BA Latin and Linguistics / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Politics and Society in Classical Greece

Unit code CAHE20061
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Classics & Ancient History
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course offers chance to explore in detail the history of the Classical Greek world (that is: the period from 478-322 BC), with especial reference to the politics and society of Athens and Sparta.  We will study the Athenian Empire; the Peloponnesian War; the ‘Golden Age’ of Athenian Democracy; the rise and fall of Classical Sparta; we will also refer to the rise of new major political players of the 4th century, Thebes and Macedon. The course places particular emphasis on close engagement with the rich ancient evidence for this period: we will read perhaps the greatest of all ancient historians (Thucydides), examine speeches from the Athenian lawcourts (dealing with cases ranging from trade disputes to adultery-related homicide), and study inscriptions which record the policies and politics of these states in fascinating detail.


This course aims to explore developments in Classical Greek internal and external politics and to examine the character of social relations, with especial reference to the politics and society of Sparta and democratic Athens, and with particular focus upon study of the original sources upon which modern interpretations are based.

Learning outcomes

See specific outcomes detailed below


The subject-matter includes Athens’ fifth-century democracy and naval empire, its growing conflict with Sparta culminating in the extended Peloponnesian War (which brought Athens’ empire and democracy temporarily to an end), and the restored democracy of fourth-century Athens. Significant aspects of Athenian society – especially social status and relations among citizens, women and slaves – are explored through the evidence of speeches at trials in the popular law-courts, which provide a wealth of information about social life rarely available for ancient Greece. The course also examines non-democratic alternatives to the Athenian polis: the rise of the Spartan empire and its collapse; the “invention” of a confederate system of government in Boiotia and the hegemony of Thebes; and the rise of Macedon to a position of hegemony under Philip II.


Teaching and learning methods

  • 2 x 1 hour lectures per week;
  • 1 x 1 hour seminar per week;
  • 1 dedicated consultation hour per week;
  • Blackboard: course material, handouts and other supporting materials. 

Knowledge and understanding

 By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand the development and character of Classical Greek politics and society
  • reconstruct in a coherent way and in chronological order the narrative of this historical period

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • assess and comment critically upon the original evidence in translation
  • test modern interpretations against the ancient evidence
  • combine evidence from different sources and produce a synthesis to answer broader and more specific research questions
  • identify links between the history of the Classical Greek world and later ancient and modern perceptions of Classical Greece

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • present a critical argument in writing and orally.
  • process and filter a large amount of information in a timely fashion for coursework

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • work independently by using resources available in the library;
  • work co-operatively in small groups for discussion and analysis of original documents.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
The course involves a large number of important employment skills, most notably an ability to analyse and examine a large amount of often difficult information, an ability to see both sides of an argument, the ability to synthesise an argument in a cogent form, the ability to retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a compelling and cogent fashion.

Assessment methods



Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)



2000 words




1000 words




2 hours



Feedback methods



Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on any group presentations


Written feedback on summative assessment (see above); all summative coursework feedback is designed to contribute formatively towards improvement in subsequent assignments.



Students are encouraged to seek formative feedback ahead of the first assignment of the unit by discussing work plans and approaches during seminars (where appropriate) and in consultation hours.



Recommended reading

Ancient sources:

  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (either the Penguin Classics translation by R. Warner, 1972, or the Oxford Worlds Classics translation by M. Hammond, 2009)


Secondary literature:

  • Rhodes, P. J., History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 BC (Blackwells, 2005)
  • Hornblower, S., The Greek World, 479-323 BC (Routledge, 4th edn. 2011)
  • Hansen, M. H., The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes (Blackwells, 2nd edn 1991)
  • Osborne, R., ed., Classical Greece (OUP, 2000)
  • Davidson, J., Courtesans and Fishcakes. The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens (Harper Collins, 1997)


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 154

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Maria Kopsacheili Unit coordinator

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