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Level 7

7AACK585 Roman Egypt

Credit value: 40 credits
Module convenor/tutor: Professor Dominic Rathbone (2018/19)
Assessment: 2 x essays of 5,000 words (50% each)
Teaching pattern: 20 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

Places on this module will be capped at 16 and will be allocated in the first instance to those students from any College who are following the MA Classical Art & Archaeology and MA Ancient History degree programmes. Any remaining places up the maximum size of the class will then be distributed proportionally between Colleges.

This dedicated MA course investigates the main themes and topics of current scholarly interest in the history of Egypt as a province of the Roman Empire (I - III AD) through in-depth study of selected groups of the written and material evidence. The course focuses on the papyrus documents, but also integrates the general archaeological record. The course does not test linguistic knowledge, but students will benefit from a basic grasp of ancient Greek and also background knowledge of the history of the Roman empire.

The 20 two-hour classes will mix lecture and discussion. The subject will be taught primarily through case-studies, and students will be responsible for background reading. At convenient intervals time will be allocated for discussion of problems arising from previous classes and for students’ presentations of work-in-hand. The outline list of topics is flexible and will, if practicable, be tailored to cover particular interests of the class. When possible guest lectures by experts on particular topics are added, and a visit to the rich Romano-Egyptian collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Provisional topics (subject to some variation)

  1. Introduction: issues and evidence.
  2. The Pompeius Niger archive: prosopography; Romanisation.
  3. The Gnomon of the Idios Logos: status hierarchy; provincial administration.
  4. The Nemesion archive: poll-tax; I AD crisis?
  5. Alexandria, politics and racism: Philo; Claudius’ letter; ‘Acta Alexandrinorum’.
  6. ‘Fayyum’ portraits: multiculturalism.
  7. Trade with the East: the desert routes; the Nikanor archive; the Muziris papyrus.
  8. Religion: the Tebtunis temple and archive; terracotta figurines.
  9. Census declarations: population; family structures; brother-sister marriage.
  10. Life cycles: birth, coming of age, marriage, death.
  11. Oxyrhynchus and Hermopolis Magna: urbanisation; urban culture.
  12. Karanis and Tebtunis: village society.
  13. Law and life: legal practices; petitions and responses.
  14. The Heroninos archive: large estates; third-century developments.
  15. Resistance: revolts; dissent literature.

Core reading

The books of the course are:

  • ed. J. Rowlandson, Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt (1998), and
  • R.S. Bagnall, Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient  History (1995).

Students should purchase their own copy of Women and Society, and start reading through both books  – best done gently in instalments – from the start.

To get a sense of what papyrus texts are like, sample a couple of recent volumes of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, or the Roman-period items in the two-volume selection in the Loeb series Select Papyri I-II.

For the sites and material evidence see ed. R.S. Bagnall & D.W. Rathbone, Egypt from Alexander to the Copts: an Archaeological and Historical Guide (2004).

Note also ed. C. Riggs, The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt (2012).

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