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CAH2061 : Slavery in Greco-Roman antiquity

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • 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


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.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
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.
Structured Guided LearningAcademic skills activities112:0022:00Tasks and guided reading
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading230:0060:00Completion of essays
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading351:0035:00Exploration of topics, documents and bibliography in the Module Handbook and on Canvas
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
Guided Independent StudyReflective learning activity60:303:00Bi-weekly quizzes (formative assessment)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:001:00End of module drop-in Q&A and feedback session
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study271:0027:00Independent study going beyond the module materials
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. Tasks build up relevant skills, while the bi-weekly tests (formative assessment) on Canvas consolidate knowledge. These all feed into both essays. The end of module drop-in allows students to give and get feedback on the module and reflect on their experience.

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
Description Semester When Set Comment
Computer assessment2MBi-weekly quizzes
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 regular quizzes (every two weeks), conducted via Canvas, help consolidate learning and alert students to areas of weakness or lack of engagement.

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.

Reading Lists