Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None.


  • Some knowledge of the history of the Roman Empire is normally required, such as a Durham student might have acquired in the modules 'Roman Religion' or 'Roman Syria'.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research in Roman imperial history, with a specific focus on social and religious life in the Near East, for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • Seminar 1: Herodotus and Thucydides: on Harmodius and Aristogeiton Art, poetry and literature constituted the story of Harmodius and Aristogeiton as one of stasis: it therefore provides an excellent introduction to the theme as a central issue within ancient civic life and hence in ancient historiography. By examining the differing approaches of Herodotus and Thucydides, students are introduced to source problems such as what constitutes accuracy; bias and its causes; rivalry with one's historical predecessor(s).
  • Seminar 2: Thucydides, History 3: on Corcyra This is the locus classicus on ancient stasis. Thucydides' narrative of the breakdown of law, order, and morality at Corcyra (one of his most famous set pieces) will be examined both as literature and as an example of politico-ethical analysis. Account will be taken both of its influence on later classical writers, and of a range of modern interpretations of its role within Thucydies’ History of the Peloponnesian War.
  • Seminar 3: Xenophon, Hellenica: on 404-3 BC This portion of the Hellenica represents a contemporary's account of a stasis of extreme type, in that the well-established democratic constitution of Athens was briefly transformed into an extreme oligarchy. While war / post-war conditions played a role (and thus the episode relates to Thucydides’ Corcyra account), Xenophon's treatment also analyses the stasis through the contrasted portraits of and speeches attributed to Critias and Theramenes.
  • The omission of specific handling of Polybius may be noticed at this point: as a serious political thinker, consciously influenced by Thucydides, and as himself influencing later Greek and Roman writers, he will be adduced throughout the module as a comparator with that of the other historians.
  • Seminar 4: Dionysius and Appian: Roman stasis in Greek historians Both these writers felt the influence of their predecessors; both grappled with the issue of depicting episodes of stasis with which they were not contemporary in a political system which was not their own. Dionysius was concerned with the issues of constitutional change, especially as relating to the mixed constitution which he believed prevailed in early Rome: his account of a period of near-mythical history which lent itself to shaping by a political theory, will contrast with Appian’s analysis of the breakdown of the Roman republic in conflict between Pompey and Caesar, and the triumviral period which saw the rise of Augustus.
  • Seminar 5: Caesar, Bellum Civile 1 Caesar's narrative of the outbreak of war with Pompey uniquely offers an account by a leading agent of a process of political change. Issues of genre (what status do commentarii have as history?) are important here; and also the literary means whereby Caesar combines ostensibly objective narrative with justification of his actions.
  • Seminar 6: Sallust, Catiline This work (in which Caesar himself is an actor, significantly juxtaposed with both the ‘revolutionary’ Catiline and the ‘constitutional’ Cato) is an extended analysis of a brief episode of the near-breakdown of civil society in the late Republic. Here too issues of genre demand consideration, for Sallust’s preface advises the reader from the outset that history is being handled in terms of political philosophy. Moreover, as the only work which will be considered in its entirety, the Catiline allows study of the structure and balance of elements (narrative, speeches, explicit analysis) within the historiographical genre.
  • Seminar 7: Livy, Civil conflict in early Rome Various episodes in Livy's first decade (several of which are parallelled in Dionysius) analyse civil breakdown in the small-scale society of early Rome. Large-scale movements (e.g. the plebeians who secede) and small groups or individuals (the Decemvirs; and various aspirants to tyranny such as Manlius Capitolinus) allow Livy to examine what gives rise to conflict, and what it is within Roman society and character that enables the community to withstand or recover from such events. His analysis, coloured by the events of Roman history closer to his own times, differs significantly from that of Dionysius.
  • Seminar 8: Tacitus, Annals 1 For this portion, A. J. Woodman's version of the Annals will be used, in order explicitly to address issues of translation in the study of ancient historical works. This translation aims to reproduce as closely as feasible in English the word usage, structure and inconcinnity of Tacitus' Latin. The account of Augustus, Tiberius' takeover of power, and the potential for strife in conflicts within the ruling dynasty will be the themes treated.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • This module explores to what degree the religious cultures of the various places and regions within the Roman Levant were different from each other, and whether a common Near Eastern religion can be recognized. By the end of this module, students should have acquired a close familiarity with the wide range of relevant source materials, and be able to understand and appreciate the particularities of the various patterns of worship in the Roman Near East.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students should develop the analytical skills to deal with multifarious ancient sources, such as epigraphic, sculptural, numismatic and archaeological material, in addition to literary texts. They will also be expected to build on their ability to approach ancient polytheism and to handle sometimes obscure historical documents.
Key Skills:
  • This module requires well-developed analytical and imaginative skills, and also the ability to produce good written presentations. Students will be expected to improve their hermeneutical and exegetical skills, and these should be applicable to any field with a variety of interdisciplinary source materials.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminar, centred around student presentations on the topic for the week, and studying in detail a specific set of questions and relevant source materials. This method will contribute to the development of skills related to the articulation of arguments, and it will ensure, through independent research and group discussion, that opportunity is provided for enhancing anyalytical, hermeneutical and imaginative skills. Students will be expected to reflect critically on each other’s contributions, to construct their own views of Near Eastern religion in the Roman period, and to discuss these views in a sophisticated manner. The seminars are every three weeks and are two hours long, to allow serious independent research and subsequent significant presentation and discussion.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available and an appropriate source of relevant material, in our own Department as well as in Archaeology and/or Theology & Religion.
  • Formative assessment will be based on essays written up from the seminar presentations – two during the year. Summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay, to be submitted at the end of the year. This will help to promote a proficiency in producing clearly written, sophisticated and original interpretations of the relevant source materials. It will also enable students to work within the parameters of proper academic conventions, and in general contributes to research carried out at the appropriate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Every 2-3 weeks 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Two essays (one to be submitted in Michaelmas and one in Epiphany Term).

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University