BA Ancient History

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Through Cicero's Eyes

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE30031
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology & Egyptology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will examine life and politics in the Late Roman Republic through the medium of one of the most detailed and valuable extant literary sources, the letters and other writings of M. Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC).
After a general overview of the historical and biographical background, the course will examine the political, cultural and social life of the Late Republic through extensive use of excerpts from Cicero’s writings. His political viewpoint will be set against the wider backdrop of Roman politics. Aspects of his private life as revealed in his correspondence will form the focus of such topics as family relationships, friendship, property-owning and leisure. Other letters, together with extracts from philosophical and religious treatises, will be used to build up a picture of the intellectual life of the Roman Republican elite.


Pre-requisite units

Non-linguists: none, though CLAH 10022 From Republic to Empire is strongly recommended.

Linguists: Advanced Latin I (or equivalent). CLAH 10022 From Republic to Empire is  not required, but is strongly recommended. ); student must be at L3

Co-requisite units

Those taking this course alongside Advanced Latin are expected to take it as linguists.  If you are in any doubt about which level of the course is appropriate for you, please ask.  Anti-requisite: this course cannot be combined with CLAH 20032 Through Cicero’s Eyes.



This course aims :

  • To offer students the opportunity to study, through the letters and other writings of  an outstanding contemporary  participant and commentator,  aspects of Roman politics and society in a crucial period of cultural transition and political upheaval. 

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • understand the significance of  Cicero’s letters and other writings in the interpretation and elucidation of life and politics of the late Republican Rome.
  • criticize and evaluate his role in a crucial period of political, social and cultural development.

Intellectual skills

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

  • perform close textual analysis and more broadly based thematic readings;
  • evaluate critically both primary evidence and secondary literature; to apply a range of interpretative approaches;
  • envisage a written text as one element of a wider historical picture. 

Practical skills

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

  • demonstrate good oral and written communication skills.
  • locate and retrieve relevant information from primary sources
  • conduct bibliographic searches, and to present the results in a professional manner with appropriate reference to sources and modern published scholarship
  •  take responsibility for individual learning;
  • appreciate the views of individuals from different cultures.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

  • construct an argument in written and oral form,
  • pose questions about complex issues,
  • assimilate and summarise large quantities of evidence,
  • use e-resources and gain knowledge of research methods and resources,
  • manage time and resources,
  • engage in critical discussion. 

Employability 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

Essay  30%
Exam 40%
Commentaries  (x2) 30%


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on formative and 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.
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment).

Recommended reading

E. Rawson, Cicero: a portrait, second edition (1983). Students are recommended to use this as a course text book.
A. Lintott, Cicero as Evidence: A Historian’s Companion (2008)
P. White, Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic (2010)
D. Stockton, Cicero: a political biography (1971)
T. N. Mitchell, Cicero: The Ascending Years (1979), Cicero: the Senior Statesman (1991)
N. Wood, Cicero’s Social and Political Thought (1988), esp. chs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 10
J.G.F. Powell, Cicero the Philosopher (1995), Introduction.
T. A. Dorey (ed.) Cicero (1965).

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Mary Beagon Unit coordinator

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