Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
Research Our research OIKOS Calendar

Masterclass "Thinking about the Limits of Freedom in the Ancient and Late Antique Worlds"

When:Th 29-09-2022
Where:Utrecht, t.b.a.

The OIKOS research groups Late Antiquity and Byzantine Studies and Cultural Interactions in the Ancient World organize a yearly masterclass: a one-day event organized by and for graduate and postgraduate students with the support of the coordinators of the research groups. This masterclass offers participating graduate students and PhD candidates an unique opportunity to interact - and share their ideas with leading scholars in the field.


This year’s masterclass will be taught by Prof. dr. Robert Hoyland (New York University) who counts as one of the leading specialists in the field of Early Islamic history and the various responses that reflected on the rise of Islam as a social, religious and political phenomenon. Professor Hoyland’s masterclass and keynote lecture will focus on the follow theme:

'The Limits of Freedom Self-sale, indentured labour and debt bondage in the late antique and early Islamic Middle East'

In both the Roman and medieval Islamic world free status was in theory inalienable. The category of unfree was legally restricted to slaves, those who had been born unfree or had been made so by capture in war. In reality, however, a variety of circumstances, particularly poverty and debt, might compel freeborn persons to forfeit their liberty, whether temporarily or permanently. Roman and Muslim jurists alike display antipathy towards this reality, but its prevalence meant that they had to recognize it in some measure, and in the law books of both civilizations we find discussions of a whole range of situations involving a free person's loss of their free status: debt defaults, kidnappings, self-sales, forced marriages, and the like. The pervasiveness of the phenomenon allows us to peek into various nooks and crannies within these two societies, as well as to assess the similarities and differences in their respective responses to its effects. This lecture will also pay some attention to the ways in which the religions of Christianity and Islam came to terms with the existence of unfreedom while trying to mitigate some of its worst features, and to changing legal attitudes towards it in the first centuries of Muslim rule in the Middle East.


The day of the masterclass will consist of two sessions:

  1. Masterclass - In the morning, graduate and postgraduate students will have the opportunity to participate in a two hour class organized by Prof. Hoyland. In this class, Prof. Hoyland will discuss various approaches for understanding the phenomena of freedom and unfreedom in the ancient, late antique and early medieval worlds. Interested (R)MA students and PhD Candidates will be introduced to a wide range of textual and material sources, as well as the central theoretical and methodological questions scholars have formulated to analyse ancient and postclassical articulations of freedom and unfreedom. In advance, students will be asked to read three short articles and to prepare a five minute presentation in which they reflect on how their own research intersects with the theme of the masterclass. Further details and required reading materials will be provided on registration. The Masterclass will take place from 11:00 – 13:00 am. Location: Utrecht University, Janskerkhof, 2-3, room 019.
  2. Keynote Lecture - In the afternoon, Professor Hoyland will provide a public keynote lecture followed by a brief response by three specialists working in the fields of ancient, late antique and medieval history. Each of these respondents will briefly reflect on the theme of the masterclass through the lens of their respective specialisms. The respondents are: Dr. Floris van den Eijnde (Utrecht University), Dr. Robert Flierman (Utrecht University), and Dr. Josephine van den Bent (RU Nijmegen & UVA). Kay Boers, MA will chair the discussion. The keynote will take place from 15:15 – 17:00 pm. Location: Utrecht University, room TBA.

Participation & Registration

Masterclass: interested graduate students and PhD Candidates affiliated to the Dutch Research School in Classics (OIKOS) and/or the Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies (UCMS) are cordially invited to register for the masterclass. Students who successfully participate in the Masterclass will be credited with 2 ECTS and a certificate. Students will have the opportunity to acquire an additional credit if they submit a short 1000 word reflection on Prof. Hoyland’s masterclass and keynote. The deadline for this assignment will be November 30th. Students who enrol in the Masterclass will also automatically be registered for the afternoon keynote lecture.

Graduate students and PhD candidates who want to participate in the morning Masterclass can apply until 18 September 2022 by sending an email to K.Boers Registrations will be processed in sequence on a first come-first serve basis. Reading materials and further directions will be provided on registration. A reminder for registration will be sent roughly a week before registration closes.

Keynote lecture: Prof. Hoyland’s keynote lecture will be open to the public. Everyone interested is cordially invited to attend. To register, please send an email to ucms Registration for the keynote will close 18 September 2022.


This year’s masterclass is a cross-over event which is generously sponsored by the OIKOS Research Groups Late Antiquity and Byzantine Studies and Cultural Interactions in the Ancient World. The afternoon keynote is sponsored by the Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies (UCMS) which co-hosts the event together with the Vakgroep Ancient History and Classical Culture at Utrecht University

For further enquiries and questions, please contact: K.Boers