We explore the history, myths, art, archaeology, philosophy, languages, literature and personalities of ancient civilisations, teaching diverse topics from Roman law and emperors to Greek religion and democracy.
As one of the largest departments of Classics and Ancient History in the Australasian region, we are home to academics and researchers who are leaders in their fields, with some being awarded Faculty Teaching Awards in recognition of their high-quality teaching.
We also have close ties with the University of Sydney’s Nicholson Museum, which houses a large collection of artefacts from the ancient world. The museum is regularly used as a teaching space.
Embark on a captivating discovery of the Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations through the evidence of myths, images, inscriptions, artefacts, written history and literature. Experience the interplay between the past and the present through a re-examination of the classical world and learn to appreciate its historical and cultural importance.
Ancient Greek allows you to read, in the original, works of immense cultural and literary significance by the great writers of the ancient Mediterranean world. The study of philosophy, history, drama, lyric, epic, the novel, and oratory begins in Greece, and Greek contributions to world literature are undisputed models of perfection in every later age.
You will learn to read works of immense cultural and literary significance by the iconic writers of ancient Rome. Latin is the direct ancestor of nearly 50 modern languages and a major contributor to the vocabulary of many others, including English. It was also the language of European literature, history, science, medicine, diplomacy and law for nearly 2000 years. Studying Latin opens up intellectual vistas vital for exploring the past or navigating the present.
Download the 2021 senior Latin reading list (PDF 100KB)
Classics is available as an Honours year and involves joint study of Ancient Greek and Latin.
Classics offers a broad range of courses exploring the language, literature history and cultures from ancient Greece and Rome from the eighth century BC to the eighth century AD. Social, political and cultural perspectives are used to study the experiences, mentalities and activities of ordinary people as well as the great literature spectacles and events of the classical past.
The Department is unique in the southern hemisphere in housing a significant cluster of scholars expert in the study of ancient Greek and Latin epic poetry. Ben Brown (Homer’s Iliad), Bob Cowan (Virgil and Flavian epic), Paul Roche (Lucan) and Anne Rogerson (Virgil’s Aeneid) approach Classical epic from a variety of complementary perspectives. We write scholarly commentaries that unpack the poems in granular detail, we study how ancient epic responds to its historical contexts, we tease out epic poetry’s complex intertextuality and function within ancient literary cultures, we examine epic themes and characters in depth and detail, and we trace how these seminal texts have been received from antiquity to the present day. Our approaches are distinguished by close and careful reading of texts, judicious and fruitful deployment of literary and cultural theory, and keen attention to contexts of production and reception.
Our concentration of active researchers working on ancient epic is further strengthened by the contributions of education-focussed colleague Tamara Neal (Homer’s Iliad), honorary associates Frances Muecke (Virgil, Lucan and Silius Italicus) and Louise Pryke (Gilgamesh), and by our graduate students (currently three, working on Lucan, Ovid and Homer). We welcome applications from students wanting to undertake postgraduate research or the Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Honours) with us in this exciting field of literary studies.
Contact: Anne Rogerson
The University of Sydney has been a leader in Greek theatre research for more than half a century. It has one of the world’s strongest concentrations of historians with expertise on ancient theatre, including Peter Wilson (Greek theatre), Eric Csapo (until 2020, now a British Academy Global Research Professor at the University of Warwick; Greek theatre), Bob Cowan (Greek and Roman drama), James Collins (Greek drama and the interdisciplinary study of performance), Richard Miles (drama in late antiquity), J. Richard Green (theatre architecture, iconography and history), Elodie Paillard (Greek theatre in Italy), Ted Robinson (theatre iconography and indigenous Italian theatre) and Robin Dixon (Roman Comedy and performance). We have strong links with other world centres, notably in Europe, the US (Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies) and the UK (School of Advanced Study, University of London).
The Department has developed large-scale projects that explore the social, economic and political as well as the literary and performance history of this most influential and long-lasting cultural institution of antiquity. Over the last decade we have directed three highly productive ARC Discovery Grants: Accounting for the Ancient Theatre: a new social and economic history of Classical Greek drama; The Theatrical Revolution: The Expansion of Theatre Outside Athens; and Theatre and Autocracy in Ancient Greece. We have in CCANESA one of the most extensive research resources for ancient theatre history in the world.
The appointment of James Collins in 2020 expands this strength further, introducing cross-disciplinary work that explores how ancient drama can provide contemporary performers and communities opportunities to reflect on and model sound deliberation and judgment. Collins has pioneered this work with combat veterans and secondary school students in the US (including at Stanford University and Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies) and is about to launch a similar initiative in Australia with the support of the Lysicrates Foundation, the Australian Defence Force, and theatre professionals from the Melbourne Theatre Company, with a public performance on ANZAC Day at the Shrine of Remembrance.
We welcome applications from students interested in postgraduate research in any area of ancient theatre studies.
Contact: Peter Wilson
The Department has a long and proud tradition of work on Roman law and its contexts. The Richard Bauman Reading Group and the Australasian Roman Law Network facilitate national and international and interdisciplinary research in this field and have been generously supported by a Faculty grant which enabled us in 2017 to run a symposium on The Rule of Law in Ancient Rome and by the facilities of CCANESA which house the library of the late Martin Stone.
Core investigations linked to this theme are (1) the Rule of Law case-study; (2) the perceptions of law project and (3) the study of citizens and the law (4) law and literature; (5) law in an age of Civil War; (6) law and political institutions. These investigations have significant ramifications not only for the study of Roman political-legal history but also for trans-historical thinking about the role of law within communities. The involvement of historians, legal theorists and public intellectuals in these projects mean that our findings have the potential to produce outcomes which are translatable into real world contexts.
The Australasian Roman Law Network was founded by Eleanor Cowan, Kit Morell (UQ), Andrew Pettinger (Associate at the University of Sydney) and Michael Sevel (University of Sydney Law school). A number of HDR students are currently being supervised in this area on topics such declamation and law (Kirsten Parkin and Kim Harris).
Contact: Eleanor Cowan
The Department of Classics and Ancient History houses a sizeable cluster of scholars researching ancient Greek and Roman authors who practiced the writing of the past (historiography): Ben Brown (Thucydides), Peter Wilson (Pindar), Bob Cowan (Sallust, Suetonius), Eleanor Cowan (Velleius Paterculus, Tacitus), Julia Kindt (Herodotus), Paul Roche (Tacitus) and Kathryn Welch (Cicero, Caesar, Appian and Cassius Dio) offer critical examinations of historiographic texts in their intellectual and historical contexts. They explore these authors from a variety of perspectives: their use of sources, their methods, their strategies of authority and authorization; their relationships to each other and to other influential ancient thinkers and forms of literature. They explore them as both history and literature; as trailblazers and followers of a tradition that started in classical antiquity and which (in many ways) continues into the present.
Members of the group have numerous international research collaborations. Kathryn Welch is a member of the Cassius Dio Network housed at the University of Southern Denmark and on the board for the Brill ‘Historiography of Rome and Its Empire’ series. The group includes a sizeable cohort of Honours and Graduate students working directly in the area, with current projects on Herodotus, Thucydides, Cornelius Nepos, Suetonius and Livy. We have organized several major conferences, including on Appian and Velleius Paterculus. The strength of our interest in this field also meant that we were able to host John Marincola as a Visiting Ritchie Lecturer in the Department.
Contact: Eleanor Cowan
How religion intersects with ancient Greek society as well as its literary and artistic production is the focus of several researchers at the University of Sydney. Rick Benitez (whose current work is on later Platonic religious thought), Ben Brown (the Homeric gods), James Collins (religion and Greek philosophy, religion and the theatre), Julia Kindt (Greek religion beyond the polis paradigm, Greek personal religion, Delphi, and divination) and Peter Wilson (religion and theatre, religion and music) study the ways in which ancient Greek religious beliefs and practices were central to areas as divergent as politics, warfare, drama, historiography, philosophy, law, medicine, sport, agriculture, and the ancient economy.
The research cluster has strong ties with the Department of Studies in Religion (SLAM) as well as international collaborations with scholars in the UK (Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews), the US (Stanford, Berkeley, Yale, The Ohio State University), and continental Europe (the Max Weber College of Advanced Studies in Erfurt, The University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and the excellence cluster ‘Religion and Politics’ at the University of Münster in Germany). We regularly organize workshops, lectures, and international conferences (most recently, The Local Dimension of Ancient Greek Religion, held in CCANESA in November 2019). A steady stream of highly successful honours and graduate students is associated with this research area. The cluster’s excellence prompted Professor Jan Bremmer, a world-leader on Greek religion and early Christianity, to accept an invitation as Ritchie Visiting Lecturer in 2016.
Contact: Julia Kindt
The study of the Roman Republic has a distinguished history at the University of Sydney and the Department continues to be a world leader in the fields of Republican Roman politics, political ideas and their reception.
The topic holds a special place in the history of government. While different in form and intent from Greek democratic systems, the Roman Republic recognized the institutional sovereignty of the popular assemblies and linked social and political status to success in popular elections as well as military victory. This system was underpinned (and was eventually undermined) by the acquisition first of territory in Italy and then of a Mediterranean-wide empire. Our evidence allows an insight into the individuals whose stories have survived, their economic and social setting, and the literary and material culture that long outlasted the context that produced it. In subsequent centuries, the Roman Republic lived on as an ideal that inspired many revolutions – and thus its forms have been constantly adapted for new settings. Thus the Roman Republic offers the chance and to observe the rise and fall of an imperial republic, one of the grand narratives of the ancient past which is still relevant today.
Colleagues in the Department researching in this area include Kathryn Welch (the Roman Republic and its history under the Principate), Eleanor Cowan (Republican Law and Ideas and the Princeps within a Republican Tradition) and James Tan (Middle and Late Republican politics; economic, financial and fiscal systems). Currently, two PhD students, Tonya Rushmer and Jocelin Chan, are researching Roman Grain Laws and Roads and Roman Space respectively. James Winestock (MPhil) is researching the economics of booty in the Roman Republic and Caitlin McMenamin female poisoners in Roman History. We work collaboratively with colleagues researching in this field across Australasia and several former graduates are still active members of our research community. Our published research has contributed several volumes to the Classical Press of Wales’ outstanding list Roman Culture in an Age of Civil War.
Contact: Kathryn Welch
With the Department of Philosophy
The University of Sydney houses a vibrant cluster of established and upcoming researchers at the forefront of their respective disciplines in both Classics and Philosophy. Above all they explore the ways in which the ancients conceptualized the world and the human place within it. This research centres on the works of the ancient philosophers (Benitez, Collins) but also enquires into the way in which the questions and problems raised by them are reflected in other areas of Greek thought and literature, including those of religion and human/animal relations (Kindt) and drama (Collins) and the reception of that thought in Marx and critical theory (Brown).
Of special interest in these interdisciplinary approaches to models of order (kosmos, mundus) and our place in it are mythmaking and storytelling, theology and natural science, and moral instruction and asceticism as efforts to reframe and improve the fit between the human and the cosmos. Most recently, this has extended into a new and emerging research interest in environmental concerns and questions of human and planetary wellbeing (Benitez, Brown, Collins, Kindt). Additionally, our research cluster investigates not only the various ways that theoretical frameworks inform philosophical practice, but also the ways that practice variously informs or bypasses theory (Collins).
The group has productive collaborations with scholars in Performance Studies and English. We take particular pride in our sizeable contribution to graduate research training through reading-groups, workshops, and seminars and a substantial graduate cohort working in the area.
Contact: Rick Benitez
The Department has a concentrated research strength in the Elite Culture of Late Antiquity. This area of enquiry spans the third to the sixth century CE, ranges geographically from Britain to North Africa and encompasses material and literary culture. Paul Roche examines court and literary culture in fourth century Italy and late-fifth century North Africa. Richard Miles works on the literary and material culture of late Roman, Vandal and Byzantine North Africa.
Richard Miles, Paul Roche and Anne Rogerson are all members of a Sydney-based research project, the Latin Poetry of Roman North Africa, which investigates literary culture and its socio-political contexts from the third to the sixth centuries. This group is further strengthened by the research of recent graduates working on the political culture of the tetrarchy (Byron Waldron) and fifth-century Gallic literary networks (Michael Hanaghan, now at the Australian Catholic University, also a member of the Latin Poetry of Roman North Africa project).
The Department hosts the Ancient North Africa Research Network and Pannonia project which are actively involved in archaeological research on the Maghreb and the Balkans in Late Antiquity. There are currently are two active excavations of extensive rural palace/villa sites at Glac (Serbia) and Withington (UK) directed by Richard Miles, the data from which will be used in a future research project on elite domestic architecture in the western provinces of the later Roman Empire.
Contact: Richard Miles
This emerging research area brings together the ancient and the modern worlds in a number of different ways. It is grounded in the belief that the present finds a powerful impetus in its dialogue with the thought and cultural practices of the ancient world and vice versa. Rick Benitez (comparative ancient Greek, Chinese, and modern conceptions of living well; in collaboration with Karyn Lai UNSW and Hyun Jin Kim Melbourne University), Ben Brown (Marxism and antiquity), Julia Kindt (ancient and modern conceptions of the human), Anne Rogerson (reception), and James Tan (states and socio-political power across time, fiscal sociology) are at the forefront of this dialogue between classical thought and contemporary society both in their scholarly publications, collaborative publishing projects, as well as in various activities and events directed at a general audience.
The cluster received a further boost from the recent launch of the Critical Antiquities Network by Ben Brown and Tristan Bradshaw (SSPS). Housed in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, the network constitutes the first effort to establish an axis of research collaboration that specifically targets the close but under-acknowledged relationship between classical thought and contemporary critique.
Contact: Ben Brown
The Pompeii Cast Project commenced in 2015. In recognition of forensic archaeologist Estelle Lazer’s pioneering study of the human victims of the 79 CE eruption of Vesuvius, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii invited the University of Sydney into formal partnership in 2017 in order to support the first scientific examination of the remains embedded in Pompeii’s iconic plaster casts. Since then there have been four seasons of field research.
The project seeks to replace spurious conclusions based on superficial observation and assumption with scientific analysis to establish the age, general health and sex of each victim. Our team, including some of the world leaders in the technology of non-destructive CT scan and digital X-ray, is also gaining a better understanding of how the casts were made, exposing, for example, the significant manipulation of both casts and skeletons for public display. It has already allowed curators of exhibitions to offer infinitely superior information about these casts to the general public, and thereby to extend appropriate respect to those who died in a mass disaster in the distant past.
Dr Estelle Lazer and Associate Professor Kathryn Welch lead a team that also includes Dr Alain Middleton, a forensic dentist who was awarded the Order of Australia for his work with INTERPOL on the identification of victims of mass disasters, radiologists Associate Professor Dzung Vu (University of Notre Dame) and Dr Mahn Vu, digital X-ray engineer Mr Stijn Luyck, equine veterinary surgeon Ms Julia Ridder, archaeologist Dr Girolomo Ferdinando De Simone and Mr Roberto Canigliula, from Philips, Italy. Dr Lazer, Dr Middleton and Dr de Simone are also affiliated with the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney.
Our work has been supported by grants from the University of Sydney, the NSW Department of Education and Training, the History Teachers Association of NSW and kind donations from our Crowd Funding appeal of 2019.
Contact: Kathryn Welch
Communities experiencing violent conflict and transitioning from states of conflict to post-conflict best describe many of the richest periods of Roman history and offer a different lens for engaging with evidence and questions relating to constitutional and cultural change. In these communities, violence – including civil war and domestic violence – and the abuse of law accompany significant political, social, cultural, ideological, economic, military, constitutional and religious disruption. Post-conflict communities re-shape their history and memory at the same time as they engage in political experimentation, which itself is regularly represented as reform. The need to invest old concepts with new meaning, to find a new language (including both a political and visual/ iconographic language), a new consensus and new ways of remembering the past accompany constitutional, political and legal change but need also to be balanced with judicious choices (often made at individual as well as collective levels) about what may be preserved from a shared but conflicted history.
The Department of Classics and Ancient History brings together an outstanding group of scholars examining these themes across a chronological period spanning from the Republic to the Late Empire: Bob Cowan (Imperial Roman); Eleanor Cowan (Triumviral and Imperial Rome), Richard Miles (Later Roman Empire), Andrew Pettinger (Imperial Rome), Paul Roche (Imperial Rome), James Tan (Roman Republic and historical sociology) and Kathryn Welch (Republican and Triumviral Rome). The Department regularly holds workshops and conferences examining these themes including workshops and conferences on Mark Antony; Augustus from a Distance and Silius Italicus.
Contact: Eleanor Cowan
The Department of Classics and Ancient History has a large cluster of scholars whose research examines the construction and representation of autocracy. Ben Brown (Archaic tyranny); Bob Cowan (Julio-Claudian and Flavian Rome); Eleanor Cowan (Augustan and Julio-Claudian Rome); Richard Miles (Later Roman Empire); Paul Roche (Imperial Rome) and Peter Wilson (theatre and autocracy) examine the multiple ways in which the autocrat could be both represented to and understood by his community. Their scholarship combines close textual analysis with work on rhetoric, iconography and the history of ideas, including political philosophy and kingship theory.
Within this cluster the Department boasts four scholars whose work on imperial Rome, panegyric and the representation of the Roman emperor contributes significantly to understanding the dynamics of how autocracy is established, legitimated, perpetuated and challenged as well as how it has been (both at the time and afterwards) received and understood.
The Theatre and Autocracy in Ancient Greece project (Wilson, Csapo, Paillard, Stoop, Le Guen, Green; ARC DP) represents a distinctive contribution to the study of autocracy. Many studies trace ancient Greek theatre’s links to democracy. None explores its links even to specific tyrants, monarchs and emperors. Yet theatre, from the very beginning, appealed just as much to autocrats as to democrats and it continued to thrive in autocratic states for half a millennium after the extinction of the Classical democracies. Theatre and Autocracy for the first time assembles a team of leading and emergent theatre historians to offer a new way of understanding antiquity’s most important cultural institution. This project examines both how autocrats moulded the world’s first mass medium of communication to consolidate their power, and how competing interests used the theatre to share, limit or challenge that power.
This group is further strengthened by the contributions of honorary associate Andrew Pettinger (imperial Rome); Geraldine Herbert-Brown (Augustan Rome) and Peter Brennan (Later Roman Empire), and by our graduate students. Members of the cluster have hosted several conferences, including Velleius Paterculus; Augustus from a Distance, Silius Italicus and Flavian Culture, Interiority in Roman Literature and Theatre and Autocracy. We have recently hosted Professor Greg Woolf (Institute of Classical Studies, University of London) and Karl Galinsky (University of Texas, Austin) as Todd Lecturers and Professor Simon Goldhill (Cambridge University) as a Visiting Ritchie Lecturer.
Contact: Paul Roche
Critical Antiquities Workshop seminar series
The Todd Memorial Lecture commemorates the life and work of Professor Frederick Augustus Todd, former Professor of Latin and Dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1930 to 1937. The lecture is delivered by a distinguished classical scholar with an international reputation.
The series is sponsored by the University of Sydney's School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry in conjunction with the Department of Classics and Ancient History and the Classical Association of NSW.
Pushing genre boundaries: expanded epigram in Horace and Propertius
Both Horatian lyric and Propertian elegy are medium-length forms which fall between the characteristic brevity of epigram and longer forms such as hexameter genres and drama. Expansion of the short form of epigram is thus a natural strategy for both poets, especially as both evidently participate and share in the Augustan penchant for ‘generic enrichment’ in which existing poetic genres are enlarged and enriched through the experimental use of elements which obviously belong to other genres.
Distinguished classical scholar Professor Greg Woolf from the Institute of Classical Studies at the University of London delivered a lecture titled 'How Cosmopolitan was Imperial Rome?'
We are proud of our longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship with colleagues teaching ancient history and classical languages in NSW schools.
To celebrate the work of these teachers and to nurture future teachers in our discipline, we host our annual networking event, Tea for Teachers.
We also welcome students in the department who are interested in becoming ancient history teachers, so they can meet experienced teachers.
The event is usually held in September each year.
For more information, please email Dr Eleanor Cowan.
2021 William Ritchie Memorial Lecture
12 October, 6pm on Zoom | Click here for more information
About the Lecture
Established in 2008 and held every two years, the William Ritchie Memorial Lecture invites a leading scholar of Hellenic antiquity to visit the University of Sydney every two years to deliver a public lecture in memory of the life and work of the late William Ritchie.
Bill Ritchie was a devoted teacher and scholar of Classical Greek at the University of Sydney from 1955 until his death in July 2004. He was Professor of Classical Greek from 1965 to 1991.
Professor Simon Goldhill from Cambridge University presented 'Antigone and the Autocrats'.