Graduate Program in Ancient History


The Graduate Group in Ancient History is a program that coordinates a curriculum encompassing the whole of the ancient history of the Near East and the Mediterranean Basin. It has as its aim the preparation of candidates for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Faculty from the following departments contribute to the curriculum: Anthropology, Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Classical Studies, History of Art, Religious Studies, History, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Students in the Graduate Group pursue the PhD degree. They are required to specialize in two major fields of concentration, most commonly drawn from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Syro-Palestinian, or Greek and Roman civilizations. Other fields for major or related work include ancient Anatolian, Indian, or Iranian civilizations, as well as the early medieval world. In consultation with the Graduate Group Chair, the student charts a program which may include the political, economic, intellectual, or cultural history, as well as the art and archaeology, of his or her two areas.


Penn offers superb resources for the study of ancient history. We have a world-class faculty, who specialize in a wide range of sub-fields within the discipline, and who take seriously the responsibility of training graduate students for the profession. We have a good rate of placement; in recent years, Penn graduate students have found tenure-track jobs in institutions including Brooklyn College, Illinois Wesleyan, the University of Minnesota, the University of Notre Dame, and Wofford College, as well as visiting positions and post-docs in institutions; of those who finished the program in the past twenty years, the majority now have tenure or tenure-track jobs.

The Department of Classical Studies is the administrative home of the Graduate Group in Ancient History. The department runs a weekly colloquium series during the academic year that features distinguished visiting scholars and departmental faculty; this event is followed by a lively discussion, and preceded by coffee in the Department Lounge. The department, in collaboration with Penn's Center for Ancient Studies, often hosts and funds conferences, including the biennial Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values.

The University of Pennsylvania has excellent research library facilities, including Van Pelt Library with its open stacks and Classics Seminar Room, the Henry C. Lea Library of Byzantine and Medieval History, the Rare Book Collection, the Fine Arts Library, and the Museum Library. The Department of Classical Studies has its own small library in which graduate students can read and work. The University Museum houses one of the finest archaeological collections in the country and provides opportunities for students to participate in excavations. Penn also enjoys cooperative relations with the many other colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area, and is an institutional member of the American Academy in Rome, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Admission, Financial Support, and Advanced Standing

The Graduate Group in Ancient History is designed primarily to prepare students for the PhD degree, although PhD candidates will earn the MA degree in the course of their studies. Students entering the program are expected to have a broad familiarity with ancient history and sufficient language preparation to begin graduate work in two ancient languages. It is also desirable for applicants to have knowledge of one or more modern languages, especially German and either French or Italian. Applicants are required to submit an example of their academic writing with their applications; a research paper of about 15 pages in length (but of no more than 20) is sufficient to meet this requirement. The GRE General Test is also required. (Students needing additional language training before applying to the Graduate Group may be interested in Penn’s Post-Baccalaureate Program.

Students in the Graduate Group in Ancient History are eligible for five-year Benjamin Franklin Fellowships. This award covers full tuition and pays a generous stipend. Additional Teaching Assistantships and teaching assignments in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies are also available. Students in the Group are regularly successful in competitions for funding for study abroad and for dissertation fellowships.

Students who have already taken courses at the graduate level may petition for transfer credit for up to eight courses. A preliminary decision will be made by the Graduate Group as soon as the student arrives, but the actual award of credit can be made only after satisfactory completion of the first year at Penn.

All applications to the Graduate Group in Ancient History must be submitted online between October 1 and no later than midnight of December 15th. Application fee is $80.00.

For more information, access the electronic application form.

All writing samples should be uploaded in the online application and also mailed in hard copy to:

Ernestine Williams
Ancient History Graduate Group
236 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th Street
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304
(215) 573-0250

Requirements for the Ph.D.

Course Requirements

Candidates for the PhD degree are required to take 20 courses at the graduate level. One course will be CLST 500, the Classical Studies Proseminar. Others will be selected from the wide range of courses offered by Graduate Group faculty, or from other courses at Penn or in the area. Each student’s program is individual, but will usually include courses that contribute to the student’s preparation for Qualifying and Preliminary examinations (see below). All courses must be approved by the Graduate Group Chair for credit.

Coursework is completed during the first three years of the program, as follows:

Year 1 fall: CLST 500 and three other courses;

Year 1 spring: four courses;

Years 2 and 3, fall and spring: three courses and a TA assignment (see below).

Teaching Requirement

Students are required to serve as TAs in courses designated and approved by the Chair and the Dean of the SAS Graduate Division, normally in the second and third years of the program. The usual TA assignment in the second year is in the Greek and Roman history sequence, ANCH 026, ANCH 027. In some cases, particularly in the third year, a student may serve as TA in another course appropriate to his or her studies. First-time teachers are required to participate in teaching orientations and workshops offered by the department and the graduate school.


Modern Language Examinations

All candidates for the Ph.D. must pass examinations in German and either French or Italian. Each examination will involve translating one page (approximately 250 words) of scholarly prose in one and a half hours. Use of a dictionary is permitted. Students are urged to attempt these examinations as early in their careers as possible. The examinations will be given in October and March at dates set by the Graduate Group Chair; in exceptional circumstances, they may be offered at other times. The modern examination requirement should be fulfilled by the end of the student’s third year. Failure to pass these exams in a timely fashion may constitute grounds for dismissal from the program.

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination is given before the beginning of the student’s fourth semester, normally immediately before classes begin in January.

The exam, which is set and graded by examiners appointed by the Graduate Group Chair, has both written and oral components, as follows:

  1. Translation Examination in one ancient language: the student translates three passages from the four offered by the examiners (time: usually 2 hours). The Reading List (see below) is a guide to standard Greek and Latin sources for ancient history. Individual programs of study should guide the student’s choice of items from those lists to prepare and may suggest additional sources for study. For languages other than Greek and Latin a Reading List should be drawn up by the student in consultation with the Graduate Group Chair and the examiners.
  2. History Examination: from a list of approximately twenty questions on two historical fields the student writes answers to three, two from one subject area and one from the other field. The student also selects two other questions, one from each field, to be answered in the oral examination (time: usually 2 hours).
  3. Oral examination: the student presents answers to the two questions specified on the written exam (see above). The examiners may also ask questions pertaining to the student’s written exam, or to the research paper submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the MA degree (see below). The oral examination is normally held 7-10 days after the written examination (time: usually 90 minutes).

Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Examination is taken at the end of the student’s third year, normally shortly after the end of the spring semester. Coursework and modern language requirements must have been met before the student takes this exam. Courses graded “incomplete” do not count towards the coursework requirement.

The exam, which is set and graded by examiners appointed by the Graduate Group Chair, has both written and oral components, as follows:

  1. Translation examination on competence in two ancient languages: passages selected from ancient languages for translation and comment, usually taken from the reading list and inscriptional corpora. The student translates four of five passages as set by the examiners on each language (time: usually divided into two two-hour examinations taken on a single day).
  2. History examination on two historical fields: questions organized by category, usually on the major chronological or subject divisions of the fields. In each of the first four categories the student will answer one of three or four essay questions. The fifth category will be devoted to technical matters and may be posed as a series of brief identifications, queries on technical matters such as epigraphical conventions, standard abbreviations of texts and collections, or related matters (time: usually divided into two three-hour examinations taken on a single day).
  3. Oral examination on the history and sources of both historical fields, and on the candidate's dissertation proposal (see below) (time: usually 90 minutes). The oral examination is normally held 7-10 days following the completion of the written parts of the Preliminary Examination.

Dissertation Proposal

A full dissertation proposal outlining the topic, structure, goals, and methodology of the dissertation, along with a research bibliography, must be submitted to the Graduate Group Chair for distribution to the examiners at least two weeks before the Preliminary Examination. This will be discussed at the oral examination (see above). If the proposal is deemed satisfactory, the student will be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree. If the submitted proposal is unsatisfactory, the examiners will decide whether the student should revise the proposal within a specified time frame and re-submit it for further discussion, or leave the program.

Administration of Examinations

The Graduate Group Chair will choose at least three examiners, including the Chair, for every Qualifying and Preliminary exam.

Incomplete Course Work

Incompletes are occasionally granted at the discretion of the instructor of the course.

By the rules of the School of Arts and Sciences, an incomplete in a course must be replaced by a grade not later than two semesters after the end of that course. This means that incompletes should be cleared by August 1 for courses from the preceding fall, and December 1 for courses from the preceding spring.

If a student has not completed all work necessary for an incomplete to be cleared within these two semesters, the student will be placed on probation in the third semester. For a fall incomplete, then, probation would consist of the fall semester of the following year; for a spring semester incomplete, probation would take place the following spring.

While on probation the student may not schedule or take any exams. During that semester the student will be closely supervised by the Graduate Group Chair. If by the last day of class the student has not submitted all outstanding work he or she will be automatically terminated and may not register for classes the following semester.

Program Expectations

Students should take a full and active part in the resources available to them at Penn -- using libraries, meeting and talking to people, and attending lectures, seminars, and colloquia -- throughout their time in the program. All graduate students are expected to attend the weekly colloquium in classical studies.

It is expected that students will read widely and carefully in the sources for ancient history throughout their time in graduate school. Coursework alone is not enough; students should be in the habit of using their free time to read the ancient sources and their interpreters. The Reading Lists (see below) give an indication of the range of reading we expect from students, but they are by no means exhaustive.

We believe that seminars are the cornerstone of graduate education. Seminars allow students from different years to communicate both with faculty and with each other, to create a productive working dialogue. First-year students learn how to talk in a seminar from listening to their older peers, while more advanced students learn pedagogical and mentoring skills from interacting with their juniors. Seminars provide students’ first and most important opportunity to practice many of the skills that will prove essential to them in the profession, when they will have to produce conference papers, lectures, academic books and articles, and classroom presentations. Skills practiced in the seminar environment include the ability to communicate in a clear and engaging way with students and colleagues, the ability to present ideas, both through class presentations and through seminar papers, and the ability to respond constructively to challenges and alternative perspectives.

Independent studies are a kind of tutorial in a special subject; students may take up to two (or, in exceptional circumstances, three) in the course of their program, with the approval of the relevant faculty member(s) and the Graduate Group Chair. No more than one independent study may be taken per semester. These courses are taught as an overload by faculty. The expectation is that the student who requests one will have a very clear idea of the proposed topic, including a preliminary bibliography and account of the motivation for the study. Sometimes, independent studies allow a student to work closely with a faculty member or to gain a thorough acquaintance with a previously unfamiliar and difficult field of study in which a great deal of guidance is needed. Sometimes, independent studies are more genuinely independent; taking a “course” with the 999 label may allow a student to free up time in his or her schedule, for instance to read the complete works of an author who will play an important role in the student's dissertation.

The Graduate Group in Ancient History encourages students to pursue opportunities for study abroad, including those at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens and the American Academy in Rome.


Students will usually have one primary faculty advisor for the dissertation, as well as two or more secondary advisors, who will be members of the student's dissertation committee. Students must meet regularly with their advisors, and try to adhere to an appropriate schedule for the completion of their work. While writing the dissertation, students are also strongly encouraged to work with their peers in Classical Studies in the Dissertation Workshop. Regular contact with advisors, and regular participation in the workshop, are important ways that dissertation writers can get essential feedback on their work in progress, and remain part of the intellectual community around them.

The dissertation must be completed by the end of the fifth year. Students who have not completed the dissertation within five years of first registering for dissertation tuition are required to submit a revised dissertation Prospectus and to repeat that portion of the Preliminary Examination that involves defending the proposal before a committee of at least three examiners. The revised Prospectus must include an account of the current state of scholarship on the topic and an up-to-date bibliography.

A list of recent dissertations in Ancient History is available.

Dissertation Defense

Candidates for the PhD degree are required to defend the dissertation formally. The student will give a public, oral presentation of the dissertation for approximately 40 minutes, followed by an open-floor question period. The presentation may focus on a selected portion of the dissertation, but must include an account of the whole. The presentation is chaired by someone not on the dissertation committee, such as the Chair of the Graduate Group in or any other standing faculty member. Students who finish their dissertations in the summer months may have to defer their defense until early fall. Immediately following the defense, the committee will decide whether the dissertation has been satisfactorily defended. The committee will then meet with the student and outline any remaining requirements for the completion and filing of the dissertation. The discussion will also include consideration of the direction of the student’s next steps on the project and in the profession.

The dissertation defense will be scheduled only when the dissertation chair, in consultation with the committee members, has confirmed that the dissertation is close to completion. A draft of the whole dissertation incorporating all suggested revisions must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks before the scheduled defense. The defense must take place at least one month before the SAS deadline for official submission of the dissertation.

“Close to completion” implies the following:

1. All individual chapters, including introduction and conclusion, have been read and commented upon by all committee members; all suggested revisions to each chapter have been acted upon to the satisfaction of all committee members.

2. The final order of chapters has been determined and all chapters, including introduction and conclusion, have been revised accordingly.

3. A complete bibliography of works cited has been compiled.

The M.A. Degree

The requirements for the MA degree in Ancient History may be met after two years of study. These entail satisfactory performance in two years’ worth of coursework (see above), satisfactory performance on the Qualifying Examination (see above), and submission of a research paper.

The Reading Lists for Greek and Roman History

For doctoral work in Greek or Roman history the sources must be studied in the original language, and the student will be expected to have achieved an adequate command of the various Greek and Roman sources for ancient history. For the purpose of the Qualifying Examination such competence will be examined in one of two ancient languages. For the Preliminary Examination competence at a higher level will be expected in two ancient languages. The following are suggested minimum lists that students will be expected to have read in the original for Greek and Roman history. Substitutions are acceptable, since the particular sources read in the original language will be determined by a student's courses and interests, but the student's readings should be regularly discussed with the Graduate Group Chair. Before each examination the student is expected to submit a complete list of the ancient sources he or she has read in the original. In selecting the passages for translation the examiners will not confine themselves to the works that the student has read or to the Reading List.

Sources for Greek History

Aeschines: one speech (e.g., Against Ctesiphon)
Aeschylus: one play (e.g., Persians)
Andocides: one speech (e.g., On the Mysteries)
Antiphon: one speech (e.g., On the Murder of Herodes)
Aristophanes: one play (e.g., Acharnians, Knights, Birds, or Lysistrata)
Aristotle: Athenaion Politeia
Demosthenes: one substantial speech (e.g., De Corona)or several shorter speeches (e.g., Philippics I-III)
Euripides: one play (e.g., Troades, Supplices, or Bacchae)
Hellenica Oxyrhynchia
Herodotus: two books, including Book I
Hesiod: Works and Days
Homer: three books from each epic
Isocrates: one speech (e.g., Panegyric)
Lysias: one speech (e.g., XII)
Plato: Apology and one longer dialogue (e.g., Protagoras, Symposium, Republic I)
Plutarch: one Greek life
Polybius: Book I
Pseudo-Xenophon: Athenaion Politeia
Sophocles: one play (e.g., Oedipus Rex or Antigone)
Thucydides: two books, including Book I
Xenophon: Hellenica I and II
Also, substantial selections from R. Meiggs and D. Lewis, A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions and from M.N. Tod, Greek Historical Inscriptions, vol. 2
One important Greek historian preserved in fragments, from F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (FGrH)(e.g., Hecataeus, Hellanicus, Theopompus, Ephorus, or Philochorus).

Sources for Roman History

Appian: a substantial selection from Bellum Civile
Caesar: two books from De Bello Gallico or from the Bellum Civile
Cassius Dio: one complete book or several epitomated ones
Cicero: four orations and a selection of letters
Dionysius of Halicarnassus: a selection
Josephus: a substantial selection from Bellum Iudaicum
Livy: two books (e.g., I and XXI)
Pliny the Younger: Book X (Correspondence with Trajan)
Plutarch: one Roman life
Polybius: Books I and VI
Sallust: Jugurtha, Catiline
Scriptores Historiae Augustae: two longer lives from Hadrian to Severus Alexander
Suetonius: Life of Augustus or Life of Caesar and one other life
Tacitus: two books from Annals or the Histories; the Germania or the Agricola
Virgil: one book of the Aeneid
A broad selection of inscriptions from H. Dessau, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae
One important Roman historian (e.g., Cato) preserved in fragments from H. Peter, Historicorum Romanorum reliquiae


Graduate Group Chair:

Professor Cam Grey
Department of Classical Studies
201 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th Street
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304
(215) 898-7425

Graduate Coordinator:

Ernestine Williams
Ancient History Graduate Group
236 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th Street
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304
(215) 573-0250

Related Programs at Penn

The Graduate Group in Ancient History is one of a number of programs offering advanced training in aspects of the ancient world at Penn.

Students interested in classical languages, literature, and culture should contact:

Professor Emily Wilson
Chair, Graduate Group in Classical Studies
Department of Classical Studies, 201 Cohen Hall
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304

Students interested in the material culture of the ancient world should contact:

Professor Tom Tartaron
Chair, Graduate Group in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World
Department of Classical Studies, 201 Cohen Hall
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304