Study Classical Civilisations with our Oxford Summer School 2018 | Students aged 16-18
Class Summary

This Classical Civilisations course is designed to serve as an introduction to the history, literature, philosophy and belief systems of Ancient Greece and Rome. Special emphasis will be placed on the numerous contributions of these classical cultures to the modern world (from a material as well as a cultural point of view). Critical thinking and personal exploration of the subject will be encouraged through debates, reading sessions, re-enactments and interactive exercises, such as writing a Roman diary. We will also take maximum advantage of our access to material from Oxford’s world-class manuscript collections: a substantial portion of the groundbreaking Oxyrhynchus Papyri is held at the Ashmolean Museum.

Studying Classical Civilisations as part of the Broadening Horizons course furnishes students with valuable transferable skills – such as the ability to examine and analyse primary sources – through our study of original classical texts.

Students will be encouraged to think analytically about the cultural constructs operating in the Greek and Roman worlds, including their politics, society and philosophy, in order to understand how different, as well as how similar, the ancient and modern worldviews are. You will understand how the ancient world contributed to modern society in the areas of architecture, politics, literature, religion, philosophy, sports, visual arts, warfare, drama and science, seeing the world through ancient eyes to gain a new perspective on present-day problems and situations.

Not only does this course provide students with an in-depth introduction to a fascinating subject that they may not previously have had the chance to study, but it also allows them to evaluate whether Classical Civilisations is something they might wish to study further at university.


No previous knowledge of the subject will be assumed.

Suggested Reading

While there is no compulsory pre-course reading, students who wish to explore Classical Civilisations a little before the course commences may be interested in the following texts. We recommend that if students only read one thing before the course, it should be a primary text, such as the following:

  • The Iliad or The Odyssey – neither of these is studied specifically in our classes, but as they were the fundamental texts of Greek and Roman education for over a millenium, they’re important for understanding a huge amount of classical cultural. Any good translation with a decent introduction, such as the Penguin Classics edition or Robert Fagles’ translation, would serve students well.
  • Any Greek tragedy – Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides. Euripides’ Medea and his Bacchae are a good place to start.
  • The Histories, by Herodotus, and The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides: similarly to the above, in any easy-to-read modern translation.
  • Roman poetry – especially in collections of shorter poems by Catullus and Horace. They are very readable and modern.

If students wish to explore beyond primary texts, they may wish to read one or more of:

  • Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, by Tom Holland. This is a popular history book, written by a non-specialist, condensing much of Herodotus’ work on the Persian wars.
  • Pagans and Christians, by Robin Lane Fox. This is a very readable account of religion in the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity, written by one of the great Classics dons of Oxford University.