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Petra Great Temple

Ancient Studies

The ancient studies program acknowledges the importance of approaching the civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean world from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Students are encouraged to create for themselves, through related courses in history, classics, religion, art, government, philosophy and archaeology, a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic cultures bordering on the Mediterranean Sea (including the Near East) from antiquity to the time of the Muslim conquests in the seventh century C.E.

Requirements & Courses

Ancient Studies Minor


Six courses, in no fewer than three departments, selected from the list of courses crosslisted in ancient studies. Other courses may count toward the minor with permission of the minor adviser.

Crosslisted Courses

ARH 212 Ancient Cities and Sanctuaries (4 Credits)

This course explores many different aspects of life in the cities and sanctuaries of the ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece, Etruria and Rome. Recurrent themes include urbanism, landscapes and patterns of worship, including initiation, sacrifice and pilgrimage. The class probes how modern notions of the secular and the sacred influence interpretation and how sometimes the seemingly most anomalous features of the worship of Isis or of the juxtaposition of commercial and domestic space within a city can potentially prove to be the most revealing about life in another place and time. Counts for ARU. {A}{H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ARH 285pm Topics: Great Cities-Pompeii (4 Credits)

A consideration of the ancient city: architecture, painting, sculpture and objects of everyday life. Women and freed people as patrons of the arts are emphasized. The impact of the rediscovery of Pompeii and its role as a source of inspiration in 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century art is discussed. No prerequisite. {A}{H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ARH 290fs Colloquium: Topics in Art History-The Visual Culture of Freed Slaves in the Roman Empire (4 Credits)

Many ancient Roman houses and tombs belonged to freed slaves who had established themselves and their families in the world. Assessed through the lens of elite authors who disparaged freed people, these monuments have often been judged as lesser, imperfectly emulating lost aristocratic models. On the contrary, as a close reading of these houses and tombs themselves demonstrate, freedmen and freedwomen celebrated their transformation from being things to being persons of means by finding visual means to celebrate their industry, their wealth, their ambition and their identification with mythological figures who had once been enslaved. Enrollment limited to 20. {A}{H}

Spring, Alternate Years

CLS 150 Roots: Greek and Latin Elements in English (2 Credits)

Sixty percent of all English words are derived from Greek and Latin roots, yet most speakers of English are unaware of the origins and true meaning ("etymology") of the words they use to communicate with others every day. This course aims to fill that gap, with an eye to sharpening and expanding English vocabulary and enhancing understanding of the structures of language in general. Combines hands-on study of Greek and Latin elements in English with lectures and primary readings that open a window onto ancient thinking about language, government, the emotions, law, medicine and education. S/U only; one evening meeting per week. {L}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

ENG 202/ WLT 202 Western Classics in Translation I: Homer to Dante (4 Credits)

Offered as ENG 202 and WLT 202. Considers works of literature, mostly from the ancient world, that have had a significant influence over time. May include: epics by Homer and Virgil; tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; Plato’s Symposium; Dante’s Divine Comedy." Enrollment limited to 20. WI {L}


GOV 261 Ancient and Medieval Political Theory (4 Credits)

An examination of the great thinkers of the classical and (time permitting) medieval periods. Possible topics include family and the state, freedom and the gods, warfare faction, politics and philosophy, secular and religious authority, justice, citizenship, regimes and natural law. Selected authors include: Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Cicero, Lucretius, Augustine, Aquinas and Marsilius. Designation: Theory. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

HST 201 The Silk Road and Premodern Eurasia (4 Credits)

An introduction to major developments and interactions among people in Europe and Asia before modernity. The Silk Roads, long distance networks that allowed people, goods, technology, religious beliefs and other ideas to travel between China, India and Rome/Mediterranean, and the many points in between, developed against the backdrop of the rise and fall of steppe nomadic empires in Inner Asia. We examine these as interrelated phenomena that shaped Eurasian encounters to the rise of the world-conquering Mongols and the journey of Marco Polo. Topics include: horses, Silk and Steppe routes, Scythians and Huns, Han China and Rome, Byzantium, Buddhism, Christianity and other universal religions, Arabs and the rise of Islam, Turks, Mongol Empire, and medieval European trade, geography and travel. {H}


HST 202 Ancient Greece (4 Credits)

A survey of the history of the ancient Greeks during their most formative period, from the end of the Bronze Age to the end of the Classical Age. The class examines the relationship between mythology, archaeology and historical memory; the evolution of the city-state; games and oracles; colonization, warfare and tyranny; city-states Sparta and Athens and their respective pursuits of social justice; wars with Persia; cultural interactions with non-Greeks; Athens' naval empire and its invention of Democracy; family and women; traditional religions and forms of new wisdom; and the trial and death of Socrates in 399 B.C. Enrollment limited to 40. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 203 Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World (4 Credits)

The career and conquests of Alexander the Great (d. 323 B.C.) wrought far-reaching consequences for many in Europe, Asia and Africa. In the ensuing Hellenistic (Greek-oriented) commonwealth that spanned the Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia and India, Greco-Macedonians interacted with Egyptians, Babylonians, Jews, Iranians, Indians and Romans in ways that galvanized ideas and institutions such as the classical city as ideal community, cult of divine kings and queens, "fusion" literatures, mythologies and artistic canons and also provoked nativist responses such as the Maccabean revolt. Main topics include Greeks and "barbarians," Alexander and his legacies, Hellenism as ideal and practice, conquerors and natives, kings and cities/regions, Greek science and philosophies, old and new gods. This course provides context for understanding early Christianity, Judaism and the rise of Rome. {H}

Spring, Variable

HST 204 The Roman Republic (4 Credits)

A survey of the history of the Roman people as Rome developed from a village in central Italy to the capital of a vast Mediterranean empire of 50 million people. We trace Rome’s early rise through mythology and archaeology and follow developments from Monarchy to the end of the Republic, including the Struggle of the Orders, conquests and citizenship, wars with Carthage, encounters with local cultures in North Africa, Gaul and the Greek East, challenges of expansion and empire, rich versus poor, political corruption, and the Civil Wars of the Late Republic. We also study the family, slavery, traditional and new religions, and other aspects of Roman culture and society. {H}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

HST 205 The Roman Empire (4 Credits)

The history of the Romans and other mediterranean peoples from the first to the early fifth centuries A.D. With Emperor Augustus, the traditional Republican form of rule was reshaped to accommodate the personal rule of an emperor that governed a multiethnic empire of 50 million successfully for several centuries. Imperial Rome represents the paradigmatic classical empire that many later empires sought to emulate. The class traces how this complex imperial society evolved to meet different challenges. Topics include: the emperor and historical writings, corruption of power, bread and circuses, assimilation and revolts, the Jewish war, universal and local religions, early Christianity, Late Antiquity, migrations and the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. This course offers context for understanding the history of Christianity, Judaism and the early Middle Ages. Enrollment limited to 40. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

JUD 214/ REL 214 Women in the Hebrew Bible (4 Credits)

This course focuses on the lives of women in ancient Israelite society through close readings of the Hebrew Bible. We look at detailed portraits of female characters as well as the role of many unnamed women in the text to consider the range and logic of biblical attitudes toward women, including reverence, disgust and sympathy. We also consider female deities in the ancient Near East, women in biblical law, sex in prophetic and Wisdom literature, and the female body as a source of metaphor. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

JUD 238 Sacred Space in Jewish Antiquity (4 Credits)

This course examines archaeological and textual evidence to explore how diverse Jewish groups in antiquity constructed sacred spaces, and ultimately Jewish identity, through art, architecture, and ritual. (E) {A}{H}

Fall, Variable

LAT 212 Introduction to Latin Prose and Poetry (4 Credits)

Practice and improvement of reading skills through the study of a selection of texts in prose and verse. Systematic review of fundamentals of grammar. Prerequisite: LAT 100Y or equivalent. {F}{L}


LAT 330om Topics: Advanced Readings in Latin Literature-Ovid's Metamorphoses (4 Credits)

A study of Ovid’s transmission and adaptation of Greek myths in the Metamorphoses. Attention is paid to Ovid’s Augustan milieu and to the extraordinary afterlife of the Metamorphoses, particularly in Renaissance art. Prerequisites: two courses at the 200 level or equivalent. {F}{L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 124 History of Ancient and Medieval Western Philosophy (4 Credits)

A study of Western philosophy from the early Greeks to the end of the Middle Ages, with emphasis on the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans, and some of the scholastic philosophers. {H}{M}


REL 110hl Colloquium: Topics in Thematic Studies in Religion- Jerasalem and the Holy Land (4 Credits)

This course will examine the religious and historical legacy of the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It will explore the ways Jerusalem and the Holy Land have been sanctified in scripture, art, architecture, literature, poetry, and film. It will also explore how rulers tapped into this sanctity and significance to promote their own legitimacy and agendas. In this respect, the course emphasizes Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a common, shared heritage to the three monotheistic traditions, yet how it has inspired religious and political conflict in the past and today. Enrollment limited to 20. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 112 Introduction to the Bible I (4 Credits)

The Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh/Old Testament). A survey of the Hebrew Bible and its historical and cultural context. Critical reading and discussion of its narrative and legal components as well as an introduction to the prophetic corpus and selections from the wisdom literature. {H}{L}

Fall, Spring, Annually

REL 211 What Is the Good Life? Wisdom from the Bible (4 Credits)

Critical reading and discussion of Wisdom texts in the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha (Job, selected Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, etc.) as well as some of the shorter narrative and poetic texts in the Writings such as Ruth, Esther and Song of Songs. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 310is Seminar: Hebrew Bible-Why Do the Innocent Suffer? (4 Credits)

Many biblical texts question whether God consistently rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Prominent examples include Job, Ecclesiastes and certain Psalms, but similar ideas occur in the Torah and the Prophets. While focusing most deeply on Job, this course introduces students to an array of biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, as well as some post-biblical and even modern literature, to illuminate the Hebrew Bible’s discourse surrounding this issue. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {H}{L}

Fall, Spring, Variable


Joel Kaminsky


Morningstar Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religion

Joel Kaminsky

Susan B. Levin


Roe/Straut Professor in the Humanities; Professor of Philosophy; and Chair, Department of Philosophy

Susan Levin

Contact Ancient Studies Program

Dewey House 106

Smith College

Northampton, MA

Phone: 413-585-3679 Email:

Program Director: Barbara Kellum