Classics and Ancient History

The scope of our research is distinctively wide, encompassing all the major civilisations of the ancient Mediterranean from Sumer and Mesopotamia, and Egypt, to all periods of classical antiquity up to and beyond the end of the Roman Empire.

Students examining an ancient object

We provide linguistic expertise in Sumerian, Akkadian, all periods of Egyptian, Ancient Greek, and Latin. Over and above work in individual specialist areas, we work in the following thematic clusters (click on the titles for further detail):

Egypt and the Ancient Near East


Tony Leahy is an Egyptologist with a particular interest in all aspects of the history and culture of Egypt in the first millennium BC, especially the Libyan, Kushite and Saite periods. Recent publications include: ‘“Necho” in Late Period personal names’, in D. Aston et al. (eds.), Under the Potters’ Tree (Leuven, 2011), 547-573 and ‘Text and image in funerary identity at Abydos in the early seventh century BC’, Imago Aegypti 3 (2010), 56-71, pls. 19-22.

Egyptological research at Birmingham, as well as teaching, includes all periods of Egyptian history from the Predynastic Period to the end of the Greco-Roman Period and all phases of Egyptian language. Claus’ current research explores questions of identity and writing culture in Egyptian society. Together they cover all aspects of the ancient Egyptian civilisation from the 4th millennium BC down to the Arab conquest in 641 AD. 

The Ancient City

Classics and Ancient History lecturers are engaged in research relating to all aspects of life in ancient cities.

  • Henriette van der Blom specialises in the politics of Republican Rome.
  • Will Mack focuses on citizenship, identity and political institutions throughout the Greek-speaking world.
  • Andrew Bayliss focuses his research on civic and military life in Classical and Hellenistic Athens and Sparta.
  • Hannah Cornwell examines the urban fabric of Republican Rome.
  • Diana Spencer focuses on the idea of landscape in Roman literary and visual discourse.
  • Gareth Sears centres his research on urbanisation and urban space with particular reference to Roman North Africa.
  • Ailsa Hunt focuses on the religious life of ancient Rome.

Key publications include:

  • Bayliss, A.J. After Demosthenes: the politics of early Hellenistic Athens (Continuum, 2011)
  • Blom, van der, H. Oratory and Political Career in the Late Roman Republic (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
  • Cornwell, H. Pax and the Politics of Peace: Republic to Principate (Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • Hunt, A. Reviving Roman Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
  • Sears, G. (with Ray Laurence and Simon Esmonde Cleary) The City in the Roman West 250 BC to AD 250 (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Spencer, D.J. Roman Landscape: Culture and Identity (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Interstate Relations in the Ancient World

Several Classics and Ancient History researchers have expertise in the study of interstate relations in the Graeco-Roman world.

  • Will Mack’s research has centred on the role of proxenia in Greek society in the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
  • Andrew Bayliss has published extensively on the role of oaths in Greek alliances and peace treaties.
  • Hannah Cornwell’s research centres on peace and diplomacy in the Roman world.

Key publications include:

  • Bayliss, A.J. (with Alan Sommerstein) The Oath in Archaic and Classical Greece: Oath and State (De Gruyter, 2012)
  • Mack, W. Proxeny and Polis: Institutional Networks in the Ancient Greek World, (Oxford University Press 2015)
  • Cornwell, H. Pax and the Politics of Peace: Republic to Principate (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Late Antiquity

Late Antiquity is a research strength for Classics and Ancient History.

  • Gareth Sears focuses on the evolution of the city and city life in Roman Africa and in particular on the late Roman diocese of Africa. The focus of his work is often the relationship between Christians and their urban environment, and on the competition for space between different religious groups.
  • Phillip Burton’s philological research on Latin and related languages has led him to focus on various aspects of early Christianity in the Latin west.

Key publications include:

  • Burton, P. Sulpicius Severus’ Vita Martini, (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)
  • Sears, G. The Cities of Roman Africa (The History Press, 2011)

The Literary Culture of the Late Republic

Several Classics and Ancient History lecturers are experts on the literary culture of the Late Roman Republic.

  • Diana Spencer looks at the written, monumental, and artistic texts of the time, focusing on the relationship between language, landscape and identity.
  • Elena Theodorakopoulos focuses on the poetry of this transitional period, particularly that of Catullus, but extends her focus to early Imperial Rome.
  • Henriette van der Blom’s research centres on rhetoric, in particular the works of Cicero.

Key publications include:

  • Blom, van der, H. Cicero’s Role Models: The Political Strategy of a Newcomer, (Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Spencer, D.J. Varro's Guide to Being Roman: Reading de Lingua Latina (University of Ohio Press, forthcoming)
  • Theodorakopoulos, E. Catullus: A Roman Poet (Duckworth, forthcoming)

Reception of Classical Antiquity

Several members of Classics and Ancient History staff work on the appropriation or adaptation of Greek and Roman traditions by modern artists and authors from the Renaissance to the present day.

  • Philip Burton’s interests lie in nineteenth and twentieth century literature.
  • Elena Theodorakopoulos has written on the representation of Rome in the films of Federico Fellini, and has a particular interest in women’s writing.
  • Gideon Nisbet focuses on film and television.
  • Dimitris Tziovas works on the reception of ancient Greek literature by modern Greek authors.

Key publications include:

  • Burton, P. ‘Rudyard Kipling's "Puck of Pook's Hill" A Study in Reception’, Illinois Classical Studies 31/32 (2006-2007), 28-54
  • Nisbet, G. Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture (2nd ed. 2008)
  • Theodorakopoulos, E. Ancient Rome at the Cinema: Story and Spectacle in Rome and Hollywood (2010)
  • Tziovas, D. Re-imagining the Past: Greek Antiquity and Modern Greek Culture, (Oxford University Press 2014)

Elsewhere in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology

Classics and Ancient History is one of three interlinked research areas in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology. For these see Archaeology and Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies.