Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS43630: Diocletian and his era: sources and narratives

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43630: Diocletian and his era: sources and narratives

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 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 in the sub-discipline of Roman history for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • The aim of the module is to promote understanding of the tools at the disposal of researchers working on the period rather than to provide an account of it. Students should ensure that they are familiar with Roman Imperial history in outline before seminars begin.
  • The course will be organized around methodological approaches. The turn of the 4th century is poor in historical narrative, making it imperative to turn to other sources. These, however, are in rich supply, making the period a good point of departure to become familiar with documentary sources, inscriptions, legal codes, amphoras and seals, art, architecture, and panegyric speeches, and so forth.
  • Scholarship on the period and its rulers is deeply divided. The students will be introduced to the different camps, and each session will add new materials by which to discuss how their positions are construed and maintained. This serves to promote understanding of knowledge production and creation of the past.
  • Themes to be treated will include, among others:
  • Historical narrative: Diocletian as villain and hero.
  • Imperial art: supremacy or competence?
  • Ceremonial distance and material presence: the language of praise.
  • Administration and law: Diocletian as radical reformer and pragmatic conservative.
  • Gods and emperors.
  • Perfect symmetry? Issues of centralization and decentralization.
  • Comparative approaches: Diocletian as dictator and civil servant.
  • Periodization: business as usual or a new era?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module, the students should be able to form an independent understanding of the reign of Diocletian with the help of an array of (often contentious) sources, many of which are little known among historians. They should have a deeper familiarity with scholarly narratives regarding the Roman Empire in the 3rd and early 4th centuries and be able to identify the evidence and theoretical models on which they are based. The students should be aware of the main debates concerning the period and be able to engage in them with confidence.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will acquire proficiency in handling a multitude of source materials, including several branches of art, documentary and legal sources, numismatics, inscriptions, and an array of textual and archaeological materials. They will have knowledge of digital tools and databases and be able to extract and analyse materials from them. Students will be familiar with terminologies relevant to the period and be able to apply them coherently and constructively, as well as critique them.
Key Skills:
  • Awareness of a multitude of textual and material sources and the ability to evaluate them. Locating and extracting evidence and scholarship from databases and library resources. Organizing material for presentation and rendering scholarly arguments in written form. Ability to identify the sources and methods applied by scholars and make judgements as to their suitability.

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

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminar, structured around a student presentation followed by a discussion. Each session will focus on a new set of source materials, and a student will be responsible for presenting it and the scholarly arguments drawn from it. For the final essays, students will be required to apply more than one type of source material, encouraging synthesizing approaches as well as promoting awareness of the methodological difficulties involved. The seminars are fortnightly and 2 hours long in order to allow for introduction, presentation and detailed discussion, as well as in-depth preparation.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in relevant subjects, where available.
  • Formative assessment will be based on two essays developed from the seminar presentations, while summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay to be submitted by the end of the year. The essays will promote skills in rendering clearly organized arguments in written form, as well as familiarity with established academic conventions.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation and reading 284

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative 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 term, 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