Interdisciplinary Seminar: Rulers Ideology and Representation


Course Objective

Students should be able to recognize instances of rulers’ ideology and
representation and relate these to each other. Based on five examples
which will be studied in depth—Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander
the Great, Herod the Great, and Augustus—, they should be able to sketch
the development of cults and other forms of representation of rulers, as
well as imperial ideologies, from the first millennium BCE to the late
antique period. They should also be able to approach this subject in an
interdisciplinary way, relating to the different fields of literature,
art & architecture, political history, and their interconnections.

Course Content

Rulers have always represented themselves in ways that were meant to
confirm the presence of their rule and ensure its continuity by
legitimizing and strengthening it. Often they tried to emulate some of
their illustrious predecessors or to stress their legitimacy by pointing
at their position within a dynasty, rights given to them by the gods,
military accomplishments, or the possession of certain symbols. They
themselves, or more often people in their courts, also developed
ideologies of kingship and power that brought such elements of
representation together, be it in the form of historical and political
narratives or in the form of a cult. Needless to say, the rulers’
opponents also reacted to such statements and wrote counter-narratives.

The rulers who will be studied in this course all lived at important
turning points in the history of their empires. As a result, their
ideologies and the way they were presented often underwent important
changes. Thus Alexander the Great, originally a primus inter pares in
the Macedonian ideal of kingship, started to style himself as a Pharaoh
and son of Zeus-Ammon after the conquest of Egypt. As ruler of Persia he
wanted his subjects to perform proskynesis for him—which led to
considerable opposition among the Macedonians. When Augustus took up the
government of the Roman Empire and became the first Roman emperor, he
made use of a number of blue-prints for the ideal ruler provided by the
cultural tradition and developed these further.

Teaching Methods


Method of Assessment

Students will write a final exam (100% of the final mark). During the
exam, students will have to write three short essays on subjects to be
chosen from a list of five options. Students in one of the Research
Master’s programmes will have to write an additional fourth short essay
on a subject of their choice.


Various articles and sources to be found on Canvas.

Target Audience

This course is obligatory for all students in the one-year MA Programme
Classics and Ancient Civilizations. Research Master Students of Classics
and Ancient Civilizations and (Research) MA students of Archaeology may
choose the course as an elective.

Additional Information

This course is taught at the VU by prof. dr. Kristin Kleber (VU), prof.
Jan Willem van Henten (UvA) and dr. Jaap-Jan Flinterman (VU).

General Information

Course Code L_OAMAOHS008
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 400
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. J.J. Flinterman
Examiner dr. J.J. Flinterman
Teaching Staff prof. dr. K. Kleber
dr. J.J. Flinterman
J.W. van Henten

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar
Target audiences

This course is also available as: