What is it Like to Study Classics & Ancient History?

In a few years you might look back on your time at university and think "that's all ancient history now". But before you decide what to study, check out some real life stories of students who studied Classics & Ancient History at university.

Click the names below to read their stories, or simply scroll through:

Will – Bristol

Will Holliday 2

20 year old Will studies a BA in Ancient History at the University of Bristol. Having lived in the country all his life, Will took a year out to travel the world prior to university, in order to gain some valuable life experience before moving to the largest city in the South of England, outside London.  

What inspired you to study a Classics & Ancient History degree?

I suppose it was just my natural questioning instinct. I was always aware of this quite abstract and broad term of “Romans” or “Greeks”, but had never really gone beyond that vague label. I wanted to know 'who are these mysterious cultures, and why are they relevant to me?' What I have found is that these topics are as enigmatic as they are interesting.

The very foundations of so many modern concepts lie in these cultures, but what make it more thrilling and beautiful are those concepts which are now alien to us, like the religious systems, the slavery, the unashamed debauchery. I have a thirst for knowing, and so what better project to fill my time than a field where so much is translucent and still up for debate.

Why did you choose to study at your university?

Bristol is just spot on. It’s the right mixture of academia and leisure. The clubbing scene is unmissable, just as the old buildings, libraries and museums are too.

Landmarks like the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Will’s Memorial remind you every day that you are studying and living, in so many senses, in a truly historic and yet progressive city.

What do you like about the course?

I like the range of topics. For instance in first year, I was able to cover Rome’s transition to a principate, Literary sources of Greek and Roman history and even some Ancient Indian history.

With a course like Ancient History, you have got to love the subject, and that helps bring a bit of esotericism to the degree, that is, the idea that the few who are there are there for a reason, and that I know interesting and obscure facts about the archaic world which i can then pass on to others.

What are you learning about?

In First Year I did units on Rome’s transition, Roman and Greek Literature, Roman Religions, Alexander the Great and Ancient India. It is a veritable smorgasbord of history.

What learning methods does your department employ?

We are assigned tutors with whom we meet on a one on one basis a few times a term and whenever we have a query.

Apart from this we have lectures, which offer a broad stroke over a topic, suggesting reading and research, and then follow up seminars which go into aspects of the lecture in more detail, and in considerably smaller groups. This allows contact with others on your course which opens doorways to new friendships or interesting discussion.

What aspects of the course do you find difficult? Does the department support you well?

Having not studied Ancient History or Classics at school, I felt inadequate in the first week or so. However this was no fault of the university or the course – it was just low confidence on my part, which soon subsided.

Knowledge is not going to be handed to you at higher education, and so when I thought I was behind on base knowledge I just read up on a topic.

How do you fund your studies?

I am extremely lucky to have parents who fund my food bill for the week, which has been essential for me this year, and I am relentlessly thankful for that.

Apart from that, my rent comes from my student loan, and I work in all holidays in order to make money for going out and leisure activities.

What about the social side of things at university, does a Classics & Ancient History student find much time for it? What sort of things do you get up to?

Contact hours are low at Bristol. On paper, I have 6 hours of contact time a week, however this soon becomes irrelevant, as hours spent reading and in the library soon equal those of students on science degrees.

There is a Classics & Ancient History society, which arranges social activities like movie nights and bar crawls. The small seminar groups have allowed me to make some pretty sturdy friendships with fellow Ancient Historians, and so I would say it is a very social course.

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated? If you’re moving on to postgraduate study please tell us about your career ambitions as well.

I have always felt like writing television would be amazing. Things like Peep Show, The Office and countless others have impacted so much on my life recently, and if I could wield the power to make others feel as happy as those shows have made me I would be a happy man. 

How has your department supported your career aspirations?

The two areas may seem antonymous at first. However, Ancient History at Bristol has encouraged me to challenge old world views and present ideas which perhaps are not in keeping with the status quo.

This I believe is essential for a person in the writing world. No one wants to re-read the same book, re-study the same ideas, re-experience the same old thoughts or the same old formulaic TV programme. Variety is required to keep us satisfied. 

Joe – Edinburgh

Joe Thompson

Joe is studying Ancient Mediterranean Civilisations (MA Hons) at the University of Edinburgh. He says "I am a generalist by nature so the breadth of my course, as well as it being a Joint Honours between Archaeology and Classical Studies, suits me particularly well."

What inspired you to study a course in Classics?

The course is very flexible, allowing me to follow my passions. As such I have studied subjects as diverse as hominin development, the chaos of the Late Roman Republic and Enlightenment philosophy!

I had a firm grounding in Classical Studies, having taken it up to Advanced Higher in school at Madras College, St Andrews. It was always the subject I was the most passionate about, so this degree was perfect for me.

Why did you choose to study at Edinburgh?

The University of Edinburgh is one of the oldest and most distinguished universities in Britain with well-respected Archaeology, Ancient History and Classical Studies departments.

The city of Edinburgh is incredible, with so much culture and history, and more importantly with a wonderful atmosphere of relaxed liberality which makes you feel at home straight away. There was really no other place that I wanted to go.

What do you like about the course and your university?

As clichéd as it may sound, meeting all of the absolutely fascinating and inspiring people here has been a wonderful experience. There is a great amount of optimism and enterprise in Edinburgh’s student body, it feels so energising to be part of it.

The whole university milieu is unbelievable, and if I had my way (or the money!) I probably would have spent the rest of my days studying a host of diverse undergraduate degrees and squeezing the most out of what university has to offer.

What about the social side of things at university?

There is almost too much extra-curricular activity available through societies and sports teams alone, never mind Edinburgh as a whole. I have tried out many diverse societies in the last four years, from the Cheese Society, Canoe Club, Underwater Hockey and Opera Singing to History Society.

I have mainly been in the Chillout Society, and am now Treasurer. This society has allowed me to learn massage, and I am soon to get a qualification and begin teaching.

I have also joined, and put a lot of work in to, SHRUB Co-operative, a new not-for-profit swap and re-use hub that works in various ways towards reducing the massive quantities of waste generated by the transient student population. I have recently been elected to a second tenure on the Board of Directors at our AGM. The opportunities this enterprise has opened up to me are too many to list here!

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated?

Luckily, there are a lot of options open to graduates of Edinburgh, even in a tough economy like our current one (touch wood!) I have been exploring the idea of doing an English-taught Master’s degree in a Nordic country. However, I am also thinking about applying for internships or graduate jobs in the third sector, where I can work towards something positive and feel a valuable part of a team.

Really I am focussing on my final year, and not worrying too much about life post-graduation: "You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present" as Marcus Aurelius used to counsel himself!

George – Edinburgh

George Parry

George is in his fourth and final year of a joint degree in Italian and Classics (MA Hons) at the University of Edinburgh. He spent the previous year in Italy on an Erasmus exchange, where he studied both Italian and Classics courses at Bologna University.

What inspired you to study Classics?

I was lucky enough to study it at school; although it was a required part of the curriculum for the first few years, I was immediately fascinated by both the Latin language and the ancient world it represented.

A couple of study trips to Rome and Pompeii, and two Italian exchanges gave me the chance to see Italy in the flesh. When I finished school, I still felt Classics had more to offer me, so I opted to study it at university where I could continue to enjoy working with this other language I'd grown to know and love.

Why did you choose to study at Edinburgh?

I grew up in Edinburgh and went to primary school here, so always felt a strong affinity for the city. I actually applied to Oxbridge as well, but my heart was never really in it and they weren't happy about my joint degree application.

Edinburgh was accommodating enough to allow me to study a joint degree without any problems, far enough from home to be exciting, and diverse/interesting/fun enough to want to spent a good deal of my time here. In retrospect, I would have applied to nowhere else had I known what Edinburgh had to offer me.

What do you like about the course and your university?

Can I say everything? Honestly, the only downside is that now I feel it's over all too soon.

In the last four years I've made new friends for life, done so many new things that I never thought I'd be able to do, studied languages I enjoy to a level I feel privileged to have been offered the opportunity, fallen in love, performed in concerts great and small; there's too much to count... 

I really feel that I've grown up in my time here and will be so sad when it's time to go. But also excited, because I can take what I've gained from university and bring it out into the world to see what I can do.

What about the social side of things at university?

I've always been a musician and so was keen to jump on the musical bandwagon when I got to university. Over my years here I have played with the Savoy Opera Group, the Footlights dramatic society, the Jazz Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra, the Sinfonia Orchestra, and the Medics' Music Society.

I also joined the Untapped Talent Society (for forming and playing with bands) in first year, the Ballroom Dancing Society in second year, and played with two university-based production companies in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011. And I wouldn't have changed a thing. 

I've met so many amazing people I wouldn't have got to know through my studies, had nothing but a great time throughout, and even been on tour to Belgium twice!

Extra-curricular activities have helped lighten the load of academic work and made for a more complete and enjoyable university experience.

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated?

I'd like to travel for a little while, maybe see some new places, but really I'd love to go back to Italy and spend more time there, possibly researching in Rome or teaching English.

Somewhere down the line I'd like to come back to the UK to teach Classics to young people, to give them the same chance to experience the amazing things that I had.

Dot – Edinburgh

Dot Longley-Cook

Dot is reading Classics at the University of Edinburgh. She loves learning new languages and reading literature, so Classics seemed like the perfect combination for her.

What inspired you to study Classics at Edinburgh?

Choosing Classics meant I was able to fulfil my dreams of reading Homer in Greek and Virgil in Latin.

I come from North Yorkshire and I chose Edinburgh University as I'd heard from students that the Classics department was fantastic. As Edinburgh is famed for being the Athens of the North, what better place to study Classics! From Arthur's Seat to Princes Street, the city itself is a beautiful and inspiring place to study and live.

This summer I spent a month at the British School at Athens, meaning that I got to visit ancient sites in Athens and the Peloponnese and talk to archaeologists, architects and lecturers. I was able to see sites that are closed to the public, walk round the interior of the Parthenon and run in the stadium at Olympia.

What do you like about the course and your university?

I've loved being part of such a warm, friendly and supportive department and learning from lecturers who have expert subject knowledge.

I've also enjoyed studying here as, inside and outside of the Classics department, I've made friends for life.

What about the social side of things at university?

In term time, I enjoy running in the Meadows and Holyrood Park and I'm part of PhotoSoc. Their workshops and trips give me a chance to be creative and meet other photography fans.

The society is also helping me to hone my photography skills for the next time I want to capture an ancient site.

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated?

Ideally, I'd like to travel and see more of the world – ancient and modern! I'm also hoping to study for a postgraduate degree.