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Egypt in Late Antiquity


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Thanks to the abundant papyrological evidence Egypt is by far the best documented part of the late-Roman world. About a quarter of a century ago the American papyrologist Roger Bagnall characterized late-Roman Egypt as economically flourishing and culturally vibrant. At the same time the fourth-to-sixth centuries AD witnessed a series of important changes and transformations. The most of 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. In the field of administration the Roman government sought to strengthen its grip on local communities, but the extent to which this actually happened remains debatable. Large amounts of information are also available on village communities, large estates (which seem to have multiplied) and of course on the urban populations of late-Roman Egypt. The period ended with the Arab conquest of AD 640, which is described in the Chronicle of John of Nikiou.
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.

Students are obliged to take an entry test focusing on key chapters from R.S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton 1993).

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:

  • 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 has acquired:

  • 13) A broad understanding of the inner workings of late-Roman society in Egypt.

  • 14) A detailed understanding of one particular topic within this broad field.

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

  • 16) (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 timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher 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 teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Entry test: 40 hours

  • Lectures: 12 x 2 = 24 hours

  • Assignment(s): 8 hours

  • Research and writing: 208 hours

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, 10-15 (ResMA also: 16)

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 11-13

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7

  • Assignment 1
    measured learning objectives: 1-2

  • Assignment 2
    measured learning objectives: 7-8

  • Assignment 3
    measured learning objectives: 9


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Entry test: 10 %

  • Oral presentation: 5 %

  • Assignment 1: 5 %

  • Assignment 2: 5 %

  • Assignment 3: 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 and the entry test must be completed.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


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.


No use of Blackboard.

Reading list

R.S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton 1993).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. L. de Ligt Dr. F.A.J. Hoogendijk


Students will be encouraged to delve into published papyri (most of which have been translated into English). In doing so they will be assisted by Dr. Hoogendijk, who has been publishing and studying papyri for more than three decades.