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Why Classics? > What Is Classics?

What Is Classics?

Classics is the study of ancient Greek and Roman civilisation in all its aspects: languages, literature, art, archaeology, history, and culture. It embraces the distant pre-history of these civilizations as well as their continuing influence on modern society. It thus has a very broad remit, and you can find Classicists or ancient historians dealing with anything from Stone Age Crete to images of Rome in Hollywood movies.

Period and Scope

The study of Classics usually spans the period from the Homeric poems of the eighth century BC to the late Roman Empire of the fifth or sixth centuries AD (sometimes starting with Aegean prehistory or the Mycenean world, and including the early Byzantine empire). Classics proper therefore covers the languages and literatures of two major cultures (Greek and Latin); the history of the ancient Mediterranean and the contacts the empires of Macedon and Rome made with other cultures in the Near East, North Africa, and across Europe; the mythology and religion of the Greco-Roman pagans, plus the Christians, Jews, Mithraists and others in the Roman Empire; the philosophy, science, historiography, and theology of these cultures; art and archaeology; social history including, private lives, sometimes with special emphasis on the roles of women, slaves, foreigners. In other words, any aspect of any culture that spoke Greek or Latin within the Mediterranean world within the chronological limits given above is fair game.


Reception of classical culture in and by the modern world has become an increasingly central part of Classical Studies. This can cover such diverse areas as:

Schools and universities often make a distinction between, on the one hand (1) Classics, in which texts are studied in the original languages, and hence much time is spend studying Latin and Greek, and courses in translation, which in turn (2) may be divided between Classical Studies, which focuses on literature (and to a lesser extent philosophy, mythology, and art, for example), and (3) Ancient History, which focuses on history, archaeology, and the like. Many departments, in which one can study all three types of courses, use 'Classics' also as a blanket term, as we do on this website.


The ancient Greek and Roman worlds did not, of course, exist in a vacuum. The study of Classics also intersects

Many Classics departments and individuals who study the ancient Greek and Roman worlds also cover some of these areas, although they are specialisms in their own right. If your interests lie more in this direction, Classics is often a good way to start your explorations. For more on these topics, we have gathered pointers to a few introductory online resources.