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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 2017–18

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 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course descriptions


(8 L: Michaelmas; 12 L, 2 (2 hr) C: Lent)

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: Beyond Classical Art

Course Director: Dr C Vout

Aims and Objectives

  1. To work with a broader range of painting and sculpture from the Greek and Roman worlds and its contact zones than is usually considered in books on ‘classical art’.
  2. To understand what ‘classical art’ traditionally is as a category and how it evolved.
  3. To understand why art historians look in the way that they do, and to become more adept at visual analysis
  4. To reassess the relationship between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ and how painting and sculpture in the Greek and Roman worlds functioned .


Scope and structure of the examination paper in 2017–18

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.)

In 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


(16 L , 4 C, Lent)

Text books on ‘classical art’ tend to privilege the same sorts of object (monumental sculpture from major Greek temples, Attic painted pottery, statues from Rome and its environ, paintings from Campania). But is this the whole story? What does this leave out of our picture of Greek and Roman artistic production, and the reach of Greek and Roman production, and why? This course starts from the understanding that ‘classical’ (and the qualities of beauty, purity and virtue that come with it) is neither an obvious nor a natural category, and attempts to integrate objects often left on the margins. These include, aniconic, ‘ugly’ and painted images, graffiti from Pompeii, tombstones from Roman Britain and Palmyra, ‘egyptianising' and ‘orientalising’ elements, and, from beyond the ancient Greek and Roman world, mosaics from Byzantium and reliefs from Gandhara. How should we study them? How have they been studied in the past and what does their inclusion do to our appreciation of what Greek and Roman art was, what it looked like, and what it has become? Answering these questions will demand that students test existing vocabularies for talking about material, form and content, and find new vocabularies, building visual knowledge as they do so. The course ends by thinking about the reception of ancient art in the modern period; about how from early in the nineteenth century, this reception increasingly privileged Greek and Roman elements to the exclusion of the Hebraic, Egyptian and Persian; and about how the emergence of the ‘classical’ as an explicit visual category coincided with the celebration of the Hellenic ideal and the down-grading of the Roman. Hopefully, the skills and self-awareness learned on this course will have us better understand what is classical and constraining about ‘classical art’, and also perhaps use current ‘world art’ approaches, issues of art’s agency, and so on, more responsibly.

 Recommended reading: Boardman, J. (1993) The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity. Princeton; Boardman, J. (1995) The Late Classical Period and Sculpture in Colonies and Overseas. London; Cohen, B. (ed.) (2000) Not The Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art. Leiden; Vlassopoulos, K. (2013) Greeks and Barbarians. Cambridge; Alcock, S. E. et al. (2017) Beyond Boundaries: Connecting Visual Cultures in the Provinces of Ancient Rome. Los Angeles; Elsner, J. (2005) ‘Classicism in Roman art’ in J. I. Porter (ed.) Classical Pasts: The Classical Traditions of Greece and Rome. Princeton: 270-97; Fullerton, M. D. (2015) ‘Style: applications and limitations’, in Friedland, M. A. et al. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture. Oxford: 209-23; Bindman, D. et al. (2010) The Image of the Black in Western Art. Cambridge, MA and London; Elsner, J. (2003) ‘Style’ in R. S. Nelson and R. Schiff (eds.) Critical Terms for Art History. Chicago: 98-109; Settis, S. (2006) The Future of the Classical, trans. A. Cameron, Cambridge and Malden, MA; Onians, J. (2004) Atlas of World Art. Oxford.


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 2017–18

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 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(16 L and 4 (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.  Finally, 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.

Preliminary readings: 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 2017–18

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 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(3 (2 hr) L, 1 (2 hr) C: Michaelmas;
6 (2 hr) L, 1 (2 hr) 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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