Papers for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies

General outline and assessment requirements

There are two taught programmes offered in this field of specialist research: a two-year Master of Philosophy and a one-year Master of Studies; both programmes commence in October, and may be taken either as a free-standing degrees or as the first step towards one of the research degrees of M.Litt. or D.Phil. The taught programmes are administered through the History Graduate Office, and their teaching is a collaborative effort of specialists from the faculties of Classics, History, Medieval and Modern Languages, Oriental Studies, Philosophy, and Theology, and the School of Archaeology. For admission to a research degree programme after the completion of their master's programme students are expected to apply through the faculty which seems most appropriate for the proposed research topic.

The programmes have been devised as a multi-purpose introduction to the Roman world in Late Antiquity, to Byzantium, the medieval successor of the East Roman Empire, and to neighbouring peoples and their cultures. Although the two components (Late Antiquity and Byzantium) have been designed to the same specification and are conjoined in a single course, graduate students are expected to concentrate on one or other of the fields.

Two basic pathways lead into each field of study, and graduate students are expected to choose between them at the outset. The first offers intensive training in any one of the following ancient and medieval languages – Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic. The second is designed for those who already have considerable competence in their chosen language and whose principal interests lie in History, Art and Archaeology, or Religion. They will receive instruction in one or two of a range of specialist Auxiliary Disciplines (papyrology, epigraphy, palaeography, numismatics, sigillography, or artefact studies [one of the following - ceramics, metalware, ivories, codices, carved marbles]), and will choose a Special Subject from a list in their preferred subject area (History, Art and Archaeology, Literature, or Religion). All those taking the course (on both pathways) will be required to undertake a programme of directed study on History, Art and Archaeology, either in the Late Antique or in the Byzantine field.

Assessment will take different forms in relation to different subjects. There will be timed examinations to test language attainment, competence in Auxiliary Disciplines, and knowledge of the texts selected for close study as part of language training. The core paper on Late Antiquity and Byzantium (History, Art and Archaeology) will be examined by two extended essays, each of 5,000 words. For Special Subjects, candidates will have the option of submitting two 5,000-word essays or a dissertation of 10,000 words.

The wide range of expertise and research interests of the 21 Oxford University postholders who contribute to the teaching of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies are reflected in the list of Special Subjects on offer (48 all told). It should be noted (1) that not all Special Subjects will be available every academic year (because of absences on sabbatical leave) and (2) that graduate students will be able to devise Special Subjects of their own choosing, subject to the approval of their supervisor and the Committee for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies.

The core papers on Late Antiquity and Byzantium will be taught in two sets of weekly classes over the Michaelmas (autumn) and Hilary (winter) Terms, one on History, the other on Art and Archaeology. Those taking the language pathway will attend classes throughout the academic year, which may be supplemented by tutorials. Auxiliary Disciplines and Special Subjects will be taught by a mixture of lectures, classes and tutorials, each course lasting eight weeks (which may be spread over more than one term).

 

The two degree programmes

The Master of Philosophy in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies is a twenty-one-month taught course which has been designed as a free-standing degree. But graduate students who have completed the first year of the course, may, if they so choose and if they have the backing of their supervisors, apply to transfer to doctoral status on the completion of their M.Phil. course. The 30,000-word dissertation, which they submit for the M.Phil. examination, may be incorporated subsequently into a doctoral thesis.

Candidates for the Master of Philosophy are required to

  • undertake a course of study on History, Art and Archaeology in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms of the first year (either I Late Antiquity or II Byzantium), and to submit two 5,000-word essays on topics of their choosing (subject to the approval of their supervisor);
  • choose three other subjects for examination, either Language and Literature (one ancient and medieval language from among those listed below – two timed papers) and one other subject (chosen from the lists of Auxiliary Disciplines and Special Subjects given below) or Auxiliary Disciplines (one timed paper) and two Special Subjects;
  • write a dissertation of not more than 30,000 words on a subject approved by his/her supervisor, in the second year;
  • present himself/herself for a viva voce examination when required to do so by the examiners.

The Master of Studies in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies is a nine-month taught course that can be taken as a free-standing degree, or as the first step towards doctoral research.

Candidates for the Master of Studies are required to

  • undertake a course of study on History, Art and Archaeology in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms of the first year (either I Late Antiquity or II Byzantium), and to submit two 5,000-word essays on topics of their choosing (subject to the approval of their supervisor);
  • choose two other subjects for examination, either Language and Literature (one ancient and medieval language from among those listed below – two timed papers) or Auxiliary Disciplines (one timed paper) and one Special Subject;
  • present himself/herself for a viva voce examination when required to do so by the examiners.

 

Shared teaching outline and academic environment

(i) Core paper on History, Art and Archaeology (either I Late Antiquity [covering the Roman empire and adjoining regions], or II Byzantium) to be taken by all candidates: taught in classes in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms; examined by two 5,000-word essays, to be submitted by Monday of First Week of Trinity Term of the candidate’s first year.

(ii) and (iii) Language and Literature (Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Armenian, Syriac, Arabic): taught over three terms in classes, with reference to a selection of texts/extracts from texts which may vary from year to year according to the interests of candidates; examined by two three-hour papers, (ii) translation and (iii) set texts (with passages for comment and essay questions). Candidates who are embarking on the study of one of the above languages will normally be expected to take both papers, but may take one only, with the approval of the Committee for Byzantine Studies.

(iv) Auxiliary Disciplines, either any two of the following (epigraphy, palaeography, numismatics, sigillography) or papyrology (Greek, Coptic or Arabic) or artefact studies (ceramics, metalware, ivories, codices, carved marbles): taught by lectures / classes / tutorials; examined by three-hour paper.

(v) and (vi) Special Subject in History or Art and Archaeology or Literature or Religion taken from the list below: taught by lectures / classes / tutorials; examined either by two 5,000-word essays or by 10,000-word dissertation (to be submitted by Monday of Seventh Week of Trinity Term of the candidate’s first year).

Overview of Special Subjects

(a) History: from paganism to Christianity - the Roman empire in the fourth century; the Sasanian empire; the sub-Roman west in the sixth century; the east Roman empire in the age of Justinian; nomads, Slavs and the southern powers, 370-700; the rise of Islam; Syria 400-800; Armenia 600-900; Byzantium and the Arabs ca.650-ca.860; the Christianisation of the Balkans and Russia; Islamic history 600-1000; Byzantium and Armenia 850-1050; Byzantium in the age of Constantine Porphyrogenitus; Arab and Norman Sicily 827-1250; the Seljuqs; the Komnenian revival; the Palaiologan age.

(b) Art and Archaeology: Late Antique sculpture/portraiture; monumental art and architecture in Late Antiquity; city, countryside and economy in Late Antiquity; pilgrimage in Late Antiquity; Constantinople; Islamic art and archaeology 650-900; early Islamic monetary history; Byzantine minor arts; Byzantine monumental art; Byzantine regional archaeology; Islamic art and archaeology 900-1250; royal art and architecture in Norman Sicily 1130-1194; Palaiologan art and architecture.

(c) Literature (texts prescribed in translation): literature in Late Antiquity (Greek); literature in Late Antiquity (Latin); literature in Late Antiquity (oriental – either Arabic or Syriac or Armenian); Hebrew/Aramaic texts; Byzantine historiography in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; Byzantine poetry from John Geometres to Theodore Prodromos; Byzantine popular narratives; Byzantine scholarship.

(d) Religion: Judaism in Late Antiquity; the Arian controversy; Augustine; Gnosticism and Manichaeism; Christological debate, fifth-seventh centuries; Iconoclasm; early medieval Islamic thought; Byzantine spirituality.

(e) Such other subjects as may be approved from time to time on application to the Committee for Byzantine Studies.

Byzantine historiography in the eleventh and twelfth centuries

(Convenor: Professor Marc Lauxtermann)

The writing of history, whether narratives or annalistic chronicles, is one of the strengths of the Byzantine literary tradition, from the fourth century through to the fifteenth. The eleventh and twelfth centuries, a period of civic turmoil followed by stability and prosperity, was also a period of intellectual vigour in many fields, including historiography. This course will focus on Psellos, courtier, statesman and polymath of the late eleventh century, and contrast his approaches to those of, for example, Skylitzes and Attaliates. From the twelfth century, the course will consider first the Alexiad of Anna Komnene, contrasted with the histories composed by her husband the general Nikephoros Bryennios and the bureaucrat-monk Zonaras, and then the writers who dealt with the reign of Manuel Komneos - John Kinnamos and Niketas Choniates. Aspects of these texts that could be covered would include discussion of their narrative structures, their focus, their use of rhetorical techniques as well as their relationship to other literary currents of the period.