CLA1515 - Ancient Sources: Roman Death

2018/9 Module description

StaffDr Katherine McDonald - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module description

Death is a constant of life, but all cultures deal with death and its aftermath differently – sometimes with profound effects on the way people live their lives. This module uses the material culture of death and burial, supplemented by some complementary extracts from Roman literature, to explore the ways in which Romans dealt with death and sought to give it meaning. We will also show how the material culture of death and burial gives us an insight into the lives of people who are seriously under-represented in our literary sources, including women, children, freedmen, slaves, soldiers, and non-Roman communities in Italy.

Module aims

The aim of this module is to give an introduction to the diverse sources relating to death and burial in ancient Rome, and how these sources help us to understand how Romans lived their lives. You will become acquainted with the material culture of death, including the archaeology of burial, grave goods and inscribed stone monuments. You will learn to read and analyse these kinds of sources, while also reading (in translation) selections from Roman literature which complement and add to our knowledge of Roman attitudes to death. The module will cover a wide time period, from around 800 BC to Late Antiquity, and will help you to understand the lives of groups such as women, children and slaves who are under-represented in literary texts.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Use detailed knowledge and understanding of the archaeological and written sources relating to death and burial in ancient Rome and the Roman Empire
  • 2. Demonstrate the ability to describe and evaluate archaeological, inscriptional and iconographic sources about death, and assess how literary sources complement and aid our understanding of these material sources
  • 3. Show an understanding of the ways in which Roman practices around death affected and informed Roman daily life

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Show development of critical approaches to ancient source material, and how archaeological evidence relates to other sources and the wider socio-historical context
  • 5. Show experience in conducting independent research, including library and online research and the ability to critically assess modern academic writing
  • 6. Show experience in formal academic writing, including essays and commentary on particular sources and objects

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Demonstrate development of skills in critical analysis
  • 8. Demonstrate the ability to read, assess and organise diverse information to form a coherent argument
  • 9. Show experience in writing an analytical essay or a critical discussion of a piece of source material
  • 10. Show experience in conducting independent research, including experience in time management
  • 11. Demonstrate development of teamworking and discussion skills through small group work

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:

Topics may include: the archaeology of burial; tomb markers and epigraphy (including key examples such as the tombs of the Scipios, the tomb of the baker, and the tomb of Augustus); textual and artistic evidence for Roman funerals; the afterlife; ghosts in Roman culture (including curse tablets and accounts of ghosts in dreams); and other cultures of death in Italy (including Etruscan tombs, the painted Greek tombs at Paestum and Christian burial practices).

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
Scheduled learning and teaching55 x 1 hour seminars
Guided independent study 123Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionIn-class1-11Oral feedback

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
Source criticism30800 words1-10Mark and written comments
Examination702 hours1-10Mark 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
Source criticismSource criticism1-10Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-10Referral/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

  • Barbara Borg (2013) Crisis and ambition: tombs and burial customs in third-century CE Rome , Oxford
  • Alison E. Cooley (2012) The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy , Cambridge
  • Catharine Edwards (2007) Death in Ancient Rome , New Haven
  • Valerie Hope (2009) Roman Death: Dying and the Dead in Ancient Rome , London
  • Ian Morris (1992) Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity (Key Themes in Ancient History) , Cambridge
  • Liv Nilsson Stutz and Sarah Tarlow (eds.) (2013) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, Oxford
  • Jerry Toner (2009) Popular Culture in Ancient Rome, Cambridge/Malden, Mass.
  • J.M.C. Toynbee (1996) Death and Burial in the Roman World , Baltimore/London

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date

Nov 2015

Last revision date


Key words search

Roman archaeology, inscriptions, death, burial

Important please note

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the module descriptors for the Online Module Selection process, please be aware that on rare occasions it may be necessary to remove proposed modules for reasons beyond our control. In addition, there are still some new modules going through the accreditation process. These will be offered in due course by the relevant discipline.

All modules displayed below have been approved by the approval process but may require further minor amendments before the commencement of teaching.

Interested in teaching?

To help you discover if teaching is right for you, or if you're just interested in developing your skills in this area, we have developed an accredited teaching experience module, which is open to all second and third year undergraduates and most Masters students.  Find out more.