Skip to main content

Study information

Knowledge, Wealth and Power in the Ancient World

Module titleKnowledge, Wealth and Power in the Ancient World
Module codeCLA3279
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Rebecca Flemming (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

What was the place and role of experts and expertise in ancient society? How did figures like doctors, seers and the designers of buildings and machines, make a living, build their reputation and their wealth? How were they viewed by the social and political elites and how did they fit into patterns of civic and royal patronage? What impact did these aspects of the world they lived and worked in have on their ideas and the ways they articulated and communicated them? The role of experts and the status of expert knowledge has recently become politically contentious, devalued and derided in various contexts, what light can the ancient world shed on current trends?

The course will focus on three groups of experts already picked out as enjoying international reputations, ‘invited all over the boundless world’, in Homer’s Odyssey, that is specialists in medicine, divination and construction. All groups which have left rich evidence of their ideas and practices as well as being richly reflected in wider material from the ancient world. Their fortunes will be traced through the classical Greek, Hellenistic and Roman worlds into late antiquity.  

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of this module are:


  • To examine in detail a wide range of ancient technical texts and literary and material evidence that speaks to the role and status of experts and expertise in the ancient world.
  • To consider wider historical debates about, and theoretical approaches to, issues of professionalisation, expertise and social structure, and how these relate to the ancient material.
  • To explore the way interpretation of this ancient evidence has continued to change over the past two hundred years, owing to changes in the disciplines of classics and the history of science and medicine together with wider social and cultural shifts.  
  • To encourage reflection on the particular methodological problems in accessing the culture, attitudes or experience of those outside the elite.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a wide range of sources relating to knowledge, wealth and power, and evaluate and discuss their significance
  • 2. Identify and explain the various theoretical approaches to knowledge, wealth and power in the ancient world, and demonstrate awareness of the subject’s central themes and issues
  • 3. Demonstrate awareness of the extent to which interpretations of ancient material relating to the themes of knowledge, wealth and power are shaped by changing modern concerns
  • 4. Demonstrate a good knowledge of the history and variety of scholarship on technical knowledge, expertise and the social and cultural order in antiquity and understand how this scholarship can inform your own interpretation of the sources

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Demonstrate sophisticated critical and analytical skills which can be applied to the analysis of material from any ancient culture
  • 6. Understand the issues involved in using ancient texts and images as historical source material and relate sources to their socio-historical context

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Demonstrate advanced independent skills in research, critical analysis, and the presentation of findings
  • 8. Select and organise relevant material to produce a cogent and coherent argument
  • 9. Demonstrate an advanced level of communication skills, both orally and in writing, including confidence and clarity in public speaking
  • 10. Reflect on your own work, respond constructively to feedback, implement suggestions and improve work on the basis of feedback

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, the structure will remain the same:

Term 1: introductory sessions on issues and materials, concepts, themes and evidence, then taking the story from Homer to the Hellenistic Kingdoms. Material covered could include (selections from) the Hippocratic writings and Hellenistic texts on military technology (e.g. Philo and Aeneas Tacticus). Topics could include: science, philosophy and debate in classical Greece, the role of the mantis and divinatory arts, professional practices of itinerancy and mobility, civic reward, dissection and Hippocratic scholarship in Hellenistic Alexandria, competition and warfare in the Hellenistic world, the development of Hellenistic astrology, drug-lore and Mithradates.

Term 2:  Expertise and experts in the Roman world, from the Republican (Hellenistic) period into the Empire and late Empire. Material covered could include (selections from): Pliny, Natural History; Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos; Vitruvius, On Architecture; Galen). Topics could include: Greek knowledge and Roman power; public to private trends in divination (and the success of astrology); aristocratic and imperial patronage; civic organisation in the Roman empire (east and west); experts in the military machine; professional developments in self-representation; development of the medical schools in Alexandria.  

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 seminar per week
Guided Independent Study256Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan1-2 sides of A41-7Verbal 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
Test2090 minutes1-6Mark, written comments
Essay704000 words1-10Mark, written comments
Critical Review101000 words1-10Mark and written comments on feedback sheet, comments and questions from lecturer and peers

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Test (90 minutes)Test (90 minutes)1-6Referral/Deferral period
Essay (4000 words)Essay (4000 words)1-10Referral/Deferral period
Critical Review (1000 words)Critical Review (1000 words)1-10Referral/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

Tamsyn Barton, Ancient Astrology (London: Routledge, 1994).

Serafina Cuomo, Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Cambridge: CUP, 2007)

Michael Flower, The Seer in Ancient Greece (Berkeley: UC Press, 2008)

Georgia L. Irby (ed.), A Companion to Science, Technology, and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016)

Alexander Jones and Liba Taub (eds), Cambridge History of Science 1: Ancient Science (Cambridge: CUP, 2018)

G.E.R. Lloyd, Revolutions of Wisdom: Studies in the Claims and Practice of Ancient Greek Science (Berkeley: UC Press, 1987)

E.M. Marsden, Greek and Roman Artillery: Historical Development (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969)

Vivian Nutton, Ancient Medicine, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2013)

Joseph Oleson, (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World (Oxford: OUP, 2008)


Key words search

Classics, Science, Ancient World, Knowledge, Power

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

The successful completion of at least 90 credits at level 2, of which at least 30 must be in Classics and Ancient History

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date