Module Catalogue 2023/24

CAH2061 : Slavery in Greco-Roman antiquity

CAH2061 : Slavery in Greco-Roman antiquity

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Jon Davies
  • Lecturer: Dr Jane Webster
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Modules you must have done previously to study this module

Pre Requisite Comment



Modules you need to take at the same time

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 aspects, and to be able to analyse and discuss it in a contextualized manner. 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 and topics in the module (although the sequence and structure of their treatment may differ):
- The modern historiography of ancient slavery and the contemporary resonances of slavery.
- The range and nature of the ancient sources and evidence.
- Definitions of slavery, ancient & modern.
- Ideas and ideology about slaves in Greek and Roman writers, including also Christian and Jewish authors.
- Becoming or acquiring a slave, including the sources of slaves, the slave trade, and the demography of ancient slave populations.
- Labour, including the ideology of ‘work’; the range of slave jobs, domestic, commercial, agricultural; their economic and/or social importance.
- The treatment of slaves, public and private, in particular the role of violence and torture.
- Slave responses to slavery, including revolts and resistance.
- Manumission: purposes, processes, consequences.
- Freed persons: obligations and opportunities.
- Public slaves; particularly the Roman emperor's ‘familia’ and the Roman 'civil service' (especially imperial freedmen, including late antique court eunuchs).
- Other forms of ‘unfree’ labour, including debt-bondage and the Helots at Sparta.
NOTE that the above are most often treated in relation to Classical Athens 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 (Archaic period to late antiquity), but including within this at least some clear familiarity with Classical Athens (5th/4th cent. BC) and late Republican/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 slave and free, male and female.
[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 and interpret 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 supported by judicious use of ancient evidence.
[4] Use non-ancient evidence or varying methodologies such as comparative history to analyse ancient slavery.
[5] Take account of and engage with contemporary contexts and their impact upon the study of ancient slavery.
[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] Construct a clear and well-written argument.
[8] Undertake independent study.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading351:0035:00Exploration of topics, documents and bibliography in the Module Handbook and on Canvas
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading165:0065:00Completion of assessments, formative and summative.
Structured Guided LearningAcademic skills activities112:0022:00Tasks and guided reading
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
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:001:00End of module drop-in Q&A and feedback session
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study251:0025:00Independent study going beyond the module materials
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures 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 in seminars. Tasks and guided reading build up relevant skills, consolidate knowledge, and encourage self-reflectivity. The formative assessment is designed to foster the ability for close reading of the sources. These all feed into both summative essays. The end of module drop-in allows students to give and get feedback on the module and reflect on their experience.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M501,800 words
Essay2A501,800 words
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise2MSource commentary exercise (400 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

One essay is intended to demonstrate engagement with specific ancient source material and to display skills of source-criticism, command of detail, and awareness of relevant contexts. The other 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.

The source commentary exercise is designed to foster both close reading and historically aware analysis of ancient evidence (material or textual). The timing of all three assessments will allow for feedforward from each to the next.

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.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


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