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Study information

The Persians in a Near Eastern Context

Module titleThe Persians in a Near Eastern Context
Module codeCLA3274
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Lynette Mitchell (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This short intensive module will consider the Persians and the Persian Empire in the context of neighbouring Near Eastern cultures and empires. Beginning with the Assyrian empire and its ideology, it will look at how the Persians under Cyrus the Great created the first empire from the kingship of Anshan, and the extent to which we might consider his rule Persian or Achaemenian. The court crisis of the late sixth century will be scrutinised, and the transformation of court and imperial culture under Darius I, as well as Xerxes' experimentation with imperial expansion but finally as founder of the pax Achaemenica in the light of continuing structural and internal problems at the Persian court. Finally questions will be asked about the success of the Persian kings of the fourth century, including Artaxerxes and Darius III, and whether Alexander should really be thought of as the last of the Achaemenians.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of the module are:

  • To provide you with a thorough and detailed understanding of Persian royal and imperial structures, and the way that these changed in the course of the Persian imperial period between the sixth and fourth centuries.
  • To develop your critical skills by using a wide range of ancient sources and address the particular difficulties raised by using these sources to understand and write the political, social and ideological history of the imperial court and empire.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the Persian court and empire from the mid sixth century until the conquest of Alexander in the fourth century
  • 2. Demonstrate familiarity with the Near Eastern context of the Persian court and imperial culture and ideology
  • 3. Demonstrate familiarity with a wide range of sources pertaining to Persian society and culture and imperial structures

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Analyse ancient source material using methodologies appropriate to the type of evidence
  • 5. Understand the challenges posed in understanding a culture for which our evidence is limited or especially complex
  • 6. Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the ideas and ideologies of an ancient society

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Demonstrate the ability to construct a strong and coherent argument by digesting and organising diverse information
  • 8. Demonstrate advanced skills in conducting independent research
  • 9. Demonstrate strong presentation skills, including the production of effective visual aids (e.g. handouts/PowerPoint presentations)

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:

  • The political situation in the Near East in the first millennium
  • The rise of Cyrus the Great and the formation of his empire
  • The court crisis in the sixth century and the establishment of the Achaemenian empire under Darius I
  • The reign of Xerxes
  • Artaxerxes and Cyrus the younger
  • Women at the Persian court
  • Persian palaces and court culture
  • Alexander the Great and the conquest of the Persian empire

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 Teaching221 x 2-hour seminar per week
Scheduled Learning and Teaching111 x 1-hour lecture per week
Guided Independent Study267Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Participation in group discussion Weekly1-8Oral feedback
Oral presentation 10 minutes1-9Mark and written comments

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 presentation1010 minutes + 5 minutes of questions1-9Mark and written comments
Essay504000 words1-8Mark and written comments
Gobbet test401 hour1-7Mark 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
Oral presentationTranscript of presentation (1500 words) with accompanying handout and/or visual aid1-9Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-8Referral/Deferral period
Gobbet testGobbet test1-7Referral/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

  • P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, 2002.
  • M. Brosius, The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I, LACTOR, Kingston upon Thames, 2000.
  • E.R.M. Dusinberre, Empire, Authority and Autonomy in Achaemenid Anatolia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013.
  • A. Kuhrt, The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2007.
  • L. Lewellyn-Jones, King and Court in Ancient Persia 559-331 BCE, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2013.
  • M. Waters, Ancient Persia: A concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550-330 BCE, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014. 

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Key words search

Persia, Persians, Kingship, Near East

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date