Art and archaeology of early maritime Southeast Asia

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module explores maritime connectivity and the dynamic role played by Southeast Asian Buddhist and Hindu polities, circa 200 – 1400 CE in the formation of regional religious identities and art styles. It does so by examining a range of art historical and archaeological evidence, including sacred sculpture and monuments, textual sources, archaeological sites and shipwrecks. Incipient Southeast Asian polities drove the development of the first millennium CE maritime networks linking the region with the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia. By highlighting interconnectivity, the module complements other modules that focus on the art and archaeology of neighbouring regions by enabling students to situate these cultures within a larger Indian Ocean World context.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student will be able to:

  • Assess the expansion of Buddhism and Hinduism in Southeast Asia along maritime networks and the later construction of sacred ceremonial centres from the 3rd to the 14th centuries CE.
  • Appraise the political, religious, and social contexts that generated the rich cultural heritage visible in the sculptural, architectural, and archaeological remains of the region. 
  • Evaluate the approaches and methods used by the disciplines of art history and archaeology to reconstruct the histories of these maritime societies.
  • Formulate the ability to situate the art and archaeology of Southeast Asia within the larger Indian Ocean World historical context.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

The module explores a number of themes based around a variety of Southeast Asian case studies. The content may vary from year to year and may include case studies that cover the following:

Connectivity: Maritime routes connected peoples, goods, technologies, and religions across the Indian Ocean World. This connectivity acted as a catalyst for the development of distinct forms of political, religious, and artistic life within Southeast Asia.

Flow of goods and ideas: A major body of evidence for the flow of religious and artistic ideas along the maritime networks is to be found in Southeast Asian entrepôt sites and shipwrecks. They provide crucial evidence for the nature and extent of maritime networks.

Recentring Southeast Asia: Southeast Asia played an integral and dynamic role in transregional maritime trade and state formation that has often been overshadowed by the emphasis placed on East and South Asia. The creation of monumental sacred centres such as Borobudur in Java, Dong-Duong in Central Vietnam and Angkor in Cambodia indicate otherwise.

Method of assessment

  • One 1,000-word written report, object analysis or review (worth 40%)
  • One 2,000-word essay (worth 60%)

Suggested reading

  • Bernet Kempers, A.J. (1933) The bronzes of Nalanda and Hindu-Javanese art E.J. Brill, Leiden
  • Chakrabarti, D. K., (1995:185-202) ‘Buddhist Sites across South Asia as influenced by Political and Economic Forces" World Archaeology, Vol. 27, No.2, Buddhist Archaeology (Oct. 1995)  URL
  • Donaldson, T.E. (2001) Iconography of the Buddhist sculpture of Orissa Abhinav Publications New Dehli
  • Bunker, E. and Latchford,D. (2011) Khmer Bronze Masterpieces Chicago: Art Media Resources.
    Davidson, R. (2002) Indian Esoteric Buddhism: a social history of the Tantric movement Columbia University Press, New York
  • Hock, N. (1987) Buddhist ideology and the scriptures of Ratnagiri, seventh through thirteenth centuries PhD Berkeley
  • Jacques, C. (2006) The Khmer Empire Trans. T. White, River Books, Bangkok
  • Jordaan, R. E. (1996) In praise of Prambanan Leiden, KITLV
  • Kinney, A. R. (2003) Worshipping Siva and Buddha: the temple art of East Java Univ. of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu
  • Linrothe, R. (1999) Ruthless compassion Serindia, London
  • O’Brien, K. (2008) Sutasoma: the ancient tale of a Buddha-Prince Orchid Press, Singapore
  • Pott, P.H. (1966) Yoga and Yantra: Their Interrelation and Their Significance for Indian Archaeology trans. R. Needham, Nijhoff, Hague
  • Rawson, P. (1973 revised 1978) The art of Tantra Thames & Hudson, London
  • Samuel, G. (2008) The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the 13th century CUP
  • Scheurleer, P. L. & Klokke, M. J. (1988) Divine Bronze: ancient Indonesian bronzes from A.D. 600-1600 E.J. Brill, Leiden
  • Sharrock, P.D. (2007:230-80) ‘The mystery of the face towers’ in Bayon, New Perspectives ed. Joyce Clark River Books, Bangkok
  • Sharrock, P.D. (2009: 49-64) ‘Hevajra at Banteay Chmar’ A curator’s choice: Essays in Honor of Hiram Woodward, Jr The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery
  • Sharrock, P.D. (2011) ‘Kirtipandita and the Tantras’ Udaya 10 Phnom Penh, New York
  • Snellgrove, D. (1959:204-18) ‘The notion of divine kingship in Tantric Buddhism’ The Sacral Kingship: contributions to the central theme of the VIIIth international congress for the history of religions (Rome, April 1955) vol. IV E.J. Brill, Leiden
  • Snellgrove, D. (1959) The Hevajra-Tantra, a critical study Oxford University Press London
  • Studholme, A. (2002) The origins of Om Manipadme Hūm SUNY, Albany
  • Woodward, H. (2004:329-54) ‘Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asia in the Light of Recent Scholarship’ Journal of Southeast Asian studies 35.2



Dr Stephen A Murphy and Dr Peter D Sharrock


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules