CLA3007 - The Crisis of the Athenian Polis

2022/3 Module description

StaffDr David Leith - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesThe successful completion of at least 90 credits at Level 2, at least 30 credits of which must be in Classics & Ancient History.
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module explores Athenian history at one of its most intense and exciting periods, the end of the fifth century BC. The approach is interdisciplinary, combining historical, literary and philosophical materials in an effort to make sense of the various crises – military, political and intellectual – that Athens experienced at this time. The focus is on broad themes and complex issues, and you are encouraged to take an active role in drawing on the knowledge gained in this and other modules to address challenging questions about social crisis and change at this key moment of Greek history.

Module aims

The well-documented period from 431 to the death of Socrates in 399 BC represented a crucial stage in the history of Athens, and saw the most fundamental development of ideas before the seventeenth century AD. The aim of this module is to consider the history and the economic, social and political structure of the polis of Athens in the period, together with its literary, philosophical and artistic products, in the belief that a detailed knowledge of the former is an essential pre-condition for understanding the latter.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Describe and analyse how the history of Athens in the fifth century BC is linked to the history of ideas
  • 2. Evaluate how the works of contemporary writers on the crisis of the Athenian polis allow us to see the same social and historical process from different perspectives

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse in general terms the complex interrelationship between history, literature, philosophy and ideology, and evaluate different kinds of sources
  • 4. Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of a society in crisis and undergoing significant change, and the ability to synthesise complex and diverse arguments and ideas

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Research and organise material into succinct and logical form
  • 6. Argue a case confidently and closely in defence of your own viewpoint and, where appropriate, challenge constructively the viewpoints of your peers

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War
  • Wealth, class and status
  • Radical democracy
  • The Archidamian War
  • Religion in fifth-century Athens
  • The Sicilian Expedition
  • The Sophists
  • Nomos and Phusis
  • Melos
  • Persian intervention
  • Oligarchy in 411 and 404
  • Arginousae and the Rule of Law
  • Spartan victory
  • The trial of Socrates
  • Gender, Society and politics
  • War in tragedy

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching441 x 2 hour classes per week
Guided Independent Study256Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group discussion in seminars Weekly1-6Oral feedback from lecturer and peers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1403000 words1-5Mark and written comments
Essay 2403000 words1-5Mark and written comments
Oral presentation2015 minutes1-6Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-5Referral/Deferral period
Oral presentationTranscript of presentation (1500 words) with accompanying handout and/or visual aid1-6Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative set texts:

  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (Penguin)
  • Aristophanes, Acharnians, Clouds, Knights, Wasps and Lysistrata (Penguin Classics)
  • Euripides, Suppliant Women, Trojan Women, Phoenician Women, Hecuba, Orestes (Oxford World's Classics)
  • Plato, Gorgias (World Classics)
  • Crito, The Apology (in The Last Days of Socrates, Penguin)
  • The Athenian Constitution (Penguin Classics)
  • The Old Oligarch (Lactor)
  • The First Philosophers: the Pre-socratics and Sophists, trans. R. Waterfield (Oxford World's Classics)

Some introductory reading:

  • J.K. Davies, Democracy and Classical Greece (London, 1993)
  • P.E. Easterling and J.V. Muir (ed.) Greek Religion and Society (Cambridge, 1985)
  • W.K.C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 3 (Cambridge, 1971)
  • S. Hornblower, The Greek World 479-323 BC third edition (London, 2002)
  • G.B. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement (Cambridge 1981)
  • P.J. Rhodes, A History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 B.C. (Oxford, 2006)
  • R. Wardy, The Birth of Rhetoric (Routledge, 1998)
  • R.K. Balot, Greek Political Thought, (Oxford, 2006)
  • P. Cartledge, Ancient Greek Political Thought in practice (Cambridge, 2009)
  • For all basic information consult the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Classics, Greek, Athens, Polis

Important please note

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the module descriptors for the Online Module Selection process, please be aware that on rare occasions it may be necessary to remove proposed modules for reasons beyond our control. In addition, there are still some new modules going through the accreditation process. These will be offered in due course by the relevant discipline.

All modules displayed below have been approved by the approval process but may require further minor amendments before the commencement of teaching.

We are committed to providing an outstanding education and high quality teaching. You can find out details of your modules and any potential changes on these pages. If you are a returning student, joining after the first year or a postgraduate student details of your module changes will be provided in August. 

Foreign Language Centre modules

Term 1 module codes listed above ending with C, i.e. FLF1115C, are only available to outbound students who are away in Term 2. Students studying all year must select the standard module across both Term 1 and 2.