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Common Course "Cultural Contacts": Remembering the Dead. Concepts and Practices around Death, Burial and Afterlife in Ancient Mediterranean Cultures


Admission requirements

This course is open to and compulsory for Research Master students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (all specializations).


The ways how humans buried their dead and the kinds of traditions they developed about the post-mortal existence of the deceased and the afterlife in general have always attracted scholars - often enough in the presupposition that they might offer access to values, beliefs or mentalities of ancient cultures. But graves are not simply "mirrors of life". Careful study of literary and material sources and strict methodological reflection in interdisciplinary dialogue are necessary prerequisites to approach the topic. This ResMA Common Course will introduce students to various traditions on the afterlife, focusing on the key track disciplines Assyriology, Classics, Egyptology and Hebrew and Aramaic Studies and beyond. It makes "Cultural Contacts" concrete, helping participants to understand the diversity and cohesion of the ancient Mediterranean world.

Course objectives

  • The student will be made familiar with important examples of burial culture, concepts of the afterlife and traditions on individual eschatology relevant to one's own track on the basis of literary and material sources;

  • The student will gain insight into the large variety of burial traditions and their social and religious underpinnings beyond the scope of one's own track, and thereby gain better understanding into contacts and cross-fertilization among ancient Mediterranean cultures;

  • The student will understand theoretical questions of religious and social transformations in various branches of ancient Mediterranean culture with special attention to ancient burial culture;

  • The student will be able to critically assess selected modern scholarly interpretations of ancient burial culture;

  • The student will be made familiar with core sources (texts, inscriptions, elements of material culture) relevant to burial culture and concepts of the afterlife and learn how to critically use them in order to form his or her own explanations of the problem;

  • The student will analyse a case study of her or his choice under supervision by a member of staff, prepare the topic for presentation and discussion on the Final Symposium and work it out into a written paper;

  • The student will contribute to setting up and run a Final Symposium and thereby be introduced into practical aspects of decision-making and organization for an important form of academic activity.


Please consult the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar style classes with individual study of scholarly literature;

  • student presentations at final symposium;

  • and end paper.

Course Load

10 EC = 280 hours:

  • attending lectures: 24 hrs

  • course preparation: 52 hrs

  • preparation of oral presentation: 64 hrs

  • preparation paper: 120 hrs

  • helping to organize concluding symposium: 20 hrs.

Assessment method

  • Active participation in class work including presenting an oral paper on a self-chosen topic relevant to one of the seminar sessions, incl. a one-page handout with research question, summary of results and bibliography (40%).

  • Written paper of ca. 5000 words (60%).

  • Working together with fellow students and staff to organize a Final Symposium.

If one of the above-mentioned requirements are not fulfilled or graded "insufficient", the following rules apply ("herkansingen"):

  • The oral paper can be compensated by handing it in as Power Point presentation, including an expanded handout of 3 pages outlining the research question, step by step-summary of methodology and argumentation, results and bibliography.

  • The written paper can be compensated by a (revised) paper of 5000 words.

  • The contribution to the Final Symposium can be compensated by a 3-page article on the class topic written for a wider public.


Blackboard will be used as means of communication and to distribute study material.

Reading list

Will be made available by individual session chairs via Blackboard.


Through Usis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. Dr. J.K. Zangenberg

Students are also advised to be in contact with their respective MA track leader and a member of the academic staff who can function as supervisor for the end paper (further information will be given in the first meeting).


The seminar (common course) is obligatory for all Research Master students. Minimum attendance is 3 students.