to become fully Christianised. 

Bearers of the Cross: Devotion and Violence in the Crusading World (20 + 20 credits) 

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 ideas 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? 

We will focus on the history and historiography of the First Crusade, which laid the foundations for so much of what was to follow and we will broaden the scope of our enquiries to consider the development of crusader devotion in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, examining a variety of forms of medieval textual, visual and material culture, including works of history and hagiography, coins, seals and manuscript illuminations, and reliquaries great and small. 

The World’s Largest Empire: The Mongols and China (20 + 20 credits)

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. 

1066: Epic Tales of Saints, Swordsman and Scribes (20 + 20 credits) 

This Special Subject offers a chance to explore one of the most colourful and formative periods of English history both as a subject of historical enquiry and a product of historiographical invention. The century after Duke William’s famous conquest of England saw an explosion of historical writing - largely in the cultural context of monastic-centred religious reform - aimed at interpreting and inventing new accounts of the past to make sense of the startlingly dramatic developments of the present. Warriors and warfare, sex and marriage, saints and miracles, honour and humiliation, violence, insurgency and subjection were all subjects in the narration of a new Anglo-Norman history of England that grappled with the consequences of a small alien force of Normans and French that completely subdued and supplanted the English ruling elite. Such a wholesale regime change was rare even in medieval history, and seems to have shocked the native culture into stunned silence for at least a generation. When English and mixed birth scribes finally broke that silence, they unleashed a torrent of narrative designed to make sense of events set in train by 1066. As we shall see, their answers to questions of continuity and change have shaped the way subsequent English history has been written and read to this day. 

Ancient History Option modules:

  • Each of these example modules are 20 credits

Ancient History Option example module summaries:

 

Egyptian Mysteries in Greece and Rome (20 credits)

 

If you ever wondered how three of the main cultures of the ancient world Egypt, Greece and Rome were connected with each other through religion and culture, this option course is for you. You will not only learn how the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis was transformed into a hellenistic deity that was even welcome in Rome - you will also understand how mystery cults worked, who joined them and how secret rituals were performed at night, in dimly lit temples and what it was that Apuleius described as off-limits when talking to others. As secondary sources in English are limited, you will learn to work closely with primary sources such as archaeological evidence and texts written by ancient authors (English translations provided). 

 

Greek and Roman Wall Painting (20 credits)

 

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 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. Particular attention will be paid to the social and cultural context in which Greek and Roman wall paintings were created.

 

Humans and Environments (20 credits)

 

Environmental archaeology and landscape studies are key to our understanding of many of the sites, cultures, arguments and explanations that make up the study of archaeology. This module will take some of the largest, most exciting and hotly contested of archaeological arguments and see how the environmental and landscape evidence can be used to shape these debates. For example: 

 

  • What causes the collapse of Bronze Age and other societies?
  • What happens to the Megafauna?
  • How does prehistoric woodland change and how is it used?
  • How does the landscape of the UK change during the late Bronze age and is this significant?
  • What determines the formation of bogs and mires and why is this archaeologically interesting?
  • Cess pits!

 

It will also demonstrate how important these fields are shaping our sense of the past and how rather than being ancillary to 'traditional' archaeological methodology environmental studies are in fact central to our understanding of the human past. 

 

Age of Empires: Domination and Freedom in Greek Interstate Relations (403-306 BC) (20 credits)

 

For city-states of the Greek world, the fourth century was an 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.  

 

Palace societies (20 credits) 

 

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.

 

Love in Greek Literature (20 credits) 

 

Love 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 onwards, it is the catalyst for great stories of heroism and tragedy. It causes the most intense pleasure and pain, misery and joy. It can bring out the worst of human conduct, but also the best. Philosophers find in it the key to the relationship between the human soul, with its aspirations to eternity, and the mortal, physical world through which life's journey must be made. This module explores representations of love and its effects in Greek texts across a range of periods and genres. 

 

Greek Mythology (20 credits)

 

Mythology shaped the identity of the ancient Greeks, and Greek myth has continued to fascinate people ever since. In this option, we explore the nature and power of myth. We investigate how it developed as a system of stories such as those of Herakles, the Argo, the houses of Kadmos, Inachos and Atreus and of the Trojan War. We also investigate its origins in the Greeks’ Indo-European background and in their interactions with older neighbouring cultures in Western Asia and Egypt. We discuss theories of myth and similarities between the myths of different cultures, and ask why it has such enduring power today.

 

Roman religion and its limits (20 credits)

 

The Roman world was so full of gods that you were more likely to bump into a god than a human in the streets, or so one character in an ancient Roman novel tells us. Roman religion was a polytheistic religion, but were there any limits to who, or what, could be a god? This is the central question of the module, and as we explore it you will meet a colourful range of gods and goddesses all worshipped in the Roman world: from the Egyptian goddess Isis, to Mars Belatucadrus (a local god worshipped at Hadrian’s wall), to the deified Augustus, to the goddess Peace, and even Sterculinius (god of manure). 

 

At first glance, then, Roman polytheism seems to know no limits, but this course is not just about the breadth of Roman polytheism. We examine how and why Romans discovered and accepted new gods, as well as rejecting some. What happened as the Roman empire expanded and came into contact with the gods of other peoples? How did some emperors and other humans become gods? Why did some gods get rejected, and by whom? And why did the Jewish and Christian god attract so much hostility? 

 

Sparta (20 credits)

 

Spartan society is the enigma of the ancient Greek world. The peculiarity of 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 so-called ‘Spartan mirage’ through detailed study of the ancient evidence and a wide-ranging examination of its society and institutions. It will consider Sparta’s military ethos, the role of the Spartan education system (agōgē), the relationship between the Spartans and the helots, the roles of women in Spartan society, and the image of Sparta in modern culture. Students will also examine the varied ways in which Sparta has been appropriated by ancient and modern writers, and the impact this has had upon academic study of the Spartans in order to evaluate just how far we can assume an understanding of their unique society.

 

Death, Burial and Society (20 credits)

 

This course, open to all CAHA students, focuses on the archaeological interpretation of human bodies and artefacts in burials, funerary architecture and symbolism, and iconographies of death and identity. It explores the diversity and complexity of mortuary practices and funerary rituals, drawing on the principal archaeological, anthropological and historical perspectives that underpin current interpretative approaches in mortuary studies. The approach is thematic and comparative, using case studies ranging from the first Palaeolithic burials, through later prehistoric, classical, medieval and modern examples to the 21st century AD. 

 

Key topics and themes, applicable to all periods and regions, include: 

 

  • Making the dead: the creativity and diversity of mortuary practices and representations
  • Mortuary evidence and social reconstruction: classic modes of interpretation 
  • Conceptions of death and the dead: cosmology, symbolism, social order and cultural ideals
  • Funerary ritual and representations of personhood, identity, descent and belonging
  • Funerary display, power, monumentality and memorialization
  • Material culture and aesthetics of death: dress, ornamentation and funerary paraphernalia
  • Landscapes of the dead and the spatiality of death (with a linked field trip) 

 

War, Peace and Diplomacy in the Roman World (20 credits) 

 

This option explores Rome as an international power in the Mediterranean from the Mid-Republic to the creation of the imperial system. The focus will be on understanding the formal processes through which Rome negotiated power and declared war in order to interact with foreign states, as well as the ideology of ‘empire’ that delivered. We will engage with a variety of historical source: literary, non-literary, and material culture.  

Example Languages

Egyptian Language Modules

Introduction to Ancient Egyptian A and Introduction to Ancient Egyptian B 

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 

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.  We will examine earlier texts dating to the Old and Middle Kingdoms and study hieratic texts of the New Kingdom. 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.

Greek Language Modules

Introduction to Greek language 

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.

Beginners Greek 1

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.

Beginners Greek 2

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.

Greek Prose Texts 

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. 

Greek Verse Texts 

This module is for those who have successfully completed Greek Texts Level I. 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. 

Latin Language Modules

Introduction to Latin Language 

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.

Beginners’ Latin 1 

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.

Beginners Latin 2 

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.

Latin Prose Texts

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. 

Latin Verse Texts

This module is for those who have successfully completed Latin Texts Level I. 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.