Art and Visual Culture in the Roman World (CLA3265)

StaffProfessor Elena Isayev - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesRelevant 2nd Year Humanities / Social Science/ Geography
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module will explore various genres of Roman art and their physical, social and ideological contexts. It will ask, and suggest answers to questions such as: What was the purpose of art? How was it viewed by the people of antiquity? What does art tell us about the societies who made and viewed it? The course aims to encourage critical thinking about the purpose of studying art as a tool for understanding ancient cultural ideologies.

There is no exam in this course, but there are 2 different types of assessment – which may consist of the following:

1) Source Analysis – will allow for in-depth critical analysis of either a written or material source in light of the subject.

2) A thematic essay – which will be based around a specific problem or question, and will draw on the skills developed in the previous two exercises.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. On completion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate knowledge of a wide selection of relevant primary material from the Roman world, and critical skills for analysing and discussing such material in its social context.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 2. Students should be able to demonstrate sophisticated critical and analytical skills in analysing art and other visual material, which can be applied to a wide range of ancient and modern cultures.
  • 3. They should have learned how material and visual culture enhances our understanding of past societies.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 4. Students should be able to demonstrate independent research skills; students should also be able to show a broader awareness of issues involved in thinking about art and society.
  • 5. Skills in the construction, organisation and presentation of an argument in both written and oral form, and in using PowerPoint presentations to visually support their arguments.

Syllabus plan

Indicative syllabus plan:

1   Introduction: Art

2   Between Art and Text: conflicting histories - Etruscan Women

3   Warriors & Princesses - chariots, knives, spinning wheels: burial and society

4   Culture Contact: Technology, Art and Homeric societies beyond Greece

5   Choice of Image in the private sphere: Ancient and Modern Sensibilities

6   Augustan Rome - a new face?

7   Architecture in Rome - the Imperial Playground

8   Reading narrative in public art: triumphal arches and columns

9   Reading narrative in public art: triumphal arches and columns II

10   Abstract Art in Late Antiquity


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Seminars (1 x 2 hours per week)
Guided independent study128Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group informal presentation / Discussion15 minutes1-5Oral comment, peer comment

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay6530001-5Mark and written feedback
Written Assignment3518001-5Mark and written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-5August refer-defer period
Written AssignmentWritten Assignment 1-5August refer/defer period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


A full reading list will be supplied by the module lecturer in the form of a topic/class specific handout which will also be posted on the Web. The following is a sample of some of the texts:

Clarke, J.R. 2003. Art in the lives of ordinary Romans. Visual representation and non-elite viewers in Italy, 100 BC – AD 315 . Berkeley.

Elsner, J. 1995. Art and the Roman viewer . Cambridge.

Elsner, J. 2007. Roman eyes. Visuality and subjectivity in art and text . Princeton.

Hales, S. 2003. The Roman house and social identity . Cambridge.

Hannestad, N. 1988. Roman art and imperial policy . Aarhus.

Hölscher, T. 2004. The language of images in Roman art . Cambridge.

Kleiner, D. 1992. Roman sculpture . Yale.

Pollitt, J.J. 1983. The art of Rome c. 753 BC – AD 337. Sources and documents . Cambridge.

Stewart, P. 2008. The social history of Roman art . Cambridge.

Zanker, P. 1988. The power of images in the age of Augustus . Michigan.

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date


Key words search

Ancient History, Italy Rome, Literature, Archaeology