skip to primary navigationskip to content

Paper 7: Ancient History

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce the material, cultural and political history of Greece and Rome from (roughly) 1000 BC to AD 400.
  2. To develop the practice of historical interpretation through close reading of documentary and literary texts.
  3. To introduce students to the variety of critical approaches possible in the study of Greek and Roman history and to current trends in modern historiography.
  4. To understand and explain change and diversity, political, social, economic and cultural, across the two major ancient civilisations which form the basis of Western culture.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2018–19

The syllabus is based around the following topics: The Early History of Rome and Greece; the Roman Emperor: from Tiberius to the Severans; and Sparta.

The examination paper will consist of ten questions. Question 1, which is compulsory, will consist of nine images or passages of ancient text, given with translation, three relating to each of the topics above; candidates must comment on any three. Questions 2–10 will consist of essay-questions divided into three sections, each section containing three questions relating to one of the three topics listed above. In addition to Question 1, candidates will be required to answer two essay questions, each taken from a different section. Candidates will thus need to be familiar with at least two of the three topics.


Course descriptions


(12 L: Michaelmas)

This course will focus on the very centre of power in imperial Rome, the figure of the emperor himself, from the death of Augustus to the early third century AD. One central theme will be the nature of the relationships between the emperor and other key elements in the Roman state – the Senate, equestrian order and provincial elites, the people of Rome, and the army. We will also be looking at the multiple responsibilities of the emperor – military, religious and administrative – and at the development of an imperial court; and investigating what factors lay behind the designation, in both ancient and modern times, of certain emperors as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

The following key passages from literary texts and inscriptions are to be studied, along with some specified monuments in Rome, as one important aim of the course is to set the emperor’s various activities in the physical context of the city.

Specified texts and monuments:

Philo, Embassy to Gaius 349-53; Josephus, Jewish War 7. 148-62;

Statius Silvae 3.3.59-97; Pliny Letters 7.29; 10. 4, 5, 12, 96-7; Pliny Panegyricus 48-49; Tacitus Annals 1.72; Annals 15.44; Tacitus Histories 1.4; Suetonius Caligula 22; Nero 31, 57; Dio 69.6-7, 20; Dio 73.21. Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 1;

N. Lewis and M. Reinhold, Roman Civilization vol. 2 (1955), p. 89-90 (Lex de imperio Vespasiani); p. 133-4 (Claudius’ speech to the Senate); p. 183-4 (complaint from imperial estate tenants in N. Africa and Commodus’ response); p. 507-9 (Hadrian’s address to Legio III Augusta at Lambaesis); p. 567-8 (Dura Europos military calendar).

R.K. Sherk, The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian (1988) no. 96 (Domitian’s letter to the Falerienses about a land dispute).

Monuments at Rome: Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Baths of Caracalla; The Palatine Palace and Nero’s Golden House; Praetorian camp at Rome; Arch of Titus; Arch of Septimius Severus; Vespasian’s Temple of Peace; Forum of Trajan (inc. Trajan’s Column). Temples of Hadrian, Antoninus & Faustina; Venus and Rome.

Introductory reading: J.B. Campbell, The Emperor and the Roman Army 31 BC – AD 235 (1984); C. Wells, The Roman Empire (2nd ed, 1992); A. Wallace-Hadrill, ‘The imperial court’, in A.K. Bowman, E. Champlin, A. Lintott (eds) Cambridge Ancient History (2nd edn), vol. 10 (1996), 283-308.



(12 L: Lent)

Sparta poses significant challenges to the historian. After the archaic poets Alkman and Tyrtaios we have no Spartan authors. After a rich production of bronzework, painted pottery, ivories and other fine craftsmanship during the archaic period, Classical Sparta is materially impoverished. Yet Classical Sparta not only led the other Greeks to victory over the Persians in the Persian Wars but constituted the main resistance to imperial Athens, turning the Peloponnesian league into the basis for a Spartan empire following the defeat of Athens in 403. But Spartan imperial power was short-lived, and after the 360s Sparta was little more than a minor power. How far was this a product of Sparta’s political structure, and what relationship did that political structure have with an exceptional social structure were agricultural production rested with a subordinated population of helots, and craft production to communities of free perioikoi  dependent on Sparta? Understanding both Sparta’s strength and why that strength was so ephemeral must be achieved on the basis of the partial and distorted views offered by other Greeks.

This course is concerned with how we can put together a picture of archaic and classical Sparta and how we can understand the remarkable trajectory of Spartan history. The twelve sessions will deal with:

1          Lykourgos and the problems of the ‘Spartan mirage’

2          The archaeology of archaic Sparta

3          The world of Tyrtaios and Alkman

4          Sparta, the Peloponnese and the wider world to 525.

5          Kleomenes

6          Sparta’s economy and Spartan society: helots and perioikoi

7          Sparta and the Persian Wars

8          Sparta and Athens 478–432

9          The Peloponnesian War

10        Women and wealth in Sparta

11        The Spartan empire

12        Why did Sparta collapse?

Specified texts: Alkman Louvre Partheneion, Tyrtaios frgs. 4, 5, 10–12; Herodotos 1.65–8, 5.49–51; 6.56–7, 61–6, 74–8, 9.28–9, 35; Thucydides 1.79–87, 95, 101–3, 130–34, 4.80, 5.64–75; Xenophon Constitution of the Lakedaimonians; Hellenika 3.3.4–11, 5.4.24–33; Aristotle Politics 2.1269a29–1271b19; Diodoros 11.50; Plutarch Lykourgos 1, 5–18, 21–2, 26–31.

Recommended reading: M. Whitby (ed.) Sparta (Edinburgh 2002); M. Cooley ed. Sparta (LACTOR 21) (London, 2017).



(12 L: Easter, weeks 1-6)

Although conventionally we tell the story of Greek and Roman history as if Rome had no history before it became embroiled in Greek affairs at the end of the third century, in fact the early history of Rome and the early history of Greece are contemporary. Not only that but writing early Greek history and writing early Roman history poses very similar problems – in both cases we have strong later traditions that relate only speculatively to the evidence surviving from the period. In this course we look at what we can know from contemporary evidence, both literary and archaeological, about what was happening in Greece and at Rome from the eighth century into the fifth century, and at what later tradition claimed and why it made such claims. The course exploits both the evidence of Greek and Roman epic that is being studied in the literary papers and a range of other poetry and prose and just a little archaeology. It serves as a background not only, in different ways, to Greek and Roman epic poetry but also to the constructions of the past in classical Greek and late Republican and Augustan Roman literature.

Preliminary reading: R. Osborne Greece in the Making c.1200–479 (2nd edn. London 2009); T. J. Cornell The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (London, 1995); M. Beard, SPQR (2015), chaps 2-4.

Passages for comment in the examination will be drawn from the following texts, but candidates will also be expected to use knowledge drawn from the texts set for the epic module of the literature papers.

Iliad 2.211–277 (Thersites), 18.478–608 (shield of Achilles)

Odyssey 2.1–223 (assembly on Ithaca); 4.589–620 (Menelaus’ gifts to Telemachus); 24. 412–66 (assembly on Ithaca).

Hesiod Works and Days 27–41, 225–47, 618–62 (trans. Most, Loeb)

Archilochos 196a (Cologne epode; trans. Gerber, Loeb)

Semonides 7 (trans. Gerber, Loeb)

Sappho 22, 23, 27, 98 (trans. Campbell, Loeb); New brothers poem, trans. Obbink ZPE 189 (2014) 39–40.

Alkman frg. 1 (Louvre Partheneion) trans. Campbell, Loeb)

Herodotos 5.66–9 (Cleisthenes and Cleisthenes of Sicyon); 5.92 (Cypselos and Periander) (trans. Godley, Loeb).

Meiggs and Lewis Greek Historical Inscriptions no.s 2 (Dreros), 5 (Cyrene), 8 (Chios) (trans. Fornara Translated Documents of Greece and Rome Vol. 1 From Archaic times to the end of the Peloponnesian War no.s 11, 18, 19).

Cicero De Republica II. 17-22; 25-30; 32-37.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus 3.46 – 3.49.1

Livy I.1-7.3; I.56-60; II.28-29,  31.7-33.3, 41; III.30-34; III.50-54; IV. 13-16; 20

Vergil Aeneid VI. 756-853; VIII.313-369

Ovid Met. XIV.581-622 & 772-851

Plutarch Life of Romulus 1-13



(3 C: Easter, weeks 1-3)

Three revision classes, each focusing on one of the three topics specified for Part 1B this year: Between two worlds: Classical to Hellenistic Greece; The Roman Emperor: from Tiberius to the Severans; and The Early History of Rome and Greece.

There will be a particular focus on how to tackle the text passages in the compulsory Question 1.

RSS Feed Latest news

The Runciman Award 2019

May 13, 2019

The Faculty is delighted to announce that Professor Robin Osborne is a recipient of the Runciman Award 2019 for 'The Transformation of Athens' (Princeton University Press).

Aldborough Roman Town Project Podcast

May 10, 2019

Follow progress on the Aldborough Roman Town Project via their podcast.

Museum Closure on Mondays

Mar 20, 2019

The Museum of Classical Archaeology will close on Mondays, beginning Monday 29 April 2019.

J. Paul Getty Medal

Jan 25, 2019

The Faculty is delighted to report that Mary Beard has been named as one of this year's recipients of the J. Paul Getty Medal. See weblink for further information.

View all news