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Exiles, Refugees and the Ancient World


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor and tutorBenjamin Gray
  • Assessment: an 800-word formative exercise (20%) and 3000-word essay (80%); 60% attendance requirement

Module description

In this module, you will study the complex history of displacement and displaced people in the ancient world, bringing it into connection with broader historical trends and contemporary debates. You will study processes of expulsion from city-states, kingdoms and other communities (e.g. through the courts, feuding, civil war, or interstate war); the lives, communities and writings of exiles and refugees; and processes of reintegration of exiles and commemoration of displacement. We will pay close attention to problems and gaps in the evidence - how can we reconstruct the voices and perspectives of the displaced (and other outsiders) from the ancient world? The module will focus especially on the ancient Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean, but also draw on evidence for exile in Rome and other ancient civilisations. You will also make informed comparisons with other periods of history - and interpret the history of ancient displacement within a broader global history of refugees up to the present day. Finally, we will also study how ancient exiles, and the ancient world more generally, have provided a focus for identity and reflection among displaced people of other periods, especially in the modern and contemporary world. What role have modern exiles played in shaping how we understand the ancient world itself?

Indicative module syllabus

  • Forms of displacement in the ancient world - punishment, poverty, war, civil war
  • The life and writings of an ancient Greek exile - Xenophon
  • Reconstructing the lives of ancient Greek exiles and refugees beyond the elite
  • Reintegrating exiles in the ancient Greek world
  • Ancient Greek exiles, commemoration and history-writing
  • Exile at Rome, from republic to empire
  • Consoling the exile - displacement and philosophy in the ancient world
  • Exile and empire - the ancient world and modern colonial and post-colonial displacement
  • Political struggle - the ancient world and modern political exiles
  • Nostalgia and Classicism - how have exiles and refugees shaped our picture of the ancient world?

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • display an advanced knowledge of the major themes and latest research in the history of ancient displacement, exile and reintegration, and how that history informs leading current debates about the nature of ancient society
  • undertake your own research on this central topic of current scholarly debate and engage closely with modern scholars’ approaches on the subject, developing your own arguments with reference to the primary evidence
  • handle a range of difficult primary sources (inscriptions, literary texts, philosophical texts) with confidence and demonstrate the ability to use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms
  • compare critically refugee history across different periods, including the present, making use of the latest research and concepts
  • apply the methods and techniques that you have learned to review, consolidate, extend and apply your knowledge and understanding in history/ancient history/archaeology, and to initiate and carry out your coursework projects.