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HIST2045 Cleopatra’s Egypt

Module Overview

‘It is well done, and fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings'. Shakespeare's words on the suicide of Cleopatra VII echo rare ancient Roman admiration for the last queen of Egypt. Defeated by Rome, Cleopatra's choice of death might show a glimpse of her noble origins. But what of her life and the world that made her? Roman propaganda made a monster of Cleopatra: power-mad; sexually depraved; fanatical, animal-worshipping Egyptian; a stain on the glorious reputation of Alexander the Great who brought her ancestors to Egypt. That legacy proved powerful and enduring. Can we get behind the propaganda to the real Cleopatra and her context? We explore the world of Cleopatra's Egypt; its multicultural society and relationship with Roman power; and the fragmentary remains of Cleopatra's life and rule. And we reflect, finally, on Cleopatra's post-mortem power on the western imagination, from Shakespeare to Hollywood and beyond.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Introduce you to the evidence for life in Egypt under Cleopatra VII and the Ptolemaic dynasty • Train you in the skills needed for interpreting the fundamental primary sources • Enable you to understand and engage with different interpretations of this subject

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the history, society and culture of Ptolemaic Egypt
  • the different ways in which scholars interpret the interaction of Greek and Egyptian culture
  • the impact of Rome
  • the role of Cleopatra
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gather information and organise it into an accurate and coherent essay
  • Demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively in the context of a timed exam
  • Communicate effectively in seminar discussions
  • Work in a seminar-team to prepare critical analyses of key primary material and to communicate them effectively
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Carry out research based on primary and secondary sources
  • Use a range of search-engines (print and electronic) to gather evidence
  • Judge the strengths and weaknesses of different interpretations
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate accurately and clearly a range of knowledge and critical reflection in response to exam questions and essay topics
  • Engage critically with key primary sources
  • Make well-supported judgments about the value of particular interpretations of the evidence
  • Reflect critically on the different ways in which scholars have constructed ‘Greek’ and ‘Egyptian’
  • Formulate your own perspectives on key topics and be able to communicate them effectively in informal discussion and formal written exercises


This course studies the history, society and culture of Egypt from its conquest by Alexander the Great of Macedon (332 BC) to the death of Cleopatra VII (30 BC), last of the dynasty founded by Alexander’s general, Ptolemy son of Lagos. From the beginning of this period, thousands of immigrants came to Egypt from all over the Greek world to make their homes in cities and countryside of Egypt. What was the impact of the arrival of the Greeks, and their political dominance in Egypt for three hundred years? What influences and tensions accompanied the development of this new world? This course explores different aspects of relations between Greeks and Egyptians in this period, culminating in a detailed look at the evidence for the rule of Cleopatra, the only Ptolemaic ruler to have learned Egyptian. Topics for study include: - ancient and modern constructions of Ptolemaic Egypt; - the Ptolemies’ creation of a new style of monarchy, combining Greek ideals of kingship with the ancient tradition of the Pharaohs; - domestic and foreign policy; - law and administration; - life in the countryside; - Ptolemaic Alexandria: culture and commerce; - Memphis and the Egyptian temples; - ‘Isis is a Greek word’: Greek religion and Pharaonic tradition; - the Jews of Egypt; - Egyptian resistance to Greek rule; - the coming of Rome; - the rule of Cleopatra.

Special Features

- The module handbook provides a detailed outline of the structure of the module, with full details of module requirements and guidance on reading for seminars and essays. - Lectures are designed to introduce you to issues of chronology, sources, and key concepts used in understanding Ptolemaic Egypt. - Seminars will focus on particular case studies linked to topics raised in the lectures, allowing you to explore issues raised in the latter through discussion and debate, and to develop your skills in analysing primary evidence. - Oral presentations will provide opportunities for you to develop your skills in preparing and presenting oral presentations, both as presenters and respondents, to work with feedback, and to learn from other students. - The non-assessed essay is intended to help you to develop and articulate your ideas in preparation for the assessed essays. Both types of exercise are intended to help to develop your skills in the formal presentation of critical arguments and the analysis of different kinds of evidence. - The examination will provide you with the opportunity to demonstrate your ability in critical thinking and writing under timed conditions.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures and tutor-led seminars - Training in the analysis of key primary sources and how to present an analysis in the context of a seminar - Essay tutorials Learning activities include - preparatory reading - Reading and evaluating the recommended reading for seminar discussion - Preparing and presenting responses to seminar topics as part of a group

Independent Study260
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

F. Dunand and C. Zivie-Coche (2004). Gods and Men in Egypt: 3000 BCE to 395 CE. 

J. Mélèze-Modrzejewski (1995). The Jews of Egypt: from Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian. 

G. Shipley (2000). The Greek World after Alexander. 

A.K.Bowman (1996). Egypt after the Pharaohs 332 BC – AD 642. 

N. Lewis (1986). Life in Egypt under Roman Rule. 

R.S. Bianchi (1988). Cleopatra’s Egypt: Age of the Ptolemies. 

The Diotima website. 

M. Chauveau (2000). Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra: History and Society under the Ptolemies. 

G. Hölbl (2001). A History of the Ptolemaic Empire. 

N. Lewis (1986). Greeks in Ptolemaic Egypt. 

M.M.Austin (2006). The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: a Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation. 

A. Hirst and M. Silk (eds) (2004). Alexandria,Real and Imagined. 

P. Green (1996). Alexander to Actium. 

House of Ptolemy.

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

S. Walker and P. Higgs (eds) (2001). Cleopatra of Egypt: from History to Myth. 

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

J. Rowlandson (1998). Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback - You will receive written feedback on one non-assessed essay - You will present one short oral presentation in one seminar and have it informally assessed by the tutor - The tutor will be available to advise you on planning essay work and the oral presentation


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (500 words) 15%
Commentary exercise  (500 words) 15%
Essay  (2000 words) 30%
Examination  (2 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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