BA History and Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Politics and Society in Classical Greece

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE20062
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course offers the 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.

Knowledge and understanding

 Students who successfully complete the course 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

Students who successfully complete the course 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

Students who successfully complete the course 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

Students who successfully complete the course 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

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

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%

Commentary - 20%

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 World’s 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) · Osborne, R., ed., Classical Greece (OUP, 2000)
  • Kinzl, K. H., ed., A Companion to the Classical Greek World. (Blackwells, 2010) – a collection of chapters by various scholars on a wide range of relevant topics, including politics, law, gender, economics, social status, geography and environment, etc., as well as several offering (brief) narratives of the period.


Students who have not previously taken CAHE10011 Constructing Archaic Greek History will be expected to have acquired appropriate background knowledge. As a very brief starting point, try the article s.v. “Greece, prehistory and history of” that can be found in Hornblower, Spawforth & Eidinow, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. 4. For more detail on the Classical period, see Rhodes, above.

Study hours

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

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