Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)

Module CLAS43830: What the Ancients Knew: Science in Greece and Rome

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43830: What the Ancients Knew: Science in Greece and Rome

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2018/19 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • 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.


  • Ancient science has been one of the most lively areas of research in classics and ancient history in the last twenty years. Arguably, we cannot understand the world that the Greeks and Romans inhabited, without understanding how they conceived of the movements of the heavens, the workings of the body, or the patterns and regularities of nature.
  • This module will give postgraduate students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the ancient world, work with a variety of sources, focus on deep historiographical and philosophical questions, while at the same time reflect on issues that still fascinate and confuse us today: what is science? What is rationality? What is scientific evidence?
  • The module will be sub-divided into two parts, corresponding to the two terms of teaching. In the first term, the students will be introduced to general questions, bearing on philosophy but illustrated through concrete examples drawn from ancient evidence, such as: 1) the origins of science, 2) the nature of scientific demonstration, 3) the problem of rationality, 4) the distinction between science and non-science. Each one of these issues has been discussed in the secondary literature, which will provide ample opportunities for debate and connections with other modules, or the students' previous knowledge of the ancient world. In the course of the first term, the students will be asked to choose a topic for their essay.
  • In the second term, the four sessions will centre around topics that the students have chosen in the first term, and that relate to their choice of essay questions. This way, the module will be partly tailored to the students' own specific interests.
  • All material will be made available on Blackboard. Drawing on a variety of types of sources will develop the students' ability to work with more than one kind of evidence, andhone their self-reflective historiographical skills.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of ancient knowledge and knowledge practices: suitable background includes broader knowledge of cultural and social history, and/or of philosophy. It looks at core components not only of knowledge, but also of economic and political systems in both the Greek and Roman worlds, and explores the relationship between knowledge, social status, expertise, and ideology. By the end of the module, students will have an overview of science in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, and close familiarity with sources needed for reconstructing some of its key aspects.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the historical and critical skills relevant to the handling of different types of sources (literary texts, but also inscriptions and papyri, as well as relevant archaeological material). They will become familiar with online resources such as APIS, and will be exposed to cross-disciplinary insights taken in particular from the philosophy, sociology and history of science. In particular, they will be asked to develop ideas and articulate written arguments about a relatively under-explored subject area.
Key Skills:
  • The analytical and interpretative skills required for the successful completion of this module are transferable to any field which demands inference from limited evidence, and a capacity for making connections critically and independently. It 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 fortnightly seminar, which will be structured around a student presentation on the topic for the week. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought, and that they gain practice in articulating their conclusions. The presentation will be followed by a discussion in which there is an onus on everyone to reflect critically about the scope of the evidence and the coherence of the interpretation presented.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available and an appropriate source of relevant material.
  • 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. These exercises will foster the ability to provide clear and detailed written articulation of philosophical positions and historical reconstruction, provide practice for the use of appropriate conventions and style in setting out written research, and ensure that research and assimilation of secondary literature is carried out at the appropriate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation for seminars 160
Preparation for assessed work 124
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

A book review, max. 2,000 words, of two related books (a list will be compiled of possible book pairs) to be submitted in Michaelmas term, and a work-in-progress presentation on the summative essay 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