Carving of a Byzantine wheel in stone
Wheel motif found at a Byzantine site in Anderin, Syria
(Image Credit: Tyler Bell / Flickr)

MSt in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies

About the course

This is a nine-month taught course that can be taken as a free-standing degree, or as the first step towards doctoral research.

Late Antiquity (c.250-c.750) was a period of remarkable political change and cultural efflorescence. It witnessed the transformation of the ancient Roman and Iranian empires into their more centralised, more bureaucratic late Roman and Sassanian successors. This was a time of the consolidation of ancient philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity, as well as the emergence of Islam. By the end of the period, the ancient world order had dissolved into a series of Western kingdoms, the Islamic caliphate, and the Byzantine state focused on Constantinople. Over more than a millennium of history, Byzantium (c.330-c.1453) was central to political, economic, and cultural networks across the Eurasian continent, and played a crucial part in the formation of Eastern Christendom, the Crusades, and the Renaissance.

This course introduces you to this rich heritage, while also allowing for a high level of specialisation in various periods, regions, and source types; as well as languages (incl. Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, and Persian) and approaches (incl. History, Archaeology, Visual Culture, Literature, and Religion). Uniquely, the course is taught through a team of scholars based in several different Oxford faculties: History, Classics, Archaeology, Theology and Religion, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and Modern and Medieval Languages.

Oxford scholars have been vital to the formation of Late Antiquity and Byzantium as modern academic disciplines. As a postgraduate in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies you will join a thriving and active community of over one hundred scholars and students, represented in the Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity and the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. These centres help to organise a regular programme of seminars and conferences, while the Oxford University Byzantine Society runs an annual postgraduate research trip to different parts of the former late antique and Byzantine worlds, and a conference which gathers postgraduates from across the globe.

Core courses

Although the two components of the course, Late Antiquity and Byzantium, have been designed to the same specification and are conjoined in a single course, you are expected to concentrate on one of the fields only.

In the first two terms you will follow:

  • a weekly class in either Late Antique or Byzantine History; and
  • in the first term, a second weekly class in Late Antique and Byzantine Archaeology and Visual Culture; and
  • in the second term, a weekly class in Late Antique and Byzantine Religion.

Late Antique History

This course, which comprises sixteen classes over the first two terms, encompasses the whole chronological and geographical span of the Late Roman Empire and beyond. Taught through a mix of student- and teacher-led sessions, it aims to explore facets of the late antique world against wider themes such as religious, cultural, and political change, while also familiarising you with different source types and methodologies. Examples of topics covered in recent years include: Urbanism, Successor Kingdoms, Monasticism, Elite housing and art, Late Roman empresses, Splinter empires and usurpers, Poetry, Magical and philosophical texts, Sassanid Persia, Law, Military handbooks, Goths, Natural disasters and narratives, Travel, and Papyrus documents.

Byzantine History

Taught each week over the first two terms, this sixteen-class course introduces you to the world of medieval Byzantium and its neighbours. Operating with a generous definition of the horizons of Byzantine history, it normally progresses chronologically from the reign of Justinian to the fall of Constantinople (depending on students’ interests), and focuses on critical debates within Byzantine and wider medieval studies. Through a combination of short lectures, student presentations, and group debate, it exposes you to a range of methodological approaches to, sources for, and scholarship on the medieval East. Recent classes have included: Justinian and political dissent, the Justinianic plague and environmental history, the Rise of Islam, Church councils and the papacy, Byzantine law, Iconoclasm, Cultural exchange with the caliphate, Arab geographers on Byzantium, Slavery, Byzantium and Rus’, the Eleventh-century ‘crisis’, Komnenian historiography, the Seljuks, the Crusades and 1204, the Empire of Nicaea, and the Zealots.

Late Antique and Byzantine Archaeology and Visual Culture

The archaeology and visual culture course consists of eight three-hour long sessions in the first term. Through a combination of brief lectures, class-based discussions, class-presentations, and museum visits, it introduces you to the main methods of Late antique and Byzantine archaeology and visual culture, and explores current research themes. It is foremost intended to make students familiar with the specificity of the source material, teach you how to look at, analyse and describe material and visual culture as well as explore diverse ways in which you can make use of this evidence for your own research papers. Methodological insights are applied to various topics, including Urbanism, Reuse of building materials, Architecture and power, Light and lighting in Byzantium, Late antique and Byzantine capital cities, Byzantine perceptions of neighbouring societies, Cappadocia, Pilgrimage, The origin and workings of icons.

Late Antique and Byzantine Religion

Taught in the second term through student-led presentations and group discussion, this course of eight classes introduces you to prominent aspects of theology and religion within the late antique and Byzantine worlds. Organised thematically so as to encompass the various regional and chronological specialisms of attendees, the classes range across the diverse religious traditions of the period (incl. polytheism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism), while introducing you to the various sources and methodologies available to students of theology and religion. Recent class topics have included Apocalyptic, Asceticism, Conversion, Councils, Dualism, Hagiography, Heresy, Holy women, Iconoclasm, Liturgy, Mysticism, Relics, and Religious art.

Training pathways

Alongside the choice between Late Antique or Byzantine History, you must also choose between two training pathways, dependent on your knowledge of languages or your primary interests in the field.

You must also choose one of the following training pathways:

Language pathway

The first is the language training pathway, which offers intensive training in any one of the following ancient and medieval languages and, normally, their associated literatures: Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Middle Persian, and Hebrew.

Skills pathway

The second pathway is designed for those who already have considerable competence in their chosen language(s) and are able to read primary sources in the original. You will receive instruction in one or two of a range of specialist auxiliary disciplines: papyrology, epigraphy, palaeography, numismatics, sigillography or artefact studies. You will also write a 10,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choosing.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of History and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under some circumstances a supervisor outside the Faculty of History may be nominated.

An Oxford academic’s pre-application indication of willingness to supervise an enquiring applicant is not a guarantee that the applicant will be offered a place, or that the supervisor in question has capacity in that particular year.

Assessment

Examination comprises several parts depending on the chosen pathway:

All students submit two essays on a topic of your choosing, subject to the approval of your supervisor. The first is submitted in the second term; the second in the third term. You can find examples of previous essay titles on the Faculty of History website.

If you select the language pathway, you will take a language paper; and a literature paper in the same language.

If you select the skills pathway, you will take a paper or papers in the chosen auxiliary disciplines; and a dissertation on a topic of your choosing, subject to the approval of your supervisor, and submitted in the third term.

Language, Literature, and auxiliary disciplines are taught throughout the year, and will normally be examined by unseen examinations at the end of the third term.

Graduate destinations

About a quarter of master’s students proceed to doctoral work at Oxford; others continue academic study at other institutions. Other career destinations are as diverse as, but broadly in line with, undergraduate history career destinations: law, finance, management consultancy, civil service etc.

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (a minimum of 68% overall and 68% for the dissertation) in a relevant discipline in the humanities or social sciences.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 out of 4.0.

Applicants are not expected to have a previous degree in history, but are expected to have experience of working historically. You will need to ensure that you link your proposed dissertation topic with your previous expertise, explain why you want to switch to study history, and show that you have already done some background research.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • In the case of mature students/intended career changes professional experience in cognate areas may compensate for shortcomings in the formal academic record. 
  • Publications are not required.

English language proficiency

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.

Declaring extenuating circumstances

If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.

References

You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Assessors may get in touch with an applicant by email in case of any queries, but this is very rare.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.

An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed

Shortlisting and selection

Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:

  • socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
  • country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
  • protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.

Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Processing your data for shortlisting and selection

Information about processing special category data for the purposes of positive action and using your data to assess your eligibility for funding, can be found in our Postgraduate Applicant Privacy Policy.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

Other factors governing whether places can be offered

The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
  • the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
  • minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.

Offer conditions for successful applications

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions

In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Resources

Intellectual life and community

Working as an Oxford graduate student is an exhilarating experience. History at Oxford stretches from around 300 AD to the present and embraces an exceptionally broad geographical range. It comprises an active research community of up to 800 academics and graduate students.

The faculty’s research is organised around historical periods, research centres, or in collaborative and individual research projects, and graduates are key participants in the wide range of seminars, workshops and conferences run by the Faculty of History.

Further opportunities for exchange are provided by the interdisciplinary communities fostered within individual colleges, which also offer dedicated support for graduates by means of personal advisors. The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH) offers a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities. You are also encouraged to join the Oxford History Graduate Network (OHGN), which fosters friendships, conversations and collaboration.

The Oxford environment provides a unique opportunity to develop intellectual curiosity whilst remaining focused on your own work without becoming blinkered - an integral part of a successful graduate career.

Libraries and archives

Graduates in Oxford are fortunate in having access to over a hundred libraries. The University's core research resource in the humanities are the Bodleian Libraries, whose combined collections contain more than 11 million printed items, in addition to more than 50,000 e-journals and a vast quantity of manuscripts, maps, music and other materials.

The Bodleian has been a library of legal deposit for 400 years. The Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections Department attracts scholars from all over the world. Further strengths include the countless databases and digital resources currently offered by the Bodleian and being developed through Oxford’s Digital Humanities programme.

You are also able to draw on the specialist resources offered by the Bodleian History Faculty Library which provides dedicated support and training courses for all graduates. They also have access to the many college libraries and to college archives which can house significant collections of personal papers as well as institutional records dating back to the middle ages.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. 

For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.

Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:

Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the Faculty of History and Humanities division websites.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2023-24

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home£13,550
Overseas£30,910

Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.

Information about course fees

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

Where can I find further information about fees?

The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.

College preference

All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs). 

For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges. 

The following colleges accept students on the MSt in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies:

Before you apply

Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. We recommend that you submit your application well in advance - two or three weeks earlier. 

Application fee waivers

An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:

  • applicants from low-income countries;
  • refugees and displaced persons; 
  • UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and 
  • applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.

You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.

Contacting the department

You are encouraged to familiarise yourself with the research expertise within the faculty when preparing your application. However, you will not be required to specify a potential supervisor in your application and the faculty will in any case decide supervision arrangements, taking due account of workload and commitments of its academics.

Completing your application

You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.

Proposed field and title of research project

Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.

You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal. You will be able to upload your research supporting materials separately if they are required (as described below).

Proposed supervisor

If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.

Referees:
Three overall, academic preferred

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

References should generally be academic, though if you are returning to study after extended periods of non-academic employment then you are welcome to nominate professional referees where it would be impractical to call on your previous university tutors.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in both a group environment and sustained individual and self-motivated investigation.

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose and research proposal:
A minimum of 500 to a maximum of 1,000 words

The statement of purpose and research proposal should be written as one combined piece. Your statement should convince the faculty that you have the right intellectual qualities, academic knowledge and skills to undertake the course. It should focus on how you see the course as building upon your previous study, and what you hope to do with the qualifications you gain from the University, rather than on personal achievements and aspirations.

You should discuss what kinds of problems and issues you hope to engage with; what the current state of your knowledge and understanding of these is, and how you hope to advance that. You should indicate what optional papers you are interested in taking.

You should also sketch out a preliminary research proposal and title for your intended dissertation. This should supply a research question identifying the central issue or problem with which you intend to grapple, some account of the current state of scholarship in this area and an indication of the kinds of sources you hope to use. You should combine your research proposal with your statement of purpose to upload it as a single document.

Your statement must be written in English. A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count, though any footnotes should be included.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

It is anticipated that your ideas will change and develop once you have begun the programme and have been exposed to new approaches, sources and methods. However, students applying to this course are expected to have a clear sense of the kind of research they wish to undertake.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the coherence of the proposal, the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree programme
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Written work:
One writing sample of anything up to 4,000 words or two writing samples, totalling no more than 4,000 words

You should submit an academic writing sample of no more than 4,000 words in total length. You can submit one complete essay, or two shorter essays. 

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification are required, but the work does not need to relate closely to your proposed area of study.

Extracts from a longer dissertation are welcome, but a preface which puts the work in context is expected.

The work will be assessed for understanding of problems in the area, the ability to construct and defend an argument, your powers of analysis, and your powers of expression.
The written work must be submitted in English (if this work has been translated, you must indicate if the translations are your own, or what assistance you had in producing the English text).

Any footnotes should be included in the word count.

A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

Instructions for submitting one long piece of work instead of two short pieces

To submit one longer piece of work in your application instead of two shorter pieces, you should upload this document in the first 'Written work' slot on the 'Supporting Documents' tab of the Application Form. In the second 'Written work' slot, you should upload a PDF document with the following statement:

'I have included one long essay in lieu of two short essays. I have checked the course page to confirm this is permitted for this course.'

Start or continue your application

You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.

Application Guide Apply

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