skip to content

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce the intellectual and philosophical, historical, material and visual, and linguistic cultures of Greek and Roman antiquity.
  2. To develop the practice of interpretation across the whole range of classical study through close study of texts and artefacts.
  3. To introduce the variety of critical methodologies possible in the study of classical antiquity and major current trends in scholarship.
  4. To develop a sense of the importance of classical antiquity and its study for the modern world.
  5. To develop skills in writing research essays.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2023–24

Candidates will be expected to submit two essays, each related to a different topic chosen from the following four groups: Greek and Roman philosophy (B Caucus), history (C Caucus), art and archaeology (D Caucus), and linguistics (E Caucus). The two essays must be chosen from two different groups. The topics shall be chosen from a list of suggested titles to be issued on Monday of the 8th Week of Lent term. Essays are to be submitted not later than 12 noon on the Monday of the 5th week of Easter Term.

For each essay, students should receive a maximum of 90 minutes of supervision and only one full draft is to be read by supervisor. The word limit is 2,500 words, including notes, but excluding bibliography. From 2023/24, candidates who have taken Prelim must submit at least one essay related to a non-literary topic on which they were not examined in Prelim. Some questions will give opportunity to engage with the issues raised in the ‘Classics Now’ lectures (see below).

Students are required to declare that the submitted essay is their own work, and does not contain material already used to any substantial extent for a comparable purpose. Essays must be word processed (1.5 spacing) unless permission has been obtained from the Faculty Board to present them in handwritten form. The style of presentation, quotation and reference to books, articles and ancient authorities should be consistent and comply with the standards required by a major journal.


Courses descriptions

Greek and Roman Philosophy


(8 L: Michaelmas; 8 L: Lent; 8 L: Easter)

This set of lectures provides an introduction to Ancient Greek Philosophy. In the Michaelmas term we will look mainly at Plato’s presentation of the figure of Socrates, a presentation that is often inseparable from Plato’s own philosophical views. The lectures will consider how to read and interpret Plato’s ‘Socratic conversations’ philosophically and show how they can be a provocation to further philosophical inquiry.  The main texts will be Plato’s Apology, Euthyphro, Meno, Phaedo, Protagoras, Gorgias, and Symposium. Those attending the course are encouraged to read as much as possible of these in advance. A convenient translation, all in one volume, is John Cooper ed. Plato: the complete works (Hackett: Indianapolis, 1997). In the Lent term we will consider two central texts in greater detail: Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. We will consider their respective discussions of happiness and human excellence in relation to their epistemological and metaphysical views. For the Republic, see the translation in Cooper ed. (above); for the Nicomachean Ethics, see Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe (transl. and comm.), Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford 2002). In the Easter term we will look at two themes: the Hellenistic philosophies of Epicureanism and Stoicism and Early Greek Philosophy and Science.


Ancient History


(8 L: Michaelmas; 8 L: Lent)

The second-century BC Greek writer Polybius, like many in antiquity, compared Roman hegemony over the Mediterranean with previous empires, which had already come and gone, as well as the current Carthaginian competition. This course examines imperial rule from the Persian empire in the sixth century BC to Late Antiquity, when Roman dominion in the East were threatened by the imperial successors of the Persians centred in what is now Iran. Issues to be explored will include how empires was created in the first place; the ways in which they both exploited the territories subjected to them, and sought to unify their empires under central control; and how the capitals of imperial powers reflected their imperial status.

The first part will cover the rise and fall of empires from Achaemenid Persia through those of Athens, Sparta and Macedon, to the formation of the Hellenistic kingdoms after Alexander. The second part will explore the rise of Roman power in conflict with Carthage and the Hellenistic Kingdoms, its consolidation and then challenge from Sassanian Persia.

Introductory bibliography: A. Kuhrt, The Persian Empire: a corpus of sources from the Achaemenid period (2007); P.J. Rhodes, The Athenian Empire (Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics 17, 1985); P. Low ed., The Athenian Empire (2008); A.B. Bosworth, Conquest and empire. The reign of Alexander the Great (1988); G. Shipley, The Greek world after Alexander, 323-30 B.C. (2000); C. Champion, Roman Imperialism: Readings and Sources (2004); A. Lintott, Imperium Romanum: Politics and Administration (1993); P. Garnsey & R. Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, 2nd edn. (2015); E. Dench, Empire and Political Cultures in the Roman World (2018); M. Lavan, Slaves to Rome: Paradigms of Empire in Roman Culture (2013); F. Millar, The Roman Empire and its neighbours (1967).



(4 L: Easter)

Our connection to the ancient past is indirect and delicate – resting on the proper interpretation of a limited number of small, unevenly distributed, and distorted reflections. This course will introduce this range of reflections – our ancient sources. We will explore the various types of evidence used by ancient historians, considering the pitfalls of each, the kind of history a particular source might produce, and the ways in which historians can critically assess the geographical, chronological, and social perspectives and imbalances of the material. How might the questions we ask of literary evidence differ from those we ask of archaeological data? How might inscriptions and documentary sources illuminate the lives of people neglected by other sources? What determines whether an event or period is ‘well documented’ or not? What are the difficulties and opportunities latent in bringing modern perspectives to ancient material? Students will develop a strong understanding of the landscape of ancient sources, as well as an appreciation for the fragility of the thread which connects modern observers and antiquity


Classical Art and Archaeology


(8 L: Michaelmas; 16 L: Lent)

This course provides an introduction to the scope and potential of the art and archaeology of the Greek and Roman worlds. The first 8 lectures will offer an overview of the questions, methods, and themes of classical 'art' and archaeology, and introduce the importance and inter-relationship of these strands of knowledge for studying the Greek and Roman worlds. The following 16 lectures familiarise students with the range of material culture produced by different peoples across the chronological and geographical span of Classical Antiquity. The focus of these lectures is on key sites, issues and approaches.

Suggested readings (double-starred [**] items are accessible online through iDiscover): **S. Alcock and R. Osborne, Classical Archaeology, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 2011); M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classical Art from Greece to Rome (Oxford, 2001); A. Claridge, Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guides (Oxford, 2010); J. Elsner, The Art of the Roman Empire AD 100-450, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 2018); R. Neer, The Art and Archaeology of the Greek World, 2nd edn. (London, 2019); R. Osborne, Archaic and Classical Greek Art (Oxford, 1998); **C. Shelmerdine (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2008); **N.J. Spivey, Greek Sculpture (Cambridge, 2013);  N.J. Spivey and M.J. Squire, Panorama of the Classical World (2004); S. Tuck, A History of Roman Art (Chichester, 2015).


Classical and Comparative Philology and Linguistics

Classical and Comparative Philology and Linguistics: 16 lectures (8 MT and 8 LT). The course is designed to introduce the systematic study of language in general and of the classical languages in particular, with the aim of supporting students’ language learning and consolidation while explaining both the concepts and techniques of modern descriptive and theoretical linguistics and the ways in which these can be fruitfully applied to the analysis of Greek and Latin. There will be discussion of selected testimonia from ancient authors and analysis of passages and examples taken from mainstream authors. An advanced knowledge of Greek or Latin is not presupposed; the lectures in Michaelmas Term do not require any knowledge of Greek.

Students may find the following text-books helpful as introductory or follow-up reading for many of the concepts introduced throughout the whole course: Larry Trask, Language: The Basics (Routledge 1999 (2nd edn.)), Ralph Fasold and Jeff Connor-Linton (eds), An Introduction to Language and Linguistics (Cambridge, 2006); Victoria Fromkin (ed.), An introduction to Linguistic Theory (Blackwell, 2000); Egbert J. Bakker (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language (Blackwell, 2010); James Clackson (ed.), A Companion to the Latin Language (Blackwell, 2011).

Subject to Directors of Studies’ approval, supervisions will be organised centrally to complement the lectures.

Those who plan to offer one or more of the Group E papers (Historical and Comparative Linguistics) in Part II of the Tripos are advised to attend at least some of the lectures for linguistics in Part IA, even if they do not intend to answer linguistics questions in Paper 6 of Part IA, or to take a linguistics paper in Part IB.


(4 L: Michaelmas, weeks 1-4)

Humans are distinguished from all other animals by their abilities not only in using language, but also in preserving a record of speech over millennia. Our knowledge of ancient literate societies is immeasurably richer than of those which have left no written record. Knowing how language works is essential to learning Latin and Greek and understanding ancient cultures. These four lectures serve as a general introduction to the study of languages with especial reference to some of the differences between ancient languages and modern languages. The lectures will introduce the terminology used in studying languages and linguistics, setting out the different areas of linguistic analysis. We shall also consider wider questions concerning how Latin and Greek reflect and relate to ancient society, how languages change, how languages are related.

Introductory Reading

James Clackson, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Cambridge 2016

Coulter George, How Dead Languages Work, Oxford 2020

Tore Janson, A Natural History of Latin, Oxford, 2004

Peter Matthews, Linguistics, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford 2003

Joseph Solodow, Latin Alive: the survival of Latin in English and the Romance Languages



(4 L: Michaelmas, weeks 5-8)

In these lectures we are going to explore the Latin language as a system. A system that despite its considerable complexity and many rules still seems to show a great number of anomalies. Why is it facere but interficere? How do we get to bewildering paradigms like fero, tuli, latum? Why do you say in urbe but ruri? And what are all these cases for anyway? By analysing the phonology and morphology of Latin and their history we shall try to come to better understand why Latin looks and works the way it does.

Introductory reading:

Leonard Palmer, The Latin Language, London 1954 (older, but still useful; many reprints)

W. Sidney Allen, Vox Latina, Cambridge 1978

Michael Weiss, Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin, 2nd edition, 2020 (advanced, but a useful place to look for particular details)



(4 L: Lent, weeks 1-4)

These lectures offer a corresponding introduction to the study of Greek as a linguistic system - a system which often looks bewilderingly more complex than Latin. By looking at important phonological and morphological developments in the history of the language we will tame some of that complexity, and answer questions such as: why does Greek look so similar to Latin and yet so different from it? Why does it have fewer cases and use them differently? What exactly is​ an optative?

Suggested reading:

L. R. Palmer, The Greek Language, Bristol Classical Press, 1996

W. S. Allen, Vox Graeca, Cambridge University Press, 1987

S. Colvin, A Brief History of Ancient Greek, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014



(4 L: Lent, weeks 5-8)

Ancient Greek and Latin are “dead” languages, meaning that we only have written evidence for these languages. In these lectures we will explore the relationship between speech and writing. We will discuss the nature and the workings of the alphabet and then look at its origin, development and spread, and discuss how it is used by putting it in a linguistic, historical and cultural context. We will then read a number of primary sources (inscriptions) and literary texts in order to see how all of this works in practice.

Introductory reading:

Peter Daniels and William Bright, The World's Writing Systems New York 1996

Andrew Robinson, The Story of Writing, London 2007

James T. Hooker, Ancient writing from cuneiform to the alphabet, London 1990

Alison E. Cooley, The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy, Cambridge 2012

Arthur Geoffrey Woodhead, A Study of Greek Inscriptions, 2nd ed., Cambridge 1981


Classics Now: live issues past and present


LAUNARO et al.
(8 L: Lent)

This lecture series will consist of 8 lectures each year, focused on different topics. The lectures will introduce students to some key aspects of the history of Classics as a discipline, and the many ways in which the study of Greece and Rome has participated and continues to participate in live issues of politics, power and identity in the modern world. Core topics will include race, gender and class. Every Caucus will also offer one lecture for the module. Each lecture will address one central issue through one specific case study. Essay questions reflecting this module will be set in IA Paper 6.

The schedule of lectures will be:

  • 19 January - Simon Goldhill, Race and raciness
  • 26 January - Geoffrey Lloyd, Classics: Past, Present and Future
  • 2 February - Michael Squire, Body/Image
  • 9 February - Tim Whitmarsh, Firing the Canon
  • 16 February - James Warren, Should we cancel Aristotle?
  • 23 February - Shushma Malik, Empire and Nationalism
  • 1 March - Susanne Turner, Decolonising the Museum
  • 8 March - Krishnan Ram-Prasad, Language, Identity and Origin

Latest news

VIEWS project Visiting Fellowships

20 May 2024

We invite applications for two funded VIEWS project Visiting Fellowships, with a deadline of 30th June 2024. For further details please follow this link.

Dr Richard Duncan-Jones FBA 1937-2024

19 May 2024

The Faculty is saddened by news of the death of Dr Richard Duncan-Jones FBA FSA. He had been a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College since 1963 where he was a college lecture in Classics and Director of Studies for many years.

Language Teaching Associate

17 May 2024

The Faculty of Classics is seeking to appoint a Fixed Term Teaching Associate from 01 September 2024 until 31 August 2026 (0.6 FTE). The teaching will principally involve intensive reading classes in Greek and Latin for students without A level qualification or equivalent at entry. For more details see here. CLOSING DATE...

New appointment in Latin literature

15 May 2024

The Faculty is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr Elena Giusti as a new Assistant Professor of Latin literature. She will join the Faculty in the new academic year. Elena will be joining from the University of Warwick, where she is currently Associate Professor of Latin . She works broadly on Roman literature and...