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“Will there be children?” Procreation, religion and sexuality in the ancient world


Admission requirements



Procreation was on everybody’s mind in the ancient world. No, not only what you are thinking of…(although sexuality will also be a focus). Human procreation was a necessity in communities that were for ever on the brink of demographic extinction. Animal procreation was of equal importance for communities always threatened by starvation. Accordingly, procreation is a central concern in ancient religion. The supernatural is called to assistance in order to maintain, or possibly enhance, levels of fertility of man, beast and crops. 19th-century scholarship saw fertility cults all over the place; since then, they have become discredited. But time has come for a re-appraisal.

This course will contribute to our understanding of ancient thought in general, and compare religious ideas with the thinking about procreation outside the immediate religious context: what did ancient people consider to be the physiology of procreation? What did they think about heredity and other subjects that we nowadays associate with procreation?

Procreation is one of the most important topics through which the ancient world can be understood. Its links with religion and sexuality illustrate its centrality. “Will there be children?” was the most fundamental question an individual could ask.

Course objectives

Students will acquire or increase their knowledge of:

  • The various aspects of procreation: religion, sexuality, biology, economy and so on.

Abilities and knowledge:

  • The ability to independently identify and select sources

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources

  • Knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations and its historiography specifically in the Ancient History specialisation: unification processes in the Graeco-Roman World, 400 BC – 400 AD; insight into the recent large-scale debates in the field with respect to the history of mentality

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation, more specifically in the Ancient History specialisation: the comparative method; application of socio-scientific methods;specialised source knowledge, in particular of documentary sources, and more specifically epigraphy.

Extra course objective for Res Ma students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

  • Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialisation


View Timetable History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total: 280 hours

  • Seminars: 26 uur

  • Study of compulsory literature, 71 hours

  • Writing introductory essay (1500 words): 8 hours

  • Research and writing Paper (incl. related assignments): 175 hours

Assessment method

  • Introductory essay (10%)

  • Final paper (70%)

  • Presentation and contribution in seminars (20%)

Contribution to seminar sessions
Students are required to attend and to carry out the set readings and have prepared themself to summarise their notes and personal views to the group.

Oral Presentation
Students are expected to be actively engaged in discussion of the content and issues raised within the set texts each week, and to be able to summarize the material they have covered for the rest of the group in English.

Final paper
Students will submit a first draft of their final paper, which will first be discussed in a peer-to-peer context. After the students have incorporated peer feedback, the lecturer will provide comments.

Assessment additional course objectives for the ResMa students:
Research Master students will be expected to address more complex theoretical issues in all their work and in particular in their final paper: they should work in an interdisciplinary way, taking the field of anthropology and the social sciences into account. They may be asked to engage in the lecturer’s research (e.g. by commenting on work-in-progress), if this seems suitable.

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. The grade for the final paper should be satisfactory.


Blackboard is used for this course:

  • Announcements

Reading list

  • Reading list introductory essay: to be announced (on Blackboard, please subscribe ASAP)


via uSis


Course tutor: mw. Dr. K. Beerden


If only native speakers of Dutch participate, the course will be taught in Dutch. Papers can still be written in English if preferred.