Things worth learning: classical antiquity


Classical antiquity (also the classical era, classical period or classical age) is the period of cultural history between the 8th century BC and the 6th century AD centred on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome known as the Greco-Roman world. It is the period in which both Greek and Roman societies flourished and wielded huge influence throughout much of Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia.



Studying the Greco-Roman world is somewhat unfashionable right now. I believe those histories still have lessons for us today, although I mostly enjoy learning about them for the sake of learning.


I was an avid reader from an early age, and Greek and Roman mythology were two of my favorite subjects. My love of mythology and history managed to survive years of poorly-taught classes and abysmal textbooks all the way through college.

The best way to learn about classical antiquity is by reading a mix of ancient sources and modern histories. The former could include philosophy (Plato, Aristotle), epic poems (Homer, Virgil), speeches (Cicero), or histories (Herodotus, Plutarch).

I am not a professional historian, and I prefer reading popular histories over scholarly ones. British historians have long held a monopoly on the best writing about classical antiquity in the English language. I like Adrian Goldsworthy, Mary Beard, and Bettany Hughes, as well as older historians like Edith Hamilton. These authors clearly put a great deal of time and effort into the craft of writing histories. They strive to find the right balance between details and a coherent narrative. There’s very little of the filler, dumbing down, extended personal asides, artificial drama, etc. that afflict recent histories on other subjects. Good history doesn’t need any of that to be engaging.