Admission to the Ph.D Program in Ancient History

The University of Virginia offers a Ph.D. in History with a specialization in Ancient (Greek and Roman) History.

The particular emphasis of this program is on studying the history of classical antiquity as history, attentive to the methods and interests of the wider historical profession. What happened? Why? How did people live? What motivated them? How did ancient institutions work? Ancient authors and their language are closely studied, but as sources to answer such questions, not as the ends of analysis in themselves. Those whose primary interest is in understanding the method of ancient historical authors (historiography rather than history stricto sensu) should apply to the Department of Classics rather than to History. Similarly, those whose primary interest is in working with archaeological, rather than written, evidence should apply to the Program in Mediterranean Art & Archaeology in the Department of Art.

Although candidates will be expected to show a high degree of accomplishment in the classical languages, and the program cooperates closely with the departments of Classics and Art, the program prepares them in particular for employment in departments of History.


The program of courses in the graduate program in European history is strenuous, and History students have little time to take classes to improve their knowledge of the ancient languages (rarely more than one per semester). At the same time, the Classics Department MA-level translation examinations, which Ph.D students in Ancient History must take, are very rigorous. As a result, to be admissible to the History Department to specialize in Ancient History an applicant will usually need to show a minimum of three years of university-level Latin or Greek and two years of the other ancient language. More preparation is even better.

Candidates for admission to the department wishing to specialize in Ancient History are asked to provide (in addition to the other documents required for admission) an analysis of their Greek and Latin preparation on a separate sheet, listing the university-level classes they have taken, their instructors, which authors and which works they read in those classes, and how much of them. It is useful also to offer one or more letters of recommendation speaking to their accomplishment in the ancient languages (candidates are not limited to three letters of recommendation).  If difficulties present themselves in including such additional material in the on-line applications submitted to the UVA graduate school, it can be sent directly to Professor Elizabeth Meyer ( or to Professor J. E. Lendon (

Like all departments, the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia is limited in the size of its graduate program, and is thus in a position to admit only a small fraction of the students who wish to pursue graduate study.  Moreover, applicants wishing to study Ancient History must compete for admission (and the accompanying funding) with applicants in US history, in which UVA is one of the most selective programs in the United States.  As it works in practice, to be competitive for admission, an applicant usually needs to display a nearly perfect undergraduate and/or MA GPA (no more than a scattering of “B”s, and ideally none) and a verbal reasoning GRE score in the top 10% percent, which we strongly recommend that our applicants take. 

As in other fields of history, the department welcomes candidates for admission in Ancient History who have earned MA degrees in Ancient History or Classics at other universities or who have attended post-baccalaureate programs in Greek and Latin.  Although those students are likely to have advantages in preparation over students coming directly from their BAs, the requirements for such students in the program are the same, that is, the department  grants no advanced standing for courses or degrees taken elsewhere.   

Requirements of the Ph.D. program

Ancient History makes particular demands upon students at the graduate level, especially in the need to master multiple research languages (ancient and modern) and to acquire technically demanding ancillary skills (which might include archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics, and papyrology) in addition to their core training as historians. The professional practice of these fields of History demands interdisciplinary competencies, and so the graduate training we offer is commensurately interdisciplinary.

From the Graduate Guide to Study in History, Programs and Fields of Study:  Ancient History

“Ph.D. students in the interdisciplinary field of Ancient History are expected to take courses in the History Department but also courses in other departments (such as Classics, Art, and Religious Studies) while preparing to be examined in two major fields of study, Greek and Roman history, and to pass four language exams.  The third Ph.D. examination field is chosen in consultation with the advisor, but can involve, e.g., the historical study of a post-classical epoch or work in another discipline such as historiography or archaeology.  Ph.D. students in Ancient History are expected to pass mastery-level exams in French and German and the MA-level exams in Greek and Latin set for their own students by the Classics Department; at least one of these four exams must have been passed by the time the student sits the Ph.D. qualifying exam in the History Department, although it is naturally best to pass as many of them as soon as possible. Extensive language training is therefore necessary for successful application to the program.  Ph.D. students in Ancient History typically take courses through the fall semester of the third year and their qualifying exams following in January of the spring semester of the same academic year.  Ancient historians are also encouraged to participate in the Classics Department's Tuesday Lunch series, where they are welcome to present their work, and to attend the lectures in the Classics Department and those sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America.”

To which should be added, that ancient history students are encouraged to take a year--after the third year--away from Charlottesville, at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, or the American Academy in Rome, or acquiring an ancillary skill--epigraphy, papyrology, numismatics--at a European university, institute, or library that makes a specialty of it.  Similarly, students of ancient history are encouraged to participate in archaeological fieldwork over summers, unless they spend their summers working intensively upon languages, as often proves necessary. 

Students in Ancient History must pass four language exams:  Mastery-level exams in French and German, administered by those departments, and the "preliminary" exams in Latin and Greek in the Classics Department.  The latter are offered twice a year, are based in part on a reading list and in part on sight-reading, and do not allow the use of a dictionary:

Here they are called "MA" exams.


J. E. Lendon, Professor, Greek and Roman History;  War and Government

Elizabeth A. Meyer, Professor, Greek and Roman History; Epigraphy, Ancient Law

Selected Cooperating Faculty:

Jackie Arthur-Montaigne, Assistant Professor of Classics, Department of Classics, and Faculty, Democracy Initiative

Anthony Corbeill, Basil L. Gildersleeve Professor of Classics; Roman Historical Authors, Cicero

John Dillery, Professor, Department of Classics; Greek Historical Authors

Paul Kershaw, Associate Professor, Department of History, Late Antiquity; Merovingian; Carolingian

John Miller, Arthur F. Stocker Professor of Classics, Department of Classics, Roman Poetry; Roman Religion

K. Sara Myers, Professor, Department of Classics, Roman Poetry; Roman Culture; Roman Women

Andrej Petrovic, Professor, Department of Classics; Greek epigraphy, Greek religion, Greek culture and literature

Karl Shuve, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Late-Antique Christianity; exegesis.

Tyler Jo Smith, Associate Professor, Department of Art; Greek Vase Painting; Greek Religion

Janet Spittler, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Early Christianity; Ancient religion