Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS2761: Ancient Political Thought & Action

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS2761: Ancient Political Thought & Action

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1601


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To promote the learning and understanding of ancient political thought and action in accordance with the general aims of the relevant Degree Programmes, and to broaden students' understanding of the culture of Classical antiquity; to develop knowledge of a key period in Western intellectual thought, and introduce topics, questions and approaches which helped shape political action in antiquity.


  • An interdisciplinary study, involving philosophical and historical discourses, of ancient and pertinent modern models for recovering and interpreting the nature of political thought and action in (a) Classical Greece, with particular reference to Herodotus, Thucydides, Old Oligarch, selected Platonic dialogues (e.g. Republic, Statesman, and Laws) and Aristotle; in (b) Hellenistic Greece and Republican Rome, with particular reference to Polybius, Cicero, and Augustus' Res Gestae; and in (c) the Roman Empire, with particular reference to Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • representative texts which are most important for our understanding of the intellectual and philosophical debates that helped to shape innovations in political practice in Greco-Roman antiquity
  • representative texts written by political theorists and historians whose influence can be detected in ancient and modern debates concerning political order
  • fields of study contingent with political theory, including ancient ethics, law, and science
Subject-specific Skills:
  • the ability to use textual evidence to develop plausible accounts of particular theoretical positions in their full historical and polemical context
  • an ability to engage critically with the full range of evidence, fragments as well as complete texts, partisan as well as polemical reports, in reconstructing individual positions regarding political theory
  • confidence in handling and deploying basic philosophical concepts, especially in the fields of political philosophy and ethics
  • reflective awareness of the nature of dialectical and scientific inquiry.
Key Skills:
  • the ability to present a well-researched, well-articulated, and well-balanced account of diverse evidence
  • the ability to read philosophical and historical texts of a wide range of styles with confidence, and the capacity to identify and engage critically with arguments set out in them.
  • the ability to reconstruct a plausible line of thought from evidence that is fragmentary, imperfect, biased, or indirect.
  • an independence of mind which is strengthened, not compromised, by the sympathetic understanding of alternative points of view.

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

  • Teaching will be by means of lectures and seminars, the seminars allowing a large element of group discussion, under the aegis of the tutor.
  • Tutorials will be designed to provide individual feedback on the student's first two essays.
  • The formative and summative essays ensure that students engage with the issues discussed in the course.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 1 hour 20
Seminars 5 Two each in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms, one in Easter Term 1 hour 5
Preparation and reading time 2 Two hours 2 173
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 2,000 words 100% Yes
Component: Summative essay Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 2,500 words 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative exercise

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