HST6033: Crime and Punishment in Late Antiquity
15 credits (semester 2)
Module Leader: Dr. Julia Hillner
Late Antiquity (c. 300-600) was a period of transformation in punitive concepts; yet, historians have traditionally debated about the defining characteristics of this transformation. On the one hand, the period witnessed a proliferation of criminal law and an increase in rhetoric on law and order, which is usually interpreted as an imperial attempt to control and capitalize on social anxiety in a time of crisis, rather than as a reflection of an increase in crime itself. On the other hand, due to a Christian discourse on human sinfulness and the rise of Christian penance, some violent forms of legal punishment were gradually discarded, while a growing number of people, in particular clerics and monks, came to be exempted from secular jurisdiction. This module will examine the complex late antique developments concerning the definition of crime and practices of punishment by analyzing a range of sources, including secular and ecclesiastical law, papyri, historiography, educational literature, sermons and monastic rules. It will investigate topics such as the relationship between Christianity and imperial law; new types of crime concerning sexual behavior and religious identity; the relationship between legal norms and court practice; the rise of episcopal jurisdiction; and the beginning of a concept of punishment as reform.
This module introduces you to the main legal and literary sources for the study of crime and punishment in late antiquity, together with theoretical approaches to this material. Practice in using different types of evidence will be given through thematic and interdisciplinary seminars. On successful completion of the module, students will have gained an overall grasp of the social and cultural background of developments in late Roman criminal law in this period. They will develop critical skills in assessing both the primary evidence for legal norms and social perceptions of crime in this period, as well as their modern interpretation. They will therefore be able to pursue independently interesting and important problems of punitive concepts in late antiquity.
The module will be taught in five two-hour classes. Each will focus on a series of thematic and interdisciplinary case studies (for example, the classification of divorce as a public crime; or the end of circus show executions). We will work particularly on a choice of primary source material, and evaluating the contrasting interpretations of secondary writers. Classes will enable students to share knowledge, debate controversial issues and listen and respond to the views of others. As preparation for the final assessment, students will prepare a group or individual presentation on a particular theme that will support seminar discussion. Students will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss their written work for this module.
Students will submit a 3,000 word paper on an individually chosen research question.
Intended Learning Outcomes