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The University of Southampton

HIST3247 Islands and Empires in the Ancient Aegean, Part 1: Ruling the Waves

Module Overview

The ancient Greeks were said to live like ‘frogs around a pond’ (Plato, Phaedo 109b) and the sea was omnipresent in their history and societies. This was true in particular for those who inhabited the islands scattered around the Aegean Sea, between mainland Greece and modern-day Turkey. In Islands and Empires, we explore the history of the Aegean from the Classical age until the Roman Imperial period. The course takes you on a journey through time and space, addressing questions of political power and control as well as social and cultural history. The central theme of this module (part 1) is ‘thalassocracy’ or sea power. We start by covering the main features of the Aegean as a region and then explore its political history from the fifth century BCE until the second and third centuries CE. What did it mean to control the Aegean Sea or part of it? How did this control manifest itself? The success of Classical Athens can be explained to a large extent through the power of its navy and its control over the islands of the Aegean, who paid tribute to the city. Following Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BCE, the Aegean became a key region of conflict between Macedonian and Ptolemaic rulers, and this was the arena which the Romans entered when they established their empire in the eastern Mediterranean. Overall, this module equips you to think about the ways in which the Aegean Sea formed part of power shifts in the ancient Mediterranean. You gain an understanding of the empires which were active in the Aegean as well as developing insights into manifestations of power in Aegean communities.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • concepts of ‘thalassocracy’ or sea power.
  • the political history of the Aegean from the fifth century BCE until the Roman Imperial period.
  • the role of the Aegean region in overseas empires.
  • ways in which power shifts in the Aegean manifest themselves in ancient source material.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • explore how sea power contributed to the development of empires in the ancient Aegean.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify and discuss key themes and questions.
  • engage in independent study and research.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse a wide range of primary sources, appreciate the particular contexts in which those sources were produced, and comment on their interest and significance.
  • identify and critically assess scholarly views and arguments.
  • draw connections between different historical periods.


Indicative list of topics that may be covered as part of the module: The Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Thalassocracy: Concept and Implications Athens: From Delian League to Empire Greek Islands and the Athenian Empire The Aegean in the Fourth Century BCE Alexander the Great and the Aegean Greek Islands in a Hellenistic World The Aegean and the Antigonids The Ptolemies and Overseas Power Rhodes and the League of Islanders The Aegean and Republican Rome Greek Islands in the Imperial Period Sea Power: Warfare and Politics Trade and Mobility in the Aegean

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Seminars - Group work - Tutor-led guidance on the sources, on the preparation of assignments, and on the conventions used in the presentation of written work - Student-led seminars, with the module convenor acting as guide and learning facilitator - Individual consultation in person and by email about assessed work on the module. Learning activities include: - Preparatory reading for seminar discussions - Preparation of brief reports on particular questions as directed for classes - Preparing and delivering presentations - Discussion of set topics - Further reading and independent research for the essay - Preparation and completion of module assignments Knowledge and understanding will be developed through a continuous study and analysis of primary sources. You will develop your research skills – how to find relevant material and secondary literature, how to use primary material – in groups and in consultation with the seminar tutor. Attendance of seminars, independent study, and the preparation for assignments will further develop your intellectual skills.

Independent Study252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Abulafia, David (2011). The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. 

Beaulieu, Marie-Claire (2016). The Sea in the Greek Imagination. 

Buraselis, Kostas, Mary Stefanou, and Dorothy Thompson (eds.) (2013). The Ptolemies, the Sea, and the Nile: Studies in Waterborne Power. 

Constantakopoulou, Christy (2007). The Dance of the Islands: Insularity, Networks, the Athenian Empire, and the Aegean World. 

Rutishauer, Brian (2012). Athens and the Cyclades: Economic Strategies, 540-314 BC. 

Starr, Chester G. (1989). The Influence of Sea Power on Ancient History. 

Horden, Peregrine and Nicholas Purcell (2000). The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. 

Kouremenos, Anna (ed.) (2018). Insularity and Identity in the Roman Mediterranean . 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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