Ancient History is the study of two remarkable Mediterranean civilizations that eventually interacted—Greece and Rome—rather than of a particular state, area or epoch. Together with Greeks and Romans, this study embraces the peoples of the long-lasting Roman empire (which at its greatest extent spanned Britain to Egypt), and the African, Asian and European rivals to Greece and Rome—most notably Persians, Carthaginians and Germans. The field encompasses social, administrative, economic, legal, religious and intellectual history, along with political and military developments, from 1000 BCE to 500 CE broadly speaking. Surviving source materials are tantalizingly and frustratingly uneven in their quality and quantity. Ancient historians must therefore be alert, creative exploiters and interpreters of whatever may come to hand, aided nowadays by a steady stream of amazing fresh discoveries attributable to twenty-first-century technology and intensified archaeological activity. All kinds of Greek and Roman ideas and institutions still have powerful relevance today (democracy and the Christian church, to name but two), as do practices explained by comparative anthropology. Moreover, the Greek and Roman experience offers models of outstanding comparative value for the history of other periods and peoples worldwide: Alexander the Great’s conquests and their impact, for example, or the growth, decline and fall of the Roman empire.
Classes in the field of Ancient History count towards the Ancient/Medieval major concentration that includes the ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean and Near East, especially Ancient Greece and Rome, from approximately 1000 BCE to 1500 CE; and the rise and expansion of Christian Europe and the Islamic World through the fifteenth century. In addition to broad surveys, students have the opportunity to take more specialized courses on such topics as Greek Religion, the Roman Empire, the Crusades, and the medieval nobility.
The Graduate Program
The graduate students in the ancient field program are a lively, friendly, diverse group, who do much to stimulate and reinforce one another. The program offers its students every encouragement to timely completion of requirements at each successive stage, as well as to acquiring a useful variety of teaching experience. The program is also active in assisting (successfully!) with plans for research visits in North America and abroad, conference-paper submissions, fellowship applications, and job searches. Altogether, the program is designed to be a formative, fulfilling experience of lasting value. There is ample opportunity to integrate into the program courses offered by other UNC-CH History faculty and by other UNC-CH departments (such as Classics in particular, also Anthropology, Art, Geography, Religious Studies), as well as by departments at NC State University and Duke University. The program maintains a close, productive relationship with cognate faculty in all these departments and institutions; many assist it by serving on thesis or dissertation committees. Moreover, UNC-CH’s library resources for ancient history are outstanding.
Normally the graduate program has the capacity to admit only one or two students each year. Demonstrated aptitude for historical study is looked for among applicants. The writing sample (which need not relate to an ancient topic) is therefore an important part of any application. Applicants should also confirm explicitly that, as a minimum, they are qualified to proceed to graduate-level courses in either Greek or Latin language (or both) on entry, and that they have made good progress in whichever of these two ancient languages they have not yet brought to this level. Prospective applicants who anticipate being less advanced in their language study on entry should raise this ability—before applying to the program—through, for example, a postbaccalaureate offered for this purpose in the UNC-CH Dept. of Classics, or elsewhere. In addition, every student admitted to the program will find it important to acquire (as soon as practicable) sufficient knowledge of French, German and Italian to read the relevant modern scholarship published in those languages.
Potential applicants with appropriate background who anticipate that their interests will develop more in the direction of language and literature than history, may also wish to consider the doctoral program with historical emphasis offered by the Department of Classics.
For information on the Ancient field graduate comprehensive exams, consult the Graduate Student Handbook.