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Study information

The Crisis of the Athenian Polis

Module titleThe Crisis of the Athenian Polis
Module codeCLA3007
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr David Leith (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module explores Athenian history at one of its most intense and exciting periods, the end of the fifth century BC. The approach is interdisciplinary, combining historical, literary and philosophical materials in an effort to make sense of the various crises – military, political and intellectual – that Athens experienced at this time. The focus is on broad themes and complex issues, and you are encouraged to take an active role in drawing on the knowledge gained in this and other modules to address challenging questions about social crisis and change at this key moment of Greek history.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The well-documented period from 431 to the death of Socrates in 399 BC represented a crucial stage in the history of Athens, and saw the most fundamental development of ideas before the seventeenth century AD. The aim of this module is to consider the history and the economic, social and political structure of the polis of Athens in the period, together with its literary, philosophical and artistic products, in the belief that a detailed knowledge of the former is an essential pre-condition for understanding the latter.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe and analyse how the history of Athens in the fifth century BC is linked to the history of ideas
  • 2. Evaluate how the works of contemporary writers on the crisis of the Athenian polis allow us to see the same social and historical process from different perspectives

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Analyse in general terms the complex interrelationship between history, literature, philosophy and ideology, and evaluate different kinds of sources
  • 4. Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of a society in crisis and undergoing significant change, and the ability to synthesise complex and diverse arguments and ideas

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Research and organise material into succinct and logical form
  • 6. Argue a case confidently and closely in defence of your own viewpoint and, where appropriate, challenge constructively the viewpoints of your peers

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War
  • Wealth, class and status
  • Radical democracy
  • The Archidamian War
  • Religion in fifth-century Athens
  • The Sicilian Expedition
  • The Sophists
  • Nomos and Phusis
  • Melos
  • Persian intervention
  • Oligarchy in 411 and 404
  • Arginousae and the Rule of Law
  • Spartan victory
  • The trial of Socrates
  • Gender, Society and politics
  • War in tragedy

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching441 x 2 hour classes per week
Guided Independent Study256Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group discussion in seminars Weekly1-6Oral feedback from lecturer and peers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1403000 words1-5Mark and written comments
Essay 2403000 words1-5Mark and written comments
Oral presentation2015 minutes1-6Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral period
Oral presentationTranscript of presentation (1500 words) with accompanying handout and/or visual aid1-6Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative set texts:

  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (Penguin)
  • Aristophanes, Acharnians, Clouds, Knights, Wasps and Lysistrata (Penguin Classics)
  • Euripides, Suppliant Women, Trojan Women, Phoenician Women, Hecuba, Orestes (Oxford World's Classics)
  • Plato, Gorgias (World Classics)
  • Crito, The Apology (in The Last Days of Socrates, Penguin)
  • The Athenian Constitution (Penguin Classics)
  • The Old Oligarch (Lactor)
  • The First Philosophers: the Pre-socratics and Sophists, trans. R. Waterfield (Oxford World's Classics)

Some introductory reading:

  • J.K. Davies, Democracy and Classical Greece (London, 1993)
  • P.E. Easterling and J.V. Muir (ed.) Greek Religion and Society (Cambridge, 1985)
  • W.K.C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 3 (Cambridge, 1971)
  • S. Hornblower, The Greek World 479-323 BC third edition (London, 2002)
  • G.B. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement (Cambridge 1981)
  • P.J. Rhodes, A History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 B.C. (Oxford, 2006)
  • R. Wardy, The Birth of Rhetoric (Routledge, 1998)
  • R.K. Balot, Greek Political Thought, (Oxford, 2006)
  • P. Cartledge, Ancient Greek Political Thought in practice (Cambridge, 2009)
  • For all basic information consult the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Classics, Greek, Athens, Polis

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

The successful completion of at least 90 credits at Level 2, at least 30 credits of which must be in Classics & Ancient History.

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date