The University of Southampton
HumanitiesPostgraduate study

ARCH6104 Rome and the Sea: ports, ships and Mediterranean connections

Module Overview

This module offers an opportunity to undertake an in-depth study of Roman Ports through a combination of archaeological and historical material and approaches. Encompassing ports from across the Roman world from the time of the Republic to Late Antiquity, the module is not confined to selected geographical areas or to certain methodologies. Material that will be used is selected to represent the wide range of societies within the empire and also the various forms of evidence on which study of the Roman port systems is based, demonstrating the latest theoretical, methodological and technical developments in the field. The aim is to gain understanding of contemporary port systems, not merely though investigation of selected sites, but though understanding the social, cultural, political and economic contexts in which port developments took place.

Aims and Objectives

This module aims to introduce a range of evidence and issues related to the development of ports in the Roman world.

Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the principal forms and contexts in which ports developed in the Roman world from the time of the Republic to Late Antiquity;
  • a level of competence in the geography, chronology and culture of the Roman ports and in the main categories of monuments and artefacts;
  • how archaeological evidence may be used in the study of Roman ports;
  • current theoretical and methodological approaches to Roman port studies and be able to reflect critically on the potential of these;
  • the economic, social, political, cultural and religious developments and interaction between the ports of the Empire.

Cognitive (thinking) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically analyse complex issues;
  • Evaluate and synthesize large bodies of data;
  • Assess the value and limitations of various types of evidence;
  • Reflect critically on competing theories and claims;
  • Interpret, support and present an argument.

Practical (subject specific) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Better understand the complex interplays of academic argument in Roman archaeology;
  • Deal with historical, epigraphic, geophysical and architectural evidence;
  • Build awareness of the potential of interdisciplinary research;
  • Undertake comparative analyses of archaeological evidence for sites across the Roman empire;
  • Analyse and interpret evidence for a single phenomenon within the broader social, economic, political and cultural contexts of the Roman empire;
  • Work with a complex set of archaeological and historical data from a Mediterranean-wide perspective and to critically assess competing interpretations of the evidence;
  • Acquire a range of skills relevant to advance to research degrees.

Key transferable skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Conduct independent research;
  • Discuss issues in a group;
  • Effectively communicate your ideas in both written and oral form;
  • Develop your presentation and public speaking skills;
  • Plan work and meet a variety of demanding deadlines.


The syllabus will typically cover:

  • The Mediterranean in geography and history
  • The geomorphologic context of Roman ports
  • Approaches to studying Roman ports: methodologies and evidence
  • Roman Mediterranean shipping
  • Port infrastructure
  • The port system of Imperial Rome
  • Portscapes
  • Hinterlands of Ports
  • The structure of maritime commerce in the Roman Mediterranean
  • Port networks
  • The demography of ports
  • Ports and cultural change
  • Fieldtrip orientation

Fieldtrip – three day optional field trip to Portus, Ostia and Rome

Special Features

A week-long fieldtrip to Portus, Ostia and Rome is an optional part of the module.Students attending the field trip will stay at the British School at Rome, where you will be able to use the local facilities, and from where daily trips and visits will be organized.

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:66
Private study hours:234
Total study time: 300 hours

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be taught through lectures and seminars. Weekly lectures will cover the main themes of the module which will be further explored in seminar sessions. Attendance to all seminars is a strict requirement of the module. Over the course of the semester, you will make two 10 minute formal presentations to the class, one in weeks 1-6 and one in weeks 7-12, on a topic agreed in advance with the tutor. You are expected to do in-depth reading for all seminars, not just those for which they are preparing presentations, and participate actively in the discussion. An optional field trip will be organized to Portus, Ostia and Rome (Italy), providing a different teaching environment and a first-hand experience of the relevant material.

The module encourages the development of autonomous learning through a research-based curriculum (preparation for seminars and in particular preparation of presentations and assignments). Encouraged discussion in the seminars will lead to peer-assisted learning, which will be further informed by hearing about other students’ work through presentations.

Resources and reading list

One of the skills to be developed within this module is the ability to research bibliographies. In this Module, this will be assessed through the reading you undertake for the seminars and subsequent written assignments. Short reading lists will be provided for each seminar topic but these are not intended to be all-inclusive. It is essential that you use your initiative in following up references, seeking out a range of relevant publications and also in using sources in languages other than English.

The ancient geography of Europe is best appreciated through R. Talbert (2000) Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World. It is recommended that The Oxford Classical Dictionary (edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth) is a useful general work of reference.


Other general works that could read in preparation for the module:

Hordern, P. & Purcell, N. 2000. The Corrupting Sea. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harris, W.V. 2005. Rethinking the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Abulafia, D. 2003. The Mediterranean in history. London: Thames and Hudson.

Meijer, F. 1986, A History of Seafaring in the Classical World. London: Routledge.

Oleson, J.P.,  Hohlfelder, R. L. 2011. Ancient harbours in the Mediterranean, 809-33 in A. Catsambis, B. Ford & D. L. Hamilton, The Oxford handbook of maritime archaeology. Oxford: OUP. 


Assessment methods

Formal Assessments:

  • 1 x Written Assignment (2500 words) - 40%
  • 1 x Written Assignment (3500 words) - 60%

Your performance over the course of the module will be formally assessed through 2 pieces of written work based on your seminar presentations. The first assignment (not more than 2000 words) will count for 40% of the mark; the second (not more than 3000 words) will count for 60% of the marks. Production of these two pieces of written work will develop not only your knowledge and understanding of the module subject, but will also require good time management, independent research and will help cultivate writing skills.

Your response to instruction and progress will be monitored in weekly seminar sessions. Presentations will in addition be accompanied by anonymous peer-review, gathered by means of a standardized question form. Qualitative feedback will be given following presentations. This feedback will be delivered in person, when you will be encouraged to reflect on your own learning process. The goal of these meetings is to discuss your progress towards achieving the intended learning outcomes and identify areas for improvement, as well as to develop student awareness of the nature of assessment criteria. Seminar participation and project presentation will develop and test all of the listed cognitive, practical and transferable skills. The goal of these formative assessment methods is for the feedback to be delivered in good time and in a way that it can feed into your performance in parts of coursework that are submitted for formal assessment.


Programmes in which this module is compulsory

This is a core module in the MA Rome and the Mediterranean programme

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