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Discovering Ancient Religion through Material Culture


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges


Greek and Roman religions are often understood and described in modern scholarship as “embedded” in all aspects of ancient society. And because religion permeated all facets of life in the Greek and Roman worlds, it is hardly surprising that traces of religious thought and practice can be found virtually everywhere. Many various genres of material objects – altars, votive offerings, amulets, curse tablets and magical dolls, oracular tablets, the so-called Orphic-Bacchic lamellae, cultic incense burners, purification water basins, vases, figurines, gems, and plaques – not only bear witness to the remarkable and fundamental role played by religion in the life of ancient communities, but can also reveal a great deal about the experiences and impressions of Greek and Roman religions. The very construction of gods as super-human beings and all forms of communication with them were not only using, but were shaped by, the material basis to these activities. If, as has recently been argued, material things have agency, i.e. can affect people and elicit human action, we need to rethink the question of how and to what extend have religious experiences, sensations and actions of people in the ancient world been delineated and enhanced by the objects they used in cultic context? And more generally, how can the study of material culture expand our understanding of religious practices and beliefs in the ancient Greek and Roman world?

This course will offer a practical guide on how to use material objects as a source for the study of Greek and Roman religions. Students will learn how to find, read and interpret various genres of objects. Knowledge of the Greek or Latin language is not required.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 1) Broad knowledge and understanding of the key terms, the apparatus and the research methods and

techniques of the chosen specialisation, with a special focus in the specialisation Ancient History on ancient texts and archaeological sources; source criticism and contextualisation; acculturalisation theory.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student:

  • 2) will get acquainted with the characteristics and development of different genres of ancient material culture;

  • 3) will acquire knowledge of and insight into the apparatus, research methods and techniques of material culture analysis;

  • 4) will be able to use material artifacts to answer historical questions;

  • 5) will be able to conduct her/his/their own research on a chosen aspect of the religious material culture in Antiquity and give an oral presentation and write a paper on this subject.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (attendance required)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If you are not able to attend, you are required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If you do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, you will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Weekly assignments and participation in class discussions

measured learning objectives: 1-5

  • Paper: paper based on oral presentation (3000 words, excluding cover page, table of contents, bibliography, footnotes)

measured learning objectives: 1-5


  • Written paper: 50%

  • Weekly assignments and participation: 50%


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Brightspace course.

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 organized.

Reading list

  • R. Raja, J. Rüpke (eds.), A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World (Chichester; Malden, MA; Oxford 2015).

Other relevant literature will be provided during the course.


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: [Naam Onderwijsadministratie](link naar contactgegevens OA)