Research in Classics at Oxford

The resources for research in Classics at Oxford are unsurpassed anywhere in the world, and they enable Faculty members to conduct research over a remarkably wide range of subjects in classical languages, literature, history, art and archaeology. The traditional picture of research in Classics is of scholars working alone in a library; a great deal of such research continues to take place, of course, but alongside this collaborative projects are opening up fresh areas of study and making possible a new range of international and interdisciplinary contacts.

Oxford has long been a leading centre of classical research; the present snapshot gives some idea of what we are working on at this particular moment. With luck, this glimpse will suggest larger features too.


Aphrodisias in ancient Caria, SW Turkey

Aphrodisias in ancient Caria, SW Turkey

Fundamental to Classics are the publication of new material and advances in the presentation of material that has been intensively studied. Oxford scholars are directing excavations at highly significant sites: in Lefkandi on Euboea (Irene Lemos), Kenchreai near Corinth (Catherine Morgan), Aphrodisias in Turkey (Bert Smith), Utica in North Africa (Andrew Wilson, Jo Quinn), the Sangro Valley in the Abruzzo (Ed Bispham), Halaesa in Sicily (Jonathan Prag).

Image: Oxyrhynchus papyrus 5292, 2nd cent. AD,  from Sophocles' lost Tereus, courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

Image: Oxyrhynchus papyrus 5292, 2nd cent. AD,  from Sophocles' lost Tereus, courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society


The world’s largest collection of papyri is housed at Oxford. Oxford scholars (Peter Parsons, Dirk Obbink, Amin Benaissa, Daniela Colomo, James Brusuelas, and others) play a leading part in the publication of new texts, particularly from Oxyrhynchus; these present us with new fragments of Greek literature and early Christian books and documentary sources for the Roman and Late Antique world. A project directed by Dirk Obbink makes images of papyri in Oxford and in Naples available online. A related project on ancient education, Learning (from) Mythology, is being carried out by Daniela Colomo and Chiara Meccariello; it will lead to the publication of new papyrus texts, and an exhibition online on Homer in school education. Nigel Wilson has been involved in the publication of palimpsests that include Archimedes and the historian Dexippus.



Literary Texts

A group of Oxford scholars oversees the production of the series Oxford Classical Texts: this together with Teubner is one of the two leading series for editions of classical texts that are based on original work with manuscripts and papyri. Editors of new editions include Nigel Wilson, who has recently edited Aristophanes and Herodotus and plans to work on Photius’ Bibliotheca; Peter Parsons, who is producing a new edition of Menander, based on the work of the late Colin Austin at Cambridge; Daniela Colomo, who is part of an international team editing Isocrates; Tobias Reinhardt, who is editing some of Cicero’s philosophical writings; and Stephen Heyworth, who is editing Ovid’s Fasti, and has plans to work on other central Latin texts, including Catullus. Outside that series is an edition of the important (if less glamorous) epitome of Herodian on prosody by Pseudo-Arcadius (Stephanie Roussou). The late Martin West’s keenly-awaited edition of the Odyssey will appear with Teubner. Christopher Metcalf is producing the first edition of some Sumerian literary texts, among the most ancient poetry to be discovered.

Graffiti at Aphrodisias: text of Christian goldworker and portraits of two champion athletes, 5th-6th cent. AD

Graffiti at Aphrodisias: text of Christian goldworker and portraits of two champion athletes, 5th-6th cent. AD


Editions of inscriptions from particular places and regions are being produced, in collaboration with scholars elsewhere: of Ptolemaic inscriptions from Egypt (Charles Crowther, Andrew Meadows, Alan Bowman, Simon Hornblower), of inscriptions from Chios (Charles Crowther) and from Sicily (Jonathan Prag), of curse tablets from Uley (Roger Tomlin). Susbstantial contributions are also being made to the basic repertory of new work, Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum: so on Ionia (Christina Kuhn) and the Black Sea and Danube regions (Georgy Kantor). Some of the editions of inscriptions have an extensive and innovative online element; so too work on coin hoards of the Roman Empire and on Roman Provincial Coinage (Chris Howgego, Volker Heuchert, Andrew Wilson), the Oxford-Paris Alexander Project (Andrew Meadows, Simon Glenn), and the Oxford Roman Economy Project (Alan Bowman, Andrew Wilson).

Image: Graffiti at Aphrodisias: text of Christian goldworker and portraits of two champion athletes, 5th-6th cent. AD

Digital Technology

This leads on to two aspects of scholarship which are important to Classics as it is now developing. The first aspect is the exploitation of digital technology to create online collections which give new access to large bodies of material and the scholarship on them. Beyond the collections already referred to may be mentioned the resources of the Classical Art Research Centre (directed by Peter Stewart), which include the huge Beazley Archive Pottery Database (overseen by Thomas Mannack) as well as other databases inspired by its wealth of physical archives. The Centre for Ancient Documents (directed by Alan Bowman and Charles Crowther) is putting images online from its abundant collections and elsewhere, among them images of Vindolanda Tablets; its collections include one of the three largest sets of squeezes from Greek inscriptions. Of great importance is the material which is being published in hard copy, but is also being made accessible online, for the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (directed by Robert Parker). The names are drawn from a huge range of sources, including literature, and form a fundamental resource for studying the people and the communities of the ancient world. Plans are being considered for advancing the interconnections of all these resources.


While the first aspect, just discussed, exploits the newest technology, the second has its roots in traditions which go back to antiquity: as studies of literary texts and their relationships progress, it is important to have detailed commentaries which reflect and advance modern criticism (and exploit modern databases). It so happens that at the moment many of Oxford’s literary scholars, though almost all have produced different types of work too, are engaged on commentaries. Lots of these are for Cambridge’s leading green and yellow series, which caters for scholars and students alike. The imposing tally of commentaries which are being worked on or are just appearing includes Angus Bowie on Iliad 3, and 21-4, Richard Rutherford on Iliad 18, Adrian Kelly on Iliad 23, Malcolm Davies on the Epic Cycle, Felix Budelmann on Greek lyric poetry, William Allan on archaic iambus and elegy (and eventually on fragments of Aeschylus), Malcolm Davies on minor and anonymous Greek lyric, Chris Pelling and Simon Hornblower on Herodotus 6, Emily Kearns on Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians, Chris Collard and James Morwood on Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, , Chris Pelling (with John Marincola) on Thucydides 6 and 7, Tim Rood (with Luuk Huitink) on Xenophon, Anabasis 3, Peter Parsons on Menander (to accompany the Oxford Classical Text), Jonathan Prag on part of Cicero’s Verrines, Gail Trimble on Catullus 64, Tobias Reinhardt on Cicero’s Academica, Wolfgang De Melo on all of Varro’s De Lingua Latina, Stephen Harrison on Horace, Odes 2, Stephen Heyworth and James Morwood on Virgil, Aeneid 3, Stephen Heyworth on Ovid, Fasti 3, and a textual commentary on all the Fasti, Matthew Leigh on Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 1, Amin Benaissa on Dionysius’ Bassarica, Rhiannon Ash on Tacitus, Annals 15, Christopher Mallan on Dio Cassius books 57-8, Jane Lightfoot on Pseudo-Manetho.


Range in Space

The range of times, places, and peoples covered by Oxford’s research is already apparent; but some further points will illustrate the spread beyond the standard isolation of Greeks and Romans and ‘classic’ periods. Peter Stewart and the Classical Art Research Centre's Gandhara Connections Project look at the connections between Greek and Roman art and the Buddhist art of Gandhara in Pakistan. Jo Quinn has worked on the elusive Phoenicians and conceptions of them. Diana Rodríguez Perez is studying the consumption of Athenian pottery in the Iberian Peninsula. Even in Italy, intensified emphasis is being given to the Samnites (Ed Bispham) and the Etruscans and other peoples (Charlotte Potts, Angela Trentacoste).

Early Connections

Even on Homer, Christopher Metcalf is looking at comparative and contextualizing approaches; Bruno Currie has recently viewed Homer in a Near Eastern context. These perspectives on Homer take up the interests of the late Martin West, whose astonishing achievements continue to inspire Oxford classicists. The major work of Andreas Willi on the origins of the Greek verb look at the Greek language in a large context of linguistic history and pre-history (also of interest to West).

martin west

Image: Martin West and his cat Figaro at work on Homer

Religious change and Late Antiquity
Damascus, Great Mosque, landscape panorama mosaic (Monumental art of the Christian and the Early Islamic East).

Damascus, Great Mosque, landscape panorama mosaic (Monumental art of the Christian and the Early Islamic East).




Significant of the most recent times is the project Endangered Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa (Principal Investigator Andrew Wilson). The Manar al-Athar archive of open access photographs (directed by Judith McKenzie) covers areas of the Roman Empire that came under Islamic rule; these images include many of sites and buildings lately destroyed. As regards period, Late Antiquity is becoming much more central. Jaś Elsner has worked on artistic, literary, and religious dimensions of that time; his exhibition Imagining the Divine will soon appear at the Ashmolean Museum. An ERC project directed by Judith McKenzie looks at the monumental art of the Christian and the Early Islamic East. Helen Kaufmann is working at a book on Late Latin poetry. Teresa Morgan is continuing her interdisciplinary exploration of ‘faith’ from the second to fifth centuries; Ine Jacobs is looking at the archaeology of Christianity. An AHRC project directed by Bert Smith and Bryan Ward-Perkins examines the statues of the fourth to sixth centuries. In general, the work of the Classics Faculty runs seamlessly into the Byzantine research which forms the other part of our Ioannou Centre for Research in Classical and Byzantine Studies.



Reception and performance
Advertisements from the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama

Advertisements from the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama


Boundaries are not merely being extended: different areas within and beyond Classics are being brought together with a new sense of purpose. An obvious example is the great expansion of interest in the reception of classical culture, in which Oxford has played a significant role. Particularly important has been the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama, directed by Fiona Macintosh. This constitutes a priceless and ever-growing body of material; it also actively generates research into the performance of ancient texts in any medium and in any period, ancient or modern. Stephen Harrison has written a book on the Victorian reception of Horace, and now has a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to study the reception of Apuleius. Alison Rosenblitt has recently written a book on E. E. Cummings and the classics; Constanze Güthenke is considering nineteenth-century German classical scholarship from a perspective that includes literary and philosophical analysis of the scholars’ own writing. Fresh areas of study are adding to the understanding of classic texts themselves and their performance: Armand D’Angour has been reviving the study of ancient music, and its relevance to the study of poetic texts; Tosca Lynch is considering the theory and practice of music in Plato; Gregory Hutchinson has been working on the rhythmic basis that underlies a great deal of Greek and Latin prose from the first century BC onwards, and on its significance for interpretation.

Literature and history

An area which draws together the historical and literary sides of Classics is, naturally, the study of historiographical texts: a strength of Oxford in recent times, thanks to the impetus of such scholars as Chris Pelling and Simon Hornblower. In addition to works already mentioned, Rosalind Thomas is looking at Greek polis histories, Katherine Clarke at the universalizing Herodotus. Luke Pitcher has a monograph on the under-esteemed Appian; Gregory Hutchinson is studying an under-explored side of Plutarch’s historical writing, his style. Guy Westwood looks at another genre from a combination of angles: Demosthenes’ and Aeschines’ approach to politics and the past. Other relationships between literature and history are seen in the AHRC project directed by Tim Rood (with John Marincola), on anachronism and antiquity. Further connections abound, as between Nicholas Purcell’s ground-breaking work on environmental history (continuing now to the edges of the Mediterranean) and the eco-criticism which Rebecca Armstrong is exploring in her work on Virgil; or between the historical study of names and Gail Trimble’s projected work on names in pastoral (philosophy comes in here too). 


Religion is an area which calls on many types of material and interpretative skill: one may instance the books Karolina Sekita is producing on Hades and Milena Melfi on sanctuaries and cults in Greece from 200 to 44 BC; the projects of Sarah Hitch on food for the gods, Irene Lemos (with Athena Tsingarida) on collective rituals in Early Iron Age and Archaic Greece, and Neil McLynn (Principal Investigator) on religion in Late Antique Egypt and the Holy Land; the work of Catherine Morgan on Early Iron Age religion, of Dirk Obbink and James Brusuelas on ancient authors who wrote about religion, and of Scott Scullion and Robert Parker on a surprising inscription from Marmarini. Robert Parker’s work more generally has inspired the study of religion at Oxford, from many different angles.


Image: Statue of the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, 2nd cent. AD

Language and philosophy

Both literary and historical studies are addressing relationships with language and linguistics: Anna Clark is studying the public language of Roman society, Peter Thonemann terms and conceptions of kinship and society in Roman Lydia; Evert van Emde Boas has written a book on language and character in Euripides’ Electra, Barnaby Taylor is writing one on Lucretius and the language of nature. Tobias Reinhardt is envisaging a project on Latin as a philosophical and scientific language. Linguists themselves are working on ancient texts about language, as in Philomen Probert’s AHRC project on Latin grammarians on Latin accents, and (together with Stephanie Roussou) on Greek thought about enclitics. The relationship of philosophy and literature cannot be properly dealt with here, since ancient philosophy regrettably (for us) falls into a different Faculty; but the links are real, and some scholars, such as Tobias Reinhardt, are very much concerned with the philosophical dimension of the texts they are concerned with. Andrew Lintott is producing an edition for historians of Aristotle, Politics 5 and 6. More recently developed types of thought and research come in with the cognitive angle on which Felix Budelmann is planning to work; he, with Katharine Earnshaw and Emily Troscianko, has been producing a website which will offer cognitive resources to classicists. Arlene Holmes-Henderson is investigating the impact of learning Latin on children’s cognitive development; she leads the project Classics in Communities.


This very incomplete sketch may permit an idea of the quantity, solidity, and fruitfulness of Oxford’s research in Classics, as its different traditions develop and cross-fertilize. We are fortunate to have so many classicists and such outstanding resources; but our work is only possible within a world-wide community of classicists. We see the subject as international; to that larger study of it we are delighted to make some contribution.