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The University of Southampton

HIST2109 Ancient Greeks at War

Module Overview

From the legendary tales of the Trojan War up to the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, warfare played a central role in ancient Greek history and society. This module allows you to examine ancient Greek warfare from a range of different sources and angles (military, political, social, economic, cultural, and religious), to work with written and material evidence from the Classical Greek period in particular, and to assess the preliminaries, events, and conclusions of major wars, as well as studying the wider impact of warfare on ancient Greek society. The history of the Classical fifth century BC was dominated by two wars: the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War. Culminating in the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, the Persian Wars and their commemoration loomed large in Greek history and culture for many centuries. They contributed to the self-definition of Greeks vs. others; led to the rise of the Athenian Empire; and Alexander the Great would later set out on his conquest as a Greek war of revenge against the Persians. The Peloponnesian War, on the other hand, centred on the conflict between two Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta. Their lengthy period of strife reshaped the balance of power in the ancient Greek world, and led to the downfall of the Athenian empire. The two wars are the main focus of the works written by Herodotus and Thucydides – the former known as the ‘father of history’; the latter praised for his strict historical standards and considered one of the founding fathers of political realism. Both authors exerted a significant influence on the writing of history more broadly, and a study of their works not only offers an opportunity to learn about Greek history, warfare, and society in the fifth century BC, but also provides a direct encounter with two of the earliest known historians. The module combines their historical accounts with documentary sources for Greek warfare and society as well as material evidence (including artistic representations of warfare and the study of archaeological sites). In the final part of the course, attention will be paid to the reception of ancient Greek warfare until the modern day.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the causes, circumstances, and events of the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War;
  • key primary sources (literary, documentary, archaeological) for ancient Greek warfare;
  • various stages of ancient wars, from decision-making processes to public commemoration;
  • the impact which warfare had on ancient Greek history and society (incl. Athens and Sparta);
  • scholarly debates about the role and position of warfare in ancient Greek cities;
  • different historiographical approaches, and their impact on our understanding of wars;
  • connections between military, political, economic, and social, cultural, and religious aspects of war;
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss the historical background of the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War;
  • Show yourself familiar with different types of ancient evidence, both written and material;
  • Demonstrate awareness of scholarly trends and debates in the study of ancient Greek warfare;
  • Critically analyse primary sources and modern accounts relating to ancient Greek society.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Organise and structure material to write and present clearly and confidently;
  • Conduct research through print and digital resources including editions and translations of ancient texts and studies of material objects and archaeological sites;
  • Develop your own critical interpretation of primary sources and secondary literature;
  • Participate actively in group discussions and debate.


Subjects which are likely to be covered as part of the module include: * Writing about War: Herodotus and Thucydides * The Persian Wars (1): The Ionian Revolt and the Battle of Marathon * The Persian wars (2): Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataea (480-479 BC) * The Peloponnesian War (1): The Outbreak and the Archidamian War * The Peloponnesian War (2): The Sicilian Expedition and its Aftermath * Deciding on War: Political Processes Managing War: Logistics and Leadership * Fighting War: Soldiers and Armour Concluding War: Battles and Diplomacy * Commemorating War: Monuments and Festivals Modern Reception of Ancient Greek Warfare

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly lectures which provide knowledge and understanding of chronology, sources, and key concepts. Weekly seminars centred on the study of primary source material and secondary literature. Preparatory reading before each seminar; and participation in group and class discussion and debate. Independent reading and research of additional information relevant to the module. Self-study in preparation for the required assignments and revision for the final exam.

Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Follow-up work10
Wider reading or practice30
Completion of assessment task20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Kagan, Donald (1987). The Fall of the Athenian Empire. 

Sage, Michael M. (1996). Warfare in Ancient Greece: a Sourcebook. 

Kagan, Donald (1981). The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian expedition. 

Van Wees, Hans (2004). Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities. 

Pritchett, W.K. (1974-1991). The Greek State at War, 5 vols.. 

Strassler, Robert B. ed (1996). The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. 

Campbell, Brian and Tritle, Lawrence A. eds. (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World. 

Sabin, Philip et al. eds. (2007). The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, 2 vols.. 

Rawlings, Louis. (2007). The Ancient Greeks at War. 

De Souza, Philip et al. (2004). The Greeks at War: From Athens to Alexander. 

Miller, Margaret C. (1997). Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC. 

Tritle, Lawrence A. (2010). A New History of the Peloponnesian War. 

Rhodes, P.J. (2010). A History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 BC. 

Strassler, Robert B. ed. (2008). The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. 

Kagan, Donald (1969). The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. 

Hornblower, Simon (2011). The Greek World, 479-323 BC. 

Cosmopoulos, M.B. ed. (2007). Experiencing War: Trauma and Society from Ancient Greece to the Iraq War. 

Bridges, Emma et al. eds. (2007). Cultural Responses to the Persian Wars: Antiquity to the Third Millennium. 

Rich, John and Shipley, Graham. eds. (1993). War and Society in the Greek World. 

Raaflaub, Kurt and Rosenstein, Nathan. eds. (1999). War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. 

Sidebottom, H. (2004). Ancient Warfare: a Very Short Introduction. 

Kagan, Donald (1974). The Archidamian War. 

Pritchard, David M. (2010). War, Democracy, and Culture in Classical Athens. 

Lazenby, J.F. (1993). The Defence of Greece 490-479 B.C.. 



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


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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