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Unit information: Diplomacy in the Ancient World in 2016/17

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Unit name Diplomacy in the Ancient World
Unit code CLAS30024
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Knippschild
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The unit studies the mechanisms of interstate communication between the ancient Near East and the Greek World. It focuses on the personnel involved, such as ambassadors, arbiters, heralds and envoys. It further discusses customs and legal symbolic acts employed to facilitate communication and bridge cultural differences and language barriers, e.g. guest-friendship and gift exchange. International law – such as the beginnings of diplomatic immunity – is another aspect under study. The unit focuses on soft power, such as successful diplomacy leading to treaties, as well as on the breakdown of diplomatic relations leading to the use of hard power, i.e. armed conflicts such as the Graeco-Persian Wars.


To introduce students to a number of key issues of contemporary interstate relations and international law through building an understanding of their creation in the ancient world.

To provide an overview of the aspects that shape interstate communication and diplomacy.

To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials.

To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be able to:

(1) Identify key aspects of diplomacy in the ancient world, including customs and personnel involved.

(2) Engage critically with and discuss the evidence (literary and non-literary) for interstate communication.

(3) Demonstrate knowledge and skill to articulate arguments regarding the above in a well-structured and clear manner.

In addition students should be able to:

(4) skills in critical thinking and in written communication appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

3 hours per week (seminar)

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of 2 hours (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs (1) (2) (3). The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (4).

Reading and References

S. L. Ager, Interstate Arbitration in the Greek World (Berkeley 1997).

D. J. Bederman, International Law in Antiquity (Cambridge 2001).

G. Herman, Ritualised Friendship and the Greek City (Cambridge 1987).

L. G. Mitchell, The Public Use of Private Relationships in the Greek World (Cambridge 1997).

D. J. Mosley, Diplomacy in Ancient Greece (London 1975).