Dr Olivia Elder

Academic Background

I did my undergraduate degree in Ancient and Modern History and Masters degree in Roman History at Oxford before moving to Cambridge for my PhD. Following my PhD, I held a Postdoctoral Fellowship jointly between the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Cambridge and the British School at Rome and then a Research Fellowship at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Immediately before taking up my post at Oriel and Jesus, I was Departmental Lecturer in Oxford’s Faculty of Classics and Merton College. 

Research Interests

I am a Roman historian of the Republic and Empire.  At the core of my research is an interest in language as a way in to understanding Roman identity, society, and politics; the main themes of my work are multilingualism, migration, citizenship and slavery in the Roman world. My research is inherently cross-disciplinary, combining sociolinguistic and historical approaches. I investigate a range of evidence including inscriptions, letters and graffiti. 

My first book, The Language of Roman Letters: Bilingual Epistolography from Cicero to Fronto (co-authored with Alex Mullen) was published by CUP in 2019. I am currently finishing my second book, Multi-tongued Empire: Language and the Politics of Roman Identity. A third book, Julius Caesar: A Very Short Introduction is under contract with OUP. Other ongoing projects include comparative work on multilingualism in Mediterranean cities; a collaborative project with Myles Lavan on the meaning of the category ‘Roman’ in antiquity and the ways it diverges from modern usage; and a Brill edited volume with Lewis Webb on women in Roman historiography.  


Research Keywords

Roman History; Multilingualism; Sociolinguistics; Identity; Migration; Code-switching in Roman literature; Epigraphy; Epistolography; City of Rome.


I teach a variety of Ancient History options to Classics, CAAH and AMH students in both Faculty and College. I am currently the Convenor of the first-year AMH paper Roman History 241–146 BC and the first-year CAAH Roman Core paper.
I warmly welcome enquiries from graduate students interested in researching topics including ancient multilingualism, identity, enslavement, letters, graffiti and epigraphy. 


Selected Publications:

Elder, O. (2022). 'Citizens of the Wor(l)d? Metaphor and the Politics of Roman Language', Journal of Roman Studies 112.

Elder, O. (2022). 'Invisible Hands of History. Finding Slavery in Ancient Evidence'. Omnibus 83: 15–17.

Elder, O. (2020). ‘Population, migration and language in Rome’. In Clackson, J., James, P., McDonald, K., Tagliapietra, L. and Zair, N. (eds.) Migration, mobility and language contact in the ancient Mediterranean. (Cambridge University Press).  

Elder, O. and Mullen, A. (2019). The language of Roman letters: bilingual epistolography from Cicero to Fronto. (Cambridge University Press).
Accompanying online open-access, searchable database: https://csrl.classics.cam.ac.uk