Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Material Evidence for Ancient History - 10 credits (HS4333)

Staff: Ruth Westgate (coordinator), Guy Bradley, Richard Evans, Kate Gilliver, Stephen Lambert, Laurence Totelin

How does an ancient historian deal with an artefact? The awareness and use of material evidence is an essential aspect of historical study of the ancient world. This body of evidence is continually being increased through new discoveries throughout Europe and the Mediterranean and forms a resource that is invaluable to the ancient historian. Students taking this module will be introduced to the various forms of evidence, such as archaeological material, coins, inscriptions, papyri and vase paintings. They will learn how to use this material so that along with the literary evidence they will gain a fuller understanding of the societies that they are studying.

Core module for: BA Ancient History, Year 2
Optional for: all other Ancient History degrees, normally in Year 2
Availability: autumn semester every year
Teaching: 10 lectures and 3 seminars
Assessment: two short seminar reports (50%) and an exercise applying the skills and methods acquired in the module to a specific set of artefacts (50%)

Syllabus content

  • archaeological evidence; excavation and survey
  • visual evidence
  • architecture
  • Greek and Latin epigraphy
  • papyri and other documents
  • numismatics


  • To introduce students to a range of non-literary materials that can be used as evidence for ancient history, particularly archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence.
  • To equip students with the critical abilities necessary for the application of this material to historical analysis.

Learning outcomes

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

  • a basic critical knowledge of the various forms of non-literary evidence that are of relevance to the study of ancient history.
  • basic skills in the conventions and use of epigraphic, archaeological, numismatic and iconographic material; skills in analysing individual artefacts and collections of material, and in drawing conclusions from observations.

Students should demonstrate these skills through the analysis of a range of different types of evidence in seminar reports, and an extended report on a larger collection or corpus of material.

Preliminary reading

M. Crawford, Sources for Ancient History (1983)
S. E. Alcock and R. Osborne (eds.), Classical Archaeology (2007; second edition, 2012)
W. R. Biers, Art, Artefacts and Chronology in Classical Archaeology (1992)
K. Greene, Archaeology: An Introduction (third edition, 1995)
L. Keppie, Understanding Roman Inscriptions (1991)
J. Bodel, Epigraphic Evidence: Ancient History from Inscriptions (2001)
C. Howgego, Ancient History from Coins (1996)
R. S. Bagnall, Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History (1995)
B. Sparkes The Red and the Black (1996)

Related modules

Prerequisite modules: HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World or HS3101 Introduction to Ancient Greek History or HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

All Ancient History modules