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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 2017–18

The syllabus is based around the following topics: (i) Late Classical and Hellenistic Sculpture; (ii) Us and Them: the Paradox of the Roman Economy; (iii) the Art and Archaeology of Greek and Roman Wall Painting; (iv) Regional Greek Art and Archaeologies c.600-300 BC; (v) Mycenae - City of Legend?

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)

It was only really in the late nineteenth century with the growing popularity of something like the Parthenon sculptures that fifth-century Athenian production began to dictate the pace. In contrast, the sculptures that most influenced Renaissance artists (the Laocoon, Belvedere Torso, Dying Gaul) were ‘Hellenistic’ in style, conceived in a world without democracy. This course puts their bodies under the microscope, asking how they differ from the production of Phidias, Polyclitus and their contemporaries, in bulk, beauty, politics, relationship to text, and relationship to the viewer. It will examine their function in the Greek world and their appeal in Rome. In studying form and function, it will think both about specific issues such as divinity and mortality, gender, and patronage, and about specific places such as Halicarnassus, Pergamum, Delos, and Sperlonga.

Preliminary reading: Picón, Carlos (2016), Pergamum and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, New Haven and London; Stewart, Andrew (2014) Art in the Hellenistic World, Cambridge; Daehner, Jens, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, Los Angeles; Pollitt, Jerome J. (1986) Art in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge; Smith, Bert (1991) Hellenistic Sculpture: a Handbook, London; Burn, Lucilla (2004) Hellenistic Art: From Alexander the Great to Augustus. London.



(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)

This course offers an introduction to wall painting in classical antiquity. It aims to explore archaeological, artistic and cultural issues connected with the development of wall painting in the ancient Mediterranean, from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire. What can we learn about the classical world from the study of ancient wall painting? What contexts, audiences, and purposes did these paintings serve? By looking critically at how this medium was charged with social, religious, and political meanings, we gain precious insights into the societies that produced and consumed these works of art. Archaeological evidence from public, domestic, and funerary contexts, ranging from Etruscan and Macedonian tombs to Greek sanctuaries and Roman shops, baths and villas, and including recent discoveries in Thrace and Southern Italy, offers a variety of perspectives to reconstruct how in different historical contexts pigments were produced and traded, new painting techniques were developed, and local and foreign artistic models were adopted and adapted. The active role played by artists, patrons, and viewers in elaborating and interpreting the various meanings of wall paintings is explored also through the lens of ancient literary sources, especially Plato, Pliny the Elder, Ovid, and Philostratus the Elder.

 Preliminary readings: J.J. Pollitt (ed.), The Cambridge History of Painting in the Classical World (Cambridge, 2014); Gionouvès, R. (ed.), Macedonia from Philip II to the Roman Conquest (Princeton, 1994); I. Kakoulli, Greek Painting Techniques and Materials from the Fourth to the First Century BC (London, 2009); E.M. Moormann, Divine Interiors: Mural Paintings in Greek and Roman Sanctuaries (Amsterdam, 2012); R. Ling, Roman Painting (Cambridge, 1991); E.W. Leach, The Social Life of Painting in Ancient Rome and on the Bay of Naples (Cambridge, 2004); S. Steingräber, Abundance of Life: Etruscan Wall Painting (Los Angeles, 2006).



(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).



(8 L: Easter)

Mycenae is one of the most important cities of the ancient world. Following the excavations and dazzling discoveries there of Heinrich Schliemann, Mycenae became one of the most important type-sites for the archaeology of the Bronze Age Aegean, paving the way for the systematic exploration of Greece's rich pre-classical past. Known in Homer as 'rich in gold' and immortalised in ancient Greek literature as the capital of Agamemnon, Mycenae has long been vested in a legendary aura.

This course examines in detail the site's history, art and archaeology from its earliest Neolithic beginnings down to its modern rediscovery. Among the aims of the course is to familiarise students with sources, methods, and tools available to us today that can help us reconstruct and understand the history and significance of a site over time.

As part of the course we will explore the identity and power base of Mycenae's elite, through exploring high status artefacts, monumental architecture, iconography, and evidence for cult activity. The 'shaft graves' as well as Mycenae's palace, administration and industries are discussed, along with the few – yet highly informative – Linear B documents. The modern rediscovery of Mycenae by the western world is set alongside Schliemann's methods and practices and the impact his work had on modern scholarship, especially with regard to understanding Greece's Bronze Age past.

With the Museum of Classical Archaeology holding the Mycenae Excavations Archive and remarkable collections of Mycenaean pots and sherds, one of the lectures is used for a handling session of actual objects and archival material, bringing you closer to the people in the past and to the work of the archaeologists in the present.

Preliminary reading: E. French, Mycenae. Agamemnon's Capital (Stroud, 2002); Gere, C. The Tomb of Agamemnon: Mycenae and the Search for a Hero (London, 2006); Wardle, K.A. and D. Wardle, Cities of Legend. The Mycenaean World (Bristol, 2001 repr.); C. Shelmerdine, The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2008).

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