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‘Everyone will fear you’: powerful objects in ancient religions


Admission requirements

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


The Graeco-Roman world was full of objects which were thought to ‘do something’. In ancient eyes curse tablets incapacitated love rivals and business competitors; and amulets protected and deflected evils and hardship. These are just two examples of the kinds of objects we will be investigating. In this course we discuss different genres of these ‘active’ objects and consider how they were thought to function: was it important to touch the object, was a spoken or written text needed, was it necessary to perform a ritual?

On a more theoretical level we will evaluate concepts such as apotropaic objects, soterial objects, and power objects.

In this course we combine three upcoming and innovative ways of studying ancient religion: materiality, study of the senses, and the study of emotions - fear and hope in particular.

There will be an entry test, the compulsory literature will be announced on Blackboard.

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) Has developed knowledge of debates concerned with materiality, the senses and the study of emotions in antiquity

  • 14) Knows the different corpora of sources relevant to the topic

  • 15) Knows how to reflect on issues of ‘strangeness’ and ‘familiarity’ of the past and its inhabitants

  • 16) ResMA only – Students will be required to use and analyze sources of a higher complexity; have learnt to set up and carry original research which raises new questions, and 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: 10

  • Lectures: 26

  • Study of compulsory literature: 89

  • Assignment(s): 40

  • Presentation: 15

  • Paper: 100

Assessment method

  • Paper

  • Assignments during the course (research reports)

  • Oral presentation and student of the week

  • Entry test


  • 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, 11-15, 16

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 4, 11, 13

  • Oral presentation/student of the week
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9, 10, 16

  • Assignment 1 (Research report)
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 7-16


  • Written paper: 60 %

  • Entry test: 5 %

  • Oral presentation/student of the week: 10 %

  • Assignment 25 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficent.


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.

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:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

  • announcement literature

  • announcement entry exam

  • scheduling presentations and weekly assignments

Reading list

To be announced on Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. K. Beerden