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Study information

Courage in the Ancient World

Module titleCourage in the Ancient World
Module codeCLA3276
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr William Short (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

What is ‘courage’ for the Greeks and Romans? How did they conceive of, and represent, this concept for themselves? Through close reading of ancient texts in translation and study of material artifacts, we will explore what constituted courage (and its opposite, cowardice) in Greek and Roman society and what values, beliefs, and practices were associated with this idea in these social, cultural and historical contexts. Using innovative methods of cultural comparison, we will ask how Greek and Roman ‘courage’ may have differed between these cultures – and how, in turn, our own modern understanding of ‘courage’ may differ from ancient conceptions.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Matching interestamong Hellenists in the Greek concept of andreía (courage conceived as ‘manliness’), much critical attention has been given recently to Roman conceptions of courage – in historiography, declamation, and epic; in the dynamics of élite social competition during the late Republic; in the iconographic programs of Augustus and his successors – as well as to the Realien of Roman military life that encouraged the display of bravery on the battlefield. This module thus aims to engage you in a rich, active area of research in classical studies. Moreover, as this scholarship ranges over psychology, philosophy, linguistics, literary criticism, social history, art history, and archaeology, you will be engaged with research of a strongly interdisciplinary nature. In particular, you will learn comparative anthropological methods and theories of conceptual metaphor, which aim to characterise the worldviews of ancient societies ‘in the native’s own terms’. Besides giving you insight into a key theme of Greek and Roman culture, this is also intended to teach you to reflect critically on your own ways of ‘thinking’ about a concept that continues to energize modern culture.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of major literary works, as well as familiarity with major works of art, relating to the representation of courage and cowardice in Greek and Roman society
  • 2. Demonstrate an awareness of and critical engagement with key concepts in Greek and Roman culture and be able to evaluate the similarities and differences with our own culture
  • 3. Understand key theories in the study of ancient culture, particularly comparative anthropological methods

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Select and apply appropriate critical tools when reading primary and secondary literature and ancient literature in translation
  • 5. Engage in lateral thinking, making connections between ideas and information in different fields of study
  • 6. Demonstrate appreciation of the issues involved in using ancient texts as historical source material and relate texts to their socio-historical context

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Select, organise and analyse material for written work and oral presentations of different prescribed lengths and formats
  • 8. Present an argument in a written form in a clear and organised manner, with appropriate use of correct English
  • 9. Through essay development process, demonstrate ability to reflect critically on your own work, to respond constructively to feedback, and to implement suggestions and improve work on this basis

Syllabus plan

The module will proceed roughly chronologically through a series of Greek and Latin documentary, historical, and literary texts in translation, before turning to representations of courage and cowardice in the visual arts (esp. coins, sculpture, public monuments), in order to address themes such as:

  • What constitutes courage or cowardice for the Greeks and Romans?
  • In what sorts of situations can an individual be described as courageous or cowardly?
  • What aspects of a person’s character contribute to their courage or cowardice?
  • What actual conditions, especially of military training and organization, contribute to the courage of Roman soldiers in battle? And how, in practical terms, was valorous behavior encouraged, and cowardly behavior discouraged or indeed punished?
  • In what sorts of ways do Greek and Latin authors characterize these concepts, especially metaphorically?
  • What is the relationship of courage to notions of ‘manliness’?
  • Does the ancient world have a concept of moral courage?


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 weekly seminar
Guided Independent Study128Working independently and in groups in preparation for seminars, essays, and presentations

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 peers and lecturer
Essay plan1000 words1-9Tutorial feedback with lecturer
Essay draft for peer review3000 words1-9Peer feedback
Text-based presentation10 minute individual presentation1-7Written and oral feedback

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
Essay803000 words1-9Mark; written and oral feedback
Thematic presentation2010 minute individual presentation1-7Mark; written and oral feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/Deferral period
Thematic presentationRecording of presentation (1000 words) with accompanying handout and/or visual aid1-7Referral/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

Primary sources:

  • Homer, Iliad
  • Tyrtaeus, Elegies
  • Plato, Laches
  • Vergil, Aeneid
  • Livy, The Early History of Rome Books 1-5
  • Propertius, Elegies Book 4
  • Plutarch, selected lives
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus, selections from Antiquitates Romanae
  • Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings
  • Aurelius Victor, De viris illustribus

Secondary sources:

  • Balmaceda, C. Virtus Romana: Politics and Morality in the Roman Historians. Chapel Hill, NC.
  • Coulston, J. ‘Courage and Cowardice in the Roman Imperial Army’. War in History 20 (1): 7–31.
  • Earl, D. C. The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome. Ithaca.
  • Eisenhut, W. Virtus Romana. Munich.
  • Farinella, V. ‘La colonna Trajana: un esempio di lettura verticale’. Prospettiva 26: 2�9.
  • Goodenough, W. Culture, Language, and Society. Menlo Park, CA.
  • Harris, W. ‘Readings in the Narrative Literature of Roman Courage’. In S. Dillon and K. Welch, eds., Representations of War in Ancient Rome, Cambridge.
  • Heim, F. Virtus: ideÃ?�ologie politique et croyances religieuses au IVe sieÃ?�cle. Berne.
  • Hölscher, T. The Language of Images in Roman Art. Cambridge.
  • Langlands, R. Roman exemplary ethics. Cambridge.
  • McDonnell, M. Roman Manliness: Virtus and the Roman Republic. Cambridge.
  • Milhous, M. Honos and Virtus in Roman Art. PhD dissertation, Boston University.
  • Noreña, C. 2Imperial Ideals in the Roman West. Cambridge.
  • Pollman, K. ‘Ambivalence and moral virtus in Roman epic’. In: Freund, S. and Vielberg, M. (eds.) Vergil und das antike Epos, Stuttgart.
  • Rate, C, What is Courage? A Search for Meaning, New Haven.
  • Rosen, R. and I. Sluiter. 2003. Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity. Leiden.
  • Rosenstein, N. S. 1990. Imperatores Victi: Military Defeat and Aristocratic Competition in the Middle Late Republic. Berkeley, CA.
  • Sarsila, J. ‘Some aspects of the concept of virtus in Roman literature’. Studia Philologica Jyväsklläensia.
  • Scarre, G. On Courage, Routledge.
  • Settis, S. ‘La Colonna: strategie di composizione, strategie di lettura’. In — et al., eds., La colonna traiana, Turin. 60�129.
  • Weinlich, B. ‘Virtus and elite identity’. Latomus 16: 259�76.

Key words search

Courage, cowardice, Rome, Greece, ancient, culture

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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