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Common Course: Herodotus and Ancient Civilizations


Admission requirements

This course is open to and compulsory for Research Master students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (all specializations).


Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484-425 BC) was a Greek historian, whose Histories describe the history of the Persian Empire resulting in the wars between Persia and Greece. His work includes extensive geographical and ethnological discussions of many ancient civilizations, including Babylon, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Persia. From a Greek perspective Herodotus describes the customs of ancient peoples and the special features of their lands, including architectural spectacles. How useful and trustworthy is Herodotus as a source for ancient civilizations? How does his account relate to other sources that we have, including archaeological evidence? And what should we know about Herodotus’ literary and narratological strategies if we wish to understand his accounts of ancient civilizations?

This seminar will have a twofold purpose. On the one hand, we will critically examine Herodotus as a source of ancient cultures, by comparing his account with other relevant sources and recent scholarship. On the other hand, we will examine the literary and narratological aspects of Herodotus’ Histories, which will enable us to contextualize and understand his observations on Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Phoenicia. After some introductory sessions, there will be a number of meetings focusing on specific cases studies (e.g. Babylon, Persia, Phoenicia, Egypt): in each of these meetings Herodotus’ Greek pespective will be confronted with other evidence and recent scholarship. This approach will help the students of all tracks (Assyriology, Classics, Egyptology, Hebrew and Aramaic Studies) to appreciate the problems and the perspectives of one of the most important sources for all our disciplines.

Course objectives


  • knowledge of Herodotus’ Histories;

  • knowledge of the recent debate on Herodotus’ Histories as as a complex, important and problematic source for ancient civilizations like Egypt, Babylon, Phoenicia, and Persia;

  • knowledge of theoretical concepts and paradigms that help us to understand Herodotus’ presentation of ancient civilizations;

Understanding and skills:

  • research skills: formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results,
    constructing arguments, formulating conclusions;

  • interpretation skills: interpreting primary sources (archaeology or texts in Egyptian, Persian, Akkadian, etc.) that can be compared with Herodotus’ account of ancient civilizations;

  • critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate;

  • oral presentation: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation, making effective use of a handout or other presentation devices;

  • written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research;

  • the student must demonstrate his or her grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material;

This course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.

The common course contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4b and c (to give a clear and well-argued oral presentation for a wider audience; and a written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the Research Master study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Written examination on secondary literature (see reading list) and topics discussed in class

  • Oral presentation (10-15 minutes)

  • Written Paper (3000-3500 words)

  • Active participation in class, including one prepared response


  • Written examination: 30%

  • Oral presentation: 30%

  • Written Paper: 30%

  • Active participation in class: 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components, with the additional requirement that the oral presentation must always be sufficient


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or retake the written examination or the oral presentation (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the participation.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive written feedback on their oral presentation, written paper and active participation; they will also be invited to review their corrected written examination as soon as they have received their grade.

Reading list

Gould, J. Herodotus. London 1989. (Bristol Classical Paperbacks).

Waterfield, R. Herodotus, The Histories. With an introduction and notes by C. Dewald. Oxford. 1998. (Oxford World’s Classics).

Guide to Academic Skills

An additional reading list, with titles to be found in the Leiden University Library, will be made available before the start of the seminar (via Bright Space). A selection of relevant books will be made available on a special bookshelf at the University Library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.

Not applicable.


Dr. C.C. de Jonge (coordinator).


  • Students are required to attend the classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions.

  • Students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.