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Study information

Ancient Science and Society

Module titleAncient Science and Society
Module codeCLA3264
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr David Leith (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Was there such a thing as science in antiquity? If so, what did it look like, and who were its practitioners? Why did they do science, and what methods did they employ? For example, did they carry out what we would recognise as experiments? This module will explore a variety of different kinds of scientific research carried out in the Greek and Roman worlds. It seeks to understand why and how particular projects were formulated and developed, how exactly they were pursued, the diversity of ways in which the results were disseminated, and how all of this was influenced by specific historical and cultural conditions. It also looks at what distinctive features there might be in Greek and Roman science, and how ancient scientists grappled with the problems of convincing their audience and constructing authority.

All texts will be studied in translation, and there are no formal prerequisites for this module.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of this module are:

  • To expand knowledge of different forms of ancient scientific research
  • To develop understanding of its specific cultural roots
  • To interrogate assumptions about what counts as scientific progress
  • To engage critically with a range of forms of scientific writing in antiquity

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate an understanding of different scientific disciplines in antiquity
  • 2. Demonstrate awareness of how scientific research is influenced by cultural contexts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. Demonstrate critical and analytical skills which can be applied to the analysis of texts of any culture
  • 4. Demonstrate advanced appreciation of the issues involved in using texts as historical material, and relate texts to their socio-historical context

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 5. Demonstrate the ability to think critically and independently on a range of crucial issues and to construct an interesting and consistent argument
  • 6. Demonstrate the ability to speak clearly, engage in public debate and respond critically to observations and objections

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:

  • Introduction - what is ancient ‘science’?
  • Hippocratic Corpus
  • Plato’s Academy and the Timaeus
  • Aristotle’s invention of biology
  • Epicurus’ Letters
  • Hellenistic mathematical letters
  • Aëtius’ Placita
  • Lucretius’ On Nature
  • Seneca’s Natural Questions
  • Pliny’s Natural History
  • Conclusions

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 Teaching22Seminars (1 x 2 hours a week)
Guided Independent Study128Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Close study of key primary texts and scholarship, with broader discussions of issuesWeekly1-6Oral 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
Oral presentation3015 minutes1-6Oral feedback and written comments
Essay703000 words1-5Written comments Individual feedback

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

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

  • M. Asper (ed.), Writing Science. Medical and Mathematical Authorship in Ancient Greece (Berlin 2013).
  • T.D. Barnes (ed.), The Sciences in Greco-Roman Society (Edmonton 1994).
  • T. Barton, Knowledge and Power. Astrology, Physiognomics and Medicine under the Roman Empire (Ann Arbor 1994).
  • S. Cuomo, Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Cambridge 2007).
  • G.E.R. Lloyd, Greek Science after Aristotle (London 1973).
  • —, Magic, Reason and Experience (Cambridge 1979).
  • —, Science, Folklore and Ideology (Cambridge 1983).
  • —, Methods and Problems in Greek Science (Cambridge 1991).
  • E. Rawson, Intellectual Life in the Late Roman Republic (London 1985).
  • L. Taub, Aetna and the Moon. Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome (Corvallis 2008).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Ancient Science

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date