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Cities, Civilisations and Empires: The Ancient Near East

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Traditional histories of the ancient world written in the West have placed the development of cities and therefore civilisation itself in the Ancient Near East.

The rise of these early cities and civilisations is followed by the story of some of the ancient world’s most famous empires, Babylonian, Assyrian and Persian, until their eclipse by the supposedly superior (and more ‘European’) Greeks and then Romans. This course will seek to examine the Ancient Near East on its own terms, and question assumptions about the rise of the city and the problematic idea of ‘civilisation’.

It will also explore the concept of ‘empire’ and identify the motives, methods and mechanisms of control of the region’s most powerful empires up to and including their conquest by Alexander the Great. Students will have the opportunity to examine a series of case studies, and engage with a wide variety of archaeological and literary evidence, and arrive at a critical understanding of key concepts crucial to the understanding of the ancient world and ours.

This course is for anyone with an interest in history and the enthusiasm to take that interest further. It operates as part of the Exploring the Past pathway, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in the pathway.

Learning and teaching

This course consists of three online day schools, each of which in turn comprises three thematic units. Each day school will include lectures, class discussions and debates, pair-work and group-work, source analysis activities and exercises to develop your academic skills.

There will also be opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, facilitated by the university’s Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Central.

In advance of each day school, there will be an hour of supported study, including online pre-recordings and short tasks.

Coursework and assessment

Students will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work:

  • short presentation or literature review
  • a 1000-word essay.

Advice and support will be provided for both assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

  • Cline, E.H., & Graham, M.W., Ancient Empires: From Mesopotamia to the Rise of Islam (Cambridge: CUP, 2011)
  • Leick, G, Mesopotamia: the invention of the city (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 2001)
  • Liverani, M, The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy (London and New York: Routledge, 2014)
  • Mieroop, Marc Van De, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3 edition (Chichester: Wiley, 2016)
  • Morris, I. and Scheidel W., The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium (Oxford: OUP, 2009)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.