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Hellenistic Art and Architecture - 10 credits (HS4356)

Staff: Ruth Westgate

This module covers the period between the death of Alexander in 323 BC and the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, which saw the adoption of Greek culture all over the Mediterranean, first through the kingdoms of Alexander’s successors, and later through the Roman Empire. The new dynasties staked their claims to power through art and architecture, while the cosmopolitan population of this hugely expanded world used art to express their cultural identity and social status. In the process Classical Greek art was transformed into a visual language that remains at the foundation of European identity to the present day. The module looks at the artistic legacy of Alexander, the great cities and religious sanctuaries built by his successors, the manifestation in art of new attitudes to religion and the community, the impact of non-Greek cultures on Greek art, the spread of Hellenistic art in the Roman Empire, and its afterlife in the modern world.

Optional for: all Archaeology and Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (40%) and one 1-hour examination (60%)

Syllabus content

  • the influence of Alexander the Great and of Macedonian culture
  • royal power and patronage: art and architecture in the service of the Hellenistic kings
  • new attitudes to religion and the gods as manifested in art and architecture
  • new developments in sculpture: portraits, decorative sculpture, copies and pastiches
  • art in the domestic sphere: wall painting and mosaics
  • Hellenistic art in Rome and in the East
  • the Hellenistic legacy: Rome and beyond


  • To acquire an appreciation of the art and architecture of the Hellenistic world, informed by an awareness of modern debates.
  • To understand how it can be interpreted to illuminate the social and political transformations of the period.

Learning outcomes

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

  • a knowledge of the art and architecture of the Hellenistic world.
  • an ability to recognise stylistic changes and new themes in Hellenistic art and architecture, and to relate these changes to wider political and social transformations.
  • an ability to assess the visual evidence of this era in terms of debates about the changing function of art in the transition between the Classical and Roman worlds.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Preliminary reading

M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classical Art: from Greece to Rome (2001)
L. Burn, Hellenistic Art: from Alexander the Great to Augustus (2004)
P. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique (1981)
J. Onians, Art and Thought in the Hellenistic Age (1979)
J. J. Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age (1986)
R. R. R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture (1991)
A. Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics (1993)

Plus a general historical book on the period, such as:
F. W. Walbank, The Hellenistic World (1992)
G. Shipley, The Greek World After Alexander, 323–30 BC (2000)
P. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Hellenistic Age (1990)

Related modules

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

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3315 Kingdoms, Cities and Hellenization

HS3316 Conquest and Crisis: The Roman Republic

HS2389 Art and Archaeology of Classical Greece

HS3371 Athens in the Age of Demosthenes and Lykourgos

HS4363 Houses in Roman Italy

HS4368 Art and Power in Rome, 211 BC–AD 138