Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module CLAS3751: Roman Law & Latin Literature

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3751: Roman Law & Latin Literature

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or at least one Level 1 module from the Law School.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To study the interaction between law and literature from Plautus to Seneca.
  • To gain knowledge of the legal nature of Latin literature and the literary dimension of legal discourse in Rome.
  • To develop critical thinking in legal theory and employ it in interpreting classical texts.
  • To consider the historical, philosophical, and literary parameters that define law and literature as force fields of mutual contestation.


  • From the Saturnalian spirit of Roman comedy to Seneca's employment of legal discourse as a defining characteristic of his tragedies, law and justice have been main preoccupations of the literary imagination of the Romans. As Northrop Frye put it, "all respect for the law is a product of the social imagination, and the social imagination is what literature directly addresses". By focusing on key literary genres and historical periods of the Roman world, this module introduces a representative range of critical work in the field of law and literature. Legal language is no longer seen as an extraneous addition to literary works. Literature is shaped by the developments of law as much as it is an influence upon the law.
  • The module moves chronologically from Republican to imperial Rome and covers a number of representative genres (comedy, satire, elegy, tragedy), which are chosen for their fundamentally juridico-discursive nature. In studying these texts, we shall pay close attention to ancient and modern theories of law and justice as well as to the ways in which law and literature not only reflect, but also cause socio-political changes.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Detailed knowledge of a selection of Roman primary sources.
  • Knowledge of the range of current scholarship on law and literature.
  • An understanding of the significance of philosophical and historical developments in the production of legal and literary texts.
  • An understanding of the ways in which different literary genres are involved in the production of legal discourse.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to analyse and draw conclusions from a broad range of primary sources from the Roman world.
  • An ability to evaluate and synthesise critical insights of literary and legal theory in interpreting Latin literature.
  • A capacity to combine the transhistorical insights of ancient and modern theories of law and justice with historically focused interpretations of primary sources.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to assess and compare a range of different arguments and methodologies.
  • The ability to use diverse types of evidence to build up a cumulative picture.
  • The capacity to produce tight, well-evidenced and clearly expressed arguments in both oral and in written form.
  • A capacity to produce independent and convincing interpretations of literary and legal texts.

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

  • Lectures introduce texts, major topics, and approaches in the analysis of Roman law and Latin literature.
  • Seminars will treat topics designed to complement the lecture series, allowing students to explore their own ideas about the module's major themes and articulate their views in front of their peers.
  • Tutorials offer discussion of formative work which connects directly to the planning and preparation for the summative essay and the examination.
  • The summative essay consists of a detailed analysis of at least two texts of Latin literature within the interdisciplinary field of law and literature.
  • The examination consists of commentary on the legal nature of a selection of passages from texts covered in the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week 1 hour 20
Seminars 4 2 in Michaelmas Term, 2 in Epiphany Term 1 hour 4
Tutorials 2 1 in Michaelmas Term, 1 in Epiphany Term 1 hour 2
Preparation and Reading 174
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2500 words 100% Yes
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
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