Detail from the mosaic of Virgil

The Poetics of Social Change in Late Antiquity (250-750 AD)

Investigating how late antique writers use Classical Latin poetry

An exciting opportunity exists for a commencing PhD student to explore how Classical Latin poetry was repurposed as the Roman empire in the west was changed fundamentally by the rise of Christianity. 

This project investigates how Classical Latin poetry was read and responded to in late antiquity (c. 250 – 750 AD), a time of immense social, cultural and political change. In this period new Christian genres of literature emerged with radically different frameworks for understanding the world; the city of Rome was decentralised as the cultural and political epicenter of the empire; and western Europe underwent a profound process of transformation into new political structures. At the same time, classical Rome remained central in the cultural imagination for late antique writers, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Classical poetry, above all Virgil’s Aeneid, was a mainstay of the Roman education system until the end of antiquity and authors such as Ovid, Seneca, Lucan, Statius, Martial and Juvenal were widely read and highly influential. These texts offered models of rhetoric, narratology and style and simultaneously presented themes, worldviews, character studies and ethical dilemmas that were adaptable to the cultural, social, political and religious cultures of the late-antique world.

Recent scholarship has begun to discover how writers of this period manipulated Classical Latin poetry to interpret their fast-changing world. Yet many fundamental questions remain to be answered to arrive at to a holistic understanding of the late antique poetics of change. One productive model of enquiry has been to explore the notion of the classical in late antique authors of different geographical, political and cultural contexts; another has been to trace the reception of a specific classical author across a suite of late antique texts. Either of these approaches could inform the present project: a proposal focusing on the late antique fortunes of a major Classical poet after Ovid, or one that examines the use of classical poetry in a less-discussed late-antique author, could contribute to our understanding of late antiquity’s reception of its classical past.

The key questions of our project are: how did later authors use the poetry of the late republic and early empire? How did individual poets shape classical texts to serve their own agendas? How do specific and localised studies of poetic influence contribute to our broader understanding of classical allusion in late antiquity? What kind of readers and reading experiences are implied by a poet’s use and abuse of classical models? Beyond these specific questions, a number of major poetic texts of late antiquity have not been equipped with full-scale literary commentaries that would explore inter alia their classical influences and the way that such intertextual programmes sit within the larger goals and themes of these texts.

In the first instance, we invite HDR proposals that address any of the following:

  • The reception of classical Latin poetry in the Latin poetry of late antiquity

  • The writing of a full-scale literary commentary on a Latin poetic text that is not equipped with one 

  • The study of a particular classical author’s influence across a group of related texts, throughout a specific period, or across the breadth of late antiquity.

  • The continuities and transformations of classical genres of poetry in late antiquity

  • The reimagining of republican and early imperial Rome in the poetic texts of late antiquity

  • The study of the critique of classical Latin poetry or poets, including their imagined lives and careers, in the literature of late antiquity more generally 

This project represents an opportunity to work with established scholars at the cutting-edge of reception studies. The supervisory team, Associate Professor Paul Roche and Dr Anne Rogerson, has recently won an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant on the Vandal Renaissance: Latin Literature in Post-Roman Africa (435-534CE), and more broadly has significant experience in supervising students working in late antique receptions of Latin poetry, and in assisting early career researchers to develop publications and their academic profile.

Any successful candidate and project would have full access to the resources of the Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia.

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal for PhD research that aligns directly to this project. 

Prospective candidates may qualify for direct entry into the PhD program if their research proposal (see above) is accepted and they satisfy at least one of the criteria listed below.

  • Bachelor's degree with first- or second-class honours in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on primary data not literature review

  • Master's degree by research in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis that draws on primary data 

  • Master's degree by coursework, with a research thesis or dissertation of 12,000–15,000 words that draws on primary data not literature review, with a grade-point average of at least 80 per cent in the degree.

  • Demonstrated appropriate professional experience and alternative qualifications in the field of study.

For more information regarding applying for a PhD refer to the course details for Doctor of Philosophy (Arts and Social Sciences).

Please also refer to guidelines for preparing a research proposal. 

A number of scholarships are available to support your studies.

Australian Government RTP Scholarship (International)

University of Sydney International Scholarship

University of Sydney Tuition Fee Scholarship

These scholarships will provide a stipend allowance of $37,207 per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

For other scholarship opportunities refer to FASS Research Scholarships (International) 

For further details about the PhD project contact Associate Professor Paul Roche at or Dr Anne Rogerson at  

Please note that these opportunities are open to International students only.