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Exploring the classical world

This module is for anyone interested in classical Greece and Rome. You will investigate a wide range of topics (such as the world of Homer; political uses of theatre; art and rhetoric in Athens; the history of the Roman Republican period; Latin poetry and Roman social history), studying sources as varied as poetry, drama, history writing, art, architecture, archaeology, inscriptions, and philosophy. Whether your interest in the classical world is long-standing or new, this module will give you a fresh perspective, develop your skills in analysis and evaluation and lay a firm foundation for further exploration.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

The civilisations of classical Greece and Rome are in many respects far removed from our own, but are nevertheless highly relevant to modern western culture.

This broad introduction to the classical world begins with an introduction to the overall geography and history of the era. This will give you a framework in which you can situate the individual cultures and periods that you will study in this module. It will also provide background knowledge for further modules in classical studies that you may wish to take in the future.

After this introduction, the module is organised historically, allowing you to study a range of different topics in chronological order, moving from Greece to Rome. However, it isn't simply a survey module, as you will engage, in depth, with a selection of particularly interesting aspects of the classical world. The common theme running throughout the module is an exploration of what made different places and times culturally distinctive, and how we can try to understand them so many years later. The module is divided into six sections.

Introduction The introduction has two main aims. It will help you think about the methods that we can use to study the classical world, and introduce you to the sources at our disposal. It will also let you familiarise yourself with key features of Greek and Roman geography and history.

Block 1 Homer and the Greek Dark Age This block focuses on one of the earliest periods of classical history, the time of the Greek epic poets, especially Homer. Aspects of both the Iliad and the Odyssey are studied at some length, building up to a picture of Homeric society and artistry. A close look at vases will add a further dimension to your understanding of the period.

Block 2: Classical Athens This block looks at Athens in the fifth century BCE. You will study four sources: Aeschylus' tragedy, the Persians; arts and buildings on the Acropolis; oratory; and Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata. These sources have a shared focus: the Athenians' understanding of their own identity as Athenians.

Block 3: The Roman Republic This block starts with an introduction to the second half of the module, linking the Greek world studied in Blocks 1 and 2 with the study of cultural developments in Italy. This starts with the experience and physical remains of Greek colonisation of southern Italy. The central part of the block investigates politics and power in the city of Rome in the Republican period. A concluding section considers how the various kinds of literature produced at the time contribute to a distinctive Roman culture.

Block 4: Rome – City and People This block turns to social history. You will learn about the population of Rome, how it was organised socially and what daily and family life in Rome was like. Your main sources will include the letters of Pliny the Younger and of Cicero, the philosophy of Seneca and inscriptions on tombstones.

Block 5: Revision and Retrospection This block introduces a small amount of new material. It will help you to look back and pull together the threads which run through the module. It also serves as a preparation for the end-of-module examination.

As you go through the module, you will:

  • acquire a broad knowledge of the political, social and cultural history as well as the geography of the classical world
  • acquire a broad knowledge and understanding of the various disciplines that make up classical studies, and develop your ability to practise the methods of enquiry used by these disciplines
  • develop your ability to examine critically different kinds of ancient material and modern interpretations of this material
  • develop skills to communicate your knowledge and understanding in an appropriately scholarly manner.

In addition to the printed material you will use other media. You will regularly use audio CDs, and sometimes do exercises incorporating these CDs. You will also regularly use DVDs; these DVDs have simple intuitive navigation menus comparable to those of standard commercial DVDs of feature films. Finally, you will occasionally use a networked computer. The vast majority of the teaching relies on the printed materials, audio CDs and DVDs, but at times, the module will direct you to external websites (to look at images of ancient art, for instance). It also provides its own user-friendly website, including maps and timelines of the ancient world, and an audio pronunciation guide of ancient names. The use of all these materials is straightforward and carefully introduced in the module.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials and day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The computer-marked assignments (CMAs) don’t count towards your final result.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Computer-marked assignments (CMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules The arts past and present (AA100), and Voices, texts and material culture (A105). These OU level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities.

If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at OU level 1 before progressing to OU level 2 study.

Your regional or national centre can advise you on where you can see reference copies of Level 1 study materials. Some are also available from Open University Worldwide Ltd. We particularly recommend looking at these materials if you have not successfully completed OU level 1 study or studied at an equivalent level elsewhere.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

No preparatory work is required. If you have not taken an OU level 1 module in the arts, you will find it useful to have The Arts Good Study Guide (E. Chambers and A. Northedge, The Open University), which will help you to develop your study skills.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 02/08/2015.

What's included

Books, other printed material, DVDs, audio CDs and website.

You will need

DVD and audio CD players.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Pomeroy, S.B., et al. (ed) A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture (International 3rd edn) Oxford University Press £32.99 - ISBN 9780199981564 Previous editions of this book are also acceptable.
  • Radice, B. (trans.) The Letters of the Younger Pliny Penguin £9.99 - ISBN 9780140441277
  • Hornblower, S. & Spawforth, A. (eds) The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization Oxford University Press £40.00 - ISBN 9780198706779 The previous edition of this book is also acceptable.
  • Beard, M. & Crawford, M. Rome in the Late Republic Duckworth £15.99 - ISBN 9780715629284
  • Lattimore, R. (trans.) The Odyssey of Homer Harper Collins USA £8.99 - ISBN 9780061244186

If you have a disability

Brief descriptions of key visual material are available. The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. However, parts of this module are focused on visual sources, such as ancient art and architecture, and visually impaired students are strongly recommended to arrange for a sighted assistant. The sighted assistant will be particularly important for a short unit of map work in the Introduction, for one week in Block 2 (on the Acropolis), for some short segments of Block 3, and for some of the DVD tracks (spread across the module, mostly little longer than 30 minutes each). The books are available in a comb-bound format. Written transcripts are available for the audio-visual material.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.