Method and Theory in Classics
Session 2: What is Classics?
Some useful introductions, especially (but not only) for those relatively new to
Mary Beard and John Henderson, Classics: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 1995)
Robin Osborne, Greek History (Routledge 2004)
Christopher Kelly, The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 2006)
Beyond the obvious ‘study of ancient Greek and Roman civilisation’ defining the
field of Classics can be surprisingly difficult.
In practice most attempted definitions include references to chronological
scope; geographic scope; and disciplinary scope. All are problematic and tend to
• Chronological scope. The usual focus is on ‘Classical’ Greece (roughly
the 5 and 4 centuries BCE), and later Republican and early Imperial
Rome (roughly the 2 ndcentury BCE to the 2 ndcentury CE). However, the
field is usually taken to include much earlier and later material.
o For Greece, goes back at least to 8 century BCE and start of the
‘Archaic’ period; frequently also to c.1200 BCE (approximate
conventional end of the Bronze Age in the Aegean) to include the
‘Dark Age’, more usually now referred to as the ‘Iron Age’.
Sometimes study of the preceding Bronze Age civilisations of the
Minoans and Mycenaeans (so back to at least c.2000BCE in the case
of the former) is included. Looking ahead, usually includes the
‘Hellenistic’ period, which conventionally starts in 323 BCE (with the
death of Alexander the Great); when it ends is muddied by the
overlap with the Roman world, but a common date is 31 BCE.
o For Rome, the traditional date for the founding of the city is also in
the 8 century BCE. Rome becomes a Republic traditionally in 509
BCE; the end of the Republic is often (not always) taken also to be in
31 BCE. The following period is often loosely referred to as that of
the Roman empire, though since Rome had had an empire for some
time by this point the term ‘Principate’ is also used for the period
c.30 BCE to 284 CE. (The following period used to be referred to as
the ‘Dominate’, and you will sometimes still see this term used).
When the Roman empire ‘falls’ or ends is an endless source of debate. Rome is sacked in 410 CE; the last emperor in the West is
deposed in 476 CE , but neither of these events in themselves has
much more than symbolic importance. The eastern capital of
Constantinople carries on until well into the second millennium CE,
with its final conquest by the Ottomans coming only in 1453. In
practice, the period after c.300 CE is generally considered different
from what had gone before; though the fourth to seventh centuries
CE can be considered ‘Late Antiquity’ or the ‘Early Middle Ages’
depending on your point of view.
• Geographically the f