MSt/ MPhil in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies

Late Antiquity (c.250-c.750) was a period of remarkable political change and cultural efflorescence. It witnessed the transformation of the ancient Roman and Iranian empires into their more centralised, more bureaucratic late Roman and Sassanian successors. This was a time of the consolidation of ancient philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity, as well as the emergence of Islam. By the end of the period, the ancient world order had dissolved into a series of Western kingdoms, the Islamic caliphate, and the Byzantine state focused on Constantinople.

Over more than a millennium of history, Byzantium (c.330-c.1453) was central to political, economic, and cultural networks across the Eurasian continent, and played a crucial part in the formation of Eastern Christendom, the Crusades, and the Renaissance. This course introduces you to this rich heritage, while also allowing for a high level of specialisation in various periods, regions, and source types; as well as languages (incl. Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, and Persian) and approaches (incl. History, Archaeology, Visual Culture, Literature, and Religion). Uniquely, the course is taught through a team of scholars based in several different Oxford faculties: History, Classics, Archaeology, Theology and Religion, Oriental Studies, and Modern and Medieval Languages.

Oxford scholars have been vital to the formation of Late Antiquity and Byzantium as modern academic disciplines. As a postgraduate in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies you will join a thriving and active community of over one hundred scholars and students, represented in the Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity (ocla.ox.ac.uk) and the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research (ocbr.ox.ac.uk). These centres help to organise a regular programme of seminars and conferences, while the Oxford University Byzantine Society (oxfordbyzantinesociety.wordpress.com) runs an annual postgraduate research trip to different parts of the former late antique and Byzantine worlds, and a conference which gathers postgraduates from across the globe.

    MSt

    This is a nine-month taught course that can be taken as a free-standing degree, or as the first step towards doctoral research.

    Core Courses

    Although the two components of the course, Late Antiquity and Byzantium, have been designed to the same specification and are conjoined in a single course, you are expected to concentrate on one or other of the fields.

    In the first two terms you will follow a weekly class in either Late Antique or Byzantine History. Alongside the class in History, you will follow a second weekly class: in the first term, in Late Antique and Byzantine Archaeology and Visual Culture; and in the second term, in Late Antique and Byzantine Religion.

     

    This course, which comprises sixteen classes over the first two terms, encompasses the whole chronological and geographical span of the Late Roman Empire and beyond.

    Taught through a mix of student- and teacher-led sessions, it aims to explore facets of the late antique world against wider themes such as religious, cultural, and political change, while also familiarising you with different source types and methodologies.

    Examples of topics covered in recent years include:

    Urbanism, Successor Kingdoms, Monasticism, Elite housing and art, Late Roman empresses, Splinter empires and usurpers, Poetry, Magical and philosophical texts, Sassanid Persia, Law, Military handbooks, Goths, Natural disasters and narratives, Travel, and Papyrus documents.

     

    Taught each week over the first two terms, this sixteen-class course introduces you to the world of medieval Byzantium and its neighbours.

    Operating with a generous definition of the horizons of Byzantine history, it normally progresses chronologically from the reign of Justinian to the fall of Constantinople (depending on students’ interests), and focuses on critical debates within Byzantine and wider medieval studies.

    Through a combination of short lectures, student presentations, and group debate, it exposes you to a range of methodological approaches to, sources for, and scholarship on the medieval East.

    Recent classes have included: Justinian and political dissent, the Justinianic plague and environmental history, the Rise of Islam, Church councils and the papacy, Byzantine law, Iconoclasm, Cultural exchange with the caliphate, Arab geographers on Byzantium, Slavery, Byzantium and Rus’, the Eleventh-century ‘crisis’, Komnenian historiography, the Seljuks, the Crusades and 1204, the Empire of Nicaea, and the Zealots.  

     

    The archaeology and visual culture course consists of eight three-hour long sessions in the first term.

    Through a combination of brief lectures, class-based discussions, class-presentations, and museum visits, it introduces you to the main methods of Late antique and Byzantine archaeology and visual culture, and explores current research themes. It is foremost intended to make students familiar with the specificity of the source material, teach you how to look at, analyse and describe material and visual culture as well as explore diverse ways in which you can make use of this evidence for your own research papers.

    Methodological insights are applied to various topics, including Urbanism, Reuse of building materials, Architecture and power, Light and lighting in Byzantium, Late antique and Byzantine capital cities, Byzantine perceptions of neighbouring societies, Cappadocia, Pilgrimage, The origin and workings of icons. 

     

    Taught in the second term through student-led presentations and group discussion, this course of eight classes introduces you to prominent aspects of theology and religion within the late antique and Byzantine worlds.

    Organised thematically so as to encompass the various regional and chronological specialisms of attendees, the classes range across the diverse religious traditions of the period (incl. polytheism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism), while introducing you to the various sources and methodologies available to students of theology and religion.

    Recent class topics have included Apocalyptic, Asceticism, Conversion, Councils, Dualism, Hagiography, Heresy, Holy women, Iconoclasm, Liturgy, Mysticism, Relics, and Religious art.  

    Language/Skills Pathway

    Alongside the choice between Late Antique or Byzantine History, you must also choose between two training pathways, dependent on your knowledge of languages or your primary interests in the field.

    The first is the language training pathway, which offers intensive training in any one of the following ancient and medieval languages and, normally, their associated literatures: Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Middle Persian, and Hebrew.

    The second is the skills pathway, and is designed for those who already have considerable competence in their chosen language(s) and are able to read primary sources in the original. You will receive instruction in one or two of a range of specialist auxiliary disciplines: papyrology, epigraphy,  palaeography, numismatics, sigillography or artefact studies. You will also write a 10,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choosing.

    Examination

    Examination comprises several parts depending on the chosen pathway:

    All students submit two 5,000-word essays on a topic of your choosing, subject to the approval of your supervisor. The first is submitted in the second term; the second in the third term. You can find examples of previous essay titles in the conclusion to this section.

    If you select the language pathway, you will take a language paper; and a literature paper in the same language.

    If you select the skills pathway, you will take a paper or papers in the chosen auxiliary disciplines; and a 10,000-word dissertation on a topic of your choosing, subject to the approval of your supervisor, and submitted in the third term.

    Language, Literature, and auxiliary disciplines are taught throughout the year, and will normally be examined by unseen examinations at the end of the third term.

    You should not apply to both the MSt and MPhil in this research area. Both courses have the same entry requirements.

     

    •  Virtue and Violence: The Death of Hypatia and Literary Constructions of Late Antique Womanhood
    • “The Fleet is the Glory of Romania”: Reflections on the usage and organisation of Byzantine naval forces, 950-1078
    • Rural Christian Elites and Taxation Dynamics in the Chronicle of Zuqnin
    • Bridging the Old Laws and the News: a New Reading of Isaurian iconoclasm and legislation
    • A reconsideration of the efficacy of Justinian II’s eastern policy, from his first reign to the end of the seventh century.
    • A Consideration of the Importance of the City of Constantinople as a Locus of Power in Tenth-Century Byzantium
    • Career Progression and the Eunuch through a Statistical Analysis of Skylitzes
    • Conceiving the ideal Roman soldier: An analysis of masculine values in Maurice's Strategikon
    • Emotions in Christophoros Mitylenaios' mourning poems 44, 57, and 75-77
    • Daughters, Wives and Mothers in Digenis Akritis: The Grottaferrata version as a source for societal roles performed by elite Byzantine provincial women across the life course (ca. 1050-1200).
     

    MPhil

    This is a two-year taught course that can be taken as a free-standing degree, or as the first step towards doctoral research. 

    The first year of study is identical to the MSt in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies.

    Thesis

    In the second year you will write a 30,000-word thesis, on a topic of your choosing, subject to the approval of your supervisor. This is submitted in the third term. You can find examples of previous thesis titles in the conclusion to this section.

    Dissertation/Language/Auxiliary Discipline(s)

    In the second year you will also choose one other examined element: either a 10,000-word dissertation on a topic of your choosing, subject to the approval of your supervisor, and submitted in the third term; or one or two auxiliary disciplines (from papyrology, epigraphy, palaeography, numismatics, sigillography or artefact studies); or one language paper (from Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Middle Persian, and Hebrew). Language, Literature, and auxiliary disciplines are taught throughout the year, and will normally be examined by unseen examinations at the end of the third term.

    You should not apply to both the MSt and MPhil in this research area. Both courses have the same entry requirements.

     

    • Palestinian City and Space in the Writings of Procopius of Caesarea, Choricius of Gaza, and Julian of Ascalon
    • A Comparative Study of the ‘Desert’ Monasticism of the Evergetinoi and the Cistercian Fathers in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries
    • T‘ovma Arcruni and his World: Armenian Historical Traditions in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries
    • Aftershocks of Byzantium: The Komnenian Restoration in Syriac Chronicles of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries AD
    • "Even Old Men Can Be Playful": A Poetics of Old Age in Twelfth-Century Byzantine Literature
    • Shaping the Emotions of Holy War: Two Panegyrics from Al-Mutanabbī's Sayfiyyāt
    • Ascetics and Society in Jerome’s De Virginitate Servanda and Beyond
    • Understanding Romanness in 9th-10th Century Byzantium: Roman identity and the Islamic 'other'
    • From Imperator to universal monarch: Emperors and their soldiers from 395 to 527 CE
    • Ransoming activities in the 14th century eastern Mediterranean: the evidence of the Parisinus Graecus 400

    Research Seminars

    Oxford offers a wide range of graduate seminars; of these, the LABS graduate seminar and the Late Roman seminar are the most important because they allow students working in the fields of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies to listen to distinguished academics from all over the world, engage in proper scholarly discussions, and meet up with other people who share their interest in the field.

    There are also regular graduate seminars in Late Antique and Byzantine Archaeology and Visual Culture; and in the history of the early medieval Near and Middle East.

    In addition, there are weekly lectures on Late Antique and Byzantine literature (for which knowledge of Greek is not required), and also the Byzantine text seminar where graduates and post-graduates read and discuss Greek texts in the original.