Course Descriptions: Preliminary Examinations (Prelims)

The following provides an example of courses typically available. It cannot be guaranteed that university lectures or classes or college teaching will be offered in all subjects in every academic year. For full descriptions and breakdown of options please consult the CAAH Prelims handbook.

Core Subjects: Approaches to Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

Aristocracy and democracy in the Greek world, 550-450 BC

The course studies the history and archaeology of the far reaching changes that occurred in the culture of the Greek polis states (and in particular Athens) between the heyday of the archaic aristocracies in the later sixth century and the emergence of the new demos culture in the first half of the fifth century, which involved far more people in the political process all across the Greek world, in aristocracies as well as democracies. The central themes of aristocracy and democracy are pursued throughout the period, as well as the history of the interacting archaic states and individuals; the Achaemenids and the Greek collision with Persia; competing models of social and
political culture after the invasion; the archaeology of sanctuaries and cities; the demes, and cemeteries of Attica; Sparta; and the visual revolution in statues, reliefs, and painted images. Typically, there could be classes on: 1. Aristocracy and Democracy; 2. Aristocratic Lifestyles; 3. Sanctuaries and Contests; 4. Tyrants; 5. Kingdoms of the East; 6. Athenian Ideology c. 510-475; 7. The Persian War; 8. Democratic Politics c. 475-450.

Republic to Empire: Rome, 50 BC to AD 50

The course studies the impact of the first emperors on the history and archaeology of Rome and its subject states in the period of revolution and transition from Late Republic to Early Empire. Some themes and topics are: Roman political culture in crisis, Republican war-lords to Augustan princeps; emperor, senate, and the evolving administration; the Julio-Claudian dynasty and court culture; the city of Rome, imperial building, and imperial representation; villas and villa culture – wallpainting, marbles, gardens and suburban parks; municipal culture - houses, amenities, tombs, and freedman art; land-use and the countryside – estates, vici, and centuriated settlement; manufacture, trade, and natural resources – coins, amphorae, and quarries; the archaeology of
the frontier armies; traditional religion and emperor cult. Typically, there would be classes on 1. Augustan Political Culture; 2. The Army and the Frontiers; 3. Municipal Culture; 4. Villas; 5. Julio-Claudian Self-Representation; 6. Manufacture, Commerce and Trade; 7. Romanisation and Colonisation; 8. Imperial Cult.

Special Subjects and Languages

Homeric Archaeology and Early Greece, 1550-700 BC

This subject comprises the archaeological history of the last centuries of the Minoan and Mycenaean world, and the first of the Greek Iron Age, the setting in which the Homeric poems were formed and which they reflect in various ways. This is where classical Greek culture and literature begin. The course covers the full range of material evidence and artefacts surviving from this period of which there is an excellent representative collection in the Ashmolean Museum. The examination will consist of one picture question and three essay questions.

Greek Vases

Painted vases give the fullest visual account of life and mythology in ancient Greece and provide important archaeological data for refining and adding to our knowledge of various aspects of ancient culture. The course looks at the techniques and functions of painted ceramics as well as their subjects and styles, from the eighth to the fourth centuries BC. The Ashmolean Museum has a fine collection of painted pottery of the period covered by the course, and examples from the collection are used in classes and lectures. The examination will consist of one picture question and three essay questions.

Greek Sculpture c. 600-300 BC

Greek statues and reliefs in marble and bronze retain today a strong visual impact, and our knowledge of the subject is being constantly improved and revised by dramatic new discoveries, from excavation and shipwrecks. The course studies the emergence and uses of large marble statues in the archaic period, the development of bronze as a large-scale medium, and the revolution in seeing and representing that brought in the new visual system that we know as 'classical', in the fifth and fourth centuries. The Cast Gallery, located behind the Ashmolean, has an excellent collection of plaster casts of major sculptures from this period. Practical classes are given in the Cast Gallery using the casts to illustrate ways of assessing and interpreting ancient statues and reliefs. The examination will consist of one picture question and three essay questions.

Roman Architecture

Architecture was the Roman art par excellence, and Roman buildings provide some of the most impressive and best preserved monuments from the ancient world. The course studies the materials, technology, and functions of the buildings as well as their appearance and effect, from the Republic to the Tetrarchy, in Italy and the provinces as well as in Rome itself. The examination will consist of one picture question and three essay questions.

Special Subject in History

Thucydides and the West

The course studies the history of the Greek cities of Sicily and South Italy and their relations with mainland Greek states in the 5th century BC through the lens of Thucydides' penetrating account of the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 BC. Topics include: the earlier diplomatic and military involvement of Athens in the west; Syracuse and Syracusan politics; the background in Athenian politics and religion and the affairs of the Herms and the Mysteries; and Thucydides' presentation of individuals, especially Nicias and Alcibiades, compared with their presentation in Plutarch. The prescribed text for study in translation is Thucydides VI and VII (from M. Hammond (tr.), The Peloponnesian War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)). Candidates will also be expected to be familiar with Plutarch, Nicias.

Aristophanes' Political Comedy

The course studies Athenian politics and culture in the later fifth century BC as represented in the comedies of Aristophanes. Its subject is Old Comedy as a distorting mirror of the major events and currents of the day – the new-style politicians (Cleon and others), the new intellectuals (the 'sophists'), strains in traditional religion, the roles of women, the Peloponnesian War, and social conflict in the city and countryside. The plays prescribed for study in translation are Knights, Wasps and Lysistrata. Compulsory passages for comment will be set from Wasps and Lysistrata. Candidates will also be expected to be familiar with Knights and the 'Old Oligarch' writing on the 'Athenian Constitution'.

Cicero and Catiline

The course studies Catiline's conspiracy against the Roman state in 63 BC and Cicero's controversial role in its suppression. Topics covered include the following: the social and economic problems in Italy, particularly from the period of Sulla onwards, that contributed towards support for the conspiracy; the political and ideological background, particularly the Sullan constitutional reforms and subsequent struggles over them; the more immediate political background, notably the careers of Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and Catiline himself; the events of early 63; the relation of the revolutionary leaders to each other; the problem of the senatus consultum ultimum and the debate on the fate of the conspirators. The texts relating to the conspiracy are abundant and detailed but also biased and sometimes contradictory. Students learn the ways of Roman political and historical rhetoric. The texts prescribed for study in translation are: Sallust, Catiline; Cicero, In Catilinam I-IV, Pro Sulla; Asconius, In orationem in toga candida.

Tacitus and Tiberius

Why did Tacitus, writing a century after the events he was describing, choose to begin his history of early imperial Rome with a long and jaundiced account of the grim Tiberius, rather than with the reign of the much-admired Augustus? The course studies Tacitus' representation of Tiberius against the background of surviving contemporary evidence, and particular emphasis will be given to recently discovered inscriptions on bronze – the Tabula Siarensis, the Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone patre, and the Senatus Consultum from Larinum. Topics include the attitudes of both the Senate and Roman people towards Tiberius and to the imperial family as a whole. The text prescribed for study in translation is Tacitus, Annals I-VI, with gobbets to be set from books I and III.

Ancient Languages

Beginning Ancient Greek

(This subject is not available to candidates with a qualification in ancient Greek above GCSE level or equivalent.)

The course will allow takers to read simple, if probably adapted, prose texts. Candidates will be required to show knowledge of some of the main grammatical structures of ancient Greek and of a small basic vocabulary. The paper will consist of prepared and unprepared prose translations, with grammatical questions on the prepared texts.

Beginning Latin

(This subject is not available to candidates with a qualification in Latin above GCSE-level or equivalent.)

The course will allow takers to read simple, if probably adapted, prose texts. Candidates will be required to show knowledge of some of the main grammatical structures of Latin and of a small basic vocabulary. The paper will consist of prepared and unprepared prose translations, with grammatical questions on the prepared texts.

Intermediate Ancient Greek

(This subject is not available to candidates with a qualification in ancient Greek above AS-level or equivalent.)

Candidates will be required to show an intermediate level knowledge of Greek grammar and vocabulary (including all syntax and morphology, as laid out in Abbot and Mansfield, Primer of Greek Accidence).

The set texts for the course are: Xenophon, Hellenica I (Oxford Classical Text) and Lysias I (Oxford Classical Text). The paper will consist of a passage of unseen prose translation, three further passages for translation from the two prescribed texts, and grammatical questions on the prescribed texts.

Intermediate Latin

(This subject is not available to candidates with a qualification in Latin above AS-level or equivalent.)

Candidates will be required to show an intermediate level knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary (including all syntax and morphology, as laid out in Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer).


The set texts for the course are: Cicero, letters in D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Cicero: Select Letters (Cambridge, 1980), nos 9, 17, 23, 27, 39, 42-3, 45; Tacitus, Agricola (Oxford Classical Text); Pliny, letters in A. N. Sherwin-White, Fifty Letters of Pliny, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1969), nos 25, 29.

The paper will consist of a passage of unseen prose translation, three further passages for translation from the prescribed texts, and grammatical questions on the prescribed texts.

Advanced Ancient Greek

(This subject is available to candidates with a qualification in Latin above AS-level or equivalent).

Candidates will be expected to be familiar with An Anthology of Greek Prose ed. D.A. Russell (Oxford University Press 1991), Nos. 17, 18, 23, 24, 33, 40, 44, 66, 78, from which a selection of passages will be set for translation, in addition to a passage for unseen translation.

Candidates will also be expected to translate from TWO of the following texts:
(i) Herodotus I.1-94 [ed. Hude, OCT];
(ii) Plutarch, Life of Antony 1-9, 23-36, 71-87 [ed. Pelling, Cambridge University Press, 1988];
(iii) Euripides, Bacchae [ed. Diggle, OCT].

This course will be taught by Faculty classes, for three hours per week during Michaelmas and Hilary Terms.

Advanced Latin

(This subject is available to candidates with a qualification in Latin above AS-level or equivalent).

Candidates will be expected to be familiar with An Anthology of Latin Prose ed. D.A. Russell (OUP 1990), nos. 7, 12, 22, 23, 34, 52 and 63, from which a selection of passages will be set for translation, in addition to a passage for unseen translation.

Candidates will also be expected to translate from TWO of the following texts:
(i) Cicero, Pro Caelio [ed. OCT].
(ii) Pliny, Letters 1.6, 9, 13, 19; VII.21, 24, 26, 29; VIII.16, 17; IX.6, 12, 15, 27, 33, 39; X.31, 32,
96, 97 (ed. M.B. Fisher and M.R. Griffin, CUP 1973)
(iii) Ovid, Metamorphoses 8 (ed. A.S. Hollis, OUP 1970)

This course will be taught by Faculty classes, for three hours per week during Michaelmas and Hilary Terms.