Ancient History

Roman History 241-146 BC: Preliminary reading

The aim of your first ancient history period paper is twofold: to introduce you to this exciting formative period of Roman history, and to give you your first experience of the methods of studying ancient history through the original sources. Among the big themes we will discuss in this paper are the spread of Roman hegemony in the Mediterranean, evolution of the Republican constitution, cultural and economic integration of Italy, and the impact of Rome’s engagement with Greek culture. There is of course a variety of sources, but one we shall be using particularly heavily is the great Greek ‘global historian’ Polybius, who wrote his history while a hostage in Rome in the mid-second century BC. His work does not survive in full, but still offers arguably the most insightful contemporary analysis of this period.

The best preparation for the term will be to make an early start with Polybius’ text. We will be dealing in our first tutorial with his account of the Roman ‘constitution’ in book 6 of his Histories (after which what has survived goes rather fragmentary), and it would be a good idea to read at least that and the preceding books before you arrive in Oxford. The full translation, with parallel Greek text, is in the Loeb Classical Library in 6 vols. (by W.R. Paton, revised by F.W. Walbank and C. Habicht) which you will have available in the college library and in the Sackler Library, but for the time being use an earlier version of the same translation which is online at Alternatively, you may consider getting a translation for Penguin Classics by Ian Scott-Kilvert (not complete, but including most of the longer fragments – you certainly will not need anything beyond it for the first few weeks as far as the text of Polybius is concerned). It also has a very good introduction by the great F.W. Walbank, the author of the main modern commentary to Polybius. To supplement Polybius’ account you may also read the later – and surviving (almost) in full for the years 219-168 – take on the same events by the Roman historian Livy, in a rather more ‘edifying’ vein. The best translations, all with good introductions and notes, are for the Oxford World’s Classics series: by J.C. Yardley and D. Hoyos for books 21-30 (Hannibal’s War), by W. Heckel and J.C. Yardley for book 31-40 (The Dawn of the Roman Empire), and by Jane D. Chaplin for books 41-45 (Rome’s Mediterranean Empire).

For a good modern introduction to Roman history in this period, we recommend reading the whole of Nathan Rosenstein, Rome and the Mediterranean, 290 to 146 BC (Edinburgh 2012). For an introduction to the range of ancient sources for this period, see also A.E. Astin’s chapter on ‘Sources’ from Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 8. It will also be useful to read two very different modern assessments of mid-Republican politics: A.E. Astin, ‘Roman Government and Politics, 200-134 B.C.’, Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 8 (1989), arguing for their essentially oligarchic character, and Fergus Millar, ‘The Political Character of the Classical Roman Republic, 200-151 B.C.’, Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984), stressing the democratic element. Finally, to give you a first taster of the material evidence, read Seth Bernard, ‘The Social History of Early Roman Coinage’, Journal of Roman Studies 108 (2018), who tries to explain why Rome started minting silver coins in this period, and what this tells us about the transformation of Roman society and economy in this period. We will make all of the above available to you in pdfs, and you can look at the early Roman coins that Bernard talks about by browsing through the wonderful Coinage of the Roman Republic Online at For an introduction to the broader Hellenistic world in the eastern Mediterranean, F.W. Walbank, The Hellenistic World, rev. ed. (London: Fontana, 1992, but still in print), or Peter Thonemann, The Hellenistic Age: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2016), are excellent in their rather different ways and not excessively long.

It would be good to start with Polybius, so that you can get your own taste of what he is like as a historian, and then move on to Rosenstein, to get a basic framework for the history of the period. After that, read Astin and Millar on the political system, for one particularly important debate that we will be addressing early on, and Bernard, for a different perspective on this period.

Depending on how fast you read and how much you have time for, you may then supplement this with some of Livy, and / or Thonemann or Walbank for the Hellenistic context. Do not take much by way of notes at this stage: this is rather to provide you with broader orientation in and feel for the period before we delve into specific topics.

Online lectures and interviews by our history tutors

Hannah Skoda on Medieval Crime and Violence

Hannah Skoda on Medieval myth-busting

Hannah Skoda on medieval universities

William Whyte on the architecture of C19th Oxford

Online resources about our tutors’ work:

Useful online resources: – working class movement library youtube – the histfest channel – RHS – BBC witness history – Jill Lepore’s podcast by two historians of empire

Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Domestic OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements