A Level

Classical Civilisation


Classical Civilisation involves the study of a broad range of topics centred on the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome.  Whilst of particular interest to students of literature and history, it is a subject taken and enjoyed by students of all disciplines.

Course Content

Year One: In their first year, students will study a range of Greek topics, namely:

  • Homer’s Odyssey:  This tells the story of how Odysseus, the man whose clever idea of the Wooden Horse enabled the Greeks to defeat the mighty city of Troy, came to return to his home in Ithaca. On the way he encountered many fearsome obstacles including the one-eyed Cyclops and the magical Circe, losing all his men in the process. And when he did reach home, he found over one hundred suitors attempting to win over his beautiful wife, Penelope. What could our hero do in the face of such insurmountable odds? One of the earliest examples of Western literature, the Odyssey is a tale of adventure and revenge, set in the mythical realm of the Homeric hero.
  • Greek Art - C6th-4th BC was a period of great change in the Greek world and this is reflected in the art which was produced. Students will have the opportunity to engage with a wide range of visual art produced during this period:
    • Freestanding sculpture - covering the Archaic and Classical periods, students will explore the development of free-standing statues and how in particular life was first breathed into marble and bronze.
    • Architectural sculpture - how the Greeks of this same period used sculpture to decorate their important religious and political buildings
    • Vase painting: the depiction of mythology and everyday life, incorporating examples of the Black Figure and Red Figure techniques

As well as looking briefly at the functions, materials and techniques used to produce these works, our main focus will be on their stylistic features and development, overall composition and subject matter depicted.

At the end of the first year, there will be an exam on these two units.

Year Two : In their second year, students will study aspects of the Roman world, namely:

  • Virgil’s Aeneid:  The national epic of the Roman people, the Aeneid tells of how Aeneas led the defeated survivors from Troy to their promised land in Italy. He too faced formidable obstacles, not least a year-long dalliance with the charismatic Dido, before finally reaching Italy, but on arrival faced a deadly war to secure his people’s destiny and to set in motion what one day would become the Roman race. How did he cope and just what was the great destiny, promised for his descendants by the mighty Jupiter?
  • Politics of the Late Republic:  C1st BC was one of the most turbulent period of any people’s history. After learning about how the system of government we call the Roman Republic came into being and began to assume control of many of the lands around the Mediterranean, students will study how the actions of men like Cato, Cicero and Caesar brought about the internal divisions which ultimately brought about the collapse of this government and paved the way for the introduction of Augustus and the subsequent emperors of Rome.

At the end of their second year, students will take three exams, one on a combination of their work on the Odyssey and the Aeneid and one each on Greek Art and the Politics of the Late Republic.

Where Could It Take Me?

Sharing many of the skills needed for success in subjects such as English Literature or History, Classical Civilisation is widely accepted for university entrance in many areas and admired by many potential employers.

Entry Requirements

5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including Maths and English.

You do not have to have studied Classical Civilisation before and, because all the literature is studied in translation, no previous knowledge of Latin or Greek is necessary.

Methods of Teaching

We use teacher-led discussion, with students being actively encouraged to contribute ideas. We use visual resources extensively, whilst students are given specially prepared reading material to complement their study. We study each text in a modern translation so students do not need to know the ancient languages. Students work as a class, in small groups and individually, researching, asking critical questions, making connections and comparisons and drawing conclusions. We place great emphasis on students’ taking responsibility for their own workload.

Methods & Patterns of Assessment

During the course, students are required to complete a series of formal written assignments covering all areas of the specification. These assignments are aimed at giving students practice in the skills needed to succeed in the exams. Students will also undertake a series of short tests and other less formal exercises to assess their understanding of the material. Where appropriate, students’ work is assessed according to guidelines provided by the subject examiners.

Financial Implications

Each student receives a series of essential reading material, which is studied in depth. Students may require additional notes for which they may be asked to pay a small charge to cover photocopying costs. Students are expected to provide their own copies of some of the set texts as specified at the start of the course, together with materials for note-taking and essay writing. The College has a Student Support Fund for those students who have difficulty meeting these costs.  There is a list of recommended background reading from which students may, if they wish, buy one or more books, although all the main titles can be borrowed through College.

Traditionally we have run a trip to visit the Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford which contains exact replicas of many of the statues and other sculpture studied. We have also regularly offered students the opportunity to visit some of the key classical sites in Greece to support their work in the Art unit and we would hope to continue to run similar trips, although the current position remains uncertain.  The cost of such a trip would be dependent on various factors, but our most recently organised trip (Easter 2020) came in at around £800.