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Administration, society, culture and religion in Roman Egypt, 30 BC-AD 640


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.


Thanks to the abundant papyrological evidence Egypt is by far the best documented part of the Roman empire. This makes it possible to study the society, economy and culture of this particular province in much closer detail than is possible for other provinces. During the first-to-third centuries AD the cities of Egypt came to resemble cities in other parts of the empire, but many Egyptian particularities persisted, for example in the religious sphere. The fourth-to-sixth witnessed a series of important changes and transformations. The most important of these are the fast spread of Christianity and the demise of the Egyptian temples. Recent finds of papyri also illuminate other religious groups, such as the Manichaeans. Meanwhile the judicial system, the inner workings of Egyptian villages as well as various aspects of urban life are also exceptionally well documented. Arguably, the ‘Roman’ period in Egypt did not end until AD 640, when the province was captuared by the Arabs.

The students participating in the course are invited to focus on a topic of their own choosing within the fields of military, administrative, social, economic, cultural or religious history.

The course will start with a written test focusing on key chapters from R.S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton 1993), but the chronological range covered by the course includes the period 30 BC-AD 284.

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

The student has acquired:

  1. 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.

  1. 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 has acquired:

  1. A broad understanding of the inner workings of Roman society in Egypt.

  2. A detailed understanding of one particular topic within this broad field.

  3. The ability to investigate various aspects of Roman Egyptian society using a combination of existing scholarly publications and some published papyri (using English translations).

  4. (ResMA only): A. The ability to do research using some existing scholarly publications and large amounts of published papyri and other primary sources (using English translations). B. The abilty to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions or pioneers new approaches.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

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 paper (6,500-7,500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 10-16

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 11-13

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7

  • Assignment 1 (Short essay)
    measured learning objectives: 3-7

  • Assignment 2 (Participation in discussions)
    measured learning objectives: 7-9


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Entry test: 10 %

  • Oral presentation: 10 %

  • Assignment 1: 5 %

  • Assignment 2: 5 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper 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

R.S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton 1993) = basis for entry test

A.K. Bowman, Egypt after the Pharaohs. 332-BC-AD 642 (London 1986). Students who need this book may borrow it from the University Library of from their teacher.


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.


Since more than 20,000 papyri have been published with translations, students who want to take part in this course are not expected to be able to read classical or Hellenistic Greek.