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Unit information: Ecology and History In the Ancient World in 2015/16

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Unit name Ecology and History In the Ancient World
Unit code CLAS37003
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Morley
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

'Classical civilisation' was shaped not only by the actions and thoughts of individuals but also by the environment in which it developed, the world of the ancient Mediterranean. Climate, geography and ecology helped to set the 'limits of the possible', constraining and directing the development of ancient societies. In turn, the Greeks and Romans sought to overcome these limits, to control and change their environment sometimes successfully, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The aim of this unit is to study the relationship between ancient societies and their environment: the ways in which they thought about the natural world and sought to master it - ideas which, it has been argued, continue to shape our own relationship with the environment - and the ways in which they themselves were shaped by the forces of nature. It will draw on traditional literary sources, archaeology and modern theories of ecology.


To understand the impact of the environment on the development of classical civilisation, and to explore the application of ecological theories to ancient history.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students should:

  • have developed their knowledge of different aspects of the environment of the ancient Mediterranean, of the ways in which this environment shaped ancient societies and of the ways in which the Greeks and Romans thought about and responded to the natural world.
  • be familiar with major theories and debates in environmental history, and able to relate these theories to specific examples in the study of the ancient Mediterranean.
  • have had some experience of studying different kinds of evidence and of developing their own interpretations of this evidence and its relevance to the topic.
  • be able to use the knowledge acquired in class and through their own researches to construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on different aspects of the topic.
  • have had the opportunity to develop their skills in oral and written communication, in making seminar presentations and discussing the presentations of others, and in essays and written exams.

Teaching Information


Assessment Information

3,000-word essay (50%), 2-hour written exam (50%).

Reading and References

  • D. Abulafia, The Great Sea: a human history of the Mediterranean (2011)
  • F. Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1972)
  • P. Horden & N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea (2000)
  • W.V. Harris, ed., The Ancient Mediterranean Environment Between Science and History (2013)
  • R. Sallares, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (1991)
  • L. Thommen, An Environmental History of Ancient Greece and Rome (2012)