Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS3711: Pompeii & Herculaneum: Rediscovery & Reconstruction

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3711: Pompeii & Herculaneum: Rediscovery & Reconstruction

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1721 or CLAS2631 or CLAS2811


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To promote students' understanding of several of the most important sites for our knowledge of Roman art and society; to broaden students' familiarity with the reception of those monuments in the modern period; to increase students' ability to develop an integrated understanding of Roman art in its societal context; to improve students' skills in working with and evaluating visual evidence.


  • The subject of this module is the material culture of the buried cities of Vesuvius, as approached via the history of their rediscovery. This module has a novel structuring principle: it is not a collection of themes, whose order must be somewhat arbitrary; it is not the history of the cities themselves, which is dependent upon uncertain evidence and in which the final decades must occupy a disproportionate space. Rather, we will trace the discovery first of Herculaneum, then of Pompeii, and then of the progressive excavation of both. This will provide us with an organic ordering principle and a route through the topography of the landscape. This is not, therefore, a module on archaeology or on the reception of the cities of Vesuvius in modern European culture, though we will naturally look at aspects of those topics. Rather, the story of the rediscovery and reception of those buried cities will afford us a diachronic and historically contextualized view of the sites as they stand today. The main payoff of this approach is that it will permit us to exploit an important kind of source that has only become widely available in recent years, as historic books documenting the original state of the excavations have been digitized and put on line. Pompeii and Herculaneum are in a dire state, and news reports frequently attest to their continuing collapse. For centuries the sites have been degraded by the weather, negligence, vandalism, theft, and the removal of important items to the museum and storehouses. For this reason, a visit to the sites is often the least revealing mode of research; and in any case Google Maps now permits one to take a virtual walk through Pompeii without leaving one's desk. To go beyond the current appearance of he buildings and public areas and discover what they looked like when they were first discovered, we need to look at the original documentation. As we move through the chronology of the modern rediscovery of the area, we will explore these sources digitally. As we look at each building and feature, we will combine modern interpretive methodologies with digital versions of historic evidence.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Broad knowledge of the main features of the urban fabric of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • Understanding of the main features of Roman art and architecture as attested in these sites.
  • Detailed knowledge of the history of the excavation, study and dissemination of these sites and a general familiarity with its impact on European culture.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to use a complex range of textual and visual evidence to reconstruct ancient monuments.
  • An ability to engage critically with the full range of evidence for Roman art and architecture and with the secondary literature on it.
  • Reflective awareness of the nature of Roman art and architecture in its social context.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to present a well-researched, well-articulated, and well-balanced account of diverse evidence.
  • An ability to reconstruct a monument from evidence that is imperfect, biased, or indirect.
  • An ability to present visual evidence in an effective manner.

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

  • Lectures form the core of the module, being used to provide factual information as background pertaining to both the ancient city and its modern excavation. Corresponding to knowledge of this broad, contextual element is a 40% examination component.
  • Seminars are used to give models for interpretative procedures in the interpretation of evidence and to provide an opportunity for students to practice manipulation and analysis of evidence and an opportunity to talk through areas of difficulty. These skills in performing a reconstruction and analysis of a particular monument will be assessed in the summative coursework project. This will be a visual reconstruction executed as a digital 3D visualization with texture-mapped images, or as a more traditional 2D plan with a detailed key and figures, or even as a 3D model. It will also include a brief narrative account of the sources used (1,500 words).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 22 Weekly 1 hour 22
Tutorials 2 Fortnightly 1 hour 2
Seminars 4 Fortnightly 1 hour 4
Preparation and reading time 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Visual reconstruction Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Visual reconstruction (images + 1,500 words) 100% Yes
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written examination 2 hours 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