MSt in Classical Archaeology - structure and subject lists
The nine-month Master of Studies (MSt) degree in Classical Archaeology is designed for those who wish to build on undergraduate studies in Classical archaeology, as well as for those with experience in other areas of Classical studies wishing to develop an understanding of the material culture. The flexible courses allow you to put together a programme which suits your particular needs. The overall structure of the degree is provided below together with a full listing of subjects that can be studied (please note that not all subjects will be available every year).
Structure of the MSt in Classical Archaeology
With the collapse of the palatial system around 1200 BC, Aegean communities needed to adopt new social-economic structures to survive the crisis. The ones which achieved the fastest adjustment were also those which continued to be in contact with communities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The course examines the nature of their exchange with the East, both during the Late Helladic IIIC period and the Early Iron Age. It scrutinizes evidence of such exchanges, providing the essential background for understanding the period which led to the so-called 'Orientalizing revolution'. Study cases include: the revival of communication in the Late Helladic IIIC middle; Euboean enterprise in the East; Cyprus and the Aegean in the eleventh and tenth centuries BCE; Phoenicians and North Syrians in the Aegean; patterns of exchange, from gift-exchange to trade networks.
Course co-ordinator: Professor Irene Lemos
Although in the fringe of the Greek poleis, Macedonia figures prominently in Greek affairs from the late 6th century BC (during the period of Persian control of the region), because of its resources (timber, gold and silver mines) and its position along trade routes. From the 4th century BC and especially during the reigns of Archelaos and Philip II, it becomes a region fully involved in Greek culture and in the Hellenistic period it was one of the major kingdoms in the Aegean. Following the discovery of the royal burial mound at Vergina, ancient Aigeai, in 1978, there has been a drastic increase in the archaeological exploration of Macedonia and in publications about the history, epigraphy, archaeology and art of the region. Many new sites have been investigated both in the heartland of Macedonia, west of Axios, and in the territories that were annexed by Philip II (Aigeai, Pella, Dion, Veroia, Pydna, Aiani, Thessaloniki, Amphipolis, Philippi, Demetrias in Thessaly and smaller centres, such as Petres). The very rich body of archaeological material from the region gives insight into domestic architecture, the emergence of palatial architecture and administration (palaces at Pella, Aigeai and Demetrias), civic life, funerary iconography and architecture, minor arts (gold jewellery, glass manufacture, terracottas), economic activity, local cults and the representation and self-promotion of Macedonian kings within Macedonia and in the Greek world. In many cases it is also possible to trace developments to the 6th and 5th centuries BC, when Temenid control of the heartland of Macedonia became tighter but also to comprehend the impact of Rome in the region, and the transformation of certain cities such as Veroia, Thessaloniki, Dion into vibrant economic centres in the Late Hellenistic and Roman periods.
The aim of the option will be: a) to examine the material culture of the region from roughly the 6th century BC to the late 2nd c BC and compare it with that of other Greek regions; b) to identify, when possible, what are, local, Macedonian, features in the material record.
Themes that can be explored in depth include: Macedonian cities; funerary archaeology; religion and cult; economic activity; art in Macedonia; Demetrias as a Macedonian city.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Maria Stamatopoulou
This course examines archaeological and documentary evidence for religion in the Aegean Bronze Age. It addresses issues such as what is meant by ‘Minoan’ as distinct from ‘Mycenaean’ religion with reference to problems of ethnicity and identity, how belief systems and cognition more generally can be approached through material culture alone, and how documentary and archaeological sources can be used in tandem. A broadly anthropological approach is adopted and close attention paid to debates in other areas of archaeological research, especially the ancient Near East.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall
Writing is often seen as a fundamental characteristic of 'civilisation'. When Arthur Evans discovered clay documents at Knossos on Crete, the prehistoric societies of the Aegean joined their western Asian counterparts as 'truly civilised'. This course offers an introduction to the writing and administrative systems used in the Aegean in the second millennium BC, with an emphasis on the Linear B script of Crete and mainland Greece. Major topics include: a cross-cultural examination of the uses of writing and administration; the predecessors to Linear B in the Aegean (Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A); the discovery of Linear B and its decipherment; the nature of the Linear B script, its history and pattern of use; what Linear B can tell us about the internal organisation of the major Mycenaean palaces (Pylos and Knossos); what Linear B can tell us about their external organisation; other scripts in use in the Mediterranean. There will also be a practical class using the Linear A and B materials in the Ashmolean Museum.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall
This course examines trade, specifically focusing on issues of identity and interaction in the Aegean Bronze Age, both within the Aegean and beyond. The Aegean was a fertile ground of interaction for various societies and social groups, particularly through maritime activities as the sea formed a connector rather than divider. The rich archaeological record for such interaction includes imported and exported artefacts and raw materials found primarily in settlements, shipwrecks and burial assemblages, but also evidence for more intangible exchanges of ideas, craft techniques, and cultural knowledge.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall
Religion was central to ancient Greek life and culture. For the ancient Greeks, conceiving divine power as a multitude of deities, each with a specific field of influence over human affairs, religion offered a means of comprehending, systematizing and communicating with the unseen forces governing the human condition. The gods were omnipresent, and men appealed to them in their chosen residences, sanctuaries, cult places and holy sites. Large and small, urban and rural, places of worship existed in all parts of the Greek world and were the focus of travels, rituals, cultural exchange, political propaganda. The best in Greek art and the finest architecture were made for gods. The course will explore the settings, spaces, shapes, and structures of ancient Greek cult places, the votive dedications and the rituals associated with them, in order to investigate broad theoretical and methodological issues. Through a number of selected case-studies, the students will approach issues such as the role of religion in the formation of the polis; classical/Hellenistic approaches to polis-religion; the nature of private cults; the foundation of new cults; the material evidence relating to royal cults.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Milena Melfi
This option will examine what archaeology can tell us about the life of women in the Greek world. The period covered is roughly from the 8th century BC to the end of the Hellenistic period. The close study of literary, archaeological, epigraphic evidence and the visual imagery regarding women will aim to appraise and occasionally challenge paradigms about women's life and position in ancient Greek society. Themes that will be explored are: the role of women in cult and festivals; women and burial; working women; the adornment of women; education of women; images of women in classical Athens (pottery, grave reliefs); Hellenistic statuary of women; terracottas.
Current estimates and characterisations of religion in Late Antiquity are still largely based on what texts tell us. Yet, ‘material religion’ – one of the most exciting developments in the contemporary field of religious studies – stresses that religion is not something one does with speech or reason alone, but also with the body, the objects it touches and the spaces it inhabits. Moreover, material culture in the form of objects, images and landscapes shaped religion. Consequently, archaeology is an extremely promising resource to gain insight into how people in the past induced experiences of supernatural power. This course scrutinizes seemingly inconsequential archaeological contexts to evaluate how religious considerations were expressed and how salient they were in various aspects of daily life in Late Antiquity. The incredibly rich archaeological record for this topic includes small finds and architecture with religious imagery or texts, as well as unmarked items of which the state of preservation (e.g., unusual traces of wear or fragmentation) or only the archaeological context suggests an extraordinary usage (e.g., as is often the case with building offerings). In-depth study of this material is combined with archaeological theory and theory from religious studies. Themes that can be explored in depth include: decoration of game boards; location and content of building offerings; graffiti applied at entrances; late antique burials; decoration of household utensils; co-existence of artefacts associated with ‘competing’ religions within one context.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs
In exploring the development of towns and their related territories in the first three centuries AD, this course provides an introduction to Roman urbanism and the lively modern debate over how it worked and whom it served. The study of the physical design of the city, its public and private buildings, and its infrastructure, along with the objects of trade and manufacture, is placed in the broader context of the types and patterns of rural settlement, agricultural production, transport and communications. This allows various themes to be investigated, including what it meant to live in a Roman town, and in its countryside, and what contributed to the remarkable prosperity of urban centres before the widespread retrenchment of the third century. Those taking the course will become familiar with the physical character of Roman cities based on representative sites, and with major landscape studies in Italy, Greece and North Africa. Particular attention is paid to problems and biases in assessing the character of the physical evidence; and in testing theoretical models against hard data.
Course co-ordinator: Prof. Andrew Wilson
The Greek polis began to emerge in the eighth century BC as settlements and populations became more concentrated, but the public buildings and sophisticated appearance we might associate with the idea of a city was slower to develop than the initial ideas about statehood. The course studies the material evidence relating to Greek cities from c. 750 to 50 BC, and analyses their physical evolution in relation to the changing conception of a polis. The aim is to relate the physical remains to the political, social and economic developments in ancient Greek societies, and to see how these developed in response to the continually changing historical context. Areas of emphasis will include the physical provision for political institutions, the development of sanctuaries, the choice and use of imagery for public display, domestic architecture and domestic life, and the defence of city and territory.
Course co-ordinator: Prof Irene Lemos
Study of archaeology from the Euphrates to the Hindu Kush in the two centuries after Alexander the Great's conquests is a rapidly developing field, in part prompted by the influx of new evidence from excavations over the last few decades, but also through critical response to early studies and the application of new methodologies and theoretical approaches. This course spans the Seleucid, Parthian, Greco-Bactrian, and Indo-Greek kingdoms, and the territories of local dynasts in Persis, Characene, and Elymais, using an array of material, drawing on numismatic, architectural, archaeological, art historical, and epigraphic sources. Key topics include ruler representation and display, religion, city foundations, and trade, among others. Questions centre around the interplay between Greco-Macedonian and local forms, and students will evaluate what we can learn from the material record about cross-cultural dynamics in this politically turbulent period. Students will engage in appraisal of recent trends in academic debate, such as postcolonial theories of cultural identity and globalization, and are encouraged to develop their historiographical analysis as well as their knowledge of the eastern regions of the Hellenistic world.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Rachel Wood
According to some views of the ancient world, the Roman economy was stagnant and under-developed; according to others, the Roman empire saw economic activity on a scale unparalleled again until 16th-18th century Europe, with the mass-production of certain types of artefact, agricultural specialisation for export, and considerable amounts of long-distance trade. This course examines the contribution which archaeology can make to that debate, and where between these two extremes the truth might lie. Topics covered include: coinage and the metal supply; the economic impact of technological progress; agricultural specialisation and investment; the use of ceramic data to illuminate trading patterns; the interpretation of shipwreck evidence; the effect of ancient transport technologies on the distribution of goods; urban crafts and the involvement (or otherwise) of elites in non-agricultural activities.
Course co-ordinator: Prof. Andrew Wilson
One of the most fascinating periods in the study of Early Greece is that which starts with the rejection of the palatial system and ends with the appearance of the city-states. The course examines the archaeological evidence from a number of sites (mostly cemeteries and settlements, with the addition of a few cult sites). Broad themes and trajectories in this period are studied through specific sites, such as Argos, Athens, Corinth, Knossos, Lefkandi, and Tiryns. The course also considers recent approaches to the period, with an emphasis on the archaeological study of regional societies and their political and social structures. The transformation of these early communities from their Late Bronze Age past is examined closely, highlighting aspects of continuity and discontinuity and elucidating survival or rejection of earlier social structures.
Course co-ordinator: Prof Irene Lemos
Communities and individuals in the eastern Aegean area made outstanding contributions to literature, philosophy, and art in the Archaic period. This course studies the material and visual culture of early Ionia and the eastern Aegean. Recent archaeological work in major Ionian sites, such as Ephesos, Klazomenai, Miletus, Phocaea, and Samos, also provide the opportunity to study the development of urban space (public and domestic architecture), the growth of funeral display, and the emergence of sanctuaries.
Course co-ordinator: Prof Irene Lemos
This course explores the development of Etruscan civilisation in the first millennium BC and its significance for understanding contemporary and later developments around the Mediterranean. Within a broadly chronological structure, subjects ranging from the rituals of daily life and death to the development of autonomous cities such as Veii, Tarquinia, and Caere are studied using a range of archaeological, artistic, scientific, historical, and linguistic evidence. Emphasis is placed upon close examination of sites and artefacts including, where practical, those held in local museums.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Charlotte Potts
The option explores the relationship between Graeco-Roman art and the Buddhist art of Gandhara (roughly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan) around the first to third centuries AD. This has been a central puzzle since systematic study of Gandharan art and archaeology began in the middle of the 19th century, and it remains largely unresolved, with much debate as well as new insights from fresh research and excavation. The subject casts light upon the global movement of classical art traditions in the Hellenistic-Roman imperial periods and on mechanisms by which images and ideas were transmitted. It is also inseparable from the modern imperial context for archaeology in South Asia, and Gandharan art has constantly been claimed as heritage by a spectrum of modern observers, from European imperial administrators to Pakistani curators to Indian nationalists… So the reception of the this relationship between ‘East and West’ will also be touched on. In addition it raises particular methodological questions e.g. about chronology, looting, and the impact of forgeries.
Course co-ordinator: Professor Peter Stewart
The new pictorialism of the classical period and later was deployed in the surviving media of tomb paintings, floor mosaics, and domestic wallpainting, as well as in the lost works described by ancient authors. The course studies the following major topics: the beginnings of Greek painting in the archaic period and its relation to ceramic art; fifth-century painting through the oblique evidence of painted pottery and ancient texts on big names such as Polygnotos and Zeuxis; the new evidence of tomb paintings from Macedonia and Thrace in the fourth and third centuries; the redeployment and manipulation of the Hellenistic repertoire in wallpainting and mosaic floors at Rome and Pompeii in the second and first centuries BC; and the use of the different wall systems and categories of painted subject to decorate and articulate domestic and reception spaces in Pompeian houses. The emphasis of the course is on the continuity between the Greek and Roman periods, on the invention and continuous reformulation of a common pictorial repertoire.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Joshua Thomas
The Greek Coinage option is open to anybody interested in learning about money and coinage in the Greek world - no experience with coins is needed. Through a series of lectures, tutorials, and coin-handling sessions, students will gain an overview of Greek coinage from the beginnings of electrum in the sixth century down to the period of Roman rule. The course will focus on how coins can be used as evidence for the study of classical archaeology and art, exploring themes such as how coins can be used to document patterns of trade, reflect developments in classical art, and provide examples of civic and personal iconography. The Coin Room of the Ashmolean Museum houses one of the finest collections of Greek coins in the world and is a key centre for the study of ancient coins. Students may gain experience of working with coins by participating in a range of volunteer projects based on the collection. The Coin Room also houses the numismatic section of the Sackler Library and maintains an extensive collection of plaster casts and auction catalogues.
Coordinators: Dr Heuchert
This course studies burial practices in the Greek world from the Archaic to the end of the Hellenistic periods. The principal themes that will be explored are the: methodology of mortuary archaeology; treatment of human remains; grave goods; marking; cemetery organization; commemoration of the dead; the question of the heroization of the dead in the post-classical poleis. Besides Athens, sites that can be studied in depth, are for: mainland Greece: Corinth, Boeotia (Tanagra, Thebes, Akraiphion), the Cyclades (Paros, Naxos, Thera, Delos), Rhodes, Thessaly (Krannon, Pharsalos, Demetrias), Macedonia (Aigai/Vergina, Pella, Aiani, Archontikon, Sindos, Amphipolis), Epirus (Ambrakia), Thasos as well as Taras, Metaponto, Syracuse, Acragas in the west; Pantikapaion on the Black Sea; Halikarnassos; Xanthos, the Troad in Asia Minor.
Coordinator: Dr Maria Stamatopoulou
Large statues and reliefs in stone and metal were among the most prominent public symbols in ancient Greek society, and surviving examples retain today a strong visual impact. Dramatic new discoveries, from excavation and shipwrecks, are constantly revising and sharpening our knowledge of this distinctive historical phenomenon. The course studies the sudden emergence of large marble statues in the archaic period, the revolutionary figures that embodied the new visual system that we know as 'classical' in the fifth and fourth centuries, and the major new categories of sculpture that were developed or invented in the third and second centuries -- such as honorific portraits, heroic groups, and genre statues. The course has an excellent resource in the Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum, which contains a collection of some 600 plaster casts of Greek statuary and relief. Subjects include: archaic kouroi; the Siphnian treasury; the early classical revolution; the Olympia and Parthenon sculptures; athletic statuary; grave reliefs; early Hellenistic portraits; the Great Altar at Pergamon; Hellenistic genre; the Laocoon and Sperlonga groups.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Joshua Thomas
Painted vases give the fullest visual account of life and mythology in ancient Greece, and provide important archaeological data for refining and adding to knowledge of various aspects of ancient Greek culture. The course looks at the techniques and styles, from the eighth to the fourth century BC. The Ashmolean Museum has a fine collection of painted pottery of the period covered by the course, and examples from the collection are used in classes and lectures.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Thomas Mannack
This course provides an introduction to the countryside and landscapes of the Classical world, and to archaeological means of investigating them. The study of past landscapes employs a range of aerial and surface techniques, and involves consideration of processes of landscape change through environmental and human factors. A large proportion of the ancient population lived in the countryside, and processes of colonisation in both the Greek and Roman worlds had a considerable impact on the structuring of rural landscapes. In particular, Roman land allotment by centuriation divided up many areas in a manner sometimes still traceable through patterns of land tenure today. Greek and Roman large-scale drainage and land reclamation projects radically altered whole regions and brought new land under exploitation. Topics to be studied include: aerial photography; field survey; settlement patterns; centuriation and the organisation of landscapes; landscape changes - natural and human agency; deliberate transformations of nature; water management: irrigation, drainage and land reclamation.
Course co-ordinator: Prof. Andrew Wilson
The course provides an overview of architectural development from the 4th to the14th century, covering buildings belonging to the secular and religious, public and private spheres. Individual types include urban honorific monuments, administrative buildings, baths, defensive installations, communal accommodation (barracks, inns, hospitals, monasteries), habitation, tombs, churches (basilical and centralized) and synagogues. Building and decorative materials are studied.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs
The course reviews the development of monumental art from the 4th through the 14th centuries, covering floor mosaics, wall and vault mosaics and wall painting. Aspects considered include the Hellenistic and Roman origins of this art, its close links with architectural form and function, the iconography featured, and the `export' of wall mosaics abroad in the 11th-13th centuries.
Coordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs
The course examines the historical development of seafaring communities. It will identify the main trends in the technological development of both military and merchant naval architecture both at sea and on land and examine the changing attitudes of Mediterranean peoples through the development of larger political units and increasing international trade and exchange. The nature of the archaeological, textual and iconographic evidence will be discussed in order to understand issues such as the lack of warships in the archaeological record and the apparent collapse of trade after the 2nd century AD as seen by the evidence of wrecked merchant ships.
The paper can also be used to provide an up-to-date overview of the current methods and theory in maritime archaeology and its allied sub-disciplines of maritime history and anthropology. Contemporary issues in maritime archaeology can also be studied, such as the requirement for a robust legislative framework for the management and protection of submerged sites and the problems with treasure hunting. This area of the course can also draw widely for its examples of best practise and may include case studies from the ancient world of the Mediterranean as well as the medieval and modern periods where appropriate.
Coordinator: Dr Damian Robinson
Pompeii and Ostia are the best-preserved and most extensively excavated cities in Roman Italy, as well as being the most extensively studied after Rome itself. The twist of fate which meant that Pompeii was destroyed just as Ostia was expanding in the later part of the first century AD has led to them being considered as representing two separate and contrasting phases of urban development in Italy, and their different histories of destruction and excavation have often meant that they have been studied in very different ways. In this course the emphasis is on taking the two cities together, exploring the similarities as well as the differences, and using methodologies designed for one site to interrogate the other. The exceptionally rich data-sets available for each city allow detailed analysis of a very wide range of issues, and the course is designed to allow students to pursue topics of special interest to them. Topics covered in recent years include food supply and diet, religion, population and urban zoning, economic structures and commercial landscapes, and housing.
Coordinator: Dr John Hanson
Architecture is the quintessential Roman art and the well-preserved remains of Roman monuments, buildings and engineering works dominate our vision of the empire. Against a background of the development of Roman architecture from the second century BC to the Tetrarchy, presented in a series of lectures, this course comprises a series of seminars exploring what the Romans themselves thought about their built environment. Using the De architectura of the Roman architect Vitruvius as a starting point, the seminars will address: the nature of architecture and the training of architects; the relative merits of different construction methods and building materials; the design of temples; public buldings intheir civic setting; urban and rural housing; and engineering works and machines. Throughout, the emphasis will be ont he role of architecture in Roman society, and on the varied ways that architecture was employed by individuals and communities to express and enhance their status.
Course co-ordinator: Dr John Hanson
Numismatic evidence can shed light on a wide range of questions of historical and archaeological interest in the Roman period. This course, which covers the principal developments in Roman coinage from its beginnings c. 320 BC until c. AD 500, will explore the numismatic approaches to monetary, economic, political, and cultural history, as well as numismatics as a branch of art history. Both hoards and site finds will be examined from an archaeological perspective. Since students are taught by means of tutorials, the course can reflect often individual interests, as well as covering the broad range of the subject. Lectures are normally also available and include an opportunity to handle some of the relevant coins. Students are also encouraged to make use of the collection in the Heberden Coin Room (Ashmolean Museum), which includes 60,000 Roman coins, and is one of the 'top ten' collections in the world.
Course co-ordinator: Dr Jerome Mairat
This option is explores the transformation of Graeco-Roman artistic traditions as they were disseminated through the provinces of the Roman Empire. It will concentrate on material from selected provinces, especially Britain, and seek to understand the technical, stylistic, and iconographical differences that emerged when 'Roman' sculpture was produced sometimes far from its Mediterranean roots. It will also consider the varying functions and usage of art in different parts of the Roman world. The themes examined may include: critiques of the concept of 'Romanization'; the meaning of 'provincialism'; the significance of local materials and economic factors in artistic production; gravestones in Britain, Germany and the Balkans; the stone portraits of Palmyra; funerary art in Roman Egypt; Romano-British mosaics; and the question of where 'provincial' art ends in the Near East and beyond.
Course co-ordinator: Dr. Peter Stewart
The course involves in-depth study of selected, specific topics in Aegean Prehistory. It is not a general overview of Aegean Bronze Age, but asks students for detailed treatment of specific issues lying in three main areas: application of theory and method to specific problems; study of an individual site or class of sites; study of an individual artefact or class of artefacts.
Coordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall