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Paper C1: Thucydides

Course Director: Prof. R Osborne

Aims and objectives

  1. To explore in depth the issues that surround writing history through close and sustained study of the first historian explicitly to discuss historical method.
  2. To explore the tensions between history as an account of the past and history as past events, through close attention to the way in which 'literary' decisions impact upon the way historical events are understood.
  3. To understand the ways in which certain recurrent themes shape the picture of events and human motivations given by the text.
  4. To understand the extent to which the interactions uncovered by Thucydides are peculiar to the Greek city state.
  5. To understand why Thucydides has come to occupy so important a place both in historiography and in the study of international relations.

 (Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2021–22

The three-hour paper will contain twelve or thirteen essay questions concerning various topics covered in lectures, classes and supervisions. Some of the questions will offer passages for comment. Some questions will concern our understanding of the events and situations described by Thucydides, some will concern how we understand Thucydides' text, and some will concern the place of Thucydides in the history of the writing of history and in the history of political thought. Candidates are required to answer three questions, with no restrictions on which three they answer.

In 2022-23 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course descriptions


(8 L, 8 x 2hr C: Michaelmas)

It is hard to overstate the influence of Thucydides. He is the earliest author whose text substantially survives to theorise the writing of history. He describes his methods and the reasons for adopting them, and he also structures his work so as explicitly to address historical causation. Thucydides’ primary concern was not simply to preserve a record of events, but to come to understand the forces at work in bringing to pass what he argued to be the greatest war fought in the Greek world down to his own day. 

Thucydides’ analysis of internal politics and of the relations between states has proved foundational, not simply for all subsequent attempts to understand the dynamics of individual cities and their interrelations within the Greek world, but for understandings of politics and international relations across time and space. His decisions about what was and what was not relevant as an explanatory framework have had a massive impact. His exploration of the inter-relationship between word and deed has come to dominate our understanding both of Athenian democracy and of how politics in general works.

This course will look closely at Thucydides’ whole history, trying to understand why he included and excluded what he included and excluded, and exploring the interpretation embedded in the structure of his work. It will look closely at Thucydides’ understanding of what brings success or failure in war, and what the effects of war are. It will explore his treatment of internal political dynamics, both in his treatment of individual political occasions (e.g. meetings of the assembly in Athens and elsewhere) and in his discussion of civil strife, both in Corcyra and in Athens. It will ask what role Thucydides allows to the supernatural, and how the influence of the gods is manifested.

The course will also look at Thucydides’ influence, both on the writing of history and on understandings of international relations.

Those taking the course are expected to read Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War in translation (the most helpful edition is probably the Landmark edition, with the translation by Crawley). Familiarity with the following passages in Greek is encouraged: 1.1–23, 79–88; 2.13–17, 34–54; 3.35–50, 70–85; 5.26, 84–116, 6.1–40, 53–60; 8.47–77. 

Preliminary Reading:

W.R. Connor Thucydides (Princeton, 1984)

The teaching will be organised around 8 topics that are first explored in lectures and then discussed in 2-hour follow-up classes. 

  1. Thucydides the writer and the writing of history: aims, claims, the plague and literary practice.
  2. Thucydides and historical causation: the archaeology, the causes of war in 431 and the causes of the Sicilian expedition.
  3. Thucydides and war: strategy, tactics, experience and the role of the leader.
  4. Thucydides and civil strife: Corcyra and the 400 at Athens.
  5. Thucydides as political theorist: Pericles’ funeral speech and the analysis of democracy.
  6. Thucydides and rhetoric: paired speeches and political persuasion.
  7. Thucydides and international relations: Mytilene, Plataia, Melos: treaties and ethics.
  8. Thucydides and religion: curses, oracles and purification.


Paper C2: Roman Religion: Identity and Empire

This course will NOT be running in 2021-22.


Paper C3: Slavery in the Greek and Roman worlds

Course Director: Professor Robin Osborne

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce students to the ubiquitous importance of slaves in all aspects of life, political, social, economic and cultural, across Greek and Roman history.
  2. To explore a wide range of literary, documentary and visual sources relevant to slaves in Greek and Roman society.
  3. To encourage students to reflect on the particular methodological problems in accessing the culture or experience of those outside the elite.
  4. To reflect more widely on the range of ways in which human beings were enslaved and the range of justifications given for slavery in antiquity.

 (Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2021–22

The three-hour paper will contain twelve or thirteen essay questions concerning various topics covered in lectures, classes, and supervisions. Some of the questions may offer passages or images for comment. Some questions will concern the Greek world, some the Roman world, and some will require comparison between Greek and Roman worlds. Candidates are required to answer three questions, with no restrictions on which three they answer.

In 2022-23 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course descriptions


(21 L, 2 X 1.5 hr C: Lent)

Nothing signals the gap between the modern world and the world of ancient Greece and Rome more starkly than the more or less universal ancient acceptance of slavery. Slavery was not simply an institution which the ancient world had and the modern does not, it grounded Greek and Roman thought as well as Greek and Roman life in the systematic subjection of a substantial section of the human population. Understanding the effects of slavery is vital for our understanding of all aspects of the Greek and Roman world.

But if slavery is something that unites Greece and Rome in opposition to us, slavery in the ancient world was not a single thing. Slavery profoundly affected social, political, economic and cultural relations, but it did not determine them. Indeed, slavery offers us one of the best lenses through which to do comparative history both within the Greek and Roman worlds and between them. The distinctive choices made in one Greek society or at one time emerge most clearly when compared with each other and with the choices made in one or other part of Roman world at one or another time, and vice versa.

Slavery has attracted continuous scholarly attention for the past two generations, but discussion has been particularly lively in the past decade with the appearance of several works surveying the whole field (Bradley and Cartledge 2011, Hodkinson, Kleijwegt and Vlassopoulos (forthcoming), and Hunt 2018), and with a renewed interest in comparative history. This course builds on this new scholarly energy to look at the root and branch way in which slavery shaped the ancient Greek and Roman world.

After an introductory lecture drawing attention to the peculiar historiography of and particular politics of the study of ancient Greek and Roman slavery in modern times, the lectures will offer both a chronological history of Greek and Roman slavery and a close analysis of how slavery affected economic, political, social and cultural life across the Greek and Roman worlds. The course is as interested in the ways in which slavery affected the way in which people thought about the world as in the grim realities of the slave trade, as interested in the politics of modern representations of ancient slavery, whether in scholarship or on film, as in the impact of slavery on ancient political life.

Preliminary reading: Hunt, P. (2018) Ancient Greek and Roman Slavery, Malden MA; Wiedemann, T. E. J. (1981) Greek and Roman Slavery: A Sourcebook, London.


Paper C4: The Transformation of the Roman World, AD 284–476

Course Directors: Dr Lea Niccolai

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce students to the social, economic and cultural history of the Roman Empire and surrounding regions from the late third to the late fifth century AD and to the literature and art produced in this period.
  2. To explore in depth the nature of government in the Late Roman state, the cultural self-understandings of its ruling élites and the structure of the Late Roman economy.
  3. To trace the ways in which Christianity reshaped conceptions of the body and permissible sexual conduct in the late-antique Mediterranean and Near East. To analyse the relationship between state power and religious forms of authority in the Roman Empire, and to trace the radically different ways in which religious difference was managed in Sasanian Iran.
  4. To consider the impact of the dissolution of the Roman Empire on the distribution of power between élites and peasantries in different regions of the Mediterranean World and western Europe. To think about the development of new forms of ethnic self-understanding in post-Roman states.
  5. To explore the utility for the study of ancient history of modern theoretical strategies from other disciplines. To introduce undergraduates to a wide range of (ancient and modern) historical approaches and literary traditions.
  6. To encourage a wide variety of critical responses to the sources; to seek to integrate a wide range of different source material, in particular, studies of specific authors and their surviving works with art historical and archaeological material.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2021–22

The three-hour paper will contain around fifteen essay questions concerning various of the topics covered in lectures, classes and supervisions. Candidates are required to answer three questions.

In 2022-23 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course descriptions


Dr. Lea Niccolai et al.
(16 L, 4 x 2 hr C: Lent)

This paper traces the history of the Mediterranean and Near East from the accession of Diocletian in 284 to the dissolution of the Roman Empire as a unified political structure in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Three themes will stand in the centre of our attention.

First, we will explore the structure of the Roman state at the height of its power. In the period from the late third century onwards, the imperial administration became more present in the lives of its subjects than ever before. We will look at the shape of the ideologies on which emperors drew to justify the formation of a more energetic state apparatus. We will trace the relationship between this new state and local landowning élites and the effect this had on cities.

Secondly, we will explore the relationship between state power and the Christian church. After the conversion of the emperor Constantine, Christianity gradually became the dominant religion in the Mediterranean and Near East. How did this development change Roman conceptions of the body and permissible sexual behaviour? What role did religious institutions and charismatic leaders play? How did Roman policies towards minority groups change?

Thirdly, we will analyse the factors that led to breakup of the Roman Empire. The fifth century saw the western half of the empire fragment into a group of successor states. But the eastern Mediterranean and Near East entered a prolonged period of stability and economic growth. We will trace the reasons for the weakening of imperial authority, examine the impact of ‘barbarians’, and explore the effects of the end of the empire.

In addition to the lectures, there will also be four (2 hr) classes. Supervisions will not be centrally organised. 

 Suggested preliminary reading: P. Brown, The Making of Late Antiquity (1978); A. Cameron, The Later Roman Empire: AD 284–430 (1993); P. Garnsey and C. Humfress, The Evolution of the Late Antique World (2001); C.M. Kelly, Ruling the Later Roman Empire (2004); C. Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (2009); P. Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (2012); K. Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (2013).

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