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Paper 9: Classical Art and Archaeology

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce the range and variety of Greek and Roman archaeology and art, and the types of evidence available, expanding the knowledge acquired in 1A.
  2. To introduce the general principles of archaeology, as applied to the Greek and Roman worlds.
  3. To explore the ways in which iconography in the ancient world has been studied in modern times, and how this integrates with other archaeological approaches to ancient societies.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016–17

The syllabus is based around the following topics: (i) Knossos – Europe’s Oldest City; (ii) Art and Archaeology of Early Greece, 800–500 BC; (iii) Regional Greek Art and Archaeologies c. 600-300 BC; (iv) The Roman-ness of Roman Art; (v) Us and Them: the Paradox of the Roman Economy.

Candidates must answer three questions, including Question 1. Question 1 will contain a choice of five pairs of images for comment, one pair corresponding to each of the topics taught in the year; candidates must answer on three images, no more than one image per pair. There will also be two essay questions corresponding to each of the topics taught in the year. All questions carry equal weight.


Course descriptions


(8 L: Michaelmas)

The archaic period has been characterised as 'an age of experiment' - as if in preparation for the glories of the Classical fifth century. What happens when sites, artefacts and images of the period are analysed not as experimental beginnings, but as serving particular and local purposes for the societies of the time? These lectures offer a selection of case-studies in answer to that question. The topics are: a Late Geometric ‘spouted krater’ (British Museum, Gallery 12); the first Doric temples and their decoration; the Samos kouros; the François vase; a fragment by Exekias (in the Museum of Classical Archaeology); Metaponto – profile of a colony and its chora; the Siphnian Treasury; the Sarpedon krater by Euphronios.

Preliminary reading: R. Osborne, Greece in the Making (London, 2nd ed. 2009); N. Spivey, Greek Sculpture (Cambridge, 2013); A. Snodgrass, Archaic Greece (Berkeley, 1981); J. Whitley, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 2001).



(8 L: Michaelmas)

What is Roman about Roman art? What makes Roman art different from Greek or Etruscan art? Does the 'Roman' in Roman art look different depending on where one is in the Empire? This course looks hard at a wide range of Roman material culture – from portraiture and 'historical relief' in the Urbs to shop-signs from Ostia, freestanding statuary in villas in Italy, mosaics in Roman-Britain and grave stelai from Palmyra – to think hard about such key issues as style, influence, ‘copying’, imperial image-making and the local. It also embraces Late Antique and early Christian imagery.

Until the sculptures from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae and the Parthenon came to London at the start of the nineteenth century, almost all of the Graeco-Roman sculpture on display in England was Roman, and many of the most influential pieces (e.g. the Farnese Hercules and Laocoon) Hellenistic in style. Yet from at least the middle of the eighteenth century, Greek art, especially Classical Greek art, was seen as the highpoint of Mediterranean production and Roman art seen as a stand-in. Only relatively recently have scholars begun to rediscover how creative, varied and distinctive Roman art could be. These eight lectures set out to exemplify how.

Suggested reading: M. Beard & J. Henderson, Classical Art from Greece to Rome (Oxford, 2001), O.J. Brendel, Prolegomena to the Study of Roman Art (New Haven, 1979), J.R. Clarke, Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans: Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy 100 B.C. - A.D. 315 (Berkeley, 2003), J. Elsner, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: The Art of the Roman Empire AD 100-450 (Oxford, 1998), T. Hölscher, The Language of Images in Roman Art (Cambridge, 2004), M. Marvin, The Language of the Muses: the Dialogue between Roman and Greek Sculpture (Los Angeles, 2008), M. Millett, The Romanization of Britain: an Essay in. Archaeological Interpretation (Cambridge, 1990), chapters by Davies, Vout, Wallace-Hadrill in S. Alcock and R. Osborne, Classical Archaeology, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 2011), P. Stewart, The Social History of Roman Art (Cambridge, 2008).



(8 L: Michaelmas)

The wondrous achievements of Roman architecture and the lavish expenditure in works of art that came along with it still lie before our very eyes. When one considers, however, that atmospheric pollution levels at the height of the Roman Empire could rival those of the early Industrial Revolution, that Roman trade extended far across the Indian Ocean and that the city of Rome harboured a population of a million people, it becomes clear that this must have been the result of quite a unique combination of specific conditions. Indeed archaeology suggests that similar patterns had not occurred before and – most importantly – were in fact not to be seen again for more than a thousand years afterwards. This awareness cannot but raise very important questions about the relationship between ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’. Acknowledging the significance and extent of actual similarities makes it even more important to properly define and explain the nature of the differences: what – if anything – made them different from us?

The aim of this course is to explore this intriguing question by critically reviewing the varied array of available evidence about the structure and performance of the Roman economy – moving dialectically between aspects of economic theory, material culture and art history. As such it will look at technological development and manufacture patterns, it will place artistic and architectural practice in its broader social-economic context, it will explore the extent of trade and supply, and it will address the issue of economic growth and relevant cultural attitudes. This journey will eventually lead us to discuss to what extent and in precisely what terms the insights we derive about the modern economy can be effectively used to illuminate the Roman one… and vice-versa.

Preliminary readings: K. Greene (1986), The Archaeology of the Roman Economy (London); W. Harris (2015), Prolegomena to a study of the economics of Roman Art, in American Journal of Archaeology 119.3: 395-417; A. Launaro (2016), The economic impact of Flavian rule, in A. Zissos (ed.), A Companion to the Flavian Age of Imperial Rome (Oxford), 189-96; C. Marcone (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Art and Architecture (Oxford) [107-414]; B. Russell (2013), The Economics of the Roman Stone Trade (Cambridge); W. Scheidel, I. Morris and R. Saller (eds.) (2007), The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge) [1-171, 485-768]; W. Scheidel (ed.) (2012), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy (Cambridge); A. Wilson (2006), The economic impact of technological advances in the Roman construction industry, in E. Lo Cascio (ed.), Innovazione Tecnica e Progresso Economico nel Mondo Romano (Bari), 225-36.



(8 L: Lent)

Considered to be the oldest city in Europe, Knossos is one of the most important sites of the ancient world. Since the major excavations and spectacular discoveries at the site by Sir Arthur Evans at the beginning of the 20th century, Knossos has been central to our understanding of Minoan Crete and the wider Bronze Age Aegean world. Known in Homer and later ancient Greek literature as the capital of the legendary king Minos, Knossos has long captured the imagination of scholars, travellers, artists and writers.

Inhabited from c. 7000 BCE, Knossos was the earliest permanent settlement on Crete, and became the largest of the palatial centres of the Minoan civilisation. Subsequently, the palace complex was the base for a mainland Greek administration, which controlled at least two-thirds of the island.

From excavations and surveys to the topography of Knossos, its architecture and rich material culture, this course examines in detail the history, art and archaeology of the site from its earliest Neolithic beginnings to the end of the Bronze Age, as well as the modern appropriation of its legendary past. It aims to familiarise students with the sources, methods, and tools that can help us reconstruct and understand the history and significance of a site over time, together with the main interpretative issues associated with how we build a picture of the past.

As part of the course we will explore the role of images, high-status artefacts and monumental architecture in the projection of power by the Knossian elite. The palace complex and surrounding city, as well as the burial landscape, palatial administration and industries will be discussed, along with the rich archive of Mycenaean period Linear B documents, written in an early form of Greek. The modern rediscovery of Knossos by the western world will be set alongside Evans’s methods and practices and the impact his work had on modern scholarship, especially with regard to the interpretation of the Bronze Age past of Crete and the wider Aegean.

The final class will be a practical session, providing the opportunity to handle original objects and replicas from the collection of the Museum of Classical Archaeology, and to review and discuss some of the related themes explored in the course.

Preliminary readings: Brown, A. Arthur Evans and the Palace of Minos (Oxford 1989); Farnoux, A. Knossos: Unearthing a Legend (London 1996); Fitton, J. L. Minoans (London 2002); Shelmerdine, C. The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2008).



(8 L: Lent)

This course will focus on the material culture of two case-study regions adjoining the traditionally-defined 'centre' of the Greek world in the classical period. The evidence from both areas (Macedonia and western Asia Minor) are often judged in deference to better-known material from central and southern mainland Greece, with their sites and finds described in terms of departure or adherence to assumed standard forms. Studying comparatively the material culture of two such broad regions provides the opportunity to test the validity of the centre/periphery approach, as well as to consider the vibrancy and variety of these areas’ archaeologies in their own right. Four main themes will be explored for each region: 1. sanctuaries and sacred landscapes; 2. cities and urbanism; 3. coins and economics; and 4. sculpture and art.

Western Asia Minor, and in particular the region of Ionia, is often relegated in studies of ancient Greece, at least in part because of the later Athenocentrism of many historical sources. In fact, 6th century Ionia, besides being the birthplace of natural philosophy and the key transitional zone in Greek–Persian/Near Eastern interaction, was a thriving and expanding economic powerhouse, which left a considerable archaeological imprint. The subsequent 5th century and its vastly reduced range of evidence by contrast offers a case-study in economic collapse. Macedonia has similarly been characterised as a transitional zone between two worlds: the Mediterranean and inland Europe. As a result, study of the material culture of Macedonia has often been pulled in two directions. On the one hand, links and similarities with southern Greece and the Aegean appear abundant. On the other, significant connections with Illyrians and Thracians to the west and north appear just as clear.

This course will therefore examine a variety of Macedonian and Ionian material cultures, including urban remains, funerary architecture and grave goods, art and sculpture, and numismatics, to consider: 1. how links between regional communities and the wider world changed over time in their direction and intensity; 2. how these links influenced regional material cultures, and what such change can tell us about the lives of Macedonian or Ionian communities; and 3. to what extent the evidence suggests a distinctly ‘Macedonian’ or ‘Ionian' regional experience.

Preliminary readings: E. Borza, In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon (Princeton, 1990); R. J. Lane Fox (ed.), Brill’s Companion to Ancient Macedon: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Macedon, 650 BC – 300 AD (Leiden, 2011); Alan M. Greaves, The Land of Ionia: Society and Economy in the Archaic Period (Chichester/Malden, 2010); William E. Metcalf, The Oxford handbook of Greek and Roman coinage (Oxford, 2012); R. Osborne, Greece in the Making (London, 2nd ed. 2009); I. Touratsoglou, Macedonia: history, monuments, museums (Athens, 1998).

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