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Undergraduate preparation

Preliminary reading list (to be updated)

The prospect of starting a university course is an exciting one, but it can also be daunting. This reading list is designed to make things easier by suggesting some ways in which you can prepare for coming here – what books to read, what books to buy, and how to prepare for particular courses. We hope you will find it helpful. If you have any queries, please contact us and we will be very happy to help.  

New to Classics or Ancient History

If you have not formally studied Classics or Ancient History before, it is particularly important to do some preliminary reading. Before you start the course, you need to get a general idea of how everything fits in – a basic timescale, some idea of the major historical events and personalities, and some geographical orientation (a Classical atlas will be useful here). You need also to get a clear idea of what you are most interested in, so that you can make well-informed course choices when you get here. See below, sections C, D and E.

Broaden your knowledge

If you have done A-levels or have other qualifications in classical subjects, you may already know quite a lot about particular areas, but it is also important (a) to be aware of how it all fits into the broader picture, and (b) to fill in the gaps by finding out about areas you have not studied, if only as a means of finding out whether or not you are likely to find them attractive to work on later. You should aim to read at least one book from the lists below in an area which you have not studied before. See below, sections C, D and E.

Latin and Greek

If you are coming here to do a single honours degree in Classical Studies, Ancient History, or Classical Archaeology, you may decide to take up an optional course in Latin or Greek language in the first year. This will normally be a Latin course, unless you already have a Latin qualification. If you can start preparing for this now, it will be far less daunting when you arrive. See below, section A.

If you have done Latin before and would like to try Greek, get an elementary book on ancient Greek and at least familiarise yourself with the Greek alphabet. The modern Greek alphabet is the same as the ancient, so if you have any Greek friends, persuade them to teach you the alphabet. If you already know some modern Greek, bear in mind that professional classicists pronounce ancient Greek in a way – or in several different ways – that may be unfamiliar to you. See below, section B.

If you have done A-levels in Latin or Greek, the chances are that you will have concentrated mostly on close study of literary texts. Now is the time to expand into other areas of classical studies – history, art and archaeology, philosophy. As well as discovering other potential areas of interest, you will find (if you do this properly) that your understanding of the texts themselves is much enhanced. It goes without saying that you ought to keep your eye in with the languages as well. See below, sections A – E.

Key classical texts

If you haven’t read them already, it is a good idea to read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid in translation before you arrive. These are famous texts which are valuable to all students of classical antiquity including ancient historians and archaeologists, and some knowledge of them will be presupposed in the first-year courses. Recommended translations:

  • Homer Iliad: R. Lattimore (Chicago 1961); R. Fitzgerald (Oxford 1984)
  • Homer Odyssey: W. Shewring (Oxford 1980); R. Fitzgerald (Harper & Row 1975)
  • Virgil Aeneid: D. West, Virgil: The Aeneid, a New Prose Translation (Penguin 1990), or: C. Day Lewis, The Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid of Virgil (Oxford 1966)

Books to consider buying

Standard reference books can be expensive, but may well be a good investment. One of the things every student needs to do is to cultivate a research mentality. It makes it easier to do this if you have some reference materials at hand. Recommended reference books are:

•    The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd or 3rd edition (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition 1970, 3rd edition ed. A. Spawforth and S. Hornblower, 1996)

•    The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (ed. M. Howatson and I. Chilvers, Oxford University Press)

Primary texts by Greek and Roman authors (usually in translation) are important as they will form the basis of much of your work both in literature and in history. However, available translations vary enormously in quality with some being simply useless for serious academic study, while others may be more accurate but less readable. When you arrive here, reading lists for particular courses will tell you which translations are recommended, and which are to be avoided.

Do I need to buy books?

In general, you will not be asked to buy a book for a course unless it is really essential. We are well aware that books are expensive. Nobody can buy all the books they read. At Royal Holloway we are lucky enough to have two well-stocked libraries as well as easy access to central London facilities.

In general, before buying a book, consider carefully if it is a book you are going to refer to constantly, or if it is a piece of great literature (e.g. the Iliad, the Odyssey, Herodotus, Sophocles’ Oedipus plays, Plato’s Republic, Virgil’s Aeneid, Horace’s Odes) that will become part of your life. If this is the case, it may well be worth buying it.

If it is a book you are going to read through once, or consult occasionally, you may as well use it in the library. Plan library visits in advance, so as to avoid the frustration that inevitably ensues if you need a book in a hurry and someone else has it out and bear in mind that books can also be ordered through your local public library at home.

With regards to essential course texts, don’t worry at this stage - you can obtain these once you have started at Royal Holloway. Once you start the course, your tutors will tell you what books are required for your specific courses.

Books from the preliminary reading list can be bought from bookshops in many towns and cities across the UK and you can also buy books online.

                                                                                                                                                               Below is a list of the best bookshops for Classics in London and the South-East, as well as recommended online bookshops:

Blackwell’s Oxford branch                                                                                                                 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BQ                                                                                                   tel. 01865 792792; fax 01865 794143                                                Online http://www.blackwell.co.uk/bookshops/  

Blackwell’s London branch                                                                                                                    100 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0JG                                                                                                tel. 0207 292 5100          

Foyles                                                                                                                                                113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB                                                                          tel. 0207 437 5660                  

The Hellenic Book Service                                                                                                                      91 Fortess Road, Kentish Town, London NW5 1AG                                                                          tel. 0207 267 9499, fax 0207 267 9498    

Unsworths Booksellers                                                                                                                        101 Euston Road., London NW1 2RA                                                                                                Tel. 0207 383 5507

S Waterstones                                                                                                                                              82 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EQ                                                                                                  tel. 0207 636 1577, fax 0207 580 7680                   


Online bookshops:

Unworth's online bookshop                                                                                        www.unsworths.com

Abebooks                                                                                                                                                       www.abebooks.co.uk 

Amazon                                                                                                                                                          www.amazon.ac.uk

                                                                                                                                                            Outside the London area, any branch ofBlackwell's or Waterstones will be able to order new books for you and may keep a fair selection of classics paperbacks (e.g. Penguin Classics or World's Classics) in stock (especially if they are near a university with a Classics department).

Secondhand bookshops sometimes have a Classics section, and although these may contain little except old school editions of Latin and Greek texts, bargains are occasionally to be found.


Recommendations for particular subject areas

A1. Latin language – beginners

Everyone studying Latin, especially beginners, should possess a Latin dictionary. The one currently used in conjunction with the Beginners’ Latin course is the Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary edited by James Morwood. 

There are others of comparable size and equally serviceable, e.g. Collins or Cassell’s. If you are going to begin Latin in your first year here, and would like to see an advance copy of the first few sections of the course material, please contact Professor J.G.F. Powell in the Classics Department. 

The course, which has been specially designed by Professor Powell, can be used for private study and it is a very good idea to read through some of it (say the first four units) before you arrive.

A3. Latin language - advanced

If you have an A-level in Latin, you should expect to join the Latin Language and Reading class.

You will need a good Latin dictionary (e.g. Cassell’s) and a Latin grammar (e.g. Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer) if you do not possess these already. An English-Latin dictionary is not necessary unless you intend to study prose composition.

B1. Greek language - beginners

Ancient Greek at Beginners' level is available in the first year for (a) those who are registered for a degree in Classics or Latin and are also taking Latin at Intermediate or Language and Reading Level, and (b) those taking Classical Studies, Ancient History or another degree who can demonstrate their ability to benefit from the course. There is no formal prerequisite for the Beginners' Greek course, but we recommend, in general, that those taking it should already have some previous experience of formal study of Latin or another inflected language (e.g. German) to at least GCSE level or equivalent. 

Those who have no previous experience of learning an ancient language should, as a general rule, opt for Latin in their first year, and then take Greek from scratch in the 'Intensive' course offered to students in second year and above. The reason for this is that many of the principles, terms and concepts of Greek grammar are shared with Latin. The Beginners' Latin course is especially designed for those who are not yet familiar with these principles, whereas the Greek course presupposes a basic knowledge of them and our experience is that students without this knowledge find the course difficult to cope with.

The textbook for Beginners’ Greek is: M. Balme & G. Lawall Athenaze, Oxford University Press, vol.1 (Oxford University Press). Students are also encouraged to acquire a Greek-English dictionary, e.g. the Intermediate Greek Lexicon by Liddell & Scott (Oxford University Press). Dictionaries will be provided for use in all in-course tests and in the final exam in the summer.

B2. Greek language - intermediate

Students with GCSE in Greek (grade B or above), or with AS-level, should expect to enter the Intermediate Greek course. Before you arrive, you should revise the grammar and vocabulary you have already learned. You should also consider acquiring a Greek dictionary. The most appropriate one is Liddell & Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford University Press). 

B3. Greek language - advanced

If you have an A-level in Greek, you should expect to join the Greek Language and Reading class. In preparation for this, you are advised to read at least one original Greek text which you have not studied before. Here are some suggestions (use any editions you can find). Note that many texts, dictionaries and other tools are also available online at the Perseus Project.

  • Homer, Iliad XXIV, or Odyssey I, VI or IX
  • Sophocles, Antigone, Philoctetes or Trachiniae
  • Euripides, Hippolytus
  • Plato, Apology or Crito
  • Herodotus I
  • Demosthenes, Against Conon (LIV), in Demosthenes: Selected Private Speeches ed. C. Carey and R.A. Reid, Cambridge 1985)

You should also have a Greek dictionary (e.g. Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press) and a grammar (e.g. Abbott and Mansfield, A Primer of Greek Grammar, Duckworth reprint 1995 or older edition; or W.W. Goodwin, Greek Grammar, Duckworth reprint 1996 or older edition). You may also find second-hand H.W. Smyth A Greek Grammar for Colleges (New York 1920).

C. Literature and Thought

General background:
  • J. Boardman, J. Griffin, O. Murray (eds.) Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford 1986)
  • R. Sowerby, The Greeks. An Introduction (Routledge 1995)
  • A. Kamm, The Romans. An Introduction (Routledge 1995)


  • General:
  • A. Sharrock and R. Ash, Fifty Key Classical Authors (Routledge 2002)
  • O.Taplin (ed.) Literature in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Oxford 2000), available also in two separate paperback volumes Literature in the Greek World and Literature in the Roman World
  • P. Easterling and B. Knox (eds.) The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, vol. I Greek Literature (Cambridge 1985), vol. II Latin Literature (Cambridge 1982). 
  • Greek:
  • K. J. Dover and others, Ancient Greek Literature (Oxford 1980)
  • M. Silk, Homer: The Iliad (Cambridge 1987)
  • J. Griffin, Homer: The Odyssey (Cambridge 1987)
  • O. Taplin, Greek Tragedy in Action (Routledge 1990)
  • T. Whitmarsh, Ancient Greek Literature (Polity Press 2004)
  • Roman:
  • Susanna Morton Braund, Latin Literature: An Introduction (Routledge 2001)
  • R. M. Ogilvie, Roman Literature and Society (Pelican 1980)
  • W. A. Camps, An Introduction to Virgil’s Aeneid (Oxford 1969)
  • J. Griffin, Latin Poetry and Roman Life (Duckworth 1985)
  • S. Harrison (ed.) The Blackwell Companion to Latin Literature (Blackwell 2004)

Philosophy and Religion:

  • P.E.Easterling and J.V. Muir (eds.), Greek Religion and Society (Cambridge 1985)
  • W.K.C.Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers from Thales to Aristotle (Routledge 1993)
  • G.E.R.Lloyd, Early Greek Science (Chatto & Windus 1970)
  • T. Irwin, Classical Thought (Oxford 1989)
  • E.R.Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley 1951)
  • D.J.Melling, Understanding Plato (Oxford 1987)
  • J.L.Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher (Oxford 1981)
  • D. Sedley (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (Cambridge 2003)

D. Ancient History

Greek History:
  • * J. Boardman, J. Griffin, O. Murray (eds.) Oxford History of the Classical World, vol. I
  • Greece and the Hellenistic World (Oxford 1986)
  • O. Murray and S. Price (eds.) The Greek City from Homer to Alexander (Oxford 1990)
  • O. Murray, Early Greece, 2nd edition (Fontana 1993)
  • F. W. Walbank, The Hellenistic World (Fontana 1981)
  • J. K. Davies, Democracy and Classical Greece (Oxford 1993)
  • E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley 1951)

Roman History:

  • M. H. Crawford, The Roman Republic 2nd edition (Fontana 1993)
  • * R. Alston Aspects of Roman History AD 14-117 (Routledge 1998)

E. Art and Archaeology

Greek and Roman Art:

  • L. Burn, The British Museum Book of Greek and Roman Art (British Museum Press latest edition)
  • J. Boardman, Greek Art, revised edition (Thames and Hudson 1985)
  • B. A. Sparkes, Greek Pottery. An Introduction (Manchester 1991)
  • J. J. Coulton, Ancient Greek Architects at Work (Cornell University Press 1977)
  • A. Stewart, Greek Sculpture (Yale University Press 1990)
  • *Eve D’Ambra, Roman Art (Cambridge University Press 1998)
  • D. E. Strong, Roman Art 2nd edition (Yale University Press 1995)
  • *A. Ramage & N. Ramage Roman Art (Laurence King 2000)
  • N. Spivey Understanding Greek Sculpture. Ancient Meaning, Modern Readings (London 1996)
  • *Peter Stewart, Roman Art (Oxford University Press 2004)


  • P. Bahn, Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 1996)
  • W. R. Biers, Art, Artefacts and Chronology in Classical Archaeology (London 1992)
  • *W. R. Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, 2nd edition (Cornell University Press 1996)
  • K. Greene, The Archaeology of the Roman Economy (University of California Press 1990)
  • Clive Gamble Archaeology: the basics (Routledge 2001)
  • *J. G. Pedley Greek Art & Archaeology, 3rd ed. (Laurence King 2002)
  • *K. Greene Archaeology: an introduction (Routledge 2002)
  • *L. Bowkett, S. Hill, D. Wardle & K.A. Wardle Classical Archaeology in the Field: approaches (London 2001)
  • J. Whitley The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (Cambridge 2001)
  • C. Renfrew & P. Bahn, Archaeology, Theories, Methods and Practice (Thames & Hudson, London 2004)
  • J. Grant et al., The Archaeology Coursebook (London 2005)
* Suitable for beginners

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