Module Catalogue 2021/22

CAH2061 : Slavery in Greco-Roman antiquity

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Simon Corcoran
  • Lecturer: Dr Jane Webster
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



The aim of the course is to understand slavery, a fundamental, but often under-appreciated, aspect of the Greek and Roman worlds in its varied social, economic, legal and ideological contexts. This is to be done primarily through the study of antique writers, documents, artefacts and archaeology, and by engaging in particular with the problems caused by this uneven ancient evidence, in which the views of slave-owners are well represented, while slaves seldom have an explicit voice. Understanding the modern historiography is also key, since contemporary disputes, resonances and sensitivities (e.g. the reparations debate; and movements to 'decolonize' written and physical legacies) form a further inescapable part of the context for studying this ancient topic.

Outline Of Syllabus

The following are key themes of the module (although the sequence and structure may differ):
1] The modern historiography of ancient slavery; the range of ancient sources.
2] Definitions of slavery, ancient & modern.
3] Ideas and ideology about slaves in Greek and Roman writers, including also Christians and Jews.
4] Becoming or acquiring a slave, including the sources of slaves, the slave trade, and the demography of ancient slave populations.
5] Labour, including the ideology of ‘work’; the range of slave jobs, domestic, commercial, agricultural, and public; their economic and/or social importance.
6] The treatment of slaves, public and private, in particular the role of violence and torture.
7] Slave responses to slavery, including revolts and resistance.
8] Manumission: purposes and processes.
9] Freedmen: obligations and opportunities.
10] The Roman imperial ‘familia’ and the Roman 'civil service'; including also the eunuchs of the late antique court.
11] Other forms of ‘unfree’ labour, including debt-bondage and the Helots at Sparta.
Note that the themes are most often treated in relation to Classical Athens (5th/4th CC. BC) and late Republican and early imperial Rome, but the periods and places studied are not necessarily limited to these.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the end of the course, the student should:
[1] Have a broad knowledge of the nature of slavery in its social, economic, legal and ideological contexts across Antiquity, but including within this at least some clear familiarity with Classical Athens (5th/4th cent. BC) and early imperial Rome (1st cent. BC to 3rd cent. AD).
[2] Know varying definitions of slavery and other forms of ‘unfree’ labour.
[3] Understand in contextualized detail several key ancient texts relevant to slavery.
[4] Know the ancient ideological background to slavery.
[5] Know the stages of enslavement, from loss of freedom/birth, through work and life in the ‘familia’, to death/manumission, with awareness of the varied experiences of these for slaves and masters.
[6] Understand the rules of manumission and the status of freedmen.
[7] Be familiar with at least one modern slave narrative.
[8] Understand the role and impact of contemporary contexts and concerns upon the scholarship and historiography of slavery.

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of the course, the student should be able to:
1] Analyse ancient evidence in the light of its ancient context, including not only literary sources, but also legal texts, documents, artefacts and archaeology.
2] Draw contrasts between particular periods and places in antiquity.
3] Construct an argument by judicious use of ancient evidence.
4] Use non-ancient evidence or varying methodologies such as comparative history.
5] Take account of the contemporary contexts of modern scholarship.
6] Engage with and make judgements about ancient evidence and modern scholarship, while being sensitive to the effect of their own assumptions on their writing.
7] Work collaboratively with their peers.
8] Make clear and relevant oral contributions.
9] Construct a clear and well-written argument.
10] Undertake independent study.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion601:0060:00Completion of essays
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00In-person lectures.
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials111:0011:00Recorded videos totalling 1 hour per week. These count as CONTACT HOURS.
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading351:0035:00Exploration of topics, documents and bibliography in the Module Handbook and on Canvas
Structured Guided LearningAcademic skills activities111:0011:00Tasks and reading preparatory for discussion board
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Weekly seminars (except the final week)
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities102:0020:00Reading and other work preparatory for seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured non-synchronous discussion111:0011:00Discussion boards for weekly tasks
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:001:00End of module drop-in Q&A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study301:0030:00Independent study going beyond the module handbook
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures, live (allowing for some interactive engagement) or recorded (for more intensive learning), highlight the most important themes and approaches and clarify information, building also on preparatory reading. These, plus the seminar preparation, facilitate the flipped classroom seminar, where students, singly or in groups, lead discussion and analysis of key ancient source materials. One of the essay assessments will be tied specifically to the texts studied. The weekly tasks and discussion boards build up relevant skills. These all feed into both essays.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M502,000 words
Essay2A502,000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The first essay allows engagement with specific ancient source material, allowing the demonstration of source-criticism, command of detail, and awareness of relevant contexts. The second essay allows engagement with a major topic or theme relevant to slavery and the development of well-considered arguments bolstered by appropriate ancient evidence and modern scholarship, suitably contextualized.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2021/22 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2022/23 entry will be published here in early-April 2022. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.