Universität Bielefeld

© Universität Bielefeld

Ancient History

1. Object and Self-Conception of the Discipline

At Bielefeld University Ancient History is part of historical studies. Its field comprises the entire Greek and Roman antiquity in the context of civilizations in the Middle East and North African as well as in North-Western Europe. Chronologically it covers the periods from the emergence of early written record (Mycenae) on the Greek peninsula around 1500 B.C. as far as the successive replacement of the Roman Empire by Germanic kingships and the expansion of the Islam in the Mediterranean world from about 400-700 A.D.

The geographic center of Greek and Roman antiquity is the Mediterranean which was constantly involved in dynamic exchange processes with other regions of civilization. From about 800 B.C., the Greeks held a key position within a global sphere of interactions (oikumene) and radiated into faraway regions to the east (India) and the south (Carthage) during the following centuries. What is more, Greek culture also supplied the power-political unification of the Mediterranean world under Roman rule with a civilizational basis. The rise of Christianity as a global religion would have been impossible without the emergence of the global Roman Empire and the continuum of Greek culture. Greek Culture, Christianity, Imperium Romanum - in terms of world history these three make antiquity an essential epoch.

Apart from that, in terms of tradition and making sense of the past Greek and Roman antiquity is inseparable connected with early Islam (which was strongly impacted by the hellenism of late antiquity) and with Modern Europe since the Renaissance. And especially today antiquity's relevance to defining cultural and political identities in Europe cannot be overestimated.

2. Research profile

Bielefeld ancient historians take into account these specific notions of antiquity in several ways: We edit, translate and comment on ancient texts; we contribute work on the history of their reception; and we study and recall the history of our discipline, which is understood to have emerged about 200 years ago (applying the narrow definition of the term). Dealing with the history of the discipline and analyzing former approaches and discourses is likely to improve teaching and scholarly research. Both in research and in teaching we aim to outline essential features of Greek and Roman antiquity and to embed them into a global context by applying comparative approaches and looking at neighboring or structurally similar civilizations. To this end, cooperation between disciplines and epochs is as important as using theories and models. Qualifying students for disciplinary research in a narrow sense is therefore being supplemented by transfering knowledge of contexts and the general idea of ancient history. Additionally, embodying ancient history within the histories of the pre-modern world needs a dialogue with related disciplines, in the first place sociology. Still essential basic categories like institutions, power/rule and inequality are being supplemented by approaches from Cultural Studies, since ancient communities and associations are increasingly understood as clubs with shared ideas and imaginations. They create symbolic orders and execute integrative actions in order to enable communication, participation, and consensus. Understanding these things in their context we combine traditional hermeneutic approaches and discourse analysis. Due to less numerous sources, quantitative research strategies are not as important for the study of Ancient History as they are for other epochs. However, prosopographic methods offer high research potential when embedded in essential historical questions.

Current research focusses on:

  • political culture and patterns of organization of ancient societies in discourse and praxis
  • ancient historiography
  • emergence and consolidation of the Greek polis within the frame of trans-mediterranean mobility; mobile societies beyond the organization of poleis and their contribution towards cultural and political developments in antiquity
  • individual and community in archaic Greece
  • politics of revenues and expenditure in late classical Greece
  • patterns and kinship and marriage at hellenistic courts
  • notions of space and creation of myths in the contexts of migration and expansion
  • war as a social and cultural phenomenon in antiquity
  • history of ancient history and reception studies

3. Teaching

By associating exemplary research and abstracting interpretation with basic grounding of knowledge our teaching aims at conveying key skills along with historical content. Therefore, at our department thoroughly prepared field trips and constant exchange with professional ancient historians beyond the regular college situations are standard even at undergraduate level. We make a strong point of anchoring antiquity in the historical awareness of a broader public. Consequently we don't limit communication to classic academic publications, but also contribute introductary guides, textbooks, annotated text editions and books for the general reader as well as articles and reviews in magazines and daily newspapers, and, recently, even in a blog. In addition to traditional types of teaching-lectures, classes, seminars - we offer joint seminars with lecturers of other disciplines and a regular research colloquium with international guest lecturers to provide a truly broad and intensive education in ancient history.
In our opinion imparting historical orientation and education goes beyond critical research in the narrow sense of the term. It is rather designed to make people more aware of the precarious cultural foundations of getting along together in a civilized manner. Coping elaborately with our pasts helps us to be self-critical and to continue the project of enlightening our society.