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Academic Year 2023/2024

Death and the Afterlife in the Ancient World (GRC30330)

Greek & Roman Civilization
Arts & Humanities
3 (Degree)
Module Coordinator:
Dr Bridget Martin
Mode of Delivery:
On Campus
Internship Module:
How will I be graded?
Letter grades

Curricular information is subject to change.

What happens when we die? From our earliest extant literature to contemporary pop culture, the human mind has imagined a wide range of possible destinations; each proposes an answer to one of the most profound questions of the human experience. This module examines the mythology and the social and political importance of death, burial and the afterlife in the ancient Mediterranean. It examines whether ancient cultures believed in an afterlife and how they conceptualised the world of the dead. It explores how the dead were mourned, as well as the social and political importance that such expressions of grief held for the living. The module also touches on the relationship between the living and the dead after burial. Were the dead to be feared? Could the living and the dead communicate with one another? To offer answers to these questions students will draw on a wide a range of sources including: poetry and prose (read in translation), inscriptions, iconography and other material and visual cultures.

About this Module

Learning Outcomes:

Upon completing this module, students should be able to:
• differentiate between different concepts relating to the afterlife in the ancient world;
• demonstrate knowledge of, and analyse, key concepts and practices relating to death in the ancient world;
• evaluate the social, political and personal importance of rites and practices performed for the dead;
• engage with a range of ancient sources, and critically evaluate their reliability, benefits and limitations;
• critically engage with modern scholarship on death in antiquity.

Indicative Module Content:

In the 2023/2024 academic year this module will explore death, burial and the afterlife in the classical Greek world of the fifth and fourth centuries BC through three broad, interconnected stages. Firstly, we begin in the world of the dead, examining the mythology and contrasting conceptions of the afterlife and the Underworld. Secondly, we move to the world of the living, questioning, for example, the social and political importance of burial rites for the living, the influence of gender in relation to death and mourning, and how ‘good’ and ‘bad’ death were manipulated by the polis. Finally, merging the two worlds, we consider the possibility of communication between the living and the dead, and whether this was hoped for or dreaded.

Case studies may vary from year to year, though indicative topics include:
• different conceptions of the afterlife across authors and/or ancient cultures;
• the role of katabasis or types of journeys to the underworld.
• the topography of the underworld and mythologies of death;
• the role of ‘society’, rewards, and punishments in the underworld;
• conceptions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths;
• funerary rites, mourning, and the role of the iconographic and archaeological evidence;
• funerary legislation – the political and social importance of the dead (public funerals);
• the roles of gender and age in death and mourning;
• epigrams and remembrance;
• the relationship between the living and the dead and the possibilities of communication;
• the restless dead; fear of the dead.

Student Effort Hours:
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning








Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module is taught through a combination of lectures and small-group tutorials. During tutorials, students will discuss key issues raised during the lectures, using images or passages from texts, and will consider approaches to essay and commentary writing.

Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Essay: 1,200–1,500 word commentary Week 7 n/a Graded No


Essay: 2,500 word essay Week 12 n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components

Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 

Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Discussions during lectures and tutorials will engage students and formative feedback will be delivered verbally through these conversations with students in class. Continuous assessment based on work done during tutorials will account for 20% of the total grade, and this feedback will in turn help students prepare for their 1,000-word commentary (worth 30%) and 2,000-word essay (worth 50%). Students will receive written feedback on their commentary and essay.

Name Role
Professor Michael Lloyd Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Bridget Martin Lecturer / Co-Lecturer