Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS2781: The Hellenistic World

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS2781: The Hellenistic World

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • CLAS1601 or one Level 1 History module.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce the major political, economic, social and cultural characteristics and developments of the Hellenistic period.
  • To consider the distinctive and unifying features of the Hellenistic world and Hellenistic history, in comparison with other periods of Greek and Roman history.
  • To develop a deeper understanding of the societies and cultures of the Hellenistic world.
  • To explore and analyse a range of relevant sources, which may include sources in languages other than Greek and Latin, epigraphic and archaeological material and the challenges inherent in interpreting and synthesising them.


  • The campaigns of Alexander the Great reconfigured the political structure of the Mediterranean and Near East. During the three centuries from the Macedonian conquest to the supremacy of Rome, individuals and communities from mainland Greece to what is now Afghanistan were for the first time part of the same world, which we call Hellenistic. This module provides an introduction to the political, social and cultural history of this complex and fascinating period. The course combines the study of major political actors and structures, (the major dynasties, Greek cities and other urban communities, rise of Rome) with more in-depth explorations of Hellenistic economic, socio-cultural and intellectual history. Topics studied may include war and diplomacy, religious life, cross-cultural interactions, and artistic developments.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A basic knowledge of the political, social and cultural developments of the period between the conquests of Alexander and the supremacy of Rome.
  • A sound knowledge of the major Hellenistic kingdoms, their main features and the major questions and debates pertaining to each.
  • An understanding of key topics in Hellenistic social, cultural and economic history.
  • A knowledge of a range of relevant textual and archaeological sources, and the methodological considerations and difficulties involved in evaluating them.
  • A critical knowledge of current approaches and debates in Hellenistic historiography.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to analyse and draw conclusions from a broad range of primary sources from the ancient world. Sources studied may include Greek and Latin historical works, inscriptions, relevant documents from Egypt and Babylonia (in translation), and archaeological and artistic material.
  • The capacity to evaluate the reliability and utility of ancient sources, to understand the various problems that arise from different types of source, and to deploy sources within an argument in a methodologically sound way.
  • The ability to engage critically with modern scholarship on the Hellenistic world, and to use and adapt relevant approaches and methodologies when formulating an argument.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to assess a range of different arguments and interpretive approaches, and apply appropriate methodologies.
  • The ability to combine close and detailed source criticism with a broader analytical framework.
  • The capacity to produce a clear, coherent and well-reasoned argument, both orally and in written form.

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

  • Lectures introduce students to the major sources, topics and debates within Hellenistic history.
  • Seminars enable students to discuss ideas in an interactive environment, explore key sources at a deeper level through close reading, and develop their presentation skills
  • Tutorials provide the opportunity to explore in more depth topics of students' choice, and to receive detailed feedback on written work.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 22 1 per week 1 hour 22
Tutorials 2 1 in Michaelmas Term and 1 in Epiphany Term 1 hour 2
Seminars 4 2 in Michaelmas Term and 2 in Epiphany Term 1 hours 4
Preparation and reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 3,000 words 100% Yes
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 2 hours 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