Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
Detail of a statue in the Ashmolean Museum.
(Image credit: Richard Watts).

Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

What is Classical Archaeology and Ancient History (CAAH)?

The course combines study of the history, archaeology and art of the classical world. It looks at the societies and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world through their written texts, visual art and material remains, and has at its centre the two classical cultures of Greece and Rome. It is aimed at anyone interested in investigating ancient civilisations and their remains, from Greek temples and Roman amphitheatres to wall paintings and the poignant residues of everyday life. While it is primarily a historical and non-linguistic degree, ancient languages can be used and learned as part of the course.

CAAH at Oxford

The CAAH degree is taught through a mixture of tutorials, lectures and classes. Some cover specifically archaeological or historical approaches to ancient Mediterranean cultures, but the degree is unique in also offering courses that combine both approaches. In every year of the course there are classes led by two faculty members, one archaeologist and one historian. These classes are designed to give an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the topics studied.

The University’s resources for this combined subject are excellent, in terms of both library facilities – much of the Sackler Library’s collection is built around these two subjects – and the range and number of postholders in the two fields. The University’s Ashmolean Museum also contains wide-ranging collections of art and artefacts from the classical cultures.


While some Classical Archaeology and Ancient History graduates will go on to further study and research to become professional archaeologists and historians, others will move into different areas. Graduates have started their careers in museum curation, heritage management and education, as well as in finance, advertising, publishing, the Civil Service and law. Recent Classical Archaeology and Ancient History graduates include a financial adviser, a teacher and a curator. Sarah, who graduated in 2007, is now a personal adviser. She says: ‘My degree at Oxford provided the challenging environment in which I developed the skills I later needed to successfully complete Reed’s rigorous application procedure.’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Archaeology and Anthropology, Classics, other History courses or History of Art.

Work placements/international opportunities

There are two practical elements – two weeks at the end of the first year spent either on a University-sponsored excavation or on another archaeological field project, and the preparation of a report in the second and third years focusing either on a particular ancient site or on an artefact or set of artefacts in a museum of your choice, from the Ashmolean to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

A typical weekly timetable

During the first year, your work is divided between lectures (about four to six a week), team-taught classes (one a week for the first two terms), tutorials (one every week or two) and/or language classes and private study. In the second and third years, besides lectures, tutorials and classes, you will also spend time preparing your museum or site report.

In your second and third years, leading up to your final exams, you build on the work done in the first year and expand your range in time and theme. You will take six options and a site or museum report (equivalent to one paper). The options are chosen from a list of Integrated Classes, which bring together historical and archaeological approaches to a particular period; Core Papers, which deal with central topics in Greco-Roman studies; Further Papers, whose range allows you either to build up concentrated expertise in some central areas and periods or to extend into earlier and later periods, and into non-classical cultures; and Classical Language Papers, which allow you to continue the study of Greek or Latin.

1st year

Four courses are taken.

Core elements:

  • Aristocracy and democracy in the Greek world, 550–450 BC
  • Republic to empire: Rome, 50 BC to AD 50

Optional elements:

  • Archaeology: Homeric archaeology and early Greece from 1550 to 700 BC; Greek vases, Greek sculpture c600–300 BC; Roman architecture
  • History: Thucydides and the West; Aristophanes’ political comedy; Cicero and Catiline; Tacitus and Tiberius
  • Ancient Languages: Beginning Ancient Greek; Beginning Latin; Intermediate Ancient Greek; Intermediate Latin

First University examinations:
Four written exam papers

2nd and 3rd year

Six courses are taken from a wide choice of options, including:

  • Rome, Italy and the Hellenistic East, 300–100 BC
  • Imperial culture and society, cAD 50–150: Archaeology and history
  • Greek art and archaeology, c500–300 BC
  • Roman archaeology: Cities and settlement under the Empire
  • Art under the Roman Empire, AD 14–337
  • Archaeology of the late Roman Empire, AD 284–641
  • Thucydides and the Greek world, 479–403 BC
  • Alexander the Great and his early successors
  • Roman history 146–46 BC
  • Egyptian art and architecture
  • Archaeology of Minoan Crete, 3200–1000 BC
  • Formation of the Islamic world, AD 550–950
  • Science-based methods in archaeology
  • Greek and Roman coins
  • Mediterranean maritime archaeology
  • Epigraphy of the Greek and/or Roman world
  • Athenian democracy in the classical age
  • Sexuality and gender in Greece and Rome
  • Cicero: Politics and thought in the late Republic
  • Religions in the Greek and Roman world, c31 BC–AD 312
  • St Augustine and the Last Days of Rome, AD 370–430
  • Intermediate Ancient Greek or Latin
  • Research for a site or museum report

Final University examinations:
Six written papers; one site or museum report

A classical language, Classical Civilisation or Ancient History can be helpful to students in completing this course, although they are not required for admission.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

As part of your application you will be required to submit by 10 November 2014 two recent marked essays written as part of your school or college course.

See further guidance on the Submission of written work.

Written test

You do not need to take a written test as part of an application for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

Tutors are looking for intellectual potential, the specific visual, textual and reasoning abilities that are required for this course, and, of course, serious interest in and commitment to both classical archaeology and ancient history. Tutors will consider all the available information – past and predicted examination results, the personal statement, academic reference and interviews – to assess the individual candidate’s potential to benefit from the course provided by Oxford, and their potential to be a good tutorial student, and to attain good results in examinations. The weight given to the different criteria will vary according to the individual background and circumstances of each candidate.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Classical Archaeology and Ancient History.

Suggested reading

There is no reading list for students applying for Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, as we encourage students to engage with whatever they find interesting about the ancient world. If you are interested in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, this will include the historical and archaeological evidence through which we learn about that world. As well as visiting your local museum, or other museums, you may wish to explore some websites which have excellent links to historical and archaeological materials, such as the British Museum or Oxford’s own Ashmolean Musem, or the BBC Radio 4 archives, for example for the programme ‘In Our Time’, covering material from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

There are also many social media sites which you can join such as Classics Confidential, Classics Outreach and Classics International.

Katie, 2nd year

'It’s a completely exciting world of military history, of economy, of politics. You find it laid out in floor plans, and archaeology and texts.'

Contextual information

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Oxford’s tutorial system

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A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

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