Department of Classics

PhD Qualifying Examination in Ancient History


You should prepare responses to all of the following prompts. The majority of them are quite broad. Responding to them in an essay of 700-1000 words (roughly 3-4 double-spaced pages of 12pt font) will require you to be selective. Pay attention to the actions requested (describe, assess/evaluate, discuss) and be as specific as possible.

There is no required reading list. The following texts are recommended. You are not expected to read beyond the recommended texts, although you are certainly welcome to do so.

  • Osborne, Robin. 1996. Greece in the Making 1200-479 BC, 2nd edition. Routledge.
  • Hornblower, Simon. 2002. The Greek World 479-323 BC, 4th edition. Routledge.
  • Shipley, Graham. 2000. The Greek World after Alexander 323-30 BC. Routledge.
  • Cornell, T. J. 1995. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 100-264 BC). Routledge.
  • Mackay, Christopher S. 2007. Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History. Cambridge University Press (NB: chapters 4-10)
  • Goodman, Martin. 2012. The Roman World 44 BC-AD 180, 2nd edition. Routledge.
  • Potter, David S. 2014. The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180-395, 2nd edition. Routledge.


I. Archaic and Classical Greece

1. Assess the role of Greek states of the ‘second tier’ (e.g. Corinth, Thebes, Megara, Argos) in the major events and processes of the Archaic and Classical periods. Define ‘event’ and ‘process’ broadly (e.g. colonization, political innovation, causes of the Peloponnesian War, introduction of Philip into central Greece etc.). Does our focus upon Sparta and Athens distort our narrative of Greek history? If so, in what ways?

2. From the alleged consultation of oracles in logoi concerning the foundation of colonies, to the story of Phye and Peisistratos, Spartan piety in 490 BCE., the Sacred Wars, and Cleisthenes’ reforms (and so on and so on) we are compelled to notice the nexus of religion and politics in ancient Greece. Discuss the role(s) of religion (e.g. as a source of political authority, as cause or justification etc.) in politics during the Archaic and Classical periods.

3. Discuss the role of Greek (or panhellenic) identity in the history of the Archaic and Classical periods. You might want to compare Greek identity with other sources of identity (e.g. polis identity, Dorian identity, kinship structures).

4. Discuss elite competition in Greek cultural, political and economic life during the period c. 650-450 BCE. What different forms did this competition take and what were its effects?

II. Archaic Greece

5. What are the respective advantages and disadvantages of using archeological and literary evidence to write the history of archaic Greece?  In what sense(s) can the two be combined (or not)?

6. Interstate relations in the Classical period are dominated by the great hegemonic multi-state systems of Sparta, Athens, and Thebes. Construct an account of what we know about interstate relations during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. 

7. Describe the events leading up to the legislation of Draco, Solon, and Cleisthenes and what we know with some certainty about the laws they enacted. Evaluate the contribution of their legislation to Athenian society and government in the 5th century.

8. Our periodization of Greek history identifies the defeat of Xerxes’ army in 479 as the end of the Archaic period. In what ways is this a watershed? In what ways does the traditional periodization mask significant continuities?

III. Classical Greece

9. Evaluate the involvement of Persia in Greek affairs from the aftermath of the battle at Mycale to Philip’s conquest of Greece.

10. Compare the fifth-century Athenian archē (aka ‘empire’) and the so-called Second Athenian Sea League of the fourth century. Consider e.g. their formation, original or professed purpose(s), formal structure(s), relations between Athens and its allies and among the members.

11. Assess the impact of Spartan and Athenian society and political culture on their capacity to pursue effectively their non-local interests during the Classical period.

12. Defend or criticize the following statement:

The causes of the outbreak of the Corinthian War in 395 BCE are to be traced back to the issues and configurations of the Peloponnesian War.

IV. The Late Classical/Early Hellenistic Periods

13. Construct an account of the rise of Macedonia from the reign of Philip II to the consolidation of the kingdom under Antigonus Gonatas. Be sure to include in your account a description of the major changes – if any – the kingdom underwent during this long period of time as well as an assessment of Macedonian policy towards mainland Greece.

V. The Hellenistic Period

14. During the Hellenistic age the world of the Greek city-states underwent many social, economic, and political changes. Describe the most significant of these changes by providing specific examples and discuss to what extent they were – or were not – the result of the new political landscape created by Alexander and his successors.

15. The Hellenistic Age saw the flourishing of new koina, or leagues, such as those of the Aetolians and the Achaeans. Compare these Hellenistic koina to their Classical antecedents and evaluate the significance of their role in inter-state politics.

16. Discuss the interaction between the ruling Greeks and Macedonians and the non-Greek inhabitants of Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid kingdom and assess the impact of Macedonian rule on these territories.

17. Describe the events leading to the Roman takeover of Greece and the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, with particular reference to the settlements adopted at each stage by the Romans to keep the eastern Mediterranean under control and the consequences of the settlements for the Greek city-states and Hellenistic kingdoms.

VI. Republican Rome

18. Landed wealth was central to Roman society, and its (re)distribution had political as well as economic consequences.  Trace the history of patterns of land tenure through the Republic.  You should account for both deliberate and accidental changes, and discuss the consequences of the changes over time.

19. What are the respective advantages and disadvantages of using archeological and literary evidence to write the history of archaic (say, pre-Punic Wars) Rome?  In what sense(s) can the two be combined (or not)?

20. Why did the Romans acquire their empire?  What is the balance of generalized policy or ideological concerns vs. local (but collective) decisions vs. individual ambitions?  Did their behavior and/or intentions change significantly over the course of the Republic?

21. What caused the fall of the Republic?  Was there some point at which it became inevitable?

VII. Imperial Rome

22. Trace the history of Imperial religious policy from Augustus to Theodosius.  In what sense(s) did Rome have or not have religious policy before the appearance of Christianity?

23. Modern histories of Rome often distinguish the earlier “principate” from the later “dominate.”  What are the characteristics of the two forms of rule?  How justified is the division into two periods rather than seeing a series of continuous trends?

24. Much Imperial history comes down to us in the form of Imperial biography (whether or not that is the formal genre).  How much does this distort our view of the history of the period?

25. Potter argues “that the rise of the court bureaucracy in the early third century was at odds with earlier traditions of decentralization. Decentralized power strengthened the hands of emperors who were able to negotiate between different interest groups, avoiding, if they were successful, excessive dependence on any other class.”  Assess his success in making this case.

VIII. “Thematic” Rome

26. One of the distinctive features of Roman society is purportedly its willingness, at least over time, to fully incorporate and internalize former outsiders of various sorts.  What specific mechanisms are involved here?  How far is the conventional description true?  Are there significant failures in this respect?

27. How do the needs of the army (as an institution) and the demands of the soldiers (as individuals) shape the “civilian” government of Rome?  To what extent are those forces exploited for political gain by individual leaders?  Start your answer in the Republic.

28. By the mid-second century BCE the Roman state covered a large territory with a notionally single government.  After Augustus, its territorial extent remained fairly stable.  What were the effects of this political situation, positive and negative, on the economy?  What, conversely, were the economic goals and challenges of the state?

29. At most points in its history, the whole of Roman society was divided into two openly hierarchical classes on political grounds (so, e.g., honestiores vs. humiliores rather than men vs. women).  What are the different divisions of this sort over time?  How similar/different are the functions of these different divisions?