A Level Ancient History


What is it about at sixth form level?

If you think your school life is demanding, spare a thought for the Spartans. At seven, boys left home and entered a public ‘boarding-school’ educational system to produce warriors. Girls, unusually for the ancient world, also received formal education and would learn how to wrestle, throw the javelin and fight with their fists. To toughen them up, boys were expected to steal their food and to sleep on beds made from reeds they had plucked themselves from the riverbanks. They too then had to pass all-important examinations testing their physical resilience, fighting skills and discipline at the age of eighteen.

By studying Ancient History, you will gain a rich understanding not only of Greece and Rome themselves but the peoples of ‘unknown and mysterious worlds’ that they encountered. For example, you will look at Celtic Britain with its woad-painted warriors and fire-enchanted Druids and how the Romans subdued it. The course will introduce you to the conflicts between the Greek city-states and between Greece and Persia. You will study the shift from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire and the complex social changes it brought about.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will begin by looking at the relationship between Greek states and non-Greek states, such as Persia and Egypt, in the 5th century BC. You will look at politics of various Greek city states and their military engagements with each other and non-Greek powers in the Peloponnesian wars. You will also look at Ancient Rome and the line of emperors that began with Augustus in 31 BC and ended with Nero in AD 68. You will consider the relationship between the emperors and the various social classes of Rome and the political and social challenges they faced.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will undertake two in-depth studies. The first will look at the Greek city-state of Sparta. You will consider the structure of Spartan society and troubled relationship with its arch-enemy Athens. In the Roman world, you will look at how Rome ran the remote and foggy island province of Britain after Claudius’ invasion in AD 43 through to the construction of Hadrian’s wall in the 120s AD.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

Ancient History is a rigorous academic subject that is respected by every university. It will develop your analytic and evaluative skills through the study of both source material and the competing historical explanations it has led to. It will teach you how to articulate cogent arguments in a clear written form. These are skills that will benefit you across a range of subjects and beyond.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

A GCSE in History is not a prerequisite. You will need the ability to read substantial quantities of text with a critical eye and to write clearly and concisely. It is important to bear in mind that at this level it is not a matter of retaining and deploying a lot of information but rather a matter of drawing upon it selectively to construct a persuasive argument.

How is the course assessed?

A level

The A level will be examined by two papers. The first covers topics relating to Ancient Greece:
(i) relations between Greek states and between Greek and non-Greek states in the period
492–404 BC; and (ii) the politics and society of Sparta in the period 478–404 BC. The second
covers topics relating to Ancient Rome: (i) the Julio-Claudian emperors in the period 31 BC – AD
68; and (ii) Ruling Roman Britain in the period AD 43-c.128. In each paper, candidates will
face a mixture of essay questions and questions asking them to analyse sources and historical
interpretations. Each paper lasts 2 hours 30 minutes and is worth 50% of the A level.


The Athenian Empire 4th Edition
By R. G. Osborne
Published by Lactor 1, ISBN 978-0903625173

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War
By Thucydides
Published by Penguin, ISBN 9780740440393

The Histories by Herodotus
Translated by J. Marincola
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140449082

The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus
Translated by M. Grant
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140440607

Exam Board and Specification Codes

A level: OCR H407

Robert Heggie
Head of Department


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University of Bristol (Law)

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University of Edinburgh (History and Politics)

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King's College London (Biology)

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University of Bath (Mechanical Engineering)

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