MPhil in Classical Archaeology - structure and subject lists

The 21-month MPhil in Classical Archaeology adds a further option and student-led research project onto the MSt year. It is ideal if you are thinking of carrying on to doctoral research and wish to acquire higher levels of research skills and/or complete a medium-sized individual research project before embarking on doctoral study. Flexibility is built into the degree to allow you to create your own unique courses that reflect your chosen area of study.  

The structure of the degree is summarised as follows and full listings of possible subjects are listed at the bottom of this page.  


Structure of the MPhil in Classical Archaeology

M.Phil. Classical Archaeology

Subject listing

Schedule A - Periods

Candidates must study  one period option chosen from List A.  This is taught in Trinity Term and assessed by unseen written paper at the end of that term.

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The period between the collapse of the Bronze Age civilisations of Crete and mainland Greece and the society based on city states ('poleis') which emerges from the earliest Greek historical sources is a complex one. It has traditionally been thought of as a Dark Age, but new evidence shows that contacts and achievements were many. The sources are almost exclusively archaeological and, although they show major changes in society and settlement organisation, they also reveal continuity and regional diversity in response to the Mycenaean collapse. The eighth century saw the most profound changes, including the emergence of more elaborate settlements, more impressive sanctuaries with richer dedications, new contacts with the eastern and western Mediterranean, and the re-appearance of writing. Among the subjects covered are: explaining the Bronze Age collapse, Early Iron Age population movements, developments in metallurgy, continuity and change in ceramic and other styles of material culture, early sanctuaries, settlements and their organisation, colonisation, and the birth of the 'polis'.

Course co-ordinator: Professor Irene Lemos

The eighth century saw the emergence of many of the fundamental aspects of later Greek culture - substantial settlements, impressive sanctuaries with a wide range of dedications, the re-emergence of writing, and the development of lasting settlements around much of the Mediterranean coastal region. But it was in the seventh and sixth centuries that the monumental arts of sculpture and architecture re-appeared, and the production of figure-decorated pottery developed, especially in Corinth and Athens. This course therefore covers the formative stages of the aspects for which ancient Greece is most famous. It looks at a range of artefact types from the huge temples to tiny gems and relates these to each other and to the history and culture of the period.

Course co-ordinator:  Professor Irene Lemos

The main categories of buildings, monuments, and images most characteristic of ancient city life were developed in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The course studies a full range of material of the period, from city plans and temples to statues, reliefs, and painted pottery. Emphasis is placed on their study in their archaeological and historical contexts, and questions and themes concern the relation of new forms of public building and representation to changing historical circumstances. The fifth century BC made a decisive break with the visual modes of the archaic aristocracy, and an area of special investigation within the course is the swift emergence and consolidation of this revolutionary way of seeing and representing that we know as 'classical art'. The wide deployment and modulation of this new mode of representation by Mediterranean neighbours is also examined in the context of monuments from, for example, Lycia and Phoenicia.

Course co-ordinator: Professor Bert Smith

The horizons of the Greek world were hugely expanded by Alexander's conquests. A vast new area was opened to Macedonian and Greek settlements, from western Anatolia to north-western India, and a new kind of charismatic kingship was introduced to the Mediterranean world. The course studies the material and visual culture of this dynamic period through its most important sites and its most characteristic buildings, monuments, and images. Particular attention is paid to the following: to recent discoveries at Vergina and Pella, where the excavated houses, tombs, silverware, and wall paintings have revolutionized our understanding of the early Hellenistic period; to Attalid Pergamon, the best preserved royal capital; to Athens and Priene, as two different examples of traditional city states; and to the well documented example of Egyptian and Greek interaction in Ptolemaic Alexandria and Egypt. Other important subjects include: the Hellenistic royal image on coins and in statues; colonial settlement, such as that at Ai Khanoum in north-east Afghanistan; changes in honorific and funerary representation; the invention of new kinds of visual narrative, allegory, and landscape. The course also looks at late Hellenistic Delos and the mass export of Hellenistic material culture to the cities of Campania and Rome in the late second and first centuries BC.

Course co-ordinator: Professor Bert Smith

During the period 200-30 B.C. Rome progressively established itself as ruler of the Mediterranean world, ultimately absorbing the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Greek east. The archaeology of this period shows an increasing Hellenisation of Roman life, and at the same time the emergence of a distinct Roman cultural identity through the fusion of Greek and Italic models. This course covers the architecture, art and material expression of Roman culture and settlement in the late Republican period 200-30 B.C., including (but not limited to) such topics as portrait sculpture; wall painting and mosaic art; architecture; Republican temple sanctuaries; the development of Roman urbanism in Italy and the provinces, and of the city of Rome.

Course co-ordinator: Dr Dominik Maschek

Octavian's victory at Actium brought and end to civil war and ushered in a period of relative stability around the Mediterranean under the Principate. The extension of Roman hegemony to the entire Mediterranean, and wars of conquest in north-west Europe, brought a vast area under Roman control and enabled the state to exploit resources on an unprecedented scale. The foundation of many new colonies exported a model of Roman urbanism around the western Mediterranean and into northern Europe, and lavish building projects were embarked on at Rome and in the provinces. Growing wealth fuelled growing consumption, and the material record shows the rapid spread both of Italian and of eastern fashions and motifs, and the emulation of elite tastes right down the social scale. This course examines the material culture, architecture, art and settlement of the Roman world both in Italy and in the provinces, from Augustus to Hadrian. Topics include (but are not limited to) colonisation, imperial relief sculpture, portraiture, public and private architecture, wallpainting, mosaics, minor arts (gems and coins), and pottery.

Course co-ordinator: Dr Peter Stewart

The period from the Flavians to the mid third century saw both the apogee of the Roman empire's prosperity and volume of architectural and artistic output, and major social and political changes that also affected art and architecture during the turbulent events of the third century. This course examines the art, architecture and material expression of Roman culture and settlement of the period, tracking development and change over time in Rome and the provinces. Topics include imperial and private portrait sculpture, monumental reliefs, funerary art, mosaics, wallpainting, public and private architecture, coins, gems, pottery and the distribution of artefacts.

Course co-ordinator: Professor Andrew Wilson 

The subject covers the period extending from the reign of Diocletian to the Arab conquest of the Levant, during which the western Roman Empire fell and the eastern Empire under Constantinople (founded 324) experienced expansion. The recognition of a new religion near the beginning of the period had an impact on urban development, architecture and art. Study of the period will concentrate on the interaction of the old order and the new, looking at changes to the city of Rome and subsequent imperial capitals, at the architectural form of major monuments both secular and religious, and at the persistence of pagan art coinciding with the introduction of Christian iconography. Other topics to consider, some relating to the economy of the period, include patterns of trade; the exploitation of the countryside in the east; the expansion of pilgrimage to the Holy Land and its influence on Christian art; advances in book illustration; and the role of large- and small-scale sculpture.

Course co-ordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs

The period studied extends from the onset of the Dark Age to the Ottoman conquest. It will be viewed in terms of economic revival beginning in the 9th century followed by successive dynasties, each with its distinctive material culture: the Macedonian, the Comnenian and, after the interruption caused by the Latin occupation in the 13th, the Palaeologan. The cities of Constantinople and Corinth provide the basis for an understanding of medieval urban life throughout the period. Consideration of the Macedonian Renaissance focuses on the monumental use of spolia and the superior illuminated manuscripts and minor arts associated with its revival of learning. Evidence for the Comnenian period is offered by large monastic foundations of lavish embellishment, and a coherent system of wall-painting found in churches throughout the empire. The Palaeologan period is seen in terms of its dwindling political and economic power combined with a final flourishing of major mosaic works at Constantinople and Thessalonike. A diachronic study of pottery traces corresponding changes throughout the period.

Course co-ordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs

Schedule B - Subjects

Option subjects are courses that enable students to develop deeper understanding of a particular field of research in a tutor-led, group setting.   Schedule B options from the M.St. in Classical Archaeology are listed below.

Not all subjects are available every year.  

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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

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

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 will focus on the topography and archaeology of Athens and Attica, from the 6th century BC, the period when Athens began dominating international markets to the aftermath of Sulla's destruction. Athens is the single best documented ancient Greek polis: the rich literary, archaeological, and epigraphic evidence allow us to examine the internal changes and the ways in which the city developed over time and negotiated its place in relation to other Greek communities, either as an imperial power in the 5th century BC or as part of the Hellenistic world. Themes that will be studied are: the topography of Athens and major demes such as Rhamnous, Aixonides Alai; the organization of civic space; cemeteries in the city and in the demes; defense systems for the city and the demes; economy and trade (silver mines; pottery production); administration (emphasis on the Athenian Agora); sanctuaries (Athenian acropolis; Rhamnous; Eleusis; Brauron; Sounion); art and iconography.

Coordinator: Dr Maria Stamatopoulou

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.

Coordinator: Dr Maria Stamatopoulou

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.

Coordinator: 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.

Coordinator: 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. 

Coordinator: 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.

Coordinator: 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.

Coordinator: Prof Irene Lemos

The course covers the urban development of Constantinople from its foundation by Constantine in 324 until its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Combined archaeological and written evidence forms the basis for study of utilitarian infrastructure (defence, water supply, commercial and harbour facilities, etc.), ceremonial/imperial architecture (palace, hippodrome, honorific monuments), and cult buildings. Key written texts to consult include the Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae (ca. 425), the Miracles of St. Artemius (ca. 650), the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai (8th c.), the Book of the Eparch (912) and the Book of Ceremonies (6th-10th c.). Material evidence is provided by surviving structures (circuit walls, cisterns, churches, etc.), and excavated sites (Great Palace, Saraçhane, Zeuxippos Baths, etc.). Consideration will be given to the character of the city during its initial period of expansion (4th-6th c.) and in the following periods of recession (8th c.) and economic recovery (from the 9th c.) until its fall to the Fourth Crusade (in 1204) and its final period (1261-1453).

Coordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs

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.

Coordinator: 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.

Coordinator: Dr Charlotte Potts

The study of Greek and Roman housing has attracted renewed scholarly interest in recent years, while new discoveries, new detailed publications of individual sites, and new approaches all provide material for a re-evaluation of the nature and functions of domestic space in the ancient world, and in particular its role in the formulation of social identities. This course will explore different approaches to reading domestic space in the Greco-Roman world, including issues of nomenclature and definition, spatial analysis, decorative systems, and artifact distribution, while questions of regional variation, and of the wider urban setting, will also be addressed. While the main focus will be on urban housing from a wide range of sites including Olynthus and Delos in the Greek world and Pompeii and Ostia in the Roman, it will also examine Hellenistic and Roman palaces, and Roman villas.

Coordinator: Dr Janet DeLaine

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.

Coordinators: Dr Maria Stamatopoulou and Prof Bert Smith

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.

Coordinators: Dr Maria Stamatopoulou and Prof Bert Smith

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.

Coordinator: Dr Thomas Mannack

Macedonian kings and Roman emperors employed large painted narratives and grand marble relief pictures to publicise their deeds and exemplary virtues. These pictures were historical in the sense that they represented contemporary and recognisable figures engaged in real-looking actions -- rather than mythological heroes and events. The course studies first the early Hellenistic narratives of Macedonian royal power and charismatic conquest grouped around Alexander the Great. It then looks at the changing narrative priorities of republican dynasts and Roman emperors from Augustus to Theodosius I. The main themes and questions concern the different kinds of historical event chosen and the different ways repeated events and ceremonies are handled, according to context, audience, and changing ideas of royal and imperial power. Historical subjects for study include: Alexander battles; Augustan processions and sacrifice; Julio-Claudian dynastic succession; Flavian triumph; imperial peace and war on Trajanic monuments; imperial narratives in the provinces (Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Leptis); Antonine apotheosis; Constantinian re-cycling of earlier reliefs and themes; imperial ceremony and the sacred court of late antiquity.

Coordinator: Prof Bert Smith

The course follows the 'life' of four major types of objects from the end of antiquity to the present day - sculpture, engraved gems and cameos, coins, and painted pottery. Attention is focused on the discovery, collection, exhibition and scholarship of the objects, and special emphasis is given to the resources for their study in Oxford University's museums and archives.

Coordinator: Dr. Peter Stewart

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.

Coordinator: 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.

Coordinator: 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

The gods and heroes of myth lived through their representations, and narratives recounting their deeds formed the subject matter of a large part of Greek and Roman art. While these narratives had their own momentum that can be studied independently in a 'vertical' manner, tracing how given narrative schemes evolved through time (the traditional pursuit of iconographic studies), there is also a strong 'horizontal' or contextual dimension to the subject. The course focuses on this latter aspect and studies how mythological narratives could be re-shaped for different media and contexts of use, how they could articulate contemporary concerns for a variety of local audiences. These contexts and concerns need to be studied too in order to understand the choice and handling of the mythological subjects represented. Drawing on different aspects of its often rich associations, the same mythological narrative might carry different meanings -- for example, in a private and in a public setting, in a tomb and in a temple. The course thus studies both the evolving repertoire of figure schemes and how myth functioned as a powerful refracting mirror -- that is, how its heroes could address contemporary matters but also retained their character and attraction as full-blooded independent beings. Greek and Roman engagement with myth is examined in the following contexts and media: painted symposium pots; temple sculpture; South Italian funerary pots; Lycian tombs; the Great Altar at Pergamon; domestic wallpainting in Rome and Pompeii; mythological sarcophagi; and mythological mosaics in late antiquity.

Coordinators: Prof Bert Smith and Dr Thomas Mannack


Coordinators: Dr Lisa Lodwick and Dr Angela Trentacoste

The Roman Empire was powered by the production and processing of plants and animals. Agriculture not only produced staple foods, but also raw materials. Exotic species were introduced on a previously unknown scale, and Roman occupation changed both farming practices and the flora and fauna of conquered areas. The study of organic remains is now a routine practice on Roman excavations, supplemented in recent years by insights from isotopic, residue, and aDNA analyses.

This course will offer an introduction to the production/consumption of plants and animals across the Roman Empire and to the principles and methods employed in their study. The course aims to teach students to interact critically with the bioarchaeological literature (environmental archaeology and archaeological science) and to give students an appreciation of the immense amount of information available from these sources and its relevance to major themes within Classical Archaeology: inequality, connectivity, trade, social and economic change, human health, etc. Although archaeologically driven, students will be asked to integrate scientific data into mainstream analyses alongside artefacts, settlement archaeology, iconography, and documentary sources. The course will enable graduate students in Classical Archaeology to develop crucial quantitative skills and exploit large corpora of biological information within their research, and will develop scholars fluent in current debates and techniques. Themes include husbandry and food production strategies, identifying mobility and trade, patterns of food consumption, and human diet, health and disease.

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 Dominik Maschek

Classical archaeology began as art history with J.J. Winckelmann, and images, monuments, and visual styles remain essential kinds of evidence for understanding Greek and Roman culture. Classical art has traditionally been explained in terms of artistic development, which places most emphasis on the creator-craftsman and locates the main motive forces of difference and change within the image-making process. The main aim of the course is to consider other approaches. It studies the main assumptions of the methods used to study ancient art, concentrating on work in the last two generations; it looks critically at traditional assessments based on evolutionary gradualism and seeks to bring out explicitly the range of other historical factors that might be in play in and around any given ancient image. Such factors include the social milieu of its buyers and public, technical aspects of materials and workshop manufacture, changing ideas about the subject represented, as well as broader mentalities prevailing in the relevant period, region, and user-group.The idea that none of these factors had a fixed or predictable relationship to each other in the way they might affect ancient images is explored through study of recent controversies in the field and the study of periods of rupture in ancient visual history -- looking at the different kinds of explanations that have been and might be offered to account for rapid change and re-orientation. Subjects include: attributions and the role of the artist; style and ethnicity in archaic art; the classical revolution; the Parthenon frieze controversy; the Augustan revolution; the symbolism controversy in funerary iconography; Greek versus Roman in the 'copies' controversy; the re-orientation of art in late antiquity.

Coordinator: Prof Bert Smith

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.

Coordinator: Dr Dominik Maschek

The invasion of Britain in AD 43 by the Emperor Claudius saw the beginning of a process through which an island shrouded in mists at the very edge of the known world became incorporated into the Roman imperial system. But how did Britain become 'Roman'? Were the trappings of classical civilization a mere superficial gloss on top of an enduring Celtic society? Or are the changes in material culture symptomatic of a more profound development, through which models of Roman society enabled provincial elites and those lower down the social hierarchy to negotiate and then articulate entirely new identities?

This paper is a case study that examines the development of a provincial society. The main topics considered are the globalizing nature of Roman conquest and incorporation and how this is played out in the physical environment, economy, society, religion and general culture of Britain.

Coordinator: Dr Damian Robinson

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.

Coordinator: Prof Chris Howgego

Roman North Africa (covering parts of modern Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) was one of the most prosperous areas of the Roman world. It produced much of Rome's grain, and exported, among other things, olive oil and pottery in vast quantities. The ruins of hundreds of once flourishing cities may be seen all over the North African countryside today, and the region produced one of the richest and most vital mosaic traditions in the Empire. This course provides an introduction to the archaeology of the region, examining the particular Romano-African civilisation that emerged and its debts to previous local cultures. Topics studied include the urban development of North African cities (including Lepcis Magna, Timgad and Carthage); aqueducts and water supply; agriculture and rural settlement; the army and the frontier system; North African mosaic art; and how and why the once flourishing urban systems were radically transformed in the changing social and political conditions of late antiquity.

Coordinator: Prof. Andrew Wilson

Portrait images permeated the Mediterranean world in the Roman period, in the form of statues, busts, reliefs, coins, and gems, and the sharp definition and careful styling of individual appearance in these media was a widespread Roman norm. An extensive range of subjects and portrait styles emerged to meet the social and cultural complexity of the Roman Empire. The course studies (1) the functional categories of Roman portraits in their contexts of use, such as honorific statues in the public sphere and busts in houses and tombs, (2) the range of subjects, from emperors to freedmen, (3) local preferences, for example, in Athens, Pompeii, or Palmyra, and (4) broad changes in time of portrait practice and portrait style from the late Republic to late antiquity.

Coordinators: Prof Bert Smith and Dr. Peter Stewart

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.

Coordinator: Dr. Peter Stewart

More large-scale marble sculpture was produced in the early and middle Roman empire than at any other comparable time in antiquity or since. Statues, reliefs, and carved figure compositions were deployed in imperial society for an extraordinary range of purposes and in huge quantities. The course studies the different categories and uses of carved figures, their range of subjects and themes, and their marked changes through time. Particular themes are sculptured monuments in the service of imperial ideas and the interaction of social context and level with sculptural style. Subjects include: late republican interaction with Hellenistic sculpture; the Ara Pacis; the production of imperial portraits; funerary monuments of Roman freedmen; historical reliefs under Trajan (the Arch of Beneventum and Trajan's Column); sarcophagi; sculptural programmes in the Greek East; monuments of the Tetrarchs and Constantine.

Coordinators: Prof Bert Smith and Dr Janet DeLaine

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

The city of Rome has been studied in detail longer than any site from classical antiquity, generating a unique field of study based on by far the richest body of evidence available for any ancient city, including literary sources, epigraphic and numismatic evidence, well-preserved monuments and excavated remains. Nevertheless, new evidence and new approaches are continuing to challenge existing interpretations even in repect to such central areas as the imperial fora. The course introduces students to this exceptional discipline by addressing aspects of the nature and development of the city of Rome from the late third century BC to the fourth century AD, with emphasis on broad issues of urban form and function rather than on individual monuments per se. Since students are taught by means of tutorials, the course can reflect individual interests. Recent special topics include: reading urban boundaries; the nature of residential and commercial neighbourhoods; the economics of construction in Trajanic Rome; and the religious topography of the 3th-4th centuries AD.

Coordinator: Dr Janet DeLaine

Schedule C - Other Subjects

Candidates may take a subject from among any of the subjects offered for the MSt degrees within the School of Archaeology ArchaeologyArchaeological Science  as well as Byzantine Studies, Classical Literature, European Archaeology, Greek and Roman History, History of Art, Women's Studies, World Archaeology.


The choice of a thesis subject and title is normally the result of a continued process of discussion and amendment in which students and supervisors play a joint role.  You are encouraged to develop dissertation ideas with your general supervisor throughout the first year and the final topic is to be submitted for approval at the end of Trinity Term.  Your thesis supervisor may be someone different to your general supervisor depending on the topic that you eventually select.  Guidance on developing thesis topics and how to construct the thesis can be found in the Notes for Guidance.

Examples of recent theses:

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  • Child Burials in Early Central Italy: What do they tell us about individuals and communities in the Late Iron Age and Orientalising Periods?
  • How were bronze belts used to construct and articulate identity in Etruria between the ninth and seventh centuries BC?
  • Divine figures in Julio-Claudian historical narrative
  • Constructing identity in fifth-century Ravenna
  • Women and War: the Role of Gender in Association with Mycenaean Warrior Culture
  • Architecture of harbours in Istira and the economic patterns of the northern Adriatic
  • Central Italic anatomical torso votives: between medicine and ritual