Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS44830: Magic in the Roman World

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS44830: Magic in the Roman World

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to the range of magical beliefs and practices in the Roman world.
  • To explore the scholarly debates around the interpretation of magical practices and their relation to other kinds of activity, including religion and medicine.
  • To analyse (in translation) a wide variety of sources relevant to the study of ancient magic, including literature, papyri, epigraphy and archaeology.
  • To promote self-motivated and self-directed graduate research and prepare students to pursue higher level research.


  • This module will delve into the world of Roman magic, exploring the practices of people in real life as well as the discourses on magic preserved in ancient literature. The evidence base covered is wide, taking in spell books on papyrus, lead curse tablets, and inscribed gemstones, as well as the more familiar literary texts. The question of how magic can be defined and approached will be a consistent theme throughout the module, inviting critical thought and discussion of how scholars use terminology to classify ancient beliefs and practices. The module will pay close attention to the ways in which magic has been conceived and debated in modern scholarship over the past century, changing with influences from connected disciplinessuch as anthropology and archaeology. In particular, Sstudents will tackle critically engage with the issues of defining magicpros and cons of emic versus etic approaches, and the issues with differentiating it magic from related concepts (ancient and modern), especially religion and medicine.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Detailed knowledge of primary evidence for Roman magical beliefs and practice and the difficulties they present for interpretation.
  • Awareness of the historiography of ancient magical studies and the shifts in theoretical and methodological approaches over time.
  • Familiarity with developments in related disciplines and their effects on classical scholarship.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to access and make use of a range of source materials that illuminate Roman magical beliefs and practices.
  • An ability to engage with and contribute to relevant scholarly debates on ancient magic, including interdisciplinary approaches from related disciplines, such as archaeology, anthropology, and religious studies.
Key Skills:
  • Ability to analyse a wide range of source material in an intellectually sophisticated and methodologically sound way.
  • Ability to assess critically a range of different methodologies and theoretical approaches.
  • Ability to produce independent research and communicate it in a clear and well-structured fashion in both oral and written form.
  • Capacity to produce independent, persuasive and clearly formulated arguments in both oral and written form.

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

  • Teaching takes place by fortnightly seminars organised around specific research questions and sources.
  • The fortnightly seminars are two-hour long sessions to allow and encourage significant preparation and detailed discussion.
  • Formative assessment consists of a short essay submitted at the end of Michaelmas term (2,000 words) and a presentation on a topic of each student’s own choosing.
  • Summative assessment consists of a max. 5,000-word essay on a topic of each student’s own choosing, which should be different from the formative essay.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 4 in Michaelmas Term and 4 in Epiphany Term 2 hrs 16
Preparation and Reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: 1 essay of 5,000 words Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
1 essay 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

1 essay (2,000 words) and 1 oral presentation

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