Ancient and Modern History

A venerable but wholly arbitrary Oxford tradition sets the year AD 284 as the chronological boundary between the ancient and modern worlds. 

By breaching this barrier, the course in Ancient and Modern History exposes you to a vastly expanded range of historical topics and methodologies, including (as one of many options) the direct study of original sources in Greek or Latin. To explore the two principal ancient cultures of Mediterranean Europe is to encounter a world temptingly familiar but fundamentally alien, in many ways, to our own. It is also to grapple with new and different kinds of evidence ranging from literature to inscriptions and archaeology. Moving from modernity to antiquity, and vice versa, is a rigorous but fascinating intellectual exercise. The result is perhaps the most interesting kind of history: particularly astute and efficient in the use of sources, free from stale assumptions, and illuminated by a broad, comparative view.

The structure of the course is identical to that of History, but a paper in Greek or Roman History replaces the British History paper in Mods (the preliminary examinations taken at the end of the first year), and the Foreign text papers are based on Herodotus or Sallust. In the Final Honour School, a second paper in Classical History is offered instead of a modern period paper; and either the further or the special subject (or both) is chosen from a range of ancient options, including some archaeological ones. Neither Latin nor Greek is required, although either may be optionally studied from the beginning up to intermediate level and will extend the options available to candidates both in Mods and in the Final Honour School.

For both parts of the course most of the teaching is provided in College by the four tutors in History (as for undergraduates reading History), and by the tutor in Ancient History and Lecturer in Archaeology. Students may be taught elsewhere for special and further subjects. During vacations the College is generous in assisting students financially for travel and research abroad.

At Magdalen we admit one or two candidates reading Ancient and Modern History per year. Despite this small intake, the University’s central admissions process ensures that no candidate is disadvantaged by applying here, and that all are equally considered for Oxford places.

Entry requirements


All candidates must take the History Aptitude Test (HAT).

Written work

A marked essay of A2 level, or equivalent, on an ancient or modern historical topic.

Specific subjects

History is highly recommended.

Deferred entry

Applications for deferred entry are not normally considered.