BA Ancient History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Greco-Roman Society and Technology 

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE30261
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course explores the development of ancient science and technology and its interrelation with Greco-Roman societies and the environment. How did societies react to their environments and foster new discoveries and applications? How and why do societies adopt new technologies, and how do they, and their environments change as a result? Are tyrants good for technology? How much can we trust ancient technical writers? Did Roman imperium extend to mastery of their environment, as they seem to have thought? This course encompasses the ancient Mediterranean area and the Near and Middle East and range from the Bronze age to the early Middle Ages, focus on the Roman period. It takes a wide view of technology, ranging from primitive tools and agriculture to automata (robots), aqueducts and catapults. The course will use texts and archaeological evidence, and will incorporate field and museum learning experiences as well as explaining the latest scientific advances.



  • gain an understanding of the relationship between technology and societies from the Greco-Roman to our own
  • develop critical research and thinking skills, knowledge and understanding of the Greco-Roman world by exploring the interaction of ancient technology with society and the environment.
  • apply a combination of discipline specific knowledge (ancient history, ancient societies, ancient technologies) and skills (creative and critical thinking, data analysis, applied research, writing, time management and attention to detail) in combination with skills often required in the workplace (such as written and verbal communication skills, professional presentation, rapport building, initiative and entrepreneurialism, and independent and team-based work). 

Teaching and learning methods

Two hours of lectures, frequently with the addition of analytical activities, are complemented by a one-hour discursive seminar. Preparation activities are assigned to students in preparation for each seminar. Course materials are delivered through Blackboard, including course literature and compulsory seminar preparation. Students will analyse objects, museum displays and/or archaeological sites in person (COVID/Government regulations permitting). The main assessment is scaffolded, with an earlier, predominantly formative stage built upon to produce the major piece of assessment.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Determine and appreciate the ways in which Greek and Roman political, cultural and technological achievements have influenced the ancient and modern worlds, and continue to do so today.
  • Identify the main features of ancient technology in areas such as metals, ceramics, warfare, glass and entertainment.
  • Assess and explain the relationship between ancient technical theory and practice.

Intellectual skills

  • Recognise the constraints on the dynamics that connected humans, technology and the environment in the ancient Mediterranean
  • Evaluate and apply theoretical and comparative models for technological diffusion and change.
  • Use textual, material and environmental evidence to relate technology to its social and environmental context
  • Critically reflect on your own work and the work of your peers.

Practical skills

  • Develop high level skills in computer literacy
  • Reflect upon the implications of applying different methods for communicating the outcomes of historical research to different audiences
  • Reduce complex scientific evidence to readily comprehensible components
  • Work as part of a team on collaborative and individual tasks to produce an oral presentation
  • Demonstrate creative and critical advanced-level research and communication skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Pitch and write a popular-style, concise yet comprehensive article and social media post in a Museum context
  • Produce high quality oral and compact written work
  • Develop skills and confidence in contributing to and leading group discussion

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Group oral seminar presentation


Conversation-style pitch


Popular review of archaeological objects


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written Feedback

Students will receive summative and formative feedback on their coursework assessments. Students are encouraged to submit a draft of the review to the course convenor for written formative feedback in advance of the final submission

Oral Feedback

The seminars are a place for directed discussion and thus provide verbal formative feedback on the development and presentation of argument and interpretation on a weekly basis. In advance of submitting written coursework, students are encouraged to discuss their plans with the course convenor who will provide formative feedback.

Recommended reading

  • Humphrey, J.W., Oleson, J.P. and Sherwood, A.N. 1998. Greek and Roman technology : a sourcebook : annotated translations of Greek and Latin texts and documents. London ; New York: Routledge.
  • Vitruvius 1999. Vitruvius: ‘Ten Books on Architecture’. I. D. Rowland and T. N. Howe (eds.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Irby-Massie, G. & Keyser, P. T. (2001). Greek Science of the Hellenistic Era: a Sourcebook. London: Routledge.
  • Oleson, J. P. (2008). Oxford handbook of engineering and technology in the Classical world. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Humphrey, John W. 2006. Ancient technology. Westport CT: Greenwood. Easy-to-understand overview.
  • Irby, G. (2016) A Companion to Ancient Science, Technology and Medicine, Chichester: Wiley.
  • Thommen, L. (2012). An Environmental History of Ancient Greece and Rome. Cambridge University Press.

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Duncan Keenan-Jones Unit coordinator

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