Example Second Year Ancient and Medieval History (V116) module summaries


Ancient and Medieval History in Theory and Practice

  • 20 credits 

This module addresses questions to do with the nature of history and historical knowledge, particularly as they relate to the ancient and medieval worlds. Topics covered include issues in the philosophy of history (explanation, causality, objectivity etc.); the characteristics of different kinds of history and major trends in historiography. This is not a standard history module with a definite period/place focus, but a broader reflective module designed to aid independent thinking and reflection by students.

Research Methods

  • 20 credits

This module is designed to support students as they develop a topic on which to write their dissertation in your final year. It not only marks a crucial stage in their degree as a whole, but is also an important module in its own right. The Research Methods module will give students firsthand experience of the work of a historian as they learn to identify and frame a valid, intellectually coherent research question; identify, find and consider what primary sources they will use and how they will use them; consult with a specialist historian in whatever area it is they wish to work on; present their planned project to their peers; write a literature review that analyses what historians have made of the same subject, and start preliminary work on their dissertation proper by conducting two weeks’ worth of research.

Medieval Option A and Medieval Option B 

  • Each of the following modules are 20 credits

Medieval Option A and B example module summaries:

Rulers and Rebels of Early Islam (20 credits) 

Islam is the newest of the great monotheistic religions. Its Prophet Muhammad died in 632, and within just 100 years the Islamic caliphate extended from the Arabian Peninsula across thousands of kilometres to the frontiers with China. How do we explain this success of Islam, known to some as the ‘second big bang’? How did Islamic rule impact the medieval societies that were subjected to it? How and why did people convert to Islam, and what was their relationship with Christians, Jews or Buddhists? Who were the caliphs and sultans of specific regions in the Islamic world? 

In this module, we will explore the early origins and development of Islam within the context of historical, social and cultural change in the Near East and Central Asia from late antiquity to the 12th century. Students will draw on a range of textual, archaeological and art historical evidence to examine the history of Islam in selected societies, and will gain an appreciation for the variety in experiences and strategies of those who joined and participated in the ‘House of Islam’ in the medieval period. 

Childhood and Adolescence in Medieval Europe (20 credits) 

This course will explore the lives of young people in Medieval Society from ca. 1100 to 1500 focusing on Europe with a special emphasis on England. A society’s culture and a myriad of attitudes are revealed in the way it deals with its children and adolescents.  In this course we will look at the way historians have examined childhood and explore and test the argument made by some that there was no real concept of childhood in medieval Europe.

Crusading and Crusader Kingdoms (20 credits) 

Few aspects of medieval history appear to have more contemporary resonance than the crusades, the so-called ‘wars of the cross’ that were fought by western Christians against a range of adversaries, including Muslims, pagans, heretics and Mongols. In this module we will examine the origins and development of the crusading movement in the central Middle Ages, from its formation in the late eleventh century through to its evolution and diversification in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. We will also study the nature of the frontier societies that were created by crusaders in the eastern Mediterranean, the Iberian peninsula and north-eastern Europe, and assess the impact that crusading had on the lives and mentalities of western Europeans in general. 

Crime and Public Order in Late Medieval Europe (20 credits) 

Every society has to cope with internal conflict as well as with threats from outside. Such conflicts take different forms. There are different varieties of criminal activity or mass violence which can arise from a dissolution of social structures. External threats also have an impact on the workings of the social fabric. All societies have found ways to respond to crime and unrest. Mechanisms produced by medieval societies to deal with conflict and to combat crime and disorder in the form of legislation, courts and legal procedures will also be studied in this Optional Unit in their different contexts. 

A great variety of late medieval sources offer information on crime and disorder, on events, on their causes and on attempts to preserve peace. They include records from criminal trials which reveal bits of the medieval underworld and describe the procedures followed by the courts, normative sources like laws and statutes, records from towns with descriptions of unrest and spectacular criminal cases, books written by contemporary legal scholars trying to discuss legal procedure and to define criminal activity for the purpose of prosecution as well as narrative sources giving accounts of popular rebellions and warfare. Apart from the extensive literature on the subject, extracts from such sources will also be consulted. 

The Silk Roads (20 credits) 

The Silk Roads were the main artery of global communication and exchange for at least a millennium: wealthy Romans wore Chinese silk and Chinese Buddhists used glass vessels made on the eastern edges of the Roman Empire. To reach these destinations required journeys through environments both welcoming and hostile, and encounters with a bewildering variety of peoples and languages, cultures and religions, friends and foes. The empires at the terminal points of these routes rarely communicated directly with each other. The Silk Roads consisted of many stages, each starting and finishing at an urban settlement wherein took place intensive interaction of all kinds, whether religious or commercial, military or personal. Such exchanges could result in the transmission – slowly and with many interruptions and modifications – of not just trade consignments, but also, for example, ideas and practices, religions and artistic motifs, from one end of Eurasia to the other. Most things (and people), however, travelled only part of the way, and these shorter journeys were the everyday reality of those who lived and travelled along the Silk Roads. 

The module will draw on textual, archaeological and art historical evidence to examine cultural diversity and change in selected societies that participated in interactions along the Central Asian trade routes. We will consider the Silk Roads from a number of different perspectives, including political organisation, trade goods and religion, and we will conclude with student presentations of their research into selected case studies. Alongside study of concepts particular to this topic, such as the transmission of Buddhism and the role of certain commodities, you will also be introduced to some of the methods and frameworks for analysis used in this field, such as interpreting evidence from material culture and an approach that looks outwards from Inner Asia. No prior knowledge is assumed. 

Society in the Viking World c.800-c.1100 (20 credits)

What was the society that produced the Viking expansion like? What kinds of society were produced as a result of the migration of ‘Vikings’? To answer these broad questions we will look at society across Scandinavia, continental western Europe, the British Isles, Iceland and Greenland. We will examine what we know about the kings or lords who might have led or encouraged ‘viking’ activity and what their power depended on. But what was life like for the remainder of the population and can we detect their agency? What roles did women play in colonisation? How and why did people commemorate raiding and conquering overseas? How significant was slavery in Viking Age society and did it motivate ‘viking’ activity? What different forms of religious activity (pagan or Christian) existed in the Viking Age? In considering the impacts of the Viking movement we will investigate different forms of evidence for colonisation and conquest, from runes to DNA, to burial and settlement archaeology, to Icelandic sagas and the more conventional written sources. The Viking Age is often thought of in terms of men’s activities, of trading, raiding and military conflict between invading groups of Vikings against hapless victims in the British Isles and beyond. This module aims to consider the stories behind the ‘headlines’ provided by the chroniclers of Viking activity. Our aim will be to assess the shared and distinctive elements of the societies shaped by Viking activity. This subject is continuously changing as new archaeological discoveries challenge what we think about the Viking Age. 

Towns and Urban Life in the Middle Ages (20 credits) 

Students taking this Option will look at the development of medieval towns between the tenth and sixteenth centuries, the period when the modern network of urban settlements was created. Covering northern and western Europe as well as the Mediterranean, the course will offer a long-term view of central aspects: urban society, the different roles and functions of towns, lordship, politics and government, including the problems of food supply and security, urban law and public order, aspects of urban topography, e.g. fortifications and street layout, the urban economy, the role of the Church in medieval towns and the significance of urban associations. This means that firstly structures have to be studied.  The chronological range of the course will begin at a time when a large majority of people lived in the countryside but this ratio began to shift and town became ever more important. 

The wide geographical coverage will include areas with surviving infrastructure from the Roman Empire as well as areas without pre-medieval urban settlements. Beginning with the early medieval urban landscape, students will study foundations or re-foundations of towns, their layout, the composition of their societies, their internal organisation and their economic roles. Following a survey of the structural features the course will focus on historical change, the evolution of long-distance trade, banking and finance, including state finance, and the links or rivalries between towns and cities, the creation of town leagues and alliances and their wider political importance. 

Sex, Money and Fighting: Women and Men in Imperial China (20 credits) 

Present-day China is home to a fifth of the world's population, will soon be the world's largest economies, and is increasingly flexing its muscles on the global political stage. Today it is the last survivor of the major communist regimes, but for most of its history - over two thousand years - China was ruled by emperors working within a distinctive set of traditions that continue to resonate and to shape Chinese society to this day. This module considers how this history changes when viewed from the perspective of gender, but it is not an exercise in ‘women's history’. Instead women and their experiences are taken as integral to topics such as imperial rulership, religion, the economy, and the rise of literacy. Doing this alters our perceptions of these topics, but also highlights how little we know about men as men in history (rather than as kings, soldiers, farmers, etc). Major themes of the module will include representation (how people depicted other people) and agency (how much control people had over their own lives), and the tension between the ties of family and the loyalty owed to the imperial state. Studying a number of different dynastic periods, we will tackle topics and controversies that shed light on how a gendered approach to history really makes a difference.

Ancient History Option modules

  • Each of the following modules are 20 credits

Ancient History Option example module summaries:

Cities and Monuments of the Ancient Mediterranean (20 credits)

From the classical period onwards cities constitute the prime centres for the development of political power, economic growth, and cultural life. This module looks at key cities of the Mediterranean - Athens, Rome, Constantinople, Thessaloniki - the ways in which they developed over time from the classical to the medieval period, and their cultural legacies. By focusing on specific monuments of each city the module will enable students to analyse their historical developments, cultural context and significance. For example, the Parthenon in Athens, the forum in Rome and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul are major monuments in these cities whose function and meaning changed over time. By exploring the history, culture and religion of major monuments in these cities as well as their transformation and perception from the classical through medieval periods, the module presents a micro history of the Mediterranean world.

Human Remains (20 credits)

This module will look at how we excavate, record and analyse human remains and how we interpret them in the archaeological record. This module not only teaches this with conventional classes but it is also taught in the laboratory. This module is not just about skeletons, but also about how human death helps us understand the role of the living.

Main contents:

  • Where are, human remains found and how are they excavated, recorded and analysed?
  • Legislation, the law and ethical considerations when you dig the dead.
  • How and when are human remains preserved?
  • How can we identify violence, warfare and abuse in the past?
  • What can large cemetery burials tell us about human populations, health and burial?
  • We will also look the recent work undertaken on human genetics and stable isotopes from human skeletons.
  • A number of ‘life and death stories’ will be considered for a range of people such as Otzi ‘the ice man’, Lindow man and other bog bodies and Richard the Third will be presented.
  • Three laboratory classes focus on human skeletal anatomy, recording skeletons, and aging, sexing and pathology. 

Introduction to Sumerian Language and Culture (20 credits)

“Almost everything that’s been invented was already invented by the Sumerians.” “A sumerologist is someone who knows the mostest about the leastest.” Both of these truisms tell us something about the study of the ancient Sumerians, their language and their culture. More than twenty centuries before the first Olympiad or the founding of Rome the Sumerians created an advanced culture and civilisation with elaborate mythology, literature, architecture and science. In this option Sumerian is taught by reading original documents from the start and using them to investigate the world of the Sumerians. Previous knowledge of any other languages is unnecessary. 

Britain in the Roman Empire (20 credits)

What was it like to live under Roman rule? How were peoples and landscapes changed by Roman occupation? This module examines how Rome’s rule impacted on Britain and its peoples, and how its people engaged with the Roman Empire. The module draws upon the extensive archaeological evidence that has accumulated on the province, especially in the last 30 years, making it one of the most intensively studied parts of the Empire. The module provides a basic chronological framework but also looks thematically at the evidence from the province, stressing how new approaches and data can cast fresh insights into Roman rule.

Roman Women: Matrons and Monsters (20 credits)

This module will examine the portrayal of Roman women, in contexts such as marriage, family, public life, religion, and in texts ranging from late republican to late imperial Rome. Sources will include Roman letters, historiography, epic, satire and elegy, as well as some epigraphic material. We will also spend some time on the impact of feminism and feminist theory and criticism on the study of Classics. Representation of historical characters such as Clodia Metelli, Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, or the empress Messalina will be studied alongside fictional creations such as Horace’s witch Canidia, or Propertius’ mistress, known as Cynthia. The module should appeal to those who are interested in considering literary texts in their historical contexts.

Mediterranean and European Archaeology (20 credits)

How and from where did Mycenae get its amber? What was the importance of salt from Austria? Why is there Classical Greek pottery and metalwork in central Europe? Why had Roman amphorae already overrun Gaul long before Caesar? The Mediterranean and Temperate Europe are often regarded as two separate worlds before they were forcibly united by Rome. But in fact there was always contact between the two regions and they impacted on each other in crucial ways. This module will look at the evidence (principally archaeological, some textual) for these interactions from the later Bronze Age through the Iron Age and the Roman expansion out of the Mediterranean. It will look at the evidence for how contact was driven by the needs for natural resources and for luxury items and how these were obtained and how control of access to these resources resulted in profound social changes visible in the evidence for activities such as trade, warfare, ritual and religion, feasting, coinage. The evidence will include fortifications, settlements, funerary practice and material culture, with an emphasis on the long-distance links. 

Practical Archaeology (20 credits)

This course is aimed mainly at Ancient History and Ancient and Medieval History students with no previous archaeological experience. It offers an opportunity to learn about practical methods in archaeology, including survey and remote sensing methods, excavation techniques, environmental evidence and its recovery, dating methods, and how the results of fieldwork are analysed. Archaeology provides an avenue for studying the past that complements and sometimes challenges historical approaches: through the course you will learn about the full archaeological process from aerial photography and geophysics to excavation and site recording, and how the results of such work form the basis for archaeological interpretations of past social life.

The first part of the module consists of lectures on archaeological methods and the fieldwork process, and practical workshops on topics such as find processing and artefact identification. The second part, which takes place in Summer term or during the Summer vacation period, involves participation in the Archaeology Field School when you take part in one of the department’s field research projects and gain practical experience of investigative and recording techniques.

Classical Epic (20 credits)

This module assumes and builds on knowledge of the Homeric poems and of Virgil’s Aeneid. We also study other ancient epics, such as Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, Ennius’ Annales, and Catullus’ Peleus and Thetis. Themes covered in this module typically include:

  • Greek epic and the Indo-European tradition;
  • Greek epic and other ancient Eastern Mediterranean traditions;
  • The development of epic characters in tragedy;
  • The influence of tragedy and other genres on later epic;
  • Latin epic after Virgil.

 Imperial Rome (20 credits)

This module will examine Roman society in the first to third centuries AD - the time when the empire was at its height, when building projects expressed its wealth and confidence and when one could travel from northern Britain to Iraq within the same state. One strand will examine the power structures of the empire: the state under Augustus; imperial rule; imperial women; imperialism and conquest; and imperial cult. The second will look at our writers - Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius and will consider how far our ‘Rome’ is a product of their agendas. The third will look at wider society: the poor, women and slaves; Rome’s eastern populations including the Greeks and the Jews; religion; Rome; death and disease. 

Imperial Egypt (20 credits)

The New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1550-1070 BC) saw the transformation of Egypt from an impoverished country ruled by the foreign ‘Hyksos’ to an empire stretching from the Euphrates in Syria to the Fifth Cataract on the Nile in modern Sudan. It was thus 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 is also a period of great cities and royal residences such as Thebes, Memphis, Akhetaten/Tell el-Amarna and Qantir/Piramesse. Apart from well-known pharaohs, the period was also shaped by great individuals such as Senenmut - Hatshepsut's 'man for all seasons' -, the later deified Amenhotep, son of Hapu, or Khaemwese, prince and 'first Egyptologist'.

The New Kingdom has left an extensive archaeological and historical record, richer in many respects than any other period of Egyptian history. This module addresses a range of different topics and themes in a broadly chronological framework and consistently emphasises primary sources. You will learn about Egyptian temples and gods, the dangers of a journey through the afterlife, artistic production of unprecedented quality, diplomatic correspondence spanning a large part of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East, private lives and royal fates.

This module will focus on the 'building blocks' from which many popular accounts on ancient Egyptian history are constructed, thereby separating fact from fiction, evidence from mere speculation.

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. Students also practise and improve their unseen 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. 

Professional Skills Module

  • 20 credits 

This is a work placement module involving a minimum of 20 days in a work environment in the type of organisation or business sector to which history students might apply after graduation. It would provide an opportunity for a student to develop transferable skills such as team work, problem solving, and presentational skills and give them an opportunity to develop skills of self-reflection. It will also have 5 hours of contact time in introduction, mid-year review and end of year sessions.