Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

HIST1154 Ancient History: Sources and Controversies

Module Overview

The history of the ancient world is hugely significant for understanding subsequent periods of history and the origins of ideas and institutions of global significance. However, the nature of the ancient world continues to be highly debated due to the sources and evidence available to historians for understanding this period. This module looks at the societies and cultures of the ancient world through their written texts, visual art and material remains. What types of evidence are available to ancient historians? What makes them significant and exciting? What perspectives do they present? What is the relationship between literature or material remains and the socio- political world in which they were produced? The aim of this module is to introduce you to different types of sources in study of the ancient world, and how to approach and analyse them as historical sources. Over the course of the module, you will be introduced to literary, material and visual evidence from Herodotus (484-425 BCE) to Procopius (500-560 CE), from buildings and monuments to art, coins and inscriptions, covering Greek, Roman and Byzantine history. In this way, the module will provide you with background knowledge and analytical skills useful throughout the rest of your degree and beyond.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Key literary, visual and material sources that provide evidence for Greek, Roman and Byzantine history
  • The latest research on the specific primary sources under consideration
  • Different academic approaches to analysis of primary sources from the ancient world
  • Historical problems and questions raised by different types of primary sources from diverse contexts within the ancient world
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Use a range of perspectives in problem-solving
  • Critically analyse a diverse range of source material
  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently
  • Participate actively in group discussions and debate
  • Communicate a coherent and convincing argument in both oral and written formats
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Express familiarity with and interpret critically a variety of primary sources from the ancient world
  • Evaluate critically the methodological approaches used by scholars working on the ancient world
  • Understand how major interpretations of ancient sources develop and change
  • Identify and evaluate different historical interpretations of the ancient world
  • Understand the interplay between historical sources and interpretations of them


This module does not focus on one period or region within the ancient world, but emphasises and encourages exploration of the range and types of evidence available to ancient historians, how we can use them to learn about particular historical contexts, and responses to and representations of the ancient world within them. Each lecture and seminar will be dedicated to a specific source or type of source. These will vary each year depending on staff availability, but would be selected from topics such as: • Herodotus, 484-425 BCE, The Histories • Thucydides, 460-395 BCE, History of the Peloponnesian War • Socrates, 469 – 399 BCE • Xenophon, 430-354 BCE, Hellenica • Plato, 428 – 347 BCE • Aristotle, 384 – 322 BCE • Polybius, 200-118 BCE, The Histories • Livy, 64 BCE – 17 CE, History of Rome • The Dead Sea Scrolls • Josephus, 37-100 CE, Antiquities • The Bible • Plutarch, 46-120 CE, Parallel Lives and Lives of Roman Emperors • Tacitus, 56-117 CE, Annals and Histories • • Suetonius, 69-122 CE, Lives of the Caesars • Appian, 95-165 CE, Roman History • Eusebius, 260-340 CE, Ecclesiastical History • Ammianus Marcellinus, 325-392 CE, History • Procopius, 500-560 CE, The Wars of Justinian, and Secret History • Buildings and Monuments • Inscriptions • Coins • Art/Images • Archaeological sites • Legal codes

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • One-hour lectures. The lectures will have two main aims: to introduce you to some of the most important and influential sources that define and help to understand the ancient world; and to develop your analytical skills in approaching such sources. The lectures will also provide an introduction and method for interpreting the set texts, which will be discussed and debated in detail in the accompanying seminars. • One-hour seminars. Seminars will focus on detailed reading and analysis of primary sources, accompanied by discussion of the implications of these documents and how they connect with the principal historiography and wider perceptions of the context in question. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. Such discussions will also allow you to reflect on the historiography and on broader attitudes towards the period in question. • Opportunity for individual consultations with seminar tutors and feedback on assignments Learning activities include: • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participation in group and seminar discussion • Independent reading of the sources provided and of related secondary works • Preparing and delivering presentations in seminars • Independent research of additional information and source materials

Completion of assessment task40
Follow-up work10
Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Wider reading or practice15
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Beard, M. and J. Henderson (2001). Classical Art from Greece to Rome. 

Champion, C.B., (ed.) (2004). Roman Imperialism: Readings and Sources. 

Sedley, D (2003). Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy. 

Hornblower, S (2002). The Greek World 479-323 BC. 

Kraus, C.S. and A.J. Woodman (1997). Latin Historians. 

Wells, C (1992). The Roman Empire. 

Mitchell, M.M and F.M. Young (eds) (2006). The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 1: Origins to Constantine. 

Cameron, A (1993). The Mediterranean world in late antiquity, AD 395-600. 

Gill, M.L. and P. Pellegrin (eds) (2006). A Companion to Ancient Philosophy. 

Marincola, J (1997). Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography. 

Crawford, M (1992). The Roman Republic. 

Kleiner, D (1992). Roman Sculpture. 

Brown, P (1993). The making of late antiquity. 

Cameron, A (1993). The Later Roman Empire. 

Erskine, A., (ed) (2003). A Companion to the Hellenistic World. 

Cornell, T.J (1995). The Beginnings of Rome. 

Elsner, J (1996). Art and Text in Roman Culture. 

Gill, C (1995). Greek Thought. Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics. 

Goodman, M (1997). The Roman World 44 BC - AD 180. 

Rajak, T (1983). Josephus: the historian and his society. 

Walbank, F.W (1992). The Hellenistic World. 

Stevenson, J. and W.H.C. Frend (1987). A New Eusebius: documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337. 

Maas, M (2000). Readings in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook. 

Woodman, A.J (1988). Rhetoric in Classical Historiography. 

Shipley, G (2000). The Greek World after Alexander 323-30 BC. 

Rohrbacher, D (2002). The historians of late antiquity. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Timed Assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings