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HIST1179 Death in the Ancient World

Module Overview

Death is universal. Regardless of era, culture, social class or gender, sooner or later all human beings have to deal with the loss of their loved ones and with the thought of their own death. Yet the beliefs and practices surrounding death are highly culture-specific. How people prepare for death, how they talk about death, how they deal with their dead- all these things can teach us a great deal about a society. In this module we will look at the social and cultural aspects of death in Ancient Greece and Rome. We will investigate beliefs about the afterlife, but also think about death and funerals as performance. The source material studied will range from historical and literary sources to tombstones and archaeological excavations of burials.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of the module are to: • Explore the concept of “the good death” in Greek and Roman society. • Examine the role of the funeral as public performance. • Discuss beliefs about the afterlife in Greek and Roman society. • Examine how and why Greeks and Romans commune with their dead. • Interpret burial customs as a medium through which wider political, social, and cultural issues can be investigated. • Evaluate tombstones and other commemorative monuments as a source of information on Greek and Roman life and preoccupations.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • social and political contexts surrounding narratives of “the good death” and “the bad death”.
  • the gendered nature of funerals and of the commemoration of the dead.
  • social and religious context of rites and customs surrounding death.
  • key theories in modern scholarship for interpreting beliefs and rites associated with death.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • interpret material objects as evidence of funeral customs
  • discuss key theories as to the gendering of death in Antiquity
  • contextualise a range of literary sources surrounding the concept of "a good death"
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • develop sound and well supported arguments in writing.
  • gather and critique relevant source materials including electronic and web resources.
  • present your ideas and critical reflections in essays, using primary and secondary sources.


The module will typically cover: • The gendering of death • Funerary practices as a feminine sphere • Funerals and funerary legislation as a political instrument • Tombstones as social and cultural documents • How to read a burial: case study • Communing with the dead: sacrifices, ancestor cult and ghosts • The good and bad death: how death is presented in historical and literary sources • Beliefs about the afterlife in Archaic and Classical Greece • Changing beliefs about the afterlife in the Hellenistic and Roman periods • “The most innocent soul”: the death of children and adolescents

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Weekly lecture and seminar • Weekly secondary and primary source readings • Short group presentations by students • Group discussions including feedback from the tutor.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Hope, Valerie, (2007).  Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook. 

Hopkins, Keith, (1983). Death and Renewal. 

Garland, Robert (1984).  The Greek Way of Death. 

Hope, Valerie, (2009). Roman Death. 

Pearce, John; Millet, Martin; and Struck, Manuela (eds), (2000). Burial, Society and Context in the Roman World. 

Toynbee, J. M.C., (1971). Death and Burial in the Roman World. 

Mirto, Maria Serena (2011). Death in the Greek World: From Homer to the Classical Age. 

Davies, Jon (1999). Death, Burial and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity. 

Suter, Ann, (2008). Lament: Studies in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond. 

Carroll, Maureen (2011). Spirits of the Dead: Roman Funerary Commemoration in Western Europe. 

Rebillard, Éric and Routier-Pucci, Jeanine, (2009). Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity. 

Johnston, Sarah Iles (1999). Restless dead: encounters between the living and the dead in ancient Greece. 

Alexiou, Margaret (1974). The ritual lament in Greek tradition, .. 

Tsagalis, Christos, (2008). Inscribing Sorrow: Fourth-century Attic Funerary Epigrams. 

Loraux, Nicole (2006). The Invention of Athens: the Funeral Oration in the Classical City. 

Hope, Valerie (ed.) (2000). Death and Disease in the Ancient City. 

Oliver, G. J. (2000). The Epigraphy of Death: Studies in the History and Society of Greece and Rome. 

HÃ¥land, Evy Johanne, (2014). Rituals of Death and Dying in Modern and Ancient Greece: Writing History from a Female Perspective. 

Morris, Ian, (1987). Burial and Ancient Society. 

Edwards, Catherine, (2007).  Death in Ancient Rome. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (500 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Exam  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (500 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Exam  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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