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Exploring the classical world

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This module is for anyone interested in ancient Greece and Rome. You'll investigate a wide range of topics, such as Homer’s poetry and the society where it was created; fifth-century Athens; republican Rome; and Roman social history. This module explores ancient poetry, drama and historical texts in English translations, along with art, architecture and archaeological evidence to build an understanding of the classical world. Whether your interest in Greece and Rome 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.

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 contemporary culture.

You'll begin with the overall geography and history of the classical world to gain a framework in which you can situate the individual cultures and periods that you'll 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 run through history, as you'll 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 the following six sections:

This 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 Early Greek World 
This block focuses on early Greek culture and society by looking at literary texts and material evidence from the period from around 800 to 500 BCE. You'll explore the epics that relate to the stories of the Trojan War, which are attributed to the poet Homer – the Iliad and the Odyssey – and other poetic texts from this period, as well as material culture exploring themes of heroes, gods, women and people who were not Greeks.

Block 2: Classical Athens 
This block explores society and culture within Athens in the fifth century BCE. You will explore four major cultural products of the fifth century BCE: Aeschylus' tragedy, the Persians; the buildings on the Acropolis; Pericles’ Funeral Speech; 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 examines Roman cultural identity starting from Greek settlement in Italy to the expansion of the Roman Republic in Italy, the organisation of the Roman Republic, reputations of members of the Roman elite and the city of Rome. Your work then explores four important figures from Roman history: Spartacus – the leader of a slave revolt; the poet Catullus; the orator Cicero; and the general Julius Caesar.

Block 4: Rome – City and People 
This block turns to social history. You'll learn about the population of Rome, how it was organised socially, slavery, family life, and mass entertainment shows in the city of Rome. You'll work closely with ancient sources, including the letters of the Younger Pliny and of Cicero and inscriptions on tombstones.

Block 5: Revision and Retrospection 
This block will help you to look back and pull together the threads that run through the module in preparation for the end-of-module assessment, which will be an extended essay.

You will learn

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.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111) and either Cultures (A112) or Revolutions (A113). 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.

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

Preparatory work

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.

What's included

Module books, other printed material and a module website which includes:

  • audio and video materials
  • maps of the ancient world
  • audio pronunciation guide of ancient names
  • a week-by-week study planner
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Gwynn, D.M. The Roman Republic: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press £8.99 - ISBN 9780199595112
  • Homer: Verity, A. (trans.) The Iliad Oxford University Press £8.99 - ISBN 9780199645213
  • Pomeroy, S.B., et al. (ed) A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture (International 4th edn) Oxford University Press £42.99 - ISBN 9780190925369
  • Radice, B. (trans.) The Letters of the Younger Pliny Penguin £12.99 - ISBN 9780140441277

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.


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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A229 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Exploring the classical world starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment

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