Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2018/19 Module Cap


  • Some knowledge of ancient history and experience of reading of literary texts (in the original or translation) at Level 3 is normally required.


  • 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 the field of ancient historiography 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 acquiring as wide a range of competencies as possible. (Students of literature might, ceteris paribus, be encouraged to learn about historical sources, and so on.)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • This module builds on prior acquaintance with some works by ancient historians to provide an examination in greater depth of the genre of history, focussed upon the theme of civil conflict. Since this phenomenon was a central concern in ancient society and political thought, it was also one which a number of historians addressed through narrative and analysis. By the end of the module, students should have acquired a close familiarity with some important and representative portions of the works of a number of major Greek and Roman writers, as well as a general understanding of the preconceptions and theories with which ancient historians approached their subject matter.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will develop the literary and historical skills relevant to the handling of a range of texts by key ancient historians. They will become familiar with ancient views (implicit and explicit) as to how history should be written and the relationship between historiography and rhetoric. They will also gain experience of a range of modern theoretical approaches to the interpretation of these texts.
Key Skills:
  • The interpretative and analytical skills required by this module are transferable to any field which requires detailed engagement with literary materials and the assimilation, assessment, structuring and presentation of heterogeneous data. Successful students will develop an insight into various methods and categories of induction, and sensitivity to the effect of differing forms of verbal expression. This module also requires the effective use of library and IT resources; and good written presentation skills.

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

  • Teaching will be by seminar, with each session being structured around a student presentation on a particular topic. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought on the topic(s) for which they undertake the presentation, as well as gaining practice in articulating their conclusions.
  • The seminars are fortnightly, to allow and encourage adequate preparation of the topic by those giving the paper, and preparatory reading on the part of the rest of the participants. They are two hours in length so as to permit detailed discussion of the topic, with an onus on all to engage with the text(s) under discussion, assess the coherence of the interpretation, and encourage critical reflection.
  • Formative assessment will be based on two essays written up from the seminar presentations.
  • Summative assessment will be by one 5000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the year.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 16
Preparation and Reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

Two essays, written up from the seminar presentations, one to be submitted in Michaelmas Term 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