Classics Summer Schools

By Rachael Hopley, Finalist, BA Classics

Being a classics student you are really spoilt for choice when it comes to summer schools. There are opportunities to brush up on your ancient language skills through the various JACT summer schools (Bryanston, Durham and Wells) or others such as at University of Swansea, Kings College London, University College Cork, or if you just fancy a bit of Homer, the Homer summer school at University College London. If you would like to immerse yourself in the classical world, JACT offers a Classical Civilisation and Ancient History summer school at Repton or you could apply to attend the undergraduate summer schools at the British School at either Athens or Rome, spending 2-3 weeks abroad in the hands of experts. I had the privilege of attending the JACT Greek summer school at Bryanston and, thanks to the Department’s Wardman bursary, the British School at Rome undergraduate summer school in the summer of 2015.

Bryanston, as the Greek summer school has become known, is an intense course. There were three hours of lessons a day (and as much work in between!), an afternoon seminar, evening lecture and opportunities to participate in plays and music as well as excursions on days off. It may not seem like a jolly way to spend the holidays but the small class sizes and frequent grammar tests worked wonders for my ancient Greek. Also, I was able to appreciate far more elements of the language, with some of my favourite seminars and lectures being David Raeburn’s readings (in translation and then in Greek) and Philomen Probert’s lecture on the debate of Greek pronunciation. Every year they also put on a production of a comedy (in translation) and tragedy (in Greek). A little shy, I was able to take a non-speaking role in the tragedy, which was a roaring success. As it was in Greek, you got a feel for how musical the performance of ancient plays would have been, with the chorus chanting to the beat of a drum. Bryanston’s comedies are always experimental and you can see how someone can play with ancient productions to pitch them to a modern audience (and see a few cameos played by renowned lecturers, which is always fun).

The British School at Rome undergraduate summer school was an immeasurably enjoyable and rewarding experience. Every day we explored a new theme (leisure and entertainment, death and burial, etc) through the sites and museums of Rome. We had the incredible guides of Robert Coates-Stephens, the Cary fellow at the school, and Ed Bispham, lecturer in Ancient History at Brasenose College, Oxford. In addition, the British School was able to obtain privileged access into sites normally not accessible to the general public. Highlights for me include going inside the Mausoleum of Augustus and into the substructure and top floors of the Colosseum. Having been focused strongly on just literature during my degree, I was able to better understand the use of archaeology in the study of ancient history while still using texts to bring sites to life.

These experiences were invaluable and I am extremely grateful to the Classics Department for the generous Wardman bursary which allowed me to go to the British School at Rome.

Fishing Through Time

Every year the Department of Classics supports students through generous travel awards. Here is a report from our doctoral researcher Lee Graña:


This autumn Lisbon was host to the 18th biennial meeting of the Fish Remains Working Group (FRWG), a conference attracting historians, archaeologists and ichthyologists from across the globe, with a common passion for the study of fish and fishing. Following my successful application for the Alan Wardman Travel Award I was able to attend the conference and following field trips to several important sites in the districts of Lisbon and Setubal. The insight into ongoing studies of ancient fisheries, alongside the contacts made, have made this a fruitful and influential experience.


The conference took place at the Lisbon Geographic Society over three days. There were nine diverse sessions promoting a rich interdisciplinary approach to the subject and therefore providing invaluable information on potential theories and approaches. Session Three: ‘Roman Fisheries and Fish Products’, highlighted the ongoing debates on the subject of Roman fish-processing. There continue to be various contrasting interpretations of the literary evidence, concerning the methods of salting fish for dried or sauce products. It seems the archaeological evidence from the Southern Iberian coast continues to be highly influenced by the classical authors and our interpretations of these texts. In addition to this debate, archaeological discoveries throughout Europe are revealing a complex structure of Roman fisheries with diverse approaches to the exploitation of freshwater and marine resources. I had a great opportunity to discuss this evidence further with current researchers and specialists in the field, while receiving invaluable feedback on my research. Several contacts were made with potential case studies for ongoing or future research.


The field trip started at the port of Setubal with a boat journey on a seventy-year-old ‘galleon’, originally used to transport salt. Accompanied by curious dolphins, we followed the Sado estuary to where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and where the coastline is strewn with over two thousand years of manmade structures applied to the exploitation of marine resources. To date, many traditional fishing methods continue to be used, avoiding the influences of modern fisheries (the photograph above was taken at the quays of Carrasqueira, demonstrating the influence of the tidal estuary and the continuity of traditional fisheries).

The following day we visited the site of ‘Alcacér do Sal’ (The Salt Fortress). For close to three thousand years this site has acted as an acropolis overlooking the Sado river and its vast fertile banks where endless fields of rice are now cultivated, but where once salt pans stretched as far as the eye could see. The use of this resource for the production of salted fish products at an industrial scale may have its origins in the Phoenician occupation of southern Iberia, reaching its zenith during the Roman Empire. Alcacer is now a hotel and museum encompassing the medieval nunnery, which subsequently encompasses a 13th century Moorish fortress, in turn built on Roman foundations. However, not all of the Roman sites in the region have such a complex stratigraphy. The following visit was to the Troia Peninsula, where one of the largest Roman fish processing sites has survived, buried under vast sand dunes.

It is believed that fish sauce would have been produced at these workshops by mixing vast amounts of locally sourced fish with the salt being produced at Alcacer. The tanks vary in size, though the largest examples can reach 7 x 4 x 2m with a capacity of over 65m³. Twenty-five workshops (structures with one or more salting vats) have been identified at Troia, though much remains buried. Future excavations may provide more evidence on the capture and processing of local marine resources (the image below is a southern view of Workshop 1 and the FRWG team).


The final trip was to the ‘Merrcado do Livramento’, a local bazar rivaling the largest supermarket in Setubal. One third of the market was dedicated to selling fish, containing hundreds of species from diverse environments. From finger length anchovies to 2m long sword fish, the market provided us with fresh examples of the species identified in the archaeological record, as well as supper for the evening.


Though many countries contain archaeological examples of Roman fisheries, or are the subject of Roman literary texts on local fish consumption, Portugal provides a unique case study of a country which perpetuates the importance of local marine resources, as significant to the local economy and population today as it likely was two thousand years ago. The culture remains immersed and dependent on marine resources, combining ancient tradition with modern advances in a way that promotes the continued exploitation of local supplies, rather than their substitution for cheaper resources in international waters (as is the case in many European countries). It was therefore an ideal setting for the FRWG and an inspirational location for my research.

I would like to thank our host, Sónia Gabriel and the rest of the organizing committee for such an incredible experience and enriching conference. I would also like to thank Professor Annalisa Marzano and the Classics department for their support in making this trip possible.

A Trip to Athens

Walking around the busy streets of Greece’s capital is an experience like no other. The saying ‘you can feel the history’ is thrown around a lot, but Athens’ majesty merits this description more than most. Imagine yourself standing in the midst of the busy morning in the gridlocked Omonoia Square, with the scents of every different spice creeping out from the covered market; you look down the busy Athinas Street, and see the Acropolis, the timeless symbol of Athens’ heritage, rising above the horizon. No matter how time, culture and society move on, Athens is a city that refuses to belong to a single era. Not only is this true today, but it has been for centuries.

In early June, I set out to Athens, with the generous help of Reading Classics Department’s Austin Fund. I wanted to see Athens from the perspective of cultures interacting, assimilating and, perhaps, clashing. Specifically, I was interested in seeing how the culture of the early Christians found its place in the late antique city.

Walking around the city today, the assimilation of the cultures is represented by the various Byzantine churches that hide around every corner. The unsung heroes of Athens’ legacy, these oft forgotten structures are a true reminder that Athens’ rich history did not end with the Romans. However, my main interest in this trip was to see how some of the most important structures of the Classical era were repurposed for Christian use. The re-use of earlier buildings was a practice that was widespread throughout the Empire; indeed, many of our best-preserved examples of Classical architecture owe their survival to their Christian conversion (for example, the Pantheon in Rome, the Maison Carrée in Lyon, and many of the temples that are scattered around Sicily). In particular, I was interested to see the Parthenon and the Acropolis from this context of ‘Christianisation’, along with the Library of Hadrian, in which were built several Churches, the first being a 4th-century ‘tetraconch’ church.

Seeing this wonder of the Classical world from this new perspective was a truly great and useful experience; it reminds the viewer that the ‘Classical landscape’ played a defining role in making up the landscapes that would follow. Athens as city moved on from its Classical heritage; however, reminders of this legacy were mainstays on the city’s landscape, spearheaded by the Parthenon and the Acropolis.

Seeing the famous Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles in the ancient agora was an equally memorable experience. I was particularly interested to see how this place of worship affected the landscape of the Classical space. Overlooking the agora is the much-copied Hephaiston, a staple of Athens’ pagan past; I wanted to see how the Christian structure contrasted with the agora’s non-Christian past, and I was not disappointed. I was delighted to discover that, in the 7th Century, the Hephaistion was, like the Parthenon, converted into a Christian church to St. George. It was thrilling to get to know the temple’s later history, and more thrilling still to consider its implications on the landscape.

Seeing the physical indicators of the relationship between Christianity and pagan society was not the only outcome of the trip. Particularly memorable were the wonderful collections of the Benaki, Acropolis and Byzantine Museums; equally interesting were the other sites that the city boasts: the Kerameikos, the national gardens and the numerous churches. Experiencing the city’s culture was also a delight; walking the seemingly endless system of streets and side streets, stopping off for Greek coffee or souvlaki, being pestered by the various buskers on the Athenian metro and chatting with city dwellers all contribute to a truly memorable experience.

As a Classics student, I have spent my entire degree reading about the majesty of the ancient city, but nothing is comparable to witnessing it first-hand on an independent trip. It is an experience that I hope all Classics students and enthusiasts can undertake at some point during their lives. I would like to extend my deepest thanks to Prof. Marzano and the department for making this trip possible.

Alexander Heavens
(BA (Hons) Classics 2015)

Travel Award Enables Doctoral Researcher to Attend Conference in Moscow

From our doctoral researcher Elena Chepel:

Thanks to the generosity of the Department’s Austin Travel Fund I had  the opportunity to attend the largest international classical conference in Russia, Gasparov readings, that was held in April, 18-20 at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), Moscow.


conferenceThis year the topic was Poetics of classical ode with main focus on Pindar and Horace. The organisers, Prof. Nikolay Grintser and Prof. Nina Braginskaya brought together a constellation of classical scholars from UK, Serbia, France, Russia, USA, and Greece. Among the contributors were Prof. Ian Rutherford (University of Reading), Dr. Sergey Stepantsov (Lomonosov Moscow State University), Prof. Ewen Bowie (University of Oxford), Dr. Ana Petkovic (University of Belgrade), Prof. Richard Martin (Stanford University), Prof. Dmitry Trubochkin (State Institute for  Art Studies, Moscow), Prof. Chris Carey (UCL).


RSUH runs this annual conference to commemorate life and academic research of the prominent Russian classicist and translator Mikhail Gasparov. Among the works translated by him are Horace’s On the art of poetry, Aristotle’s Poetics, Cicero’s Orator, Ovid’s Ars amatoria, and Phaedrus’ Fables. He is the author of the standard Russian translation of Pindar and Bacchylides. He also studied in depth classical and modern European versification.


As my PhD topic deals with ritual forms in Greek comedy, including prayers, hymns and other forms of worship of gods, I attended this conference to learn more about choral odes and other lyric genres in their ritual context and about their relationship with other literary genres, especially comic genres. The conference turned out to be most fruitful and inspiring for my research.


conference2I found Prof. Lucia Athanassaki’s talk on the celebratory occasion in Pindar and Horace extremely useful. She made a groundbreaking point about Horace’s awareness of the sociopolitical and ritual context of the Pindaric odes. I benefited a lot from the brilliant paper given by Dr. Maria Kazanskaya (Universite de Paris 4, Sorbonne – St-Petersbourg State University). It considered deviations from high style in Pindaric odes including low-style expressions, everyday images and irony.


Vivid and lively discussions continued during the coffee breaks. I had chance to meet new people and share ideas about my research in an informal and friendly atmosphere.


Dr. Alexey Belousov from the Lomonosov Moscow State University presented to the Department of Classics at Reading a bundle of volumes of Aristeas, a very successful Russian journal of classical philology and ancient history, that accepts articles in Russian, English, French, German, and Latin.


Every year, the Department of Classics supports its students with generous travel awards.