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Group D: Classical Art and Archaeology


Paper D1: Aegean Prehistory

Course Director: Dr Y Galanakis

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce students to Aegean prehistory.
  2. To explore the evidence for hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies in the periods before the Bronze Age.
  3. To explore the emergence of complex societies in the Early Bronze Age, and the formation and transformations of the palatial systems in ‘Minoan’ Crete and ‘Mycenaean’ Greece’.
  4. To teach students how to approach archaeological evidence.
  5. To introduce current debates on archaeological method and interpretation.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016–17

Candidates are required to answer three of a choice normally of twelve or thirteen questions. The answers required are all of essay type, except for one optional question set in most years which invites ‘short notes’ on three from a list of six or eight options, the options varying from sites, artefacts or chronological periods to issues covered in this course. The range of questions should broadly reflect the balance of teaching offered in the course, in lectures, classes and supervisions; candidates may select any three to answer, without restriction.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2017-18 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course descriptions


(16 L: Lent; 4 L: Easter)

The broad aim of these lectures is to introduce students to the fascinating world of Aegean archaeology covering a period of 800,000 years: from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Early Iron Age. How can we reconstruct and ‘read’ the past without the aid of textual records? What are the methods, research questions, principles and current debates in Aegean archaeology? What can we learn from the study of Greece’s rich and varied pre-classical art and archaeological record about the people of Bronze Age Aegean? When, where and why do complex societies ‘emerge’ and ‘collapse’? What is the relationship between the Epics and Classical myths with the archaeology of Bronze and Early Iron Age Greece?

This course offers an in-depth survey of the archaeology of the Aegean within the framework of the wider Mediterranean world. Particular emphasis is placed on the societies of the Bronze Age (c. 3200-1100 BC): the worlds of the Early Cyclades, Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece. It examines critically the emergence of complex societies and their social, political and economic organisation, the trade and exchange networks, attitudes to death and their burial practices, the archaeologies of ideology, and cult and the integration of textual evidence with the material record.

Rich in data, theoretical approaches and problems of interpretation, Aegean Prehistory offers an excellent training ground for explaining the formation, transformation and demise of early bureaucratic societies in the East Mediterranean. It is a journey into our deep human history. Within this framework of investigation, emphasis is also placed on how shifting attitudes to archaeological practice, collection strategies and interpretations have developed over time and have influenced what we know – or think we know – about Greece’s astonishing pre-classical past. Four lectures on the Linear B documents shed light on the economy, bureaucracy and people of Mycenaean Greece. The course ends in the Early Iron Age with an exploration of the art and archaeology at the time of Homer and Hesiod. Despite the focus of the lectures on the Aegean region, the interaction and contacts between this area and the broader Mediterranean world (and their significance) are also explored. As part of the course there is also a tour and handling session at the British Museum.

Useful preliminary reading: D. Preziosi & L. Hitchcock, Aegean Art and Architecture (Oxford, 1999); O. Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 1994); Wardle and D. Wardle, Cities of Legend: The Mycenaean World (Bristol, 1991); C. Shelmerdine, The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2008); C. Broodbank, The Making of the Middle Sea (London, 2013); J. Bintliff, The Complete Archaeology of Greece (Oxford, 2012); J. Chadwick, The Mycenaean World (Cambridge, 1976).

In addition to the above courses candidates for D1 may also be interested in the following:



(8 C: Michaelmas)

Instruction in how to read and understand Linear B tablets covering both epigraphy and approaches to interpretation. No previous experience required. The classes are open both to postgraduates and to third-year students taking D and E papers in Part II.


Paper D2: The Art of Collecting (in) Greece and Rome

Course Director: Dr C Vout

Aims and Objectives

  1. To examine the collection and display of ancient artefacts from antiquity to the present day.
  2. To explore the implications of this for our understanding of the objects and the individuals/institutions involved.
  3. To introduce students to a wide range of sources (archaeological, art-historical, museological, literary) for understanding the way in which material culture has been appropriated in and since antiquity.
  4. To reflect on the shifting status and import of classical art and the formation of the ‘classical canon’.


Scope and structure of the examination paper in 2016–17

Candidates are required to answer three of a choice of about twelve questions, some of which will be picture related.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

From 2017-18 this paper will be replaced by ‘Beyond Classical Art’.


Course description


(15 L , 4 x 2h C, plus site visit: Michaelmas)

This course focuses on the collection and display of ancient Greek and Roman artefacts over a wide chronological span (from the fifth century BCE to today), concentrating on a carefully chosen selection of key collections and collectors. Why do cultures and individuals within western cultures ‘collect’ such objects? Does the act of collecting make these objects artworks? How have these collections been ordered, appropriated, adapted and displayed? How have these decisions shaped the ‘classical canon’?

The course opens with the Persian theft of the Tyrannicide group from the agora in Athens. Its story exemplifies how controversial the relocation of an object can be, and indeed how an object can come to stand for a culture and for cultural conquest, as well as key issues such as desirability, looting and reproduction. We will look at how other ancient societies (e.g. Pergamum, Republican and Imperial Rome, Constantinople) used the appropriation of Greek artefacts to define their present and future.

The course then moves to consider how the motivation to collect and display antiquities and the investment in the images concerned changes with the shift to the Christian world, and then on to pinpoint important collections and shifts in the status, treatment and meaning of classical art from the Renaissance to the modern period. Issues to be highlighted here include: the Renaissance paradigm of collecting and its applicability to other periods, casts and copies versus originals, preservation as destruction, fragmentation, restoration and reconstitution, collecting and cultural capital and collecting and commercialisation. A site-visit will give students the opportunity to see how these issues play(ed) out in England and how decisions of display influence our reading of object, space and patron, while reference to Iraq and Syria, to new EU directives on the trade of antiquities, and to the ordering of knowledge in museums and on the internet will evidence their continued relevance. Underlying the course are thus two broader aims: the first, to produce a keener awareness of why classical art is what it is today (both empirically and hermeneutically) and the second, to understand the politics of archaeology.

Introductory bibliography: M.C. Miller, Athens and Persia in the Fifth-Century: A Study in Cultural Receptivity (Cambridge, 1997); M.R. Miles, Art as Plunder: the Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property (Cambridge, 2008); S. Rutledge, Ancient Rome as Museum: Power, Identity and the Culture of Collecting (Oxford, 2012); F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900 (New Haven, 1982); V. Coltman, Classical Sculpture and the Culture of Collecting in Britain Since 1760 (Oxford, 2009); J. Elsner and R. Cardinal. eds. Cultures of Collecting (London, 2004); P. Watson, The Medici Conspiracy: the Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (New York, 2006); J. Cuno, Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage (Princeton, 2008).


Paper D3: The Poetics of Classical Art

Course Director: Dr T D’Angelo

Aims and objectives

  1. To determine how far Classical art originated from a poetic culture – and to analyse the relationship/rivalry between ‘art and text’ by a series of case-studies ranging from c. 750 BC – c. AD 400: i.e. from the earliest figured scenes on Greek painted pottery to Late Antique illustrated manuscripts.
  2. The principal thematic focus is upon Homer and the epic tradition; but students will be encouraged to develop their own explorations of the ‘art’-‘text’ relationship with reference to various poetic modes and less well-known authors (e.g. Stesichoros, Callimachus, Apollonius, Tibullus).
  3. The course ultimately aims to apply and extend our understanding of Classical poetry as not just richly ‘imaginative’ – but directly related to the power and production of images in the Graeco-Roman world.

Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016–17

The examination will offer a choice of about twelve essay-type questions, some of which will be picture-related, reflecting topics covered in lectures, classes and supervisions. Candidates will be required to answer three questions.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2017-18 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(16 L and 2 (2 hr) C: Michaelmas)

This course explores how Classical art originated from a poetic culture and shared subject matters, narrative techniques and stylistic devices that were typical of performative arts. The complex relationship/rivalry between ‘art’ and ‘text’ will be examined by focusing on artistic and archaeological materials, including painted pottery, murals, sculpture, and mosaics from ca. 750 BC to ca. AD 400. We will also look at how the relationship between Classical art and poetry continued to play a major role in the Renaissance and Neoclassical periods. Did visual and written narratives convey different messages to their audience/viewers or were they supposed to complement and reinstate each other? To what extent were the Greek and Roman artists inspired by oral tradition, circulating texts, or contemporary performances? How did the role of the viewer change over time and across the Graeco-Roman world?

After providing the essential theoretical background, each lecture focuses on a different historical or cultural issue. The course opens with a discussion of the influence of Homeric poetry in shaping early Greek art. Myth represents a crucial element to follow the development of pictorial narrative in Greece, but the course considers several other modes of interaction between art and poetry, including the relationship between Archaic sculpture and epinician poems, symposium and lyric poetry, theatre and painting, and Hellenistic epigrams and sculpture. In the Roman section, the political, moral and religious propaganda of Augustan art and texts leads us to explore the use of myths in Roman houses in the form of sculptures and paintings. Elegiac and satirical poetry will be used as a tool for exploring themes such as love, luxury and death in Roman imperial art. The large and consistent influence of epos on Roman visual culture will round up our discussion, showing that poetry represented a fil rouge in the entire history and development of Classical art. The last lectures will venture beyond the Classical world, in order to explore how Renaissance and Neoclassical artists re-interpreted and contextualized the ‘rivalry’ between Classical art and literature.

By considering the artistic evidence within its literary and cultural context, the course analyses how visual and written media interacted with each other and were employed to respond to political, social, economic, and religious priorities. This approach will help us reach a more accurate understanding of the development of Greek and Roman culture and civilization.

Introductory bibliography: J. Elsner, Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text (Cambridge, 2007); J. Elsner and M. Meyer (eds.), Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture (Cambridge, 2014); L. Giuliani, Image and Myth: A History of Pictorial Narration in Greek Art (Chicago and London, 2013); S. Goldhill and R. Osborne (eds.), Art and Text in Ancient Greek Culture (Cambridge, 1994); H. Lovatt and C. Vout (eds.), Epic Visions. Visuality in Greek and Latin Epic and its Reception (Cambridge, 2013); A. Snodgrass, Homer and the Artists: Text and Picture in Early Greek Art (Cambridge, 1998); M. Squire, Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity (Cambridge, 2009). G. Zanker, Modes of Viewing in Hellenistic Poetry and Art (Madison WI, 2004); P. Zanker and B.C. Ewald, Living with Myths: The Imagery of Roman Sarcophagi, translated by Julia Slater (Oxford, 2012).


Paper D4: Roman Cities: Network of Empire

Course Director: Dr A Launaro

Aims and objectives

  1. To develop students’ understanding of urbanism in the Roman Empire.
  2. To develop students’ appreciation of the character of archaeological evidence.
  3. To encourage students to explore the workings of the Roman Empire through archaeological evidence.
  4. To encourage students to explore the relationship between different types of archaeological evidence and written sources.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016–17

The examination will offer a choice of about twelve essay-type questions reflecting the range of teaching in the course. Candidates will be required to answer three questions.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2017-18 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(6 L and 4 C: Michaelmas; 10 L and 4 C: Lent)

It was an unprecedented urban network that made it possible for the Roman Empire to exist and prosper. Thousands of towns mediated between Rome and its vast imperial hinterland as they channelled a multidirectional flow of people, goods, cults, ideas and activities. The vast amount of evidence accumulated by archaeologists about Roman urban sites, which has been enhanced in recent years through improved techniques of survey and excavation, has therefore provided a great deal of insight into the functioning of the Roman Empire as such. This course will therefore explore the development of Roman urban culture and the variety of forms it took across space and time, engaging with the diverse interpretations that have since been proposed towards explaining its complex dynamics. By exploring a series of relevant case studies from across the Mediterranean (from Archaic Rome to Augustan Athens, from the earlier Republican colonies of Italy to the Imperial foundations of Northern Africa), these questions will be approached by adopting two broad perspectives: a) we will consider how archaeology can contribute to the understanding of Roman urbanism by looking at different types of urban site (e.g. administrative centres, military strongholds, economic nodes) and their material components (e.g. building techniques, architecture, planning); b) we will review current archaeological and historical debates about the role of cities in the Roman World and look at how these different views can be effectively reconciled into an integrated narrative of empire.

Preliminary readings: E. Fentress (ed.), Romanization and the City (Portsmouth, 2000); R. Laurence, S. Esmonde Cleary and G. Sears (eds.), The City in the Roman West (Cambridge, 2011); H.M. Parkins (ed.), Roman urbanism: beyond the consumer city (London, 1997); J. Rich and A. Wallace-Hadrill (ed.), City and Country in the Ancient World (London, 1991).


General Course


(8 C: Lent)

See under ‘General Courses’ and ‘Graduate Courses’. Interested students are encouraged to attend the introductory meeting (date to be confirmed).

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