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Study information

Politics Ancient and Modern

Module titlePolitics Ancient and Modern
Module codeCLAM084
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Neville Morley (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Human beings, according to Aristotle, are suited by nature to live in a polis; hence, understanding the dynamics of political systems is essential for understanding people. This attitude was widely shared in antiquity, and a wide range of sources offer different perspectives on the political life and attitudes of the Greeks and Romans. Later writers have questioned the absolute dominance of politics in human existence, but have nevertheless drawn extensively on ancient ideas to make sense of their own societies. This module allows you to explore not only the political structures and theories of antiquity, but also their influence on subsequent debates.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The overall aims of the module are:

  • To provide you with the tools and concepts to interpret ancient political thought and practice, and its modern legacy
  • To understand how this history of reception in turn shapes modern historical interpretations
  • To introduce you to a wide range of different ancient sources, broadening your critical understanding of what counts as 'political'
  • To introduce key modern debates around political issues where ancient examples and ideas play a crucial role
  • To deepen your understanding of the institutions, practices and cultures of ancient societies
  • To provoke critical comparisons with contemporary political discourse

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge of a wide range of relevant primary material from Greece and Rome, and of a selection of relevant modern texts and debates
  • 2. Demonstrate critical skills in analysing and discussing this material
  • 3. Demonstrate critical understanding of key modern interpretations of ancient politics and their continuing influence
  • 4. Demonstrate awareness of debates around the comparison of ancient and modern political systems

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 a wider range of textual and other evidence from ancient and modern contexts
  • 6. Demonstrate understanding of the influence of modern conceptions on the interpretation of the ancient world, with awareness of one's own assumptions and values

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Demonstrate awareness of historical and cultural differences, and an ability to interpret the ideas and assumptions of unfamiliar societies
  • 8. Demonstrate sophisticated skills in independent research and the development of research questions, and in the construction, organisation and presentation of interpretations and arguments, both written and verbal
  • 9. Demonstrate the ability to work as part of a group, and to engage constructively in debate and discussion
  • 10. Conduct independent research, including experience in time management

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, which includes scope for you to focus on specific themes and case studies depending on your particular interests:

  • The idea of politics and the development of political theory, ancient and modern
  • Monarchy and Tyranny, from Homer to the English Civil War
  • Democracy: Athens and its institutions
  • The Legacy of Democracy
  • Oligarchy and Republicanism: the Roman 'mixed constitution'
  • The Idea of a Republic
  • Key Concepts: Freedom, Law, Citizenship
  • Elections, Voters, Parties and Patronage
  • Politicians and Rhetoric
  • Civil War, Violence and Post-Politics

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 Teaching15Intensive seminar and reading group activity
Guided Independent Study135Working independently and in groups preparing for seminars and essays

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Close study of key primary and secondary texts in class, with broader discussions of issuesIn-class1-10Oral feedback in class 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
Essay804000 words1-8,10Mark; written and oral comments
Seminar presentation (individual)2020 minutes including discussion1-10Mark; written and oral comments

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8,10Referral/deferral period
Seminar presentation (individual)Essay (2000 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 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Key ancient sources: Thucydides, Ps-Xenophon, Plato (Republic), Aristophanes (Knights), Aristotle (Politics), Sophocles (Antigone), Polybius, Livy, Cicero (Republic,speeches), Q, Cicero (Commentariolum Petitionis), Tacitus, Suetonius.
  • Ryan K. Balot, ed., A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
  • Yelena Baraz, A Written Republic: Cicero's philosophical politics (Princeton UP, 2012)
  • Paul Cartledge, Ancient Greek Political Thought in Practice (CUP, 2009)
  • Paul Cartledge, Democracy: a life (OUP, 2016)
  • Joy Connolly, The State of Speech: rhetoric and political thought in ancient Rome (Princeton UP, 2007)
  • Andreas Fahrmeir, Citizenship: the rise and fall of a modern concept (Yale UP, 2007)
  • Margaret Malamud, Ancient Rome and Modern America (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
  • Neville Morley, Antiquity and Modernity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
  • Robert Morstein-Marx, Mass Oratory and Political Power in the Late Roman Republic (CUP, 2004)
  • Henrik Mouritsen, Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (CUP, 2001)
  • Wilfried Nippel, Ancient and Modern Democracy: two concepts of liberty? (CUP, 2016)
  • Kurt A, Raaflaub, Josiah Ober & Robert W. Wallace, The Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece (U. of California Press, 2007)
  • Paul Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern, Vols I & II (U. of North Carolina Press, 1994)
  • Stephen G. Salkever, ed., Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought (CUP, 2009)
  • Kostas Vlassopoulos, Politics: antiquity and its legacy (OUP, 2009)

Key words search

Classics, Ancient History, Politics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date