Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)

Module CLAS42830 : Life and death on Roman sarcophagi

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS42830 : Life and death on Roman sarcophagi

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2018/19 Module Cap


  • Any undergraduate module in ancient art or Roman history.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research in the sub-discipline of classical archaeology and the discipline of art history for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • Three fixed preliminary seminars: 1. Studying sarcophagi 2. Housing the body 3. Myth and mourning. Further elective seminars (five to be selected from the following eight, according to student choice) 4. Rape and loss 5. Heroic models 6. Representing virtue 7. Visions of life and afterlife 8. Love, death and marriage 9. Framing the body 10. Bodies in Christ 11. Reception and tradition

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of Roman art or history or Greek and Latin literature, focusing on the medium of Roman sarcophagi, as this affects issues of architectural patronage, urbanism, and cultural identity. By the end of the module, students should have acquired familiarity with the pictorial themes and artistic devices of this particular medium, and should be capable of interpreting Roman visual and material culture both as self-standing objects and in terms of a series of thematic and theoretical issues of self-presentation, memorialisation and belief.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the analytical skills appropriate to the handling of Roman sculpture and will need to develop skills in using theoretical tools including art-historical, literary, and sociological analysis to interpret ancient material and visual culture. In particular, they will need to select and make comparisons from a wide range of material to answer broad questions about the role of monumental sculpture in Graeco-Roman society in Italy and the provinces at the height of the Roman Empire.
Key Skills:
  • The analytical and interpretative skills required for the successful completion of this module are transferable to any field which requires analysis of a large and diverse body of material involving both written and visual elements, a sensitivity to aesthetic or design issues, and a capacity to make inferences about historical societies and their ideas on the basis of material culture. It also requires the effective use of library and IT resources; and good oral and written presentation skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminar, which will be structured around a student presentation on the topic for the week. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought (viz. on the topics for which they make a presentation), as well as providing the opportunity to develop skills of oral presentation. The presentation will be followed by a discussion in which there is an onus on everyone to engage in thought about the scope of the evidence and the coherence of the interpretation presented, encouraging critical reflection. The seminars are fortnightly and 2 hours long, in line with other MA elective modules in Classics, in order to allow and encourage significant preparation, and detailed discussion.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available and appropriate.
  • Formative assessment will be based on essays written up from the seminar presentations – two during the year.
  • Summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the year. These exercises will foster the ability to provide clear and detailed written analysis of visual material and art-historical issues and to make relevant inferences from archaeological evidence, will provide practice for the use of appropriate conventions and style in setting out written research and identification of suitable topics for further research in Greek or Roman art and architecture at a doctoral level, and will ensure that research and assimilation of secondary literature is carried out at the appropriate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 284

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Two essays (one to be submitted in Michaelmas and one in Epiphany Term). These essays to be written up from oral presentations made in the seminar.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University