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Study information

Ancient Sources (Material Evidence): Hellenistic Palaces in West Asia

Module titleAncient Sources (Material Evidence): Hellenistic Palaces in West Asia
Module codeCLA1517
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Martin Pitts (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In this module, you will explore the impact of ‘palatial intensification’ during the 2nd and 1st c. BCE in West Asia, when the palaces of Hellenistic kings increased and intensified in terms of their monumentality, lavish decoration and cultural eclecticism. Through the critical lens of globalisation theory, you will examine how the experimental character of these palaces’ art and architecture transformed Hellenistic power, court practices, royal identities, and sensorial experiences. No prior knowledge of these subjects is required, and the module is recommended for all students with interdisciplinary interests in the historical and anthropological study of palaces and cultural innovation in a globalising context.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of the module are:

  • To equip you with a detailed understanding of the archaeology of West Asian Hellenistic-period palaces in their historical and socio-political context.
  • To explore what archaeological sources can tell us about their social, political and economic functions by exploring the art and architecture of palaces in Attalid Pergamon, Seleucid Babylon, Parthian Nisa, Nabatean Petra and Hasmonaean/Herodian Judea.
  • To provide a critical perspective on cultural transformations happening in 2nd and 1st c. BCE West Asia, particularly in relation to scholarly debates concerning notions such as Hellenism, Hellenisation and Romanisation.
  • To introduce the basic concepts and ideas of globalisation theory and provide the analytical skills to apply these to archaeological case studies in different ways.
  • To acquaint you with approaches to Hellenistic palaces that focus on sensorial experience and the affective roles of material culture.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an understanding of the multifarious roles and functions of West Asian Hellenistic palaces in their socio-political context
  • 2. Describe the basic characteristics of the phenomenon of 2nd-1st c. BCE ‘palatial intensification’
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of debates about historical globalisation processes and their impact on socio-cultural transformations as witnessed in the art and architecture of Hellenistic palaces
  • 4. Demonstrate an understanding of the ‘sensorial turn’ in archaeological analysis of material culture

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Use, analyse and evaluate material evidence as a major source for understanding the ancient world
  • 6. Demonstrate research and library skills specific to Classics and Ancient History
  • 7. Demonstrate an understanding of the cultural transformations of 2nd-1st c. BCE West Asia

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Demonstrate independent study skills in guided research and the presentation of findings
  • 9. Demonstrate an ability to critically reflect on current theoretical debates, in oral and written form

Syllabus plan

It is envisioned that the module will cover some or all of the following topics:


  • The ‘limits of Hellenism’ in Jebel Khalid and Dura Europos.
  • Herodian palatial architecture and the impact of Rome.
  • The impact of global connections in the palace of Petra.  
  • Innovative eclecticism in the palace of Iraq el-Amir (Jordan).
  • Power and political performance in the court of Seleucid Babylon.
  • Court culture, ruler cult and royal banqueting as embodied practices in Nisa. 
  • Space, memory and sensorial experience in the basileia of Alexandria.
  • The visual technology of enchantment in the palaces of Pergamon.
  • Visual style, object capacities and royal identity in Seleucia on the Tigris.
  • An ecological approach to palatial gardens and vegetal iconography in Jericho.
  • Transforming sensorial assemblages in Samosata: the impact of affective objects.

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 Teaching22Lectures (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled learning and teaching5Seminars (5 x 1 hour)
Guided Independent Study123Preparation for seminars and coursework

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method

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
Written assignments305 x 200 words1-9Mark and written comments
Final Essay702000 words1-9Mark and written comments

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written assignments (5 x 200 words)Written assignments1-9Referral/Deferral period
Final essay (2000 words)Final essay (2000 words)1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re- assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Gell, A. (1994). The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology, in: J. Coote (ed.), Anthropology, Art, and Aesthetics, Oxford, 159-186. 
  • Hodos, T. (2017). Globalization: some basics. An introduction to The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization, in: T Hodos, A. Geurds, P. Lane, I. Lilley, M. Pitts, G. Shelach, M. Stark, M.J. Versluys (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization, London, 3-11.
  • Kopsacheili, M. (2011). Hybridisation of Palatial Architecture. Hellenistic Royal Palaces and Governors' Seats, in: A. Kouremenos, S. Chandrasekaran and R. Rossi (eds.), From Pella to Gandhara. Hybridisation and Identity in the Art and Architecture of the Hellenistic East, BAR International Series 2221, Oxford, 17–34.
  • Kropp, A. J.M. (2013). Images and Monuments of Near Eastern Dynasts, 100 bc – ad 100, Oxford. Chapters 1, 3 and 6.
  • Ma, J. (2015). Space and/as conflict in the Hellenistic period, in: S. Chandrasekaran & A. Kouremenos (eds.), Continuity and Destruction in the Greek East: The Transformation of Monumental Space From the Hellenistic Period to Late Antiquity, BAR International Series, 2765, Oxford, 3-10.
  • Mairs, R. (2017) Lapis Lazuli, Homer and the Buddha: Material and Ideological Exchange in West Asia (c. 250 BCE - 200 CE), in: T. Hodos T., A. Geurds, P. Lane, I. Lilley, M. Pitts, G. Shelach, M. Stark, M.J. Versluys (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization, London, 885-898.
  • Messina, V. (2021). Beyond Greece and Babylonia. Global and Local at Seleucia on the Tigris, in: M. Blömer et al. (eds.), Common Dwelling Place of all the Gods. Commagene in its Local, Regional and Global Hellenistic Context, Oriens et Occidens, Stuttgart, 381-406.
  • Momigliano, A. (1975). The Greeks and their neighbours in the Hellenistic world. Preliminary Considerations, in: Alien Wisdom. The limits of Hellenization, Cambridge, 1-21.
  • Nielsen, I. (2017). Palaces—Gardens—Temples. Their relationships and legitimising role in the Hellenistic and early Roman Near East, in: E. Minchin & H. Jackson (eds.), Text and the Material World. Essays in Honour of Graeme Clarke, Uppsala, 103-116.
  • Versluys, M.J. (2019). The only Hellenistic ruin of great interest in Jordan, in: Perspecta. The Yale Architectural Journal, 52, 240-244.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE – Faculty to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Key words search

Hellenistic; archaeology; West Asia; palaces; globalisation; sensoriality

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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Module co-requisites


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