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Ancient Divination: Omens and Oracles


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


In antiquity the supernatural was consulted by individuals on a near daily basis: whether it was safe to travel, whether a son would be cured of his illness, and whether business would be good. Communities consulted oracles to ask about war and peace and religious decisions.

This seminar will discuss some key contributions to the study of divination in the Graeco-Roman world. Current literature shows from an increasingly diverse range of angles, using an increasingly varied evidential base, including not only literary texts but also inscriptions, coins, art, and architecture.

The studyDivination will be used to gain insight into current developments and debates in the field of ancient religions in a wider sense, mainly those related to lived religion, individuality, urban religion, belief and materiality. Methodologically we reflect on the use of the comparative method and use of concepts from the social sciences. Both have enabled us to see religion in a broader context – in time and in space.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  2. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  3. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  4. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  5. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following; in the specialisation Ancient History: unification processes in the Graeco-Roman World, 400 BC – 400 AD; insight into the recent large-scale debates in the field with respect to both the history of mentality and socio-economic history.

  2. (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  1. has knowledge of the important works in the study of ancient divination

  2. has the ability to contextualize these works in current debates in the field of ancient religions and

  3. is able to reconstruct the dynamics of these debates.

  4. has developed a clear insight in the ways in which academic positions in these debates are rooted in textual ancient evidence and archaeological remains.

  5. (ResMA only) can evaluate the influence of broader societal change on the sorts of questions asked by ancient historians and social scientists more generally and develop new questions.

  6. (ResMA only): can relate developments in debates about ancient religions to broader academic developments outside the discipline of Ancient History


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written final essay (4000 words, ResMA: 5000 words)
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 6, 8-11 (ResMA also: 5, 7, 12-13)

  • Written weekly essays
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 6, 8-11 (ResMA also: 5, 7, 12-13)


  • Written final essay: 50%

  • Weekly essays: 50%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written final essay must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised. 

Reading list

The reading for the course will be announced on Brightspace. It will consist of the most recent books (and some articles) in the field of ancient divination. Important: there will be preparation for our first class. This will be announced on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.