A Level Classical Civilisation


What is it about at sixth form level? 

The classical world of the Greeks and the Romans is the bedrock of our civilisation today. They have provided us with everything from plays and philosophy to art and aqueducts. Like our immediate predecessors, we find it hard not to look back upon their times without a sense of awe at what they achieved. We bear the fruits of the Greeks’ enquiries into the world around us in the names of the subjects we study today, such as mathematics, history, and physics. We have the Romans to thank for the urban and social infrastructure we take for granted, such as our streets, sanitation and law courts.

By studying Classical Civilisation at A level, you will become familiar with many aspects of the ancient world. You will look at them as they saw themselves, through epic poems, tragedies and comedies. In studying them, you will come to understand the historical, political and social context in which they are set. Even though you will not be working in Latin or Greek, you will also come to appreciate the beauty of the language in which they wrote.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will study two units. In Unit 2 (Homer’s Odyssey and Society), you will read a selection of books from the Odyssey and learn about the moral and social codes of the time. Originally an oral poem, you will consider how language is used differently in oral and written poetry. In Unit 4 (Greek Tragedy in its Context), you will look at four Greek tragedies: Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Medea and Electra. These plays present a variety of themes that you will be examining critically, such as the relationship between man and the gods, fate and human freedom and the differences between Greeks and foreigners. You will also be examining the different styles and techniques the playwrights used.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will study two more units. In Unit 8 (Art and Architecture in the Greek World) you will enter into the study of ancient Greek art and architecture, both of which remain influential today. You will consider vases, free-standing sculpture and sanctuaries amongst which are some of the most famous and iconic works of European art. You will not merely examine them from an aesthetic angle but consider building and composition techniques along with their functions in Greek society. In Unit 10 (Virgil and the World of the Hero), you will look at Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad (Books 6, 18, 22 and 24). Building on Unit 2, you will examine in more depth the idea of an epic and the ‘Age of Heroes’ that these works portray.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

An A level in Classical Civilisation represents a broad portfolio of skills and knowledge. The course is focused on classical works but in coming to understand them, you will have learned about the history of the ancient world along with political, social and philosophical ideas. You will develop a sensitivity to language and the art of literary criticism. The essay-based nature of the course means that you will develop your writing skills.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

There are no formal entry requirements. You will need a love of literature, art and history. It is an essay-based course, so you will need to have good writing skills.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

For the AS, there are two exams on the two units. The Unit 2 exam tests your understanding of Homer’s Odyssey and has two sections. Section A consists of a commentary question on a passage selected from books 4–12, 18–24. Section B requires you to write an essay. The Unit 4 exam tests your understanding of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Medea and Electra. Each exam is worth 50% of the AS (25% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes.

A2 level

For the A2, there are two examinations on the two units. The Unit 8 exam tests your knowledge and understanding of Greek art and architecture. The Unit 10 exam tests your understanding and evaluation of Virgil’s Aeneid and books 6, 18, 22 and 24 of Homer’s Iliad. Each exam is worth 50% of the A2 (25% of the A level) and lasts 2 hours.


The Odyssey by Homer
Translated by E. V. and D. Rieu
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140449112

Agamemnon by Aeschylus
Translated by R. Fagles
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140443332

Medea and Electra by Euripides
Translated by P. Vellacott
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140441291

Antigone by Sophocles
Translated by R. Fagles
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140444254

Iliad by Homer
Translated by M. Hammond
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140444445

The Aeneid by Virgil
Translated by D. West
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140449327

Pseudolus and Other Plays by Plautus
Translated by E. F. Watling
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140441499

Lysistrata and Other Plays by Aristophanes
Translated by A. Sommerstein
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140448146

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR H041, A2: OCR H441 (legacy) 

Robert Heggie
Head of Department