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Empire and Diversity in the Roman World


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.


Empires generate difference: they bring wealth to some, and poverty to others, make some places and people central, whilst marginalizing others. A seemingly constant feature of all pre-modern empires seems to be that they lead to increased political, social, and economic inequalities, and that these inequalities play a formative role in cultural practice on the ground. The Roman empire was no exception, and the differences it generated were manifold and are well known, including but not limited to, on the one hand, excessive luxury in and around the imperial center, and, on the other hand, mass-enslavement and deprivation. The cultural synthesis that characterized urban communities throughout the Roman empire emerged on the back of these inequalities.

In this research seminar we will explore the relation between empire formation, inequality and cultural change by looking at the transformation of urban environments and urban communities between the second century BCE and the third century CE, using a combination of literary texts, epigraphic sources and architectural remains. Students will be welcome to write papers on any aspect of urban social and cultural history in the Roman Empire, and can focus on individual regions (Italy, Asia Minor, North Africa) or cities (Pompeii, Ostia, Rome).

In order to participate in this course students need to make an entry test in the form of a 1000 word essay. For the entry test, students will read a cohesive selection of c. 180-200 pp. from the following titles:

  • Patterson, J. (2006). Landscapes & Cities. Rural Settlement and Civic Transformation in Early Imperial Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press (chapters 2 and/or 3, not chapter 1)

  • Zuiderhoek, A. (2009). The politics of munificence in the Roman Empire citizens, elites and benefactors in Asia Minor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Mouritsen, H. (2011). The Freedman in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Hemelrijk, E.M. (2015). Hidden Lives, Public Personae. Women and Civic Life in the Roman West. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Precise instructions will be published on Brightspace; deadline for the entry test will be 48 hours before the first class.

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 as well as of the historiography of the specialisation Ancient History, focusing particularly on the 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.

  2. 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:

  1. is able to link aspects of socio-economic and cultural transformation to processes of empire formation

  2. is able to understand and analyze the changing position of particular urban social groups in their imperial context.

  3. is able to analyze the transformation of urban environments in the last centuries BCE and first centuries CE on the basis of published architectural remains

  4. (ResMA only – is able to situate scholarly assessments of imperial diversity in their intellectual and historical context)


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If you are not able to attend, you are 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 you do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, you 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, 11-15

  • Entry test

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-12, 14

  • Oral presentation

measured learning objectives: 3-7, 11-15

  • Assignment 1 (cultural practice)

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-13

  • Assignment 2 (urban landscape analysis)

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-12, 15

  • Assignment 3 (literature review)

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15


  • 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.


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

A full overview of relevant literature will be published on brightspace


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • 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.


Not applicable