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  • Term Mode
  • Semester 1Campus Attendance



Unit rationale, description and aim

Grounded in the great texts of antiquity - Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Cicero's On the Laws, and others - the unit explores key social and political ideas that remain pertinent for political thinkers today. Students will explore concepts such as democracy, tyranny, the rule of law, order, and freedom as well as tackle for themselves the fundamental questions that plagued politics in antiquity: What obligations do democratic citizens have? What is the best form of government? What is justice?
The unit aims to provide students with a firm grounding in the foundational texts of western political and social thought and to cultivate in them the capacity to apply these insights to better understand and navigate the social and political challenges facing the world today.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe key aspects of ancient Greek and Roman great works from the western political canonGC1, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12
LO2Analyse the social contexts and political ideas in texts drawn from, and related to, the western intellectual traditionGC1, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC9, GC11
LO3Apply disciplinary knowledge and skills to evaluate complex, real-world issues emerging from the works studiedGC1, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12


Topics will include: 

  • The foundations of western democracy 
  • The ideal and practice of citizenship in ancient Greece 
  • War and power in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War 
  • The idea of justice according to Plato’s Republic 
  • Political theatre: the politics of tragedy and comedy in the Greek polis 
  • Aristotle and political animals   
  • Different types of government in Aristotle’s Politics 
  • The Republic according to Cicero’s On the Laws 
  • Good government in Cicero’s On the State 
  • Against the rule of one man in Cicero’s Philippics  
  • The politics of exile and Seneca’s On Anger 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit employs two formal ways of learning and teaching. Lectures will apply the Socratic method and are structured to promote collaborative deep learning. Students will explore ancient texts and concepts, a process that requires them to demonstrate their investigative, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Collaborative deep learning will require students to learn specific theories and concepts that will complement the conceptual tools and theoretical knowledge critical to analysing divergent approaches to the study of western political and social thought.

Seminars for this unit provide students with opportunities for active learning. Students will engage in activities including reading, writing, interrogating ideas, exploring case studies, engaging in role plays, debating, and giving presentations. These activities, as well as promoting analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of lecture content, are designed to build skills appropriate to first year study in western political and social thought.

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for first year studies in this subject area. The student-led analytical task requires students to demonstrate knowledge of the great texts of ancient western political and social thought in the context of a debate. The written task develops students’ skills to research and write an essay critically analysing how the ancient Greek and Roman political system responds to key political, social, cultural, and economic challenges. The final exam requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the topics covered in this unit through a take-home exam.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Student-led Analytical Task 

Students are required to work together in teams to debate key ideas arising from the great texts of ancient Western political and social thought.



Written Task 

Students are required to gather, analyse, and advocate ethical solutions to contemporary political problems through evidence-based argument and evaluation of ancient Western political sources and to apply concepts, theories, and approaches used in the study of political and social thought.


LO1, LO2, LO3


Students are required to undertake a final formal examination to demonstrate their understanding of the topics covered in this unit.


LO1, LO3

Representative texts and references

Atkins, J.W., Roman Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Cartledge, P., Ancient Greek Political Thought in Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Euben, J.P., Corrupting Youth: Political Education, Democratic Culture, and Political Theory, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997.

Farrar, C., The Origins of Democratic Thinking: The Invention of Politics in Classical Athens, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Hall, E., Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Klosko, G., History of Political Theory: An Introduction, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Lane, M.S., The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter, Princeton: Princeton UP, 2015.

Raaflaub, K.A., Ober, J., Wallace, R., Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019.

Rowe, C., Schofield, M., Harrison, S., and Lane, M.S., The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Salkever, S.G., The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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