Visit to the British Museum (Greece)

Here, students on the ‘Greek World of the Fifth Century & Thucydides’ module report on their trip to the British Museum, which was led by Dr Will Mack.

‘As soon as we arrived at the British Museum we went to a Greek coin handling session that Dr Mack had organised for us. Amelia Dowler, the Curator of Greek and Roman Provincial Coins at the British Museum, led us through the history of Athenian coinage. She used impressive technology to greatly magnify the coins so that we could examine the small discrepancies between them. These differences between the coins were important for us to see, because it portrayed the way coinage changed under Athenian rule throughout the Archaic and Classical periods. Furthermore, she opened our eyes to vital concepts within coinage, such as coin copies and coin fraudulence, and how to identify them from the originals. The experience was altogether invaluable, for to see and touch the coins was to really appreciate and acknowledge the power and domination of the Athenian Empire and the early beginnings of coinage.

After lunch, Dr Mack gave us a concise introduction to some of the exhibits in the Museum that might be pertinent to our presentations and to our wider study. After this we were left alone to look around some of the exhibits in our groups. Our group spent a lot of the time studying the Parthenon Frieze, as our presentation was on the Cavalcade, which makes up a substantial proportion of the frieze. It was a good experience for us to visit the British museum and actually see the frieze as it gave us an opportunity to take some pictures, and write down some of the information provided by the boards in the museum. In general, it was also worthwhile taking a closer look at such an iconic piece of ancient history. It was interesting to see how the museum presented the frieze and how this compared with what we already knew about its original layout on the Parthenon. Finding some pictures of how the frieze used to be presented in the British Museum was also very helpful for our presentation.

Part of the Cavalcade – we took this photo kneeling down in order to replicate to some extent how the frieze was positioned originally on the Parthenon: 12 metres high on the cella (Naos) wall
A replica of how the marble was originally decorated


Afterwards we had the opportunity to view other parts of the British Museum which was a great experience as it houses a large collection on numerous aspects of history. We spent a lot of time looking at the other Greek related displays that set our examination of the Parthenon Frieze into a wider historical context. For example, we saw another frieze from the temple at Bassae which depicted the Centronomachy, where the Lapiths fought the centaurs with Theseus’ support. This scene is also depicted in the Parthenon so it showed the common Greek mythos and how Greek society perceived their own past.

Bassae Frieze – photographed from the ground to replicate its original position 


Amelia Dowler had also placed us on the guest list for the British Museum’s special exhibition which was about South African history and art. This was very interesting and a great opportunity for us as it was an area of history that we knew little about, so to see this exhibition was a real eye opener for us about different cultures that are often ignored in mainstream education. We were particularly surprised to see that different forms of art have been practised for hundreds of thousands of years, well before the development of major civilisations of the past three thousand years that we study as Ancient History students.

Rob Rivers (BA Ancient History)

Nick Jenkins (BA Ancient History)

Rob Martin  (BA Ancient and Medieval History)


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