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From Top to Toe: the Body in Antiquity


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.

This course is intended for students from a limited number of MA programmes. First year MA students of Ancient History for whom this is a compulsory course will have priority over students from other programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for other programmes, all students who will enroll are placed on a waiting list. The definite admission (by August 25) will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of students from each programme.


The body can be perceived as strong, ugly, ill, functional, fat, beautiful, disabled, alive or dead. It can be depicted, cursed, or loved. The body is responsible for the functioning of our senses and therefore shapes our perception and interaction with the world around us.

In the modern world, we read about body image and and attitudes in the media all the time – in articles ranging from the topic of racism to make-up advertisements. The body is such an important matter in our daily lives that it raises a historical question: how – and why – did ancient Greeks and Romans perceive their bodies in the ways they did? We will both be discussing Graeco-Roman ideal bodies as well as deviations from these norms. To give examples of some questions we will be posing: what is beauty? What happens when a body does not function in the way it ‘should’? Which ancient attitudes towards skin colour do we discern?

Each student will research an individual topic in the context of ancient conceptions and ideas about the body, using theories and sources from the fields of art history, archeology, literature studies, medicine and so on. This topic is also a suitable subject for comparative historical research. The influence of antiquity on notions of the body in the Medieval age and the Pre-modern period cannot be underestimated.

There will be an entry test for this course: reading will be communicated in due time.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1 The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2 The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3 The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 4 The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5 The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6 The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7 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;

  • 8 The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9 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;

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

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations 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.

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:

  • in the specialisation Ancient History: the comparative method; application of socio-scientific methods; specialized source knowledge, in particular of documentary sources, and more specifically epigraphy.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Can identify current debates about the body in a historical context

  • 14) Can develop ways in which to explore the concept and ideas about the body

  • 15) (ResMA only): interprets a potentially complex corpus of sources; shows the ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates; shows knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Entry test: 10

  • Lectures: 26

  • Assignment(s): 94

  • Paper 150

Assessment method

  • Paper

  • Abstract, oral presentation.

  • Entry tests

  • Heuristic reports


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 10-15

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 8, 13, 14

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7

  • Assignment 1 (Heuristic reports)
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 3, 7


Written paper: 70 %
Entry test: 5 %
Oral presentation: 10 %
Assignment 1: 15%

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


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor. Only the final paper can be re-taken. The sufficient parts cannot be re-taken

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting information

  • communication between lecturer and student

Reading list

Literature to be announced on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. K. Beerden