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Study information

Art in Roman Society

Module titleArt in Roman Society
Module codeCLA3114
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Professor Barbara Borg (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

For a long time, it has been doubted that the Romans had any ‘real’ art at all; they were largely seen as derivative, just copying from the Greeks. Yet this view has changed over the past decades, and the creativity of Roman artists and the essential role art played in Roman social life, religion, and politics have become apparent. The Romans were fully aware of the impact that the visual had on its viewers, and used it for a multitude of purposes. This module will look at a range of different forms of art (including sculpture, wall painting, luxury items, and architecture), and a range of different contexts in which art was used and displayed such as public spaces, houses and villas, tombs, and sanctuaries. We shall discuss what art meant to the Romans, what its relationship with Greek art was, and how the study of Roman art can help the modern historian to better understand Roman ideologies and value systems.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To explore various types of Roman art and their physical, social and ideological contexts.
  • To ask, and suggest answers to questions such as: What was the purpose of Roman art? What was its relationship with Greek art? How did it vary across the empire? What does art tell us about the societies who made and viewed it?
  • To encourage critical thinking about art as something that offers more than embellishment, something that, in its very own ‘language’, conveys meaning, which in turn can be decoded so that we gain a better understanding of Roman society and its ideologies.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge of a wide selection of relevant primary material from the Roman world
  • 2. Demonstrate critical skills for analysing and discussing such material in its social context
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of how visual culture adds elements to our understanding of Roman culture that extend beyond what literary sources tell us – or that even challenges them

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. 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 artistic production
  • 5. Demonstrate an appreciation of how art and visual culture enhances our understanding of (past) societies

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Demonstrate independent research skills
  • 7. Show awareness of the power of the visual, and think about the role art plays in any society
  • 8. Demonstrate skills in the construction, organisation and presentation of an argument in both written and oral form, and in using PowerPoint presentations (where appropriate) to visually support your arguments

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

General questions include:

  • What is Roman art?
  • How is it related to Greek art?
  • How can we decode the meaning of Roman art?

Themes we will discuss include:

  • Roman art and public space
  • Roman art and domestic space
  • Roman art and death
  • Roman art and ethnic identity
  • ‘Realism’ in Roman art
  • Roman art and social class.

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 teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study128Private study and preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group discussion Continuous1-8Oral feedback from lecturer and peers
Online forum commentsWeekly contribution1-8Oral feedback from lecturer and peers

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
Narrated PowerPoint presentation and handout2010 minutes1-8Oral and written feedback
Essay502500 words1-8Written feedback
Gobbet test301000 words1-5,7-8Oral feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Narrated PowerPoint presentation and handoutNarrated PowerPoint presentation and handout1-8Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-8Referral/Deferral period
Gobbet testGobbet test1-5, 7-8Referral/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

Indicative reading and general overviews:

  • B. E. Borg (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Roman Art (Malden, MA 2015).
  • B. E. Borg, Roman tombs and the art of commemoration: contextual approaches to funerary customs in the second century CE (Cambridge 2019).
  • J. R. Clarke, Art in the lives of ordinary Romans: visual representation and non-élite viewers in Italy, 100 BC–AD 315 (Berkeley 2003).
  • E. D’Ambra – G. R. R. Métraux (eds), The art of citizens, soldiers and freedmen in the Roman world (Oxford 2006).
  • E. A. Friedland – M. Grunow Sobocinski with Elaine K. Gazda, The Oxford handbook of Roman sculpture (Oxford 2015).
  • C. Marconi (ed.), The Oxford handbook of Greek and Roman art and architecture (Oxford 2015).
  • D. Mattingly, Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire (Princeton 2011).
  • Z. Newby, Greek myths in roman art and culture: imagery, values, and identity in Italy, 50 BC-AD 250 (Cambridge 2016).
  • P. Stewart, Roman art (Oxford 2004).
  • P. Stewart, The social history of Roman art (Cambridge 2008).
  • P. Zanker, The power of images in the age of Augustus (Ann Arbor 1988)..

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Classics, Roman culture, art, Roman history, visual culture

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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