An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Tomb Art


Should Egyptian tomb paintings be classified as 'art'? What do they tell us about Ancient Egyptian Society?

The creation, furnishing and decoration of a tomb was a significant expense for elite members of ancient Egyptian Society. The first decorated tomb predates the unification of Egypt and is the first in a tradition that endured for over three millennia. This course traces the development of Ancient Egyptian tomb art from its origins at Hierakonpolis through to the Late Period tombs of the South Asasif (where the tutor works) and North Asasif on the west bank of Luxor. 

We will identify themes that are shared, and how new ideas and styles develop. We will also learn to recognise key scenes, discuss artistic techniques and consider how such tomb scenes served their owner. In exploring Late Period tombs we can also consider how such scenes related to examples almost two thousand years earlier, and what choices of iconography and style can tell us about the tomb owners an their artists.

This well-illustrated course provides an introductory but representative sample of case studies from from the predynastic period to the New Kingdom and beyond, setting them in their historical and academic context.

This five-week course is standalone, bite-size introduction to ancient Egyptian Archaeology. However, it has also been scheduled as a complementary course that can be taken seamlessly in the weeks after Ancient Egyptian Grave Goods should students desire to enrol for both.

Programme details

Courses starts: 29 Feb 2024

Week 1: From Predynastic Egypt to the Old Kingdom - The emergence of private tomb art

Week 2: From the apogee of private tomb art in the Old Kingdom Saqqara to regional styles in the First Intermediate Period

Week 3: Lesser known tomb art of the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period and the emergence of Theban New Kingdom decorated tombs

Week 4: New Kingdom decorated tombs in Thebes and Saqqara, and the Amarna interlude

Week 5: Late Period Tomb Art: Innovation and Archaism - New Interpretations and Discussions 

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £140.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Mr John Billman

John Billman combines teaching with fieldwork as part of the South Asasif Conservation Project, and his role as Chairman of the local Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society. John's research includes the phenomenon of archaism in ancient Egypt     

Course aims

This course introduces a wide range of ancient Egyptian tomb relief art.  Examples will be considered from a range of tombs of different types and periods to provide a solid overview of common scenes, their purpose and development.

Course objectives:

  • To describe how tomb scenes develop in ancient Egypt and how they contribute to the overall role of the tomb.
  • To encourage critical and informed visual analysis of ancient Egyptian tomb scenes .
  • To introduce and identify major themes of ancient Egyptian tomb scenes and consider their transmission from one tomb to another.

Teaching methods

Teaching will primarily be by well-illustrated presentations, with pauses throughout to consider as a group some scenes in more detail. There will be plenty of opportunity for on-going interaction and discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • identify common tomb scenes and themes and discuss their role in the tomb;
  • perform an informed and critical visual analysis of selected tomb scenes;
  • embark on independent investigations of the decoration of ancient Egyptian tombs.

Assessment methods

Students will have a choice of options for assessment:

Option A (portfolio of work)

Completion of two mini assignments which can be made up of any combination of the following:

1. Short Questionnaires on material covered (two will be provided for weeks 1-2, 3-4 respectively).

2. Mini-essay of approximately 375 words on a First Intermediate Period or Middle Kingdom artefact.

3. Mini-essay  of approximately 375 words on any pharaoh covered in the course.

A list of suggested essays for both options will be provided. However students may, subject to tutor approval, choose their own relevant topics for mini-essays, essays, presentations and book reviews.    

Option B (essay of 750 words)

1. A traditional essay of approximately 750 words.


2. A book review of approximately 750 words.


3. A presentation to the class of with brief notes and slides submitted.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

This course will be suitable for both new students and those with some experience of ancient Egypt.  Students completely new to the subject would benefit from reading an introductory text to ancient Egypt for orientation such as Kathryn Bard's Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt (2nd edition now available).

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)