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The End of Politics? Roman Political Culture in Late 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.


Historians of political institutions have often placed the end of politics at the fall of the Republic. The coming of the emperor made politics in any real sense of the word redundant. Yet Roman political institutions, patterns of behaviour and political discourse remained in existence for centuries afterwards. Political culture under the empire was anything but dead. Apparantly it offered a flexible instrument that could be adapted to changing circumstances. In this course we study how it kept functioning in the changed situation of Christian Late Antiquity. The aim is not so much to find continuity with previous periods, but rather to study how long-established patterns of behaviour could be adapted to new circumstances and be appropriated by new groups. We will study late-antique political culture both in formal and in less formal settings: at meetings of the senate at Rome and Constantinople, in orations in praise of the emperor, at elections of bishops, at meetings of theological councils, in sermons to Christian congregations, in meetings at the theater.

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) will gain insight in general debates about political culture

  • 14) will obtain knowledge of late antiquity

  • 15) will obtain insight in the wide range of late antique written sources

  • 16) (ResMA only – will obtain insight in the methodological possibilities and pitfalls of studying political culture)


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 (including preparation): 20 hours

  • Lectures: 26 hours

  • Preparation lectures (including study of compulsory literature): 52 hours

  • Assignment(s): 32 hours

  • Paper: 150 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-16

  • Assignment 1 (Entry test)
    Measured learning objectives: 4

  • Assignment 2 (Introduction and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6

  • Assignment 3 (Oral presentation about previously circulated chapter)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-9

  • Participation (both in class and on blackboard)
    Measured learning objectives: 8


Written paper: 70 %
Assignment 1 (Entry test): 5%
Assignment 2 (Introduction and bibliography): 10%
Assignment 3 (Oral presentation about previously circulated chapter): 10%
Participation (both in class and on blackboard): 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.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper can be revised in consultation with the instructor. Papers graded with a 5.0 can be rewritten; in the case the grade is 4.0 or lower a new paper has to be written.

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. 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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • course schedule and further practical information

  • powerpoints of the sessions

  • discussion forum

Reading list

The literature list will be made available on Blackboard. This applies also to the literature for the entry test. The entry test will consists of a 1500 word essay that has to be handed in 48 hours in advance to the first session of the course. The essay question will be published on blackboard one week prior to the deadline.


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. L.E. Tacoma