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Ancient History Exam

Please note that the Ancient History Exam will be changing in 2017-2018. Details of these changes can be consulted at the bottom of this page. Students who entered the program prior to Fall 2017 and have not yet passed the Ancient History exam should contact the Director of Graduate Studies if they would prefer to take the new exam. Otherwise, they may take the old exam as described below. 

This single exam covers both Greek and Roman history for students in Classical Studies and the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA).

The exam takes 4 hours and could be taken over two days or all at once.  Students will be required to answer two of the shared topics and one of the topics in Greek History and one in Roman History (4 essays x 45 minutes = 3 hours).  There will also be a section of the exam devoted to identifications.  (2 sets of IDs = 2 x 30 minutes = 1 hour).

This is a serious exam that requires a substantial amount of reading and studying. Students should prepare for the exam over the course of many months in order to gain the maximum benefit. Remember, the goal is not simply to pass the exam, but to gain a broad and deep understanding of Greek and Roman history and the approaches currently being used to interpret it. 



Students will be required to identify thirty out of forty provided historical terms. The terms for identification will be equally divided between “Greek” and “Roman” terms. Students should identify 15 “Greek” terms and 15 “Roman” terms. (Time allocation: 1 hour).

In some cases, terms may have more than one possible referent. In such cases, students should identify the most significant referent. When in doubt, identify all possible referents. It is difficult to generalize about the content of a good answer to an identification question, since the terms vary in nature (e.g., people, places, battles, concepts, political institutions, laws). Most answers will, however, indicate the date(s), geographical location, and historical significance of the term. Usually 4-5 sentences will suffice.

A list of terms for identification is appended to the end of this document. Terms for identification will be drawn from this list.  In order to prepare for the identifications, students should read a good narrative overview of Greek and Roman history, for example I. Morris and B. Powell The Greeks and D. Potter Ancient Rome: A New History.



Below is a list of topics with suggested bibliography. The list aims to avoid being overly long or too specialized while at the same time providing a good overview of each topic.


Common Topics: Greece and Rome

Students will be required to write an essay on two of four questions drawn from the common topics. (Time allocation 1.5 hours)

1.  Economy

    1. W. Scheidel, I.Morris  and R. Saller eds. The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World. Cambridge, 2007. Ch.1, 10, 12 -14, 19-23.
    2. M.I. Finley The Ancient Economy. Updated Edition with a forward by Ian Morris. Berkeley, 1999

2.  Religion and Magic

    1. Price, S. 1999.  Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge; M.W. Dickie “Magic in Classical and Hellenistic Greece” in D.Ogden A Companion to Greek Religion. Malden, MA. 357-370.
    2. Rüpke, J.  2007.  A Companion to Roman Religion.Malden, MA; B. Ankarloo and S. Clark eds. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Philadelphia, 1999.

3.  Evidence & Method

    1. Marincola, J. 2001. Greek Historians. Greece & Rome. New Surveys in the Classics. Oxford.
    2. Mellor, R. 1999.  The Roman Historians.  London.
    3. Bagnall, R.S. 1995. Reading papyri, writing ancient history. London.
    4. Bodel, J. 2001. Epigraphic evidence: ancient history from inscriptions. London.
    5. Howgego, C. 1995. Ancient History from Coins. London.

4.  Social History 

    1. Fisher, N.R.E. 1993, Slavery in Classical Greece. London; K. Bradley Slavery and Society at Rome. Cambridge, 1994.
    2. S.B. Pomeroy, Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece. Oxford, 1997 ; B. Rawson (ed.). 2011.  A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds.


Ancient Greece

Students will be required to answer one of two questions drawn from the following topics in Greek history. (Time allocation 45 minutes).

5.  Polis and Politics

    1. M.H. Hansen The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes. Oxford, 1999.
    2. J. Ober Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Rhetoric, Ideology and the Power of the People. Princeton, 1989.
    3. Kennell, N. M. 2010. Spartans: A New History. Malden, MA.

6.  Greeks and Non-Greeks

    1. Hall, J. 1997. Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity. Cambridge. Ch.1, 2, 3.
    2. T. Harrison ed. 2002. Greeks and Barbarians. Ch.1, 2, 8, 9.


Ancient Rome

Students will be required to answer one of two questions drawn from the following topics in Roman history. (Time allocation 45 minutes).

7.  Early Rome

    1. Cornell, T.  1995.  Beginnings of Rome. London. T. P. Wiseman’s review of same inJRA 1996.
    2. Smith, C.  1996. Early Roman and Latium. Oxford.


8.  Imperialism, including Romanization

    1. Champion, C. 2003. Roman Imperialism Readings and Sources. Malden MA.
    2. Woolf, G. 1998.  Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul. Cambridge.
    3. Mattingly, D. 2011. Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire. Princeton.

NB: Also helpful is P. Thonemann. “Splashing out.,” Times Literary Supplement 5647 (24 Jun 2011): 5.  A scan of this article can be found here

9.  Roman Politics

    1. Lintott, A. 1999. The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford.
    2. Millar, F. 1998. The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic. Ann Arbor.
    3. Taylor, L. R.  1949.  Party Politics in the Age of Caesar. Berkeley.
    4. Syme, R.  1939 (myriad reprints). The Roman Revolution.


Click here for a PDF of Greek History IDs.
Click here for a PDF of Roman History IDs.


Please note that additional study materials can be found in the Resources folder of the "Classics Tools" CTools site accessible to all current students.




For students entering the program in Fall 2017, the exam will be given once per year in September with a possible re-take in May after classes are over. (The May date can also be used by IPCAA students wishing to take the exam for the first time). Philology students will be expected to take the exam in September of their second year.

Common Topics

For the new exam, students will be required to write an essay on two of three common topics: (1) Evidence and Method; (2) Social and Economic History; (3) Environmental History. The topics in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and the Identification terms will remain the same.


At the beginning of each summer, the faculty member in charge of setting the exam will announce the bibliography for all of the essay topics, so that the students will have the summer to prepare for a fall exam. Updates to the bibliography will thus be possible (but not required) each year. Arrangements will be made to assure that the items on the bibliography are as accessible as possible over the summer.