A Level Classical Civilisations

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Course Content

Content Overview

Assessment Overview

The world of the hero

·      Homer’s Iliad

·      Virgil’s Aeneid


120 Marks

2 hour 20 minutes paper


40% of total A Level

Culture and the arts

·    Imperial Image


75 Marks

1 hour 45 minutes paper


30% of total A Level

Beliefs and Ideas

·      Politics of the Late Republic

75 Marks

1 hour 45 minutes paper


30% of total A Level

The world of the hero

The poems of Homer were considered by the Greeks themselves to be a foundation of Greek culture, standing as they do at the beginning of the Western literary canon. This module provides learners with the opportunity to appreciate the lasting legacy of these works and to explore their attitudes and values. The epics of Homer, with their heroes, gods and exciting narratives remain popular today.

This module also provides learners with the opportunity to appreciate Virgil’s Aeneid, a cornerstone and landmark in Western literature. Drawing inspiration from Homer, as well as from his own cultural and political context, Virgil explored what it was to be a hero in the Roman world and created a work which has proven enduringly popular.

The Iliad

Homer’s Iliad tells the story of the darkest episode in the Trojan War. At its centre is Achilles, the greatest warrior-champion of the Greeks, and his refusal to fight after being humiliated by his leader Agamemnon. But when the Trojan Hector kills Achilles’ close friend Patroclus, Achilles storms back into battle to take revenge – although knowing this will ensure his own early death. Interwoven with this tragic sequence of events are powerfully moving descriptions of the ebb and flow of battle, of the domestic world inside Troy’s besieged city of Ilium, and of the conflicts between the Gods on Olympus as they argue over the fate of mortals.

After a century of civil strife in Rome and Italy, Virgil wrote The Aeneid to honour the emperor Augustus by praising Aeneas – Augustus’ legendary ancestor. As a patriotic epic imitating Homer, The Aeneid also set out to provide Rome with a literature equal to that of ancient Greece.

It tells of Aeneas, survivor of the sack of Troy, and of his seven-year journey – to Carthage, where he tragically fell in love with Queen Dido; then to the underworld, in the company of the Sybil of Cumae; and finally to Italy, where he founded Rome. It is a story of defeat and exile, of love and war…

Imperial Image

Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome. He was a political genius and that can be shown by the way that he was able to turn a society that was fundamentally anti monarchical away from its Republican values and accept rule by one man. In this era of political spin and ‘fake news’ it is both relevant and interesting to look at how a Roman politician was able to produce a personal brand and sell it to all social classes.

In this unit we use written and visual sources to assess the differing impressions Augustus wished to create, the reasons for these and the effectiveness of them. We look at how he presented himself as son of Julius Caesar, creating a popular following among the masses, while also distancing himself from the negative aspects of his legacy. We see how he represents himself as a military commander and both a religious and moral leader of the City and also as a cultural icon, the new Saturn, providing an era of peace and plenty. By examining later representations of Augustus we also see how long lasting the legacy of propaganda was.

Politics in the Late Republic

The Late Republic was a period of upheaval and conflicting views on how the Roman state should function. These conflicts eventually led to the downfall of the Republican res publica (state) and the rise of the Roman Emperors. In this module students will study the political thought of the period from Sulla’s retirement in 79 BC to the death of Cicero in 43 BC, through examining Marcus Porcius Cato (‘Cato the Younger’), Gaius Julius Caesar, and Marcus Tullius Cicero. Events we will cover include the rise of the First Triumvirate, the civil war and the murder of Julius Caesar.  We will learn about the topic through the letters and speeches of Cicero.

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Student Quote

‘I love being a Classics student as the course is so incredibly varied and exciting. On one side you are exploring the rich history that built the foundations for our society today: full of explosive events and intricate political action along with the development of democracy and empire. On the other, the first examples of literature ever recorded: from heroic battles full of guts and glory to the first depictions of female rage and betrayal, the course invites you to relive the events of an ancient world where the gods still walked among men.


Classical Civilisations is a popular and successful subject that many of our students choose to study at University. One of our previous students managed to secure a place at Cambridge where he has received many lectures by Mary Beard.