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Study information

Polybios and the Challenge of Change

Module titlePolybios and the Challenge of Change
Module codeCLA3273
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Emma Nicholson (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

Two worlds, one rising and one falling; the Mediterranean a tumult of change in the second century BC as Greece and Rome collide. This was a period that saw dramatic transformations in politics, society, warfare and technology in the wake of an increasingly connected and multi-cultural environment. Polybios’ work not only provides a recording of these events, but also offers up coping strategies with which to deal with these changes. We will look at how the ancient historian interpreted change both first-hand and historically, whether or not he encouraged traditional or innovative action in the face of it, and how he himself was an agent of change. In doing so, we will reflect on the relationship between historians and change more generally, and on how we in a modern world have understood and responded to violent change within world affairs.

Prior knowledge of Polybios and his work is not necessary; there are no pre-requisites or co-requisite module needed to take this course; it is suitable for non-specialists, specialists and interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To investigate Polybios’ Histories as a response to the radical changes in the third and second centuries BC with the rise of Rome to power in the Greek East, and to reflect more generally on how historians, both ancient and modern, engage with transition and crisis.
  • You will explore how Polybios interpreted, wrote about and reacted to the historical past and change, but also consider how his own life and experiences as a Greek under Roman rule influenced his view of the world and the way he wrote his Histories.
  • By taking a thematic approach (exploring, for instance, his didactic aims, universal structuring, incorporation of patterns and contingency, theory of decline), we will discuss how he acted both as an active political agent in historical events, as well as an indirect political communicator and educator, to manage the crisis of this period and encourage reform himself. By doing so, we will also reflect on the way that modern historians, politicians, and even we ourselves, think about and respond to transformation.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate command and critical understanding of the key aspects of Polybios and his Histories, and the history of Rome’s rise to power in the Mediterranean during the second century BC
  • 2. Demonstrate knowledge and a critical appreciation of the methods and factors involved in the writing of Polybios’ Histories, and historiography more generally
  • 3. Demonstrate knowledge of the changes facing the Greeks in the second century BC, critical awareness of Polybios’ strategies to mitigate crisis, and assessment of these approaches within both ancient and modern contexts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate critical and analytical skills which can be applied to the analysis of ancient texts
  • 5. Develop advanced academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature
  • 6. Demonstrate the ability to develop and sustain detailed and rigorous scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilising relevant evidence

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Through the preparation for and the composition of essays, to demonstrate the ability to think critically and independently on a range of crucial issues and to construct an interesting and consistent argument
  • 8. Demonstrate independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers
  • 9. Through the delivery of oral presentation, to demonstrate the ability to speak clearly, engage in public debate and respond critically to observations and objectionsThrough the delivery of oral presentation, to 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: Historians and Change
  • Polybios in Context: Witness to World Transformation
  • Communicating Change: Polybios’ Didactic Intentions
  • Framing Change: Universal and Specialised Histories
  • Predicting Change: Patterns in History
  • Accommodating Change: Contingency in Polybios’ Histories
  • Changes for the Worse: Polybios and Decline
  • Constructing Change Revisited: The Case of Philip V of Macedon
  • Polybios as Agent of Change
  • Change: Ancient and Modern Approaches
  • Review

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 teaching22Weekly 2 hour seminars; student presentations
Guided independent study128Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Discussion and feedback in seminarsContinuous1-6, 8-9Verbal

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 presentation2015 minutes1-6, 8-9Written and verbal
Essay303000 words1-8Written and verbal
Exam502 hours1-8Written and verbal

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Oral presentationOral presentation1-6, 8-9Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-8Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessed presentations, essays and exams will count for the same as the original assessments.

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

  • Polybius, Histories, vols. 1-6, transl. W.R. Paton, revised by W.F. Walbank and C. Habicht, 2011-12, Loeb Classical Library.
  • Derow, P. S. (2014) Rome, Polybius, and the East, Oxford University Press. 
  • Gibson, B. and T. Harrison (2013) Polybius and his World, Oxford University Press. 
  • McGing, B. (2010) Polybius’ Histories, Oxford University Press. 
  • Walbank, F. W. (2002) Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World, Cambridge University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Champion, C. (2004) Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories, Cambridge University Press. 
  • Grethlein, J. (2013) Experience and Teleology in Ancient Historiography, Cambridge University Press. 
  • Smith, C. and Yarrow, L. (2012) Imperialism, Cultural Politics, and Polybius, Oxford University Press 2012. 
  • Walbank, F. W. (1957-79) A Historical Commentary on Polybius, 3 vols. Oxford University Press. 
  • Walbank, F. W. (1972) Polybius, University of California Press. 

Key words search

Polybios, Challenge, Change, Greek Historiography, Hellenistic History

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


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