Final Examination: Honour School of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

Detail of a statue in the Ashmolean Museum. (Image credit: Richard Watts)

Detail of a statue in the Ashmolean Museum. (Image credit: Richard Watts)

In your second and third years, leading up to Finals, you build on the work done in Prelims and expand your range in time and theme. You 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 Graeco‐Roman studies; Further Papers, whose range allows you either to build up concentrated expertise in some central areas and periods or allows you to extend into earlier and later periods; and Classical Language Papers, which allow you to begin or continue the study of Greek or Latin.

Below is a list of the papers currently available in CAAH finals. In addition to the papers listed here, students may offer an optional thesis of up to 10,000 words.

For comprehensive details of the papers available and the rules on which combinations of papers students may take, please refer to the Examination Regulations. Detailed descriptions of the papers on offer, and information about teaching provision, can be found in the course handbook.

Please note that changes may be made to course syllabuses from year to year, and that not all papers may be available in any given year.


Integrated Classes

Expand All

The course studies the interaction and conflict between two powerful Mediterranean cultures – the Hellenistic East and Roman Italy. From both sides there survives abundant material, visual, and written evidence that allows a detailed understanding of the complex process of acculturation that began when the balance of power in the Mediterranean shifted to Rome, and the whole apparatus and technology of Hellenistic high culture became available in Italy.

The course looks first at the Hellenistic kingdoms and royal culture at the height of their power in the third century BC – the Macedonian dynasties ruling from Alexandria, Antioch, and Pella – at their relations with the local peoples they ruled, and at the old city‐states that still flourished within and between the Macedonian kingdoms. Particular attention is paid to Attalid Pergamon, the best preserved royal capital, to Athens and Priene as two very different examples of traditional cities, and to the excellently documented example of Macedonian‐Greek‐Egyptian relations and culture in Ptolemaic Egypt.

Intensified active Roman involvement in the Greek East in the second century BC is studied both through the foreign politics and wars of the period and through the archaeology of Delos, our best example of an eastern port through which Greek goods flowed to Italy. The impact of Hellenistic culture in central Italy and on Roman society is studied in the rich record of contemporary architecture, art, and lifestyles – at Praeneste and Pompeii, as well as at Rome. The Hellenised culture of Roman private life remained in unresolved conflict with a strongly felt need in public life for a distinctively Roman political and moral identity. The varied products – mental, visual, material – of this prolonged culture‐conflict are the subject of the course.

The course studies the complex social history and political culture of Rome and leading cities under the Empire, from the last Julio‐Claudians to the Antonines, through the rich and diverse body of written and material evidence that survives from this period – monuments, art, inscriptions, and literary texts from a wide variety of genres.

In addition to the study of a wide range of written texts from the period, you will study the archaeology and major monuments of the following sites and cities: Rome, Pompeii, Ostia, Beneventum, Tivoli; Fishbourne, Vindolanda, Hadrian’s Wall; Timgad, Djemila; Athens, Aphrodisias, Ephesos, Masada.

Core Papers: Classical Archaeology

Expand All

This course has two broad aims: First the study of a period during which Greek society expanded its horizons both geographically and in terms of the complexity of its organization. Second the in‐depth study of culture contact between Greece and the different parts of the Mediterranean world (the Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean) and the Black Sea.

In the period under study, Greek communities turned themselves into prosperous self‐ governing city‐states exercising power that was felt over a wide area. This is also the period 16 when contacts with the non‐Greek world played a vital role: trading posts were established in the Levant and later in Egypt, settlements were established abroad in Italy, Sicily, the north Aegean, the Black Sea, and North Africa, and Greeks in Asia Minor came increasingly under pressure from powers further east. Moreover as literary evidence comes to be available, there is a challenge to integrate the diverse literary evidence with the rich material record.

Those taking this paper are expected to become familiar with the material evidence and the most important sites (Lefkandi, Zagora, Athens, Al Mina, Naucratis, Cyrene, Syracuse, Pithekoussai, Motya, Carthage, Huelva). Emphasis is placed on the problems of interpreting the detailed evidence in order to construct a broader picture.

The images and monuments of the fifth century BC made a decisive break with the visual modes of the archaic aristocracy and established the influential idea that images should try to look like what and whom they represent. This subject involves the study of the buildings and architecture of classical Greek cities and sanctuaries as well as the images and artefacts that were displayed in them, and one of its major themes is the swift emergence and consolidation of this revolutionary way of seeing and representing that we know as 'Classical Art'. The images and objects are best studied in their archaeological and broader historical contexts, and typical questions to ask about them would include: What were they used for? Who paid for them, made them and looked at them? What ideas and priorities did they express in their local settings?

This course studies the full range of ancient artefacts, from bronze statues and marble temples to painted pots and clay figurines. The Ashmolean Museum has a fine collection of relevant objects, especially of painted pottery, and the Cast Gallery houses plaster copies of many of the key sculptured monuments of the period, from the Delphi Charioteer and the Olympia sculptures to portrait statues of Demosthenes and Alexander the Great.

The long imperial Roman peace has left the densest and most varied record of artistic and visual representation of any period of antiquity, and at the height of the empire more cities, communities, and individuals than ever before came to invest in the 'classical' culture of monumental representation. The course studies the art and visual culture of the Roman empire in its physical, social, and historical contexts.  

The period saw the creation of a new imperial iconography – the good emperor portrayed in exemplary roles and activities at peace and war. These images were deployed in a wide range of media and contexts in Rome and around the empire, where the imperial image competed with a variety of other representations, from the public monuments of city aristocrats to the tombs of wealthy freed slaves. The course studies the way in which Roman images, self‐ representation, and art were moulded by their local contexts and functions and by the concerns and values of their target viewers and 'user‐groups'.

Students learn about major monuments in Rome and Italy and other leading centres of the empire (such as Aphrodisias, Athens, Ephesus, and Lepcis Magna) and about the main strands and contexts of representation in the eastern and western provinces. They will become familiar with the main media and categories of surviving images – statues, portrait busts, historical reliefs, funerary monuments, cameos, wallpaintings, mosaics, silverware, and coins and learn how to analyse and interpret Roman art and images in well‐documented contexts and how to assess the relation between written and visual evidence.

In exploring the development of towns and their related territories in the first three centuries AD, this course provides an introduction to Roman urbanism and the lively debate over how it worked and whom it served. The study of the physical design of the city, its public and private buildings, and its infrastructure, along with the objects of trade and manufacture, is placed in the broader context of the types and patterns of rural settlement, agricultural production, transport and communications. This allows various themes to be investigated, including what it meant to live in a Roman town, and in its countryside, and what contributed to the remarkable prosperity of urban centres before the widespread retrenchment of the third century.

Those taking the course will become familiar with the physical character of Roman cities based on selected representative sites (primarily Corinth, Caesarea Maritima, Lepcis Magna, Palmyra, Pompeii, Ostia, Verulamium [St. Albans] and Silchester) and with major landscape studies in Italy, Greece and North Africa. Particular attention is paid to problems and biases in assessing the character of the physical evidence; and in testing theoretical models against hard data.

Core Papers: Ancient History

Expand All

Aged twenty‐five, Alexander the Great defeated the combined might of the Persian Empire and became the richest ruler in the world. As the self‐proclaimed rival of Achilles, he led an army which grew to be bigger than any known again in antiquity and reached India in his ambition to march to the edge of the world. When he died, aged thirty‐two, he left his generals with conquests from India to Ionia, no designated heir and an uncertain tradition of his plans. This subject explores the controversial personality and resources of the conqueror, the impact of his conquests on Asia, the nature and importance of Macedonian tradition and the image and achievements of his early Successors. The relationship and authority of the surviving sources pose large questions of interpretation on which depend our judgement of the major figures' abilities and achievements. The career which changed the scope of Greek history is still a matter of dispute both for its immediate legacy and for the evidence on which it rests.

This subject will allow you to consider continuities and changes in the development of the Greek city from the mid‐first to the fourth century AD and to explore a broad range of questions relating to politics, society, culture and economy in the Greek‐speaking provinces of the Roman Empire (excluding Egypt). You will gain lively insight into the civic life of several important urban centres (e.g. Athens, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Nicaea, Nicomedia, Prusa, Aphrodisias, Antioch) by studying a unique variety of sources. These include orations of Dio Chrysostom, Aelius Aristides and Libanius, letters of Pliny the Younger, biographies of sophists and philosophers by Philostratus and Eunapius, sermons of John Chrysostom and early martyr acts, imperial letters and other public inscriptions, selected texts from the Digest of Justinian and the Codex Theodosianus, as well as provincial coins. You will explore topics such as the mechanisms of Roman provincial administration, the functioning of the civic institutions (esp. councils and assemblies), the ‘Romanization’ of the local elites, issues of identity formation under Roman rule, the intense rivalries between the cities, the politics of euergetism, the booming festive culture, the rise of Christianity and intellectual trends such as the ‘Second Sophistic’.  

Victory over Persia led to the rise of the Athenian Empire, conflict between Athens and Sparta and Sparta's eventual victory in the Peloponnesian War. These years cover the transition from archaic to classical Greece, the Periclean age of Athens, the masterpieces of art, architecture and literature which are the supreme legacies of the Greek world, the contrasting lifestyles of Sparta and democratic Athens, and the careers of Alcibiades, Socrates and their famous contemporaries. They are studied through inscriptions, whose context and content are a fascinating challenge to modern historians, and through the History written by Thucydides, antiquity's most masterly analysis of war, empire, and inter‐ state relations which was written, justifiably, as 'a possession for all times'. The issues of Thucydides’ own bias and viewpoint and his shaping of his History remain among the storm‐ centres of the study of antiquity and are of far‐reaching significance for our understanding of the moral, intellectual and political changes in the Greek world.

In 146 the Romans destroyed Carthage and Corinth. In 133 a popular tribune was beaten to death in front of the Capitol by a mob led by the High Priest. At the other end of the period, in 49 Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and in 46 crushed his enemies at the battle of Thapsus, celebrating his victory with an unprecedented quadruple triumph.

Despite repeated deeply threatening crises, Rome survived – capital of an increasingly large and organized Mediterranean‐wide empire, its constantly growing populace more and more diverse, its richest citizens vastly wealthier, its cityscape more and more monumental. But the tradition of the ancestors, the rule of the aristocracy, the armies and their recruitment, the sources of wealth, the cultural horizons of the literate, the government of allies and subjects, the idea of a Roman citizen, the landscape of Italy, and Roman identity itself had all changed for ever. This subject studies how.  

For the earlier years, from the Gracchi to the Social War, we mainly have to rely on the writings of later historians and on contemporary inscriptions, although Sallust and Cicero offer some near‐contemporary illumination. But for the latter part of this period our knowledge is of a different quality from that of almost any other period of Roman history thanks to the intimate light shed by the correspondence, speeches and other works of Cicero, with strong backing from Caesar’s Gallic War and the surviving works of Sallust.

Further Papers: Classical Archaeology

Expand All

This course explores the archaeology of Bronze Age Crete. The Aegean Bronze Age saw major cultural, social and political transformations, many of which originated in Crete and in most of which it was a major player: the first ‘state societies’ in Europe began here. Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica; its insularity allows the examination of internal and external change across clear‐cut physical boundaries and the differing ways in which the island has related to wider patterns of economic and political interaction within the Mediterranean.  

Topics explored include: Crete’s role in the emergence of the Bronze Age in the Aegean and the colonisation of the Aegean islands; the Early Bronze Age and the island’s relations with the broader Eastern Mediterranean; the emergence of the palace‐based social organisation of the Middle Bronze Age; the earliest writing systems within the Aegean; the expansion of Minoan interaction within the Aegean; the chronology of the eruption of Thera and the eruption’s effects; the transformation of the Minoan palatial system; how Cretans responded to the ‘collapse’ of BA palace societies in the Early Iron Age.

This course explores the development of Etruscan culture between approximately 900 and 300 BC and its significance for understanding contemporary and later developments around the Mediterranean. Within a broadly chronological structure, subjects ranging from the rituals of daily life and death to the development of autonomous city‐states are studied using a range of archaeological, artistic, scientific, historical, and linguistic evidence. Emphasis will be placed upon close examination of sites and artefacts including, where practical, those held in local museums.

This option is taught by staff based at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology, and aims to introduce the principles, and explain the methods used, in archaeological science concentrating mainly on the archaeology of the last 10,000 years. Examples that demonstrate these in action will be studied. Lectures and classes cover the following the principal areas: 

  • Materials Analysis, dealing with ancient technologies and the movement of goods and ideas;
  • Biomolecular Archaeology, dealing with isotopic and other chemical genetic analyses, dealing with ancient diet and the movements of people; 
  • Dating, concentrating mainly on radiocarbon dating, with some contribution from supporting methods such as dendrochronology and luminescence dating. 

The use of gold, silver, and bronze coins was a distinctive feature of Greek and Roman culture. The subject comprises the principal developments in coinage from its beginnings around 600 BC until the reign of Diocletian (AD 284‐305). Emphasis will be placed on the ways in which numismatic evidence may be used to address questions of historical and archaeological interest. The numismatic approaches to monetary, economic, political, and cultural history will be explored, as well as numismatics as a branch of art‐history. Both hoards and site‐finds will be examined from an archaeological perspective. Lectures will normally be available in both Greek coinage and Roman coinage, and students will be encouraged to make use of the excellent collection in the Heberden Coin Room of the Ashmolean Museum.

The paper on Mediterranean Maritime Archaeology is designed to provide and overview of the rich maritime heritage of the Mediterranean basin up to Late Antiquity and to demonstrate the latest theoretical, methodological and technical developments in the field.

The first part of the course examines the historical development of seafaring within the communities of the Mediterranean basin and their near neighbours. The lectures will identify the main trends in the technological development of both military and merchant naval architecture both at sea and on land. They will also examine the changing attitudes of Mediterranean communities through the development of larger political units and increasing international trade and exchange. The nature of the archaeological, textual and iconographic evidence will be discussed in order to understand issues such as the lack of warships in the archaeological record and the apparent collapse of trade after the 2nd century AD as seen by the evidence of wrecked merchant ships.

The purpose of the second part of the course is to provide an up‐to‐date overview of the current methods and theory in maritime archaeology and its allied sub‐disciplines of maritime history and anthropology. It will also highlight the importance of contemporary issues in maritime archaeology such as the requirement for a robust legislative framework for the management and protection of submerged sites, the problems with treasure hunting and the necessity to document the fast disappearing traditional lifeways of maritime communities. The course will draw widely for its examples of best practice and consequently includes case studies of work from the ancient world of the Mediterranean as well as the medieval and modern periods where appropriate.


The paper studies the archaeology and art of the Roman Empire from Diocletian through the death of Heraclitus. This is a period when the Western Roman Empire came to an end (in the 5th century), while the Eastern Empire experienced a period of expansion under its new imperial capital at Constantinople (founded in 324). Subjects include urban change, development of the countryside in the East, industry, patterns of trade, persistence of pagan art, and the impact of Christianity (church building, pilgrimage, monasticism) on architecture and art. Particular attention is paid to the following cities and sites: Rome, Constantinople, Trier, Milan, Carthage, Ephesus, Caesarea Maritima, Scythopolis, Jerusalem, and sites in the Roman provinces of Syria and Palestine.

Further Papers: Ancient History

Expand All

Athenian Democracy is much praised but little understood. How did the largest city in the classical Greek world manage to govern itself on the basis of meetings, held less often than once a week, of those Athenian‐born men aged over 18 who wanted to come? How did a heterogeneous society whose size rendered many residents effectively anonymous maintain law and order without a police force or lawyers? This topic looks at the institutions of Athenian democracy, at the practice of democracy, at democratic ideology, and at Athenian theories about government. It analyses the make‐up of Athenian society and tries to understand the contribution that groups without political rights, women, slaves and resident foreigners, made to Athenian democracy and the extent to which democracy determined the way in which these excluded groups were treated. Although details of Athenian military history and of Athenian imperial activity are not at issue, the topic does attempt to explain the sources and the effects of Athenian wealth and power. The literary and artistic achievements of classical Athens are here examined both as phenomena that need to be explained – why was it that it was at Athens that the most significant monuments in drama, architecture, painting and sculpture were created? – and as themselves sources of insight into Athenian attitudes and pre‐occupations. T

For understanding the cultural and intellectual life of the Late Republic, Cicero is the crucial figure. Not only did he publish his speeches and write essays on rhetorical theory and on all the branches of philosophy, he also corresponded with the most cultivated men of his time. In fact the collection of his letters includes replies from such famous historical figures as Pompey, Brutus, Cassius and Cato. This topic explores Cicero's education and training as an orator; his political and moral philosophy; his views, and those of other contemporaries, on religion and imperialism; the attitudes and lifestyle of his friend Atticus; the ethics of the Roman bar. The texts (set in translation) include speeches, essays and letters by Cicero, letters from his contemporaries, and works by his younger contemporaries Sallust and Cornelius Nepos, who provide an external view of Cicero and his friend Atticus and offer a contrast with Cicero's style and attitudes.

The aim of the course is to study the workings and concepts of Greek and Roman religions, including relevant aspects of Judaism and Christianity and other elective cults, between around 30 BC and AD 312. You will be encouraged to display an understanding of relevant modern theories of religions, and to be familiar with the relevant literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence.

This is chronologically the widest‐ranging of all the Ancient History topics. The specimen paper begins with a question on misogyny in archaic Greek poetry, and ends with one on the difference made to women's lives by the rise of Christianity. The first of those questions is about images of women in literary texts, the second about women's lives 'out there': the aim is to tackle both sets of issues (which are not easily separable), and if you take the option, you will have many dealings with literary (and iconographic) evidence, but will also consider, for instance, laws regulating property rights, marriage, adultery. This is not just a paper about women: men too are viewed as sexual objects, and topics such as ideas of masculinity or the social significance of Greek male homosexuality are fair game. Few areas of classical studies have seen quite such a transformation in the last 30 years as this one, and you will have the chance to study, not just an extremely diverse range of ancient texts, but also some very lively secondary literature.

The life and times of St Augustine (d. 430) are not what you think. Augustine is often typecast as a Church Father tormented by the memory of his youthful sexual urges – but the story he wanted to tell his contemporaries in the later Roman Empire was more complicated and more interesting than this. Augustine was a man who did not know why his life had taken the course that it had. He had rejected the love of his life for the sake of his career as a public speaker, and then, having risen to the very top of his profession, he had given it all up to become bishop of a provincial town in North Africa. Relentlessly curious to observe how his own transformations related to the experience of others, Augustine watched the needs and frustrations of new‐born babies, marvelled at the perfect physical control of contortionists, meditated on his mother's sudden cure from alcoholism. Augustine’s Confessions and his City of God are texts about desire, disillusion, and being human – in a hot, pre‐industrial autocracy almost unrecognisable to a modern audience.  

This was also a regime under strain: in 378, a Roman Emperor was killed by barbarians in battle; in 410, notoriously, the city of Rome was sacked; twenty years later, as Augustine lay dying, barbarians had overrun the western Empire and were about to take over his town. How did contemporaries react to these events? (Did they notice?) In addition to the writings of Augustine, we study texts of and about the great and the good in the Roman Empire, such as the pagan senator Symmachus or the Christian heiress Melania the Younger, who sought to guide (or to abandon) the ship of the late Roman state as it steered into crisis. T

Inscriptions touch on and reflect almost every aspect of life in the ancient world; they provide a constant flow of fresh evidence that illuminates and renews our picture of the ancient world. The course focuses on the inscribed text, mainly on stone and bronze, as monument, physical object and medium of information, and it explores the evidence of particular inscriptions, or groups of inscriptions, for the political, social, and economic history of communities in the ancient world. Candidates may show knowledge of either Archaic‐ Classical Greek, or Hellenistic inscriptions, or Republican Roman or Imperial Roman inscriptions. They will be expected to show knowledge of epigraphic texts in Greek and/or in Latin (though all texts will be accompanied by translations).

The empire of the Achaemenid kings was one of the largest the world has ever seen, stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean to the foothills of the Hindu Kush.  This paper covers the history and material culture of the Achaemenid Persian empire, from the conquests of Cyrus the Great to the Macedonian invasion of Asia. 

Topics studied include:

  • Cyrus at Babylon, and the Median, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian background
  • Darius and Persepolis
  • Cultural Hybridity and “Glocalization” (Karia, Lykia, Kilikia)
  • The Achaemenids at War (the Deve Hüyük burials)
  • Imperial Connectivity (the Black Sea hoard; Memphis customs-account)
  • Achaemenid Egypt (Arshama, Elephantine)
  • Achaemenid Cyprus
  • The Vampire (tribute; coinage; metalwork)
Classical Languages

Classical Languages

Ancient Greek and Latin languages are available for study at intermediate and advanced levels, depending on your previous experience of studying the languages. Teaching in small classes is arranged by the Faculty of Classics. Further information about the syllabuses can be found in the course handbook.

Site or Museum Report

Site or Museum Report

All CAAH students produce either a site or a museum report of up to 10,000 words.

Site report

The purpose of the report is to consider the historical and archaeological significance of a site of your choice. The report should be based either on participation in a field project or on a study visit and personal inspection of a site. It should also be based on study of all relevant published archaeological and historical sources for the site, which are researched before and after the study visit. This report teaches an understanding of topography and provides practice in precise archaeological and architectural description and in the interpretation of archaeological sites and archaeological publications.

Museum report

The purpose of the report is to consider the historical and archaeological significance of a coherent body of material or finds – a group of images, objects, or artefacts from a single site or of a single class or category of archaeological material from a single museum or collection. The report should be based on close study and personal inspection of the objects, as well as on all relevant published sources. This report brings familiarity with detailed archaeological object description and classification and provides practical test‐case examples of interpreting ancient artefacts and images in their reconstructed ancient contexts.