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BA Latin and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds (6th c. BCE - 3 c. CE)

Unit code CAHE30441
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Classics & Ancient History
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Families and family life are vital for ancient society. As a term 'family' is not a self-evident issue. Starting from Greek and Latin vocabulary, we will define families as groups of people united under one authority, linked with each other through alliances of relation or dependency, and sharing common residence or activities.

After a methodological introduction, we will focus on items as demography, archaeology of the house, domestic economy, legal issues, and the human life course in the context of the family (from birth to funeral) in connection with domestic religion. Special attention will be given to outsiders or 'special' family members: the ill and the disabled, domestic slaves, and singles. The approach will be comparative. While classical Athens and late-Republican early imperial Rome will be at the centre, due attention will be paid to sources from 'other' regions, as well as to the comparison between the Greek and the Roman worlds.  


No formal pre-requisites or co-requisites, but students who did not take Greek or Roman History course units in their first or second year will need to have acquired a basic knowledge of the main narrative of Hellenistic and Roman history (6th cent. BCE to 3rd century CE) in order to follow the course. The use of F. Naerebout, H. Singor, Antiquity. Greeks and Romans in Context (Malden, Oxford, 2014) is recommended in this case.


To explore the role played by family in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, with particular focus on historiographical and methodological questions, including the use of comparative evidence from other Mediterranean societies as well as the interpretation of ancient sources.


Main weekly themes and topics will include the following:

(1) What's in a family? Context, concepts and historiography of families in Antiquity.

(2) Exploring the ancient sources + The demography of ancient  families.

(3) Domestic archaeology and economy.

(4)  Legal issues: guardianship, heritage, and marriage.

(5)  Le mal d'être femme: procreation, conception, sterility, and giving  birth.

(6) Being a child in the ancient family: from cradle to adulthood, and the role of educators.

(7) Ritualising emotions: funerals and the family.

(8-9) Limits and borders of family life:  illness and disability, labour, sexual abuse, motherless or fatherless childhood, slavery and family life, the single life.

(10) Comparative perspectives 1: Families in the Hellenistic world and the world perspective.

(11) Comparative perspectives 2 and conclusion: Families in Graeco-Roman Egypt/ comparing Greek and Roman families within the context of Mediterranean families and the longue durée.

Teaching and learning methods

2 lectures and 1 seminar per week: while the lectures focus on teaching and presentation of themes and problems, the seminar will mostly start from a concrete fragment of text (literary, or inscription) or from an iconographical source. Also in the summative coursework essay, the student will have to present one chosen fragment in the wider context of family studies of Antiquity

Knowledge and understanding

  • an awareness and understanding of the subject;
  • knowledge of a range of literary, epigraphic, linguistic and archaeological/iconographical evidence
  • critical understanding of the strengths and limitations of different types of evidence

Intellectual skills

  • to pose questions about complex issues
  • to assimilate and summarize large quantities of evidence
  • to locate and retrieve relevant information from primary sources
  • to conduct bibliographic searches, and to present the results in a professional manner with appropriate reference to sources and modern published scholarship;

Practical skills

  • To present a sustained critical argument effectively in writing and orally
  • To manage time
  • To engage in critical discussion and debate

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • the ability to organise self-learning and to engage in constructive critical discussion both individually and in groups.

Employability skills

¿ Independent critical thinking and analysis of issues crucial to understanding (ancient) society

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Formative coursework essay


2000 words

0 %

Summative coursework essay


2000 words

30 %

Exam (3 hours)


3 hours

70 %



Assessment task



3 hours


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

written feedback on formative and summative essays

additional one-to-one feedback (during the    consultation hour or by making an appointment), if desired

formative/ summative




Recommended reading

Mandatory reading:

B. Rawson (ed.), A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2011): selected chapters to be read will be made available.

Further reading:

L. Beaumont, N. Harrington, M. Dillon (eds.) Children in Antiquity: Childhood in the Ancient Mediterranean (Routledge, London, New York, 2018).

 J. Gardener, The Roman Household. A Sourcebook (Routledge, London, New York, 1991).

S. Huebner, The Family in Roman Egypt. A Comparative Approach to Intergenerational Solidarity and Conflict (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013).

M. Golden, Children and Childhood in Classical Athens (Baltimore, 2015, 2nd edition).

Chr. Laes, K. Mustakallio, V. Vuolanto, Limits and Borders of Childhood and Family in the Roman Empire, in Chr. Laes, K. Mustakallio, V. Vuolanto (eds.), Children and Family in Late Antiquity. Life, Death and Interaction (Leuven, Peeters, 2015) p. 1-14.

Chr. Laes, V. Vuolanto (eds.), Children and Everyday Life in the Roman and Late Antique World (London, New York, Routledge, 2017).

J.-B. Bonnard, V. Dasen, J. Wilgaux, Famille et société dans le monde grec et en Italie du Ve au IIe siècle av. J. - C. (Rennes, 2017).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Christian Laes Unit coordinator

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