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The University of Southampton

HIST2103 Self-inflicted - Extreme Violence, Politics and Power

Module Overview

As Rome became established as a Christian Empire its recent martyrs came to be revered and powerful symbols. Yet with the success of Christianity came the loss of opportunity to follow the example of Christ in offering oneself selflessly to violent death. Instead there emerged and developed in the 4th – 7th centuries a very successful and politically powerful trend whereby one could gain fame and influence through extreme self-inflicted violence in imitation of Christ. In this module we will consider the discourse on the subject of violence comparing the newer self-inflicted trend to that of its older form of martyrdom. We will consider the roots of this practice, work with the rich literary sources in which the lives of such people are recorded, and consider their interaction with and influence upon the wider political realities of the time through the study a number of individual case studies.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The way that violence played a significant role in the formation of Christian sense of identity and ideal in the early centuries of the Roman Empire.
  • A characteristic selection of martyrdom, hagiography and chronicle literature from which we learn about these forms of idealised violence.
  • The way that the portrayal of violence, whether inflicted or suffered, was used to convey very powerful ideas.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently.
  • Analyse critically primary and secondary material.
  • Participate actively in group discussions and debate.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Study primary sources more critically
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Distinguish between different ways in which the concept of violence was employed in late antiquity.
  • Draw upon breadth and depth of reading in order to express your opinions clearly and effectively in class discussion.
  • Formulate your opinions such that they can then be expressed fluently and cogently in group discussion or in writing.


Topics may include but are not limited to: Introduction to the history of Christian Martyrdom in the early centuries. The making of martyrdom – the voyeuristic literature of holy violence. A couple of case studies – Perpetua and the Martyrs of Najaran. “There is no crime for those who have Christ” – Gaddis on violence. The cult of the Martyrs – Augustine and the need to imitate. Self-infliction – Theodoret’s and John of Ephesus’ holy men galore. Simeon Stylites – A case study of the master. Not only Men – “Holy Women of the Syrian Orient.” Holy self-harmers and politics.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Short introductory lectures which may include some group work/participation • Seminars focusing on the detailed reading and analysis of primary sources – these could be texts, images or objects Learning activities include: • In depth analysis of primary sources • Preparatory reading and individual study • Individual participation in seminars, group work and short presentations on seminar themes Lecture elements will provide you with general knowledge and understanding about chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. This module, like all of the 15 credit History modules offered to second year students, will be research led and it will focus heavily on primary sources. You will study an individual source in depth each week. As such, this module will provide you with a sound preparation for the source-based work undertaken in year 3 during the Special Subject and the dissertation.

Completion of assessment task50
Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Salisbury, J.E (2013). Perpetua's Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman. 

Brock, S.P., and S.A. Harvey (1998). Holy Women of the Syrian Orient. 

Doran, R., and S.A. Harvey (1989). 'The Life of Saint Simeon Stylites by Theodoret.' in, The Lives of Simeon Stylites. 

Caner, D (2002). Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity. 

Frend, W.H.C (2008). Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church. 

Musurillo, H (1979). The Acts of the Christian Martyrs. 

Boyarin, D (1999). Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. 

Gaddis, M. (2005). There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire. 

Bowersock, G.W (2002). Martyrdom and Rome. 

Brooks, E.W (1924). John of Ephesus. Lives of the Eastern Saints: II. 

Grig, L. (2004). Making martyrs in late antiquity. 

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (1985). A History of the Monks of Syria. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Examination  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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