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Unit information: The Archaeology of Myth: From the Trojan War to the end of Atlantis in 2015/16

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Unit name The Archaeology of Myth: From the Trojan War to the end of Atlantis
Unit code CLAS22384
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Momigliano
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Since the early 19th century, the investigations of some famous archaeological sites in the ancient world have been stimulated by their literary associations, and especially their links to with well-known Greek myths. Among the best examples are Schliemann's excavations at Troy and Mycenae in search of Homeric heroes, Sir Arthur Evans's work at the 'Palace of Minos' at Knossos, Carl Blegen's discoveries at the 'Palace of Nestor' at Pylos, and Spyridon Marinatos's excavations on Thera/Santorini, and alleged relation to Plato's myth of Atlantis. Using these Aegean sites as the main (but not the only) case-studies, this unit will explore the relationship between archaeological investigations and myths, the theoretical and methodological issues involved in the use of written and archaeological sources, what archaeology can (or cannot) contribute to the understanding of texts/myths (and vice versa), and whether new myths have emerged since these archaeological discoveries (e.g. the Minoans as worshippers of a Great Mother Goddess and pacifist proto-Christians). The main aims of this unit are to introduce students to:

  • A number of world-famous archaeological sites in the Aegean (their main monuments and finds)
  • The history of their investigations
  • A number of ancient texts relevant to these sites (such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Herodutus's and Thucydides's Histories, Plato's Critias and Timaeus)
  • The complex theoretical and methodological issues involved in the study of these texts and the archaeological evidence.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit student will have a sound knowledge/critical understanding of:

  • a number of world-famous archaeological sites in the Aegean (their main monuments and finds);
  • the history of their archaeological explorations (and the reception of the archaeological discoveries);
  • important texts pertaining to well-known Greek and Near Eastern myths, and related to the early history of the sites examined;
  • the complex methodological issues involved in the use of both written and archaeological evidence.

In addition, second year students will be expected to have developed more sophisticated analytical skills, as demonstrated in their formal assessments (including the extended length of their course-work essay) and in their participation in seminar discussions.

Teaching details

Lectures (2 x 1 hour per week)

Assessment Details

1 essay of 2,500 words (50%) and 1 examination of 90 minutes (50%)

Reading and References

  • Buxton, R.G.A. 1994. Imaginary Greece. The Contexts of Mythology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Dowden, K. and Livingstone, N. (eds) 2011. A Companion to Greek Mythology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell).
  • Woodard, R.D. 2008. The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). (Availble as electonic resource).
  • Morris, S. and Laffineur (eds) 2007. Epos: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology (Aegaeum 28: Liege).
  • Fitton, J.L. (1995). The Discovery of the Greek Bronze Age (London: British Museum Press).
  • Luce, J.V. (1982; 1st ed. 1969). The End of Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend (London: Thames & Hudson).