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Classical Latin: the language of ancient Rome

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This module combines a beginners’ course in Latin with the study of Roman culture and literature in translation. You'll learn the core principles of the language, reading texts adapted from Livy and supported by specially designed online resources. Alongside the language, you'll explore a range of Latin texts in translation (including Livy, Virgil, Ovid, and Horace) from literary, cultural, and historical angles. The module focuses on the theme of ‘Roman identity and exemplarity’, considering Augustan culture’s preoccupation with identity, Rome’s origins, and exemplary stories from the past. As everything was changing in Rome in this period, you'll learn how the Romans made sense of their place in the world and encounter these ancient people in their own words. You'll also have the opportunity to reflect upon questions that are fundamental to studying ancient cultures, like how languages make meaning and how translation affects our interpretation of ancient literature and culture. 

What you will study

This module provides an in-depth study of the Latin language and of Roman culture and literature, focusing on the Augustan period (mid-first century BCE to early first century CE) and the works of authors such as Livy, Virgil, Ovid and Horace. Approximately half of your study time will be spent reading Latin literature in translation and studying its historical and cultural contexts. The rest of your time will be devoted to studying the Latin language so that you can start to appreciate these texts in their original language.

The module assumes no prior knowledge of Latin – or any language other than English – and starts from beginner’s level. You'll begin to read Latin texts and learn the principles of Latin grammar using teaching materials which have been written especially for adult distance learners. From the outset, you will read short pieces of Latin adapted from Livy’s History of Rome. These texts will introduce you to some of the most fascinating and famous episodes of early Roman myth and history, from the story of Romulus and Remus to the war with Hannibal. Supported by careful explanations of the grammar and vocabulary, they will gradually increase in complexity.

You will also be set a variety of exercises and quizzes which will allow you to develop and test your understanding of Latin grammar and syntax. Some will be part of your print materials, while others will be accessed through our suite of online language learning tools, which include interactive grammar quizzes, vocabulary testers and a ‘Story Explorer’. The module provides you with resources that cover all the key principles of Latin grammar so that by the end of the module, you should be able to read fairly complex texts. Learning Latin is challenging, but it is also immensely rewarding and will equip you with the skills you need to begin to experience these ancient texts first-hand.

Alongside the language, you will explore further aspects of Augustan literature and culture in depth. In each study week, you’ll read (in translation) extracts of Augustan literature to develop your skills in close reading and interpreting poetry and prose, as well as deepening your understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of the literature. The thematic focus of this literary and cultural study is on Roman identity and exemplarity. Taking a cue from the stories from Livy that you'll be translating, the module explores the ways in which Livy and his contemporary Augustan authors were preoccupied with the question of what it meant to be Roman. Augustan authors made use of stories about Rome’s origins to grapple with enormous questions about their place in the world: How did Rome come to be? What does it mean to be Roman? And how should Romans behave? There were political motivations behind these questions, too, with some authors writing in service of the new Augustan regime (which replaced the centuries-old Republican government with an emperor as a sole ruler) and others reacting strongly against it.

After laying down some foundations in Block 1, which focuses primarily on Livy, Blocks 2 and 3 will explore this theme in more depth. You will read and study excerpts from a diverse range of Augustan texts – including Virgil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, and the poetry of Horace and Propertius – alongside key examples of Augustan art and visual culture. Audio features and interviews with leading scholars in this area will enhance your understanding of this theme.

Throughout the module, you’ll also be encouraged to make connections between this literature and your study of the language. You’ll be carefully guided to look at bits of ‘real Latin’ from an early stage in the module, showing what can be gained from an awareness of the original language. At the same time, you’ll have the opportunity to reflect on the different challenges and opportunities faced by modern translators of Latin and to think about the role that the Latin language – often wrongly presumed to be dead or defunct – continues to play in the modern world.

You will learn

You will gain a knowledge of the core grammar, vocabulary, and syntax of the Latin language. By exploring a range of Latin texts in translation, you will gain skills in close reading and critical analysis, alongside an understanding of the historical and cultural context.

You will develop your ability to think logically and to communicate effectively in written English, and develop your digital and information literacy skills through a range of online activities and through assessed work. You will also develop your linguistic knowledge, gaining an understanding of how languages (ancient and modern) work as building blocks to make meaning.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module, which builds on the OU level 1 module Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), and either Cultures (A112) or Revolutions (A113). These modules offer an introduction to the range of subjects in the arts and humanities. They will also help you to develop some of the skills which will be important for A276, such as logical thinking, clear expression, and the ability to construct an argument. Although we recommend that you study these modules before A276, an OU level 1 language module also provides suitable preparation. 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.

Whilst you don’t require any knowledge of the Latin language, this module does demand consistent work and commitment from the beginning, plus an interest in how languages work and readiness to develop the skills required to successfully learn a language would be a strong advantage.

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

Preparatory work

The specially prepared interactive website, Introducing Classical Latin is recommended as preparatory work for this module. You may also find it useful to work through the Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin course on OpenLearn.

What's included

You’ll be provided with three printed module books, each covering one block of study, along with a Readings and Resources Book, and a Language Reference Book. You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials, including online versions of the printed books
  • audio materials, from interviews with experts in the field to audio versions of the Latin texts that you’ll be reading
  • innovative interactive online resources designed to support your language learning, including vocabulary and grammar tests and quizzes 
  • a Story Explorer to help you navigate the texts that you'll translate
  • assessment guide
  • access to 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

  • Virgil: West, D. (trans.) The Aeneid Penguin £10.99 - ISBN 9780140449327
  • Livy: Warrior, V.M. (trans.) The History of Rome Books 1-5 Hackett Publishing Company £14.99 - ISBN 9780872207233

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. Your tutor will use a blend of methods that may include online tutorials and moderated online discussion forums. This blend of methods is designed to help you benefit from tuition whatever your circumstances.

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 .

The tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) test your progress with the Latin language and your understanding of literary and cultural topics (which you study in translation). Language-testing TMAs help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. These combine short-answer questions with the translation of simple Latin stories into English, testing the skills you are taught in the module. Your understanding of the literary and cultural elements of the module are tested by short essays and ‘close reading’ questions requiring you to comment on short extracts of Latin prose and poetry (in translation). All of these areas will also be assessed in the exam at the end of the module.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A276 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

Classical Latin: the language of ancient Rome 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 2027.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)

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