Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module CLAS2861: Death in the Classical World

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS2861: Death in the Classical World

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1601


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce ideas and practices around death and dying in the Greek and Roman world between the fifth century BCE and the second century CE .
  • To consider how the cultural significance of death is framed by the social, economic and religious circumstances of the deceased.
  • To assess the difference between the experience of death as a human universal and the rituals around death as historically determined social practices
  • To explore and analyse a range of relevant sources, their benefits and difficulties.


  • This module offers a thematic analysis of the conceptualization and cultural construction of death in both Greek and Roman contexts. While the chronological span ranges from the fifth century BCE to the second century CE, the module is not organized as a survey, but around key questions. Students will examine theories and descriptions of the event itself, views of the afterlife, notions of "good" and "bad" death, and funerary practices. Each key question will be explored through case-studies drawn from both the Greek and the Roman world, and using evidence ranging from Homer to the Hippocratics, from philosophy to tragedy, and from literary analysis to epigraphy. Death will be revealed to both a universal experience, and a cultural construct, affected not just by space and time contexts, but also by social status, religious identity, politics and gender. The students will also be exposed to some of the historiography of death, including scholarship produced about different periods of history, such as Aris and Richardson. The course's goal is to use death as a lens to demonstrate the exoticism and range of Classics as a discipline, showcase the range of material (literary texts, inscriptions, archaeological material, etc) and methods available to the historian, and above all show students that ancient history both makes the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of ancient theories about death and the afterlife.
  • An awareness of the diverse evidence available for studying death in antiquity and the benefits of and problems with using it in combination.
  • An understanding of the processes by which ancient life events were textually and visually represented, displayed, condemned and celebrated, and the means by which modern historians seek to understand such processes.
  • An introduction to approaches and debates in both classic and current scholarship on this topic.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • A developing ability to analyse and draw conclusions from a broad range of primary sources from the ancient world, including Greek and Latin writings (in translation) inscriptions, and archaeological and artistic material.
  • A developing capacity to evaluate the inherent values and problems with particular types of ancient sources and to use them judiciously to construct a careful and nuanced picture of views of death and dying in antiquity.
  • A developing ability to engage critically with modern literature on death and situate independent thinking in relation to this scholarly “landscape”.
Key Skills:
  • A developing ability to assess and compare a range of different arguments and approaches.
  • A developing ability to use diverse types of evidence to build up a cumulative picture.
  • A developing capacity to produce tight, well-evidenced and clearly expressed arguments in both oral and in written form.

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

  • Lectures will provide an overview of the material, and engage closely with relevant primary and secondary sources.
  • Suggested bibliography for each lecture will encourage students to develop their own areas of interest within the course as it progresses.
  • Seminars will afford an opportunity for close reading and extended discussion of key sources.
  • Assessment will take place through essays, enabling students to develop their own areas of interest within the course, engaging closely both with primary sources and with broader questions.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 22 Weekly 1 hour 22
Seminars 6 3 per term in Michaelmas and Epiphany terms 1 hour 6
Preparation and reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2,500 words 100% Yes
Component: Book Review Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Book Review 1,500-2,000 words 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative exercise

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