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Art and Archaeology of Archaic Greece - 20 credits (HS2386)

Staff: Ruth Westgate, James Whitley

This module is concerned with the art and archaeology of Greece from the Early Iron Age to the end of the Archaic period (c. 1150–480 BC). This was the formative period in the development of Greek society, during which the characteristic form of Greek community, the polis or city-state, emerged. It is also a key period in the history of western art, when the tradition of naturalistic representation was first established; the module explores the early development of this trend in painting and sculpture. This is a protohistoric period, where there is some literary and epigraphic evidence, and an abundance of material remains. The module therefore introduces students to the difficulties encountered in making historical sense of both kinds of evidence, and so will cover a range of historical, archaeological and art-historical topics, such as agricultural practice, the emergence of sanctuaries, and the relationship between art and the social and political circumstances that led to its creation.

Optional for: all Archaeology and Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn and spring semesters in alternate years
Teaching: 20 lectures, 3 seminars and a museum trip
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 2-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

The module covers a number of historical, archaeological and art-historical issues that are central to our understanding of Early Iron Age (1100–700 BC) and Archaic (700–480 BC) Greece, including:

  • the impact and significance of iron-working
  • the interpretation of burials
  • the utility of Homer and Hesiod for understanding Early Iron Age society and personhood
  • changes in agricultural practice, settlement patterns, and the development of towns
  • the rise of the polis
  • the emergence and development of figurative and narrative art forms in sculpture and vase painting
  • the development of local and panhellenic sanctuaries and temples
  • the development of monumental and domestic architecture
  • the uses of the past
  • the significance of Greek settlements overseas
  • regional differences in Greek culture


  • To acquire an appreciation of the art of Archaic Greece and of the historical circumstances that made such art possible
  • To acquire a knowledge of the archaeology of the period and the uses to which this evidence can be put in order to understand the nature of Archaic Greek society.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the archaeological evidence of Iron Age and Archaic date from excavations and surveys.
  • an understanding and appreciation of the art of the period.
  • a knowledge of the relevant terms and concepts used in the study of the period.
  • an understanding of the historical, archaeological and art-historical issues and questions that have directed research into the period (e.g. state formation; naturalism in art).
  • an ability to evaluate critically the relevance of archaeological and artistic evidence with reference to these debates.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Preliminary reading

J. N. Coldstream, Geometric Greece (1977; second edition 2003)
O. T. P. K. Dickinson, The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age: Continuity and Change between the Twelfth and Eighth Centuries BC (2006)
O. Murray, Early Greece (second edition, 1990)
R. Osborne, Greece in the Making 1200–479 BC (1996; second edition, 2009)
R. Osborne, Archaic and Classical Greek Art (1998)
A. M. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (1971; reprinted 2000)
A. M. Snodgrass, Archaic Greece: The Age of Experiment (1980)
J. Whitley, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (2001)

Related modules

Prerequisite modules: HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World or HS3101 Introduction to Ancient Greek History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS2387 Aegean Bronze Age

HS2389 Art and Archaeology of Classical Greece

HS3314 Expansion and Conflict in the Greek Poleis

HS4359 Early Rome: History and Legend