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Ancient History


The closing date for applications to start this course in September 2024 is 31 July 2024. Further detail here.

Key information

Duration: 1 year full time or 2 years part time

Institution code: R72

Campus: Egham

UK fees*: £10,600

International/EU fees**: £21,700

The course

Ancient History (MA)

If you are seeking to further your undergraduate qualification, conducting research into or wanting to specialise in the history of the ancient Greek, Roman and Near Eastern worlds, then this programme offers you the perfect opportunity to do just that. Covering the historical period from Classical Athens to Christian Byzantium, we offer courses which allow you to examine many aspects of the Ancient History of Greece, Rome and the Near East.  Our Ancient History MA also provides postgraduates with the ideal foundation for conducting further research at doctoral level.

Organised on an intercollegiate basis, this course is jointly run with King’s College London and University College London to enable you to take full advantage of the teaching expertise of all three participating colleges. This tri-collegiate approach offers up an unparalleled range of modules to study: postgraduate units cover Greek and Latin literature and ancient philosophy, as well as key technical skills such as papyrology, epigraphy, and palaeography. 

Our Classics department has an excellent track record in producing research that advances the understanding of the ancient world. A thriving and internationally recognised centre of excellence in research and teaching, the department is home to two Research Centres - the Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome (CRGR) and the Centre for Oratory and Rhetoric (COR). Research in the department covers the whole range of Classical Studies, from Homeric Greece to the very end of the Roman Empire with particular interests in language, literature, history, ancient philosophy as well as Greek and Roman archaeology.

In teaching ancient history, we are particularly well equipped to supervise dissertations on the history of Greek law, Athenian political and social history, the Roman army, ancient shipping and shipsheds, ancient urbanism, and the economic, political and social history of Rome.

A global leader in Masters provision, Royal Holloway gives you the opportunity to take part in one of the most extensive programmes of research seminars and training programmes offered by any institution. During your time with us you will be under the careful supervision of our academic staff with access to not only the Royal Holloway library but also the world-class resources of the Institute of Classical Studies, the Warburg Institute, the British Library, Senate House Library, and other specialised libraries in the School of Advanced Study.

From time to time, we make changes to our courses to improve the student and learning experience. If we make a significant change to your chosen course, we’ll let you know as soon as possible.

Core Modules

  • This module will introduce you to the disciplines, methodologies, and problems that may be encountered when engaging in research in the area of ancient history. You will cover a range of topics from epigraphy and papyrology to general issues of method in ancient history. You will become equipped with the knowledge, skills, and bibliography that will enable you to develop a research project and pursue it successfully. You will give a presentation about your dissertation topic at an intercollegiate dissertation symposium in the summer term.

  • You will produce an extended piece of original work of between 10,000 and 12,000 words in the field of ancient history. You will choose a topic in consultation with staff members with appropriate expertise, and be assigned a supervisor. You will be supported through the process of gathering research materials and organising your work both through intercollegiate and departmental workshops. During Spring and Summer Term, dissertation supervisors arrange periodic meeting with you every two to four weeks, as needed, to discuss progress, solve issues and review drafts. Over the summer, you will prepare a draft of the dissertation which your supervisor will offer feedback on, allowing you to make improvements, amendments and revisions before submission in September. You will develop your skills in employing relevant research methodologies at an advanced level, engaging with existing scholarship to situate your project within context of current debate.

  • This module will describe the key principles of academic integrity, focusing on university assignments. Plagiarism, collusion and commissioning will be described as activities that undermine academic integrity, and the possible consequences of engaging in such activities will be described. Activities, with feedback, will provide you with opportunities to reflect and develop your understanding of academic integrity principles.


Optional Modules

There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of the practice of architecture and construction in the Greek world. You will look at the development of architectural orders, the role of architects,
    the design process, building techniques, the sources and supply of materials, town planning, and religious, civic, domestic and funerary building types. You will consider how to interpret primary architectural data using appropriate scholarly and theoretical frameworks, and examine the archaeological significance of architectural remains and their potential in studying ancient built environments and landscapes. You will learn how to create a three-dimensional photogrammetry model.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of the political and ethical questions surrounding Roman archaeology in the modern world. You will look at the history of the discipline, the impact of modern conflict, archaeology in national and international law, museums and museum display, and the use of archaeology in historical fiction, film and TV. You will consider the issues and problems in the presentation and preservation of Roman archaeology and examine the practical and theoretical aspects encountered when attempting to answer who own the Roman past.

  • This module provides you with the opportunity to engage in an-depth study of the material remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum (and the villas at Stabiae, Oplontis and Boscoreale) and assess their special value – but also their limitations – as primary sources for archaeologists and cultural historians. You will analuse general issues of preservation, excavation, chronology, and presentation of the sites to the public as well as a range of topics relating to the specific types of evidence for which the Vesuvian sites are renowned.

  • This module aims to explore the varied roles that water played in ancient lives. During the module, you will look at the various technologies that were employed in the capture, supply and management of water in the ancient world, examining both the technological and social implications of these methods. In the first part of the module, you will investigate the key technologies (e.g. aqueducts, dams, reservoirs, bathhouses) in both rural and urban settings via a series of in-depth case studies of particular sites and regions. In the second part of the module, you will explore the social meanings behind these technological choices, drawing on material from Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, and setting them within the wider context of debates on the ancient economy and supposed technological stagnation in the ancient world.

  • This module will take you through the major sources of archaeological evidence we have for life in the Roman Near East. In the first term, you will get the opportunity to develop your understanding and knowledge of the archaeology of the Roman Near East, including an overview of the periods prior to the Romans. Topics to be covered in this term will include Roman urbanism, rural settlement and agriculture, water supply and religion. In the second term, you will explore some of the key theories, methods and approaches related to the Roman Near East, for example different ways of looking at 'Romanization' as well as theories and practices related to material culture. In addition, you will engage with themes related to who owns the past and how that past is presented in different settings and for different audiences.

  • The urban centre of ancient Athens was a modest town from antiquity until the nineteenth century when it became the capital of the newly independent state. The city has grown phenomenally over the last two centuries and the preservation of the archaeological remains is varied. The course will combine classroom teaching with an excursion to Athens where the relationship between the modern city and the primary material at the archaeological parks and museums can be studied at first hand. The lectures and seminars will provide a methodological and chronological framework for studying the material remains of the ancient city. Several themes will run through the course and they include, for example, the following: How are the religious and burial customs reflected in the archaeological record of Athens? What types of manifestations did the administration and politics of the polis have in architecture? How did the city prepare for war? What was the urban environment like?

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of the sources and modern analytical methods which can be used to study the City of Rome. You will look at the topography of ancient Rome and consider its relevance to Roman political, social and cultural history.

  • Our main evidence for the Athenian democracy in the fourth century are the speeches composed for delivery in court. At the same time, the speeches also offer a unique insight into Athenian social relations and social values through the stories told by individual litigants to their audiences consisting of large number of ordinary citizens who were serving as judges. This module offers an opportunity to study the ways in which the lives of the inhabitants of late fifth and fourth century Athens – citizens, resident aliens, and slaves – were regulated by the city's laws, and equally important how this normative framework could manipulated and sometimes even subverted by members of the community. The module will also offer an introduction to classical Athenian rhetoric, and the seminars will focus on the rhetorical strategies adopted by Athenian litigants in a wide variety of contexts. A broad range of Athenian lawcourt speeches in translation will be complemented by the study of texts (also in translation) by Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of a broad range of philological issues associated with selected books of Homer's Iliad. You will read significant sections from selected books in the original Greek and examine key issues such as literary criticism, philosophy, anthropology and the study of oral traditions pertaining to the Iliad.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of a broad range of philological issues associated with selected books of Homer's Odyssey. You will read significant sections from selected books in the original Greek and examine aspects of higher criticism, including literary, philosophical and anthropological approaches and discussions of general critical theory pertinent to the study of the Odyssey.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of Roman identity and the ways in which Tacitus seeks to define what it means to be Roman under the early Principate. You will read selected excerpts from Tacitus' Agricola, Historiae and Annales, considering the key features of Tacitus' literary technique and examine the relationship between literary form and content.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding of Roman identity and the ways in which Tacitus seeks to represent the experience of being Roman under the early Principate. You will look at key features of Tacitus' literary technique, considering the relationships between literary form and content in Tacitus Agricola, Historiae and Annales.

Intercollegiate modules available at our University of London partner institutions:

  • Places, Artifacts and Images, Digital Approaches
  • Digital Classics: Linking Written and Material Culture
  • In this module you will develop an understanding of the basic grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of Attic Greek. You will become proficient in reading unseen simple passages of Greek without assistance and gain confidence in handling Ancient Greek texts in their original form.

  • In this module you will further develop your understanding of the Ancient Greek language to the point where you are able to read substantial texts. You will carry out grammatical exercises, including some translation from English into Greek, as well as preparing to translate passages from Greek to English. As your confidence increases, you will increasingly focus on the translation and interpretation of texts.

  • Tacitus and Nero
  • Latin Epigraphy
  • The module is in two parts. The first term is exploratory: you will read selected texts from the whole medieval period - from late antiquity to the high Middle Ages - in a variety of genres (theology, poetry, history, law, etc.) In the second term you will learn how to edit a medieval Latin text.

  • The aim of this module is to train you to read, date and describe Latin manuscripts from AD 500 - 1500 and to understand manuscript culture and the circumstances in which texts were transmitted from the Middle Ages to modern times. It consists of a survey of the history of Latin handwriting from antiquity to the Renaissance. You will also be taught how to describe a manuscript book and will be introduced to codicology.

  • Introduction to Greek Epigraphy
  • Alexandria and the Poetry of Callimachus
  • Persepolis
  • Archaic and Classical Painting
  • This module covers the transitional period which preceded and followed the Arabic conquest of large parts of the Byzantine empire in the seventh century. Initially, Byzantium struggled to contain the Arabic expansion in the East and the Slavic settlement in its European provinces. Numerous administrative reforms testify to this effort, and perhaps equally, one of the most emblematic theological debates to be associated with the Eastern empire, that of Iconoclasm. In this module you will look closely at how the Byzantines faced these threats to their stability and follow the historical course up to the onset of gradual economic, political and cultural revival in the late eighth century.

  • Classical Frontiers: Northern Black Sea in Antiquity
  • Science and Empire
  • This module will introduce you to the history of magic in late antiquity (from the third to fifth centuries CE) through the close and contextualized study of a number of magical texts, with a particular focus on the Greek Magical Papyri, and some comparative consideration of magical texts in Demotic, Coptic, Syriac and Latin. You will read a range of these texts (in translation), from curses and erotic magic to spells of healing and exorcism, and learn to analyse them in their social, political and cultural contexts. You will explore the literary, material and visual qualities of magical texts and objects, as well as considering their ritual functions. This module will develop your ability to analyse and critique the varied contemporary interpretations of magical texts and practices, and to formulate and substantiate your own research questions related to late antique magical practices and magical texts.

  • Roman Mosaics: Making and Meaning
  • This module provides an introduction to the varied physical remains left behind by Late Antiquity, primarily in the eastern Mediterranean (4th to 7th century). The selection of material and issues examined range from the urban and rural landscapes, fortifications, palaces, houses, monasteries and churches, to monumental decoration and small scale objects. This wide range of topics will be investigated thematically from a primarily functional and practical point of view, in order to trace and highlight the significant changes that occurred in this period, signalling different stages in the transformation of the Roman heritage. Each subject will be approached on the basis of case studies that exemplify the nature and problems of the evidence.

  • Exhibiting Classical Antiquities
  • Alexander's Afterlife
  • Queer Connections: Male-Male Desire and the Classical Past
  • Ancient Rome on Film: From Pre-Cinema to the 1950s
  • Cicero: Rhetoric and Politics
  • Ancient Philosophy and Literature
  • Ovid
  • In this module you will be introduced to the study of Greek papyri, documentary as well as literary. The texts are studied from facsimiles and are chosen to illustrate the development of Greek bookhands and cursive scripts. You will also learn to examine formal aspects of the transmission of Greek literature on papyrus, and familiarise yourself with the range of documentary types available as sources for the history of Graeco-Roman Egypt.

  • Lived Ancient Religion in Hellenistic Greece
  • Hellenistic Encounters with Egypt
  • Change and Continuity in the Ancient Near East
  • Aristotle
  • The Mediterranean World in the Iron Age
  • Ancient Italy in the Mediterranean
  • Making and Meaning in Ancient Greek Art
  • Making and Meaning in Ancient Roman Art
  • The Transformation of the Roman Mediterranean

Assessment is primarily carried out by coursework and the dissertation, although some examinations may be used particularly in language acquisition classes.

Full-year units will normally be completed by the end of the second term with coursework usually due in June. Some half-year units taught in the autumn term may have coursework deadlines in January.

Part-time students will take two taught modules in their first year, and a third taught module plus dissertation in their second year. Each of these elements will normally be examined in the year in which it is taken.


UK Bachelors degree or equivalent.

Successful applicants will usually have the following qualities:

  • A broad appreciation of the civilizations and historical framework of the ancient world
  • A keen interest in primary sources and the different interpretations that have been put on them
  • The ability to synthesise judgements from multiple viewpoints.

International & EU requirements

English language requirements

  • IELTS: 6.5 overall. Writing 7.0. No other subscore lower than 5.5.
  • Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 69. No other subscore lower than 51.
  • Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.
  • TOEFL iBT: 88 overall, with Reading 18 Listening 17 Speaking 20 Writing 26.
  • Duolingo: 120 overall, 135 in Literacy, 135 in Production and no sub-score below 100.

Graduates of classical degrees have much to offer potential employers having developed a range of transferable skills, both practical and theoretical, whilst studying with us. With up to 90% of our most recent graduates now working or in further study, according to the Complete University Guide 2015, it’s true to say our graduates are highly employable.

In recent years, PhD graduates, many of whom have progressed from our MA courses, have taken up academic positions at Oxford, Bristol and Roehampton Universities. Outside of academia, our graduates have embarked on teaching careers in the UK and overseas, undertaken archaeological and museum work and pursued careers in journalism, finance, politics and the arts.

Home (UK) students tuition fee per year*: £10,600

EU and international students tuition fee per year**: £21,700

Other essential costs***: Should you decide to take modules which are delivered in Central London then travel will be required.

How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

* and ** These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis in the academic year 2024/25. Students studying on the standard part-time course structure over two years are charged 50% of the full-time applicable fee for each study year.

Royal Holloway reserves the right to increase all postgraduate tuition fees annually, based on the UK’s Retail Price Index (RPI). Please therefore be aware that tuition fees can rise during your degree (if longer than one year’s duration), and that this also means that the overall cost of studying the course part-time will be slightly higher than studying it full-time in one year. For further information, please see our terms and conditions.

** This figure is the fee for EU and international students starting a degree in the academic year 2024/25. Find out more 

*** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree at Royal Holloway during the 2024/25 academic year, and are included as a guide. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.

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