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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 2018–19

The syllabus is based around the following topics: (i) Visual narratives; (ii) Asia Minor during the Hellenistic and Roman periods; (iii) Late Classical and Hellenistic Art; (iv) Mycenae - City of Legend?

Candidates must answer three questions, including Question 1. Question 1 will contain a choice of four 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)

Story-telling is coventionally associated with words, in oral and written communication. Yet today stories are mostly relayed by images, or image-dominated media. Was this also true in antiquity? Beginning with an introductory survey of narrative art in societies with zero or restricted literacy, and (for those who need it) a brief immersion in the depths of narrative theory, this course traces a ‘story’ of visual story-telling from Geometric Greece to the Antonine period of the Roman empire. The order of lectures is chronological, with certain general questions addressed alongside a series of case-studies. Is the ‘naturalism’ of Classical art due to the graphically descriptive style of Homeric epic? Should ‘art’ and ‘text’ be considered as (rival) siblings, or as occupying ‘parallel worlds’? Must every story have a beginning, middle and end? Does the Hollywood formula (Joseph Campbell et al.) arise from Classical codification – or cross-cultural practice?

Students intending to follow the course should prepare themselves by looking at Aristotle’s Poetics, and some primer of ‘narratology’, e.g. K. Puckett, Narrative Theory (Cambridge 2016), or M-L. Ryan ed., Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling (Nebraska 2004). For the sort of case-studies we will be addressing, see R. Brilliant, Visual Narratives (Cornell 1986), and P.J. Holliday ed., Narrative and Event in Ancient Art (Cambridge 1993).



(8 L: Michaelmas)

Asia Minor, today the western part of Turkey, represents a fascinating case-study for understanding the diversity of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. This region was endowed with rich natural resources—attractive to Persians, Macedonians and Romans alike—and encompassed a very varied set of ecological, topographic and hence economic zones—Aegean olive-wine production in the west, lush forest for wood and stone in the mountainous north and east, highland pastoral steppes for herding and fertile river valleys for agriculture in the centre. This diversity created different cultural spheres: an outward-looking coastal sphere with competing Hellenistic kingdoms and a tribally-ordered interior with rock-cut monuments and myths. Both were succeeded after Roman accession by provincial cities of very different types. This course looks at the material culture of Asia Minor in historical and geographical context from circa 300BC to circa AD300. It will focus on key places—Pergamum, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Sagalassos—and the dominant themes which have preoccupied scholars of Asia Minor—changing local-regional identities, urban and cultural development and the relationship of both to art and economy.

Preliminary reading:

R. D'Andria et al. (2011), Roman sculpture in Asia Minor: Proceedings of the international conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Italian excavations at Hierapolis in Phrygia, Journal of Roman archaeology. Suppl. 80.; M. Horster (2013), Cities and priests: Cult personnel in Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands from the Hellenistic to the Imperial period, Berlin; B. Dignas (2002), Economy of the Sacred in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor, Oxford; B. Russell (2013), The Economics of the Roman Stone Trade. Oxford studies on the Roman economy. Oxford;  S. Montel (ed.) (2015), La sculpture gréco-romaine en Asie Mineure. Synthèse et recherches récentes, Besançon; C. Picón (2016), Pergamum and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, New Haven and London; E. Öğüş (2014), Columnar Sarcophagi from Aphrodisias: Elite Emulation in the Greek East, AJA 118, 1, 113–136; R. R. R. Smith (2013), The marble reliefs from the julio-claudian Sebasteion, Darmstadt; L. Vandeput (1997), The Architectural Decoration in Roman Asia Minor. A Case Study: Sagalassos, Turnhout; J. Richard (2012) Water for the City, Fountains for the People: Monumental Fountains in the Roman East - an Archaeological Study of Water Management, Turnhout; E. Mortensen and B. Poulson (eds.) (2017), Cityscapes and Monuments of Western Asia Minor: Memories and Identities (Oxford); D. H. French, Roman Roads and Milestones of Asia Minor Vol. 3: Milestones, online:; P. Thonemann (2013), Attalid Asia Minor: Money, international relations, and the state, Oxford.



(8 L: Lent)

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: 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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