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HIST4304SM Topic Studies in Pre-Modern World History: West and the World I: Antiquity

Semester 1 (2020-2021)

Lecture TimeWednesday 2:30pm-4:15pm

VenueICS L1


Lecturer Stuart MCMANUS ((852) 3943 7858 /

Teaching Assistant CAO Huiyi (

Course Description

The ancient Mediterranean world (c. 800 BCE-250 CE) is often seen as the fountainhead of “Western” culture, but what was it really like?  This course will have two aims: to understand the core contributions (philosophical, political, literary, etc.) of the ancient Mediterranean world to later periods of “Western” history, and to understand its relationship to the rest of the world (Han China, India, ancient Near East, etc.).  To do so, we will focus on a series of “moments” (and the related sources), which either had a particular influence on later periods or display the interconnectedness of the ancient world.


Week 1 (Sep. 9): What is the “West”?  The Key Questions of the Course

Readings: Anthony Appiah, Western Civilization; Frank Jacobs, Where is Europe?


Week 2 (Sep. 16): Archaic Greece: Linear B and the East Face of Helicon

Readings: The Greek Alphabet part 1, part 2 (section 14 only); Homer Iliad (bk 1 only). 


Week 3 (Sep. 23): The Greek Polis, Warfare and Democracy

Readings: Pericles’ Funeral Oration; Old Oligarch, Constitution of the Athenians.

Writing Greek words quiz (handed out in class due Friday at 3pm).


Week 4 (Sep. 30): Greece and the World: The Persian Wars and Alexander

Readings: Herodotus Bk. VII.138-239 (Thermopylae); Portrait of Alexander the GreatMapping the Mediterranean Exercise due Friday at 3pm).


Week 5 (Oct. 7): Greek Philosophy: The Many Paths to Happiness  

Readings: EITHER Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Books 1&2; OR Plato, Meno (all). 


Week 6 (Oct. 14): Rome: Foundation, Growth and the Clash with Carthage

Readings: Livy, Ab urbe condita, Bk 1; Vergil, Aeneid Book 1, lines 1-33.


Week 7 (Oct. 21): Rhetoric and Cicero. 

Readings: Rhetorica ad Herennium (All of Bk 1; Bk 4.28-40 only [on memory]) (required); Cicero, Pro Caelio(optional).   Public Speaking Workshop.   


Week 8 (Oct. 28): Rome: Republic to Principate. 

Reading: Polybius, Histories, Bk 1, ch. 1-4; Bk 6, ch. 1-18. 


Week 9 (Nov. 4): Roman Law, Slavery and Empire. 

Readings: XII Tables, Justinian, Institutes, 1,1-6 (persons); Institutes, 2,1-6 & 10-12 (property); Institutes, 3,23-25; Institutes, 4,3-5 (obligations – contract and delict); Digest 40.1-4 (manumission); “Imperium” in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World [online through library website].


Week 10 (Nov. 11): Rome, India and China

Readings: Pliny, Natural History, VI.20-39; Chinese sources on Rome


Week 11 (Nov. 18): High Empire: Stoicism, Roman Architecture and the Provinces. 

Readings: Epictetus, Handbook. Tacitus, Agricola 4-21; 29-30; Burial Customs in Roman Egypt


Week 12 (Nov. 25): Religion: Christianity, Judaism and Roman Religion. 

Readings: Pliny the Younger, Letter on the Christians; Josephus, Jewish War, Book 1 (preface only) & Book 6 (all). 


Week 13 (Dec. 2) Why do we care about Western Antiquity?

Readings: Petrarch, Letter to Cicero; Poggio Bracciolini, Letter on Finding Quintilian

Assessment & Assignments



20% attendance and participation in lecture

Each student is required to attend the weekly lecture and the tutorials, as well as participate in class exercises, Ureply quizzes, etc. (5%).  Students must also ask at least two questions over the course of the semester (you must announce your name before you ask the question) (15%) with half the grade given for asking the questions (7.5%), then the other half given for the quality/relevance of the questions (7.5%).  From time to time, I will also cold-call students on students. 


20% 10-minute individual oral presentation in tutorial (week 8 or later) [might have to change if numbers are small…]

10-minute presentation (with PowerPoint) consisting of 5-minute summary of one reading/image of your choice (all readings must we covered, however, so it is 2 students maximum per reading) followed by 5-minute argument about why it is relevant to the key questions of the course. This should not overlap substantially with the text/topic of your digital essay.  If you refer to Greek terms and names, please write them in the Greek alphabet.  You will receive both instructor and peer feedback.  You must email the PowerPoint presentations to the TA at least 1 hour in advance of class.  You will receive a grade and comments based on ideas (40%), structure (20%), style (20%) and oral/gestural delivery (20%).  The sign-up sheet for individual texts/images will be passed around in week 3. 


30% 2 Homework exercises

There will be two short homework exercises: writing Greek words (Week 3) and mapping the Mediterranean (Google MyMap) (Week 5).


30% 1500-Word Take-Home Digital Essay (Story Map) 

Answer an essay question of your own choice in the form of a digital Story Map.  Possible essay questions might include:

  • Was the ancient Mediterranean ruled more by rhetoric than law?
  • Did Rome/Athens develop in isolation?
  • Was Plato or Aristotle a better guide to a good life?
  • Was Stoicism a better philosophy for the Roman Empire than Platonism?
  • Any other question of your choice…


This “illustrated digital essay” should be in the form of a Story Map of 10 pages using include relevant maps (generated by Story Map).  The main task of the Story Map is explaining and making an essay-style argument about the events, topic or development (80-100-word paragraphs per slide), and include any images (from Wikicommons, lecture PowerPoints or elsewhere making sure to quote your source), and at least 3 relevant short quotations from sources you have read for class.  Use Watercolor background.  You must discuss your ideas with the TA or instructor before Week 11.  Due on Friday of Week 12 at 5pm via email to instructor (email the Knightlab internet link to the instructor and submit a Word Doc. of the text only via Veriguide).   This will be returned within two weeks via email with comments. 


All readings will be primary sources.  However, students looking for a textbook may refer to the relevant chapters in Norman Davies, Europe: A History. 2014 (copies in UL).  More detailed treatments are found in J. Boardman, J. Griffin, and O. Murray, Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World (2002) and D. Potter, Ancient Rome: A New History(2014, etc.), which are available for purchase in various locations.  For the class, however, you need only attend the lectures and do the provided readings for full credit.   


Students should also look up the authors they are presenting on in The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World [available online through library catalogue]. 

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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