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Common course (ResMA): Slavery in the Ancient World


Admission requirements

This course is open to and compulsory for Research Master students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (all specializations).


Slavery is a common feature of many ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. Enslaved people were a significant element in daily life and played important roles in the private and public economy. Slavery could come in different forms: there was a huge difference between enslaved people who were forced to work in mines, on galleys, and on agricultural estates and those who were entrusted with the private education of their master’s household. Yet one thing that united all these forms of servile labor was that enslaved people were deprived of their status as autonomous human beings; they were counted among the possessions of a household or institution and at the disposal of their masters. Emancipation for enslaved people was often a real possibility, and in some contexts even happened on a regular basis. The freedmen of Imperial Rome, for example, were a social group that was highly successful in commerce and could aspire to high positions in the state.
In this common course we will approach the topic of slavery from different angles: how did the different cultures define slaves? How and why were people enslaved? What were the legal and social consequences of slavery? How did ancient societies think about and relate to enslaved people as individuals and to slavery as a practice? How inclusive were ancient debates about democracy and freedom? To what extent has slavery in different ancient societies been conceived and defined according to classical and modern ideas? Should the resulting views be revisited, and is it possible at all, from a modern perspective, to define slavery in accordance with ancient cultural contexts?

Course objectives


  • knowledge of the system of slavery within the different cultural contexts of te diciplines involved in this course;

  • knowledge of the recent debate on slavery as as a complex, important and problematic part of ancient civilizations;

  • knowledge of theoretical concepts and paradigms that help us to better understand and evaluate slavery in Antiquity;

Understanding and skills:

  • research skills: formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions;

  • interpretation skills: interpreting primary sources (archaeology or texts in Egyptian, Persian, Akkadian, etc.) related to the topic of the seminar;

  • critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate;

  • oral presentation: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation, making effective use of a handout or other presentation devices;

  • written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research;

  • the student must demonstrate his or her grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material;
    This course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.
    The common course contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4b and c (to give a clear and well-argued oral presentation for a wider audience; and a written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the Research Master study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation (10-15 minutes)

  • Written Paper (3000-3500 words)

  • Active participation in class, including one prepared response

  • Once taking notes and developing them into a short artivle for non-specialist (newspaper style, 750 words)


  • Oral presentation: 30%

  • Written Paper: 40%

  • Active participation in class (inc. response): 10%

  • Notes/newspaper piece: 20%
    The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components, with the additional requirement that the oral presentation must always be sufficient


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or rewrite the newspaper piece (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the participation or the presentation.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive written feedback on their oral presentation, written paper and active participation; they will also be invited to review their corrected written examination as soon as they have received their grade.

Reading list

Relevant literature for the sessions will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.
Not applicable.


For all practical questions, pleased email the main coordinator: Dr. C.H. Pieper

  • For other questions, contact the lecturers listed in the right information bar.

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


For this course, presence and active participation are mandatory. This means that

  • students are required to attend the classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions.

  • students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.