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From the Cradle to the Grave: Life and Death in the Ancient Greek World


Admission requirements

History students have met the first year BSA requirement.


The average life expectancy in the Netherlands today is just over 82 years; in ancient Greece it was 28 years. No other figure shows more clearly and impressively how much the prerequisites of planning one’s life in Greek antiquity differed from those of today. How did an average life of an ordinary man or woman — be it a free person or a slave, a citizen or a foreigner — look like under these very different conditions? What significant life stages marked the path from the cradle to the grave? For how long was one considered a child? At what age did an individual enter adulthood? What did it mean to be classified as ‘young’, ‘mature’ or ‘old’ and how did the social roles change?

In this lecture, we will look into the lives and livelihoods of ordinary men and women in an attempt to trace and reconstruct a typical life path of a person in the ancient Greek world, from conception to the afterlife. Drawing on a broad range of sources — poetry and drama, historiography and oratory, medical and philosophical works, inscriptions, graffiti and vase-paintings — we will focus on the key phases and events in the Greeks’ life cycle and in so doing shed light on many fundamental issues such as the varying gender roles of men and women in Greek societies, the implications of ageing and demographic change, the organization of daily life, the concepts of entertainments and occupations, the ways of dealing with illness and death, the attitudes towards contraception, abortion, generational conflict, divorce and euthanasia or, for instance, ancient Greek theoretical conceptions of the appropriate lifestyle.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) organise and use relatively large amounts of information

  • 2) reflect critically on knowledge and understanding as presented in academic literature

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 3) The student has broad knowledge and understanding of the historical development of a specialisation, with a special focus in the specialisation Ancient History, on the Classical Antiquity, with an emphasis on the period 400 B.C. to 400 A.D.; socioeconomic structures; the ancient city; mentality history; ancient religion; cultural contact.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific lecture course

The student:

  • 4) acquires basic knowledge of the social history of ancient Greece

  • 5) acquires knowledge and understanding of some central aspects of the life cycle in Greek antiquity and the Hellenic way of life.

  • 6) acquires insight into the main scholarly debates concerning the life cycle of the Greeks.

  • 7) gains understanding of the nature of different ancient source materials.

  • 8) acquires an overview of approaches and insight into the main developments in the field of social and cultural history.


The timetables are avalable through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Independent study

Assessment method


The course will be assessed through two subtests, covering all course objectives:

  • Midterm examination: Written examination with closed questions (multiple choice) and 2-3 open essay questions (on the material of the first 6 lectures).

  • Final examination: Written examination with closed questions (multiple choice) and 2-3 open essay questions (on the material of Lectures 7-12.).


  • Midterm examination: 50%

  • Final examination: 50%
    The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit exam will take place in one single resit, at which both subtests are offered. For this resit three hours will be reserved, so that students will be able to retake both subtests, if necessary.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Recommended literature:

  • Laura K. McClure, Women in Classical Antiquity: From Birth to Death (Hoboken, NJ 2020)

  • Robert Garland, Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks (Westport, CT 2009)

  • Donna C. Kurtz and John Boardman, Greek Burial Customs (London 1971)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable