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Exploring non-urban society in the Mediterranean world: Samnium and the Samnites


Admission requirements

Admission to the ®MA programme in Archaeology.


‘The Graeco-Roman world was a world of cities’ is a famous quote that captures well our customary view of the classical world. For instance, cities have been seen as central to the success of Roman imperialism and Graeco-Roman civilisation in general. But there are exceptions to ‘the urban rule’. Such exceptions are important, since they undermine the automatic connection between societal success and urbanism, and stimulate us to think harder about the relationship between structure and performance of ancient societies.

A non-urban society par excellence is the Italic tribe of the Samnites in South-Italy. Although not based in towns or organised in city-states, the Samnites were remarkably successful in demographic and military terms in the 4th-3rd centuries BC, when they managed to resist and defeat Roman armies time and again. The Samnite success is something of a conundrum in ancient studies. Roman historians depict the Samnites as rough and primitive mountain dwellers – but these sources are heavily colored by prejudice, as the rich archaeological record shows.

In this challenging course, we will explore the functioning of this atypical, non-urban society by using primarily archaeological data. We will develop various theoretical and methodological approaches and establish parameters to study and explain Samnite society and its performance in military, demographic and socio-economic respects.
Through the Leiden fieldwork projects in the area, on temples, burials and rural settlements, we are able to build on first-hand data for our analyses.

Course objectives

For MA students:

  • Knowledge of the main theories on classical civilisation in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, including their classical philosophical backgrounds;

  • Knowledge of the recent debate about the Italic tribes and Roman expansionism in the Hellenistic/Roman Republican period, as an example of culture contact in the Mediterranean world;

  • Knowledge of recent theories on Samnite society and state formation;

  • Ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of these theories and debates;

  • Ability to translate current research trends into testable theoretical models;

  • Ability to assess practical, archaeological approaches to test these theories.

For RMA students, apart from the above:

  • Ability to recognise and assess strengths and weaknesses of the theories and debates;

  • Ability to develop practical, archaeological approaches to test these theories.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Tutorial.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

Assessment method

  • Essay (80%);

  • Input during class (20%).

In case of a retake, a new paper on a new topic needs to be submitted.

All exam dates (exams, re-sits, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.


For more information about this course, please contact dhr dr. T.D. Stek.