What is Classics, exactly?

Image Of the three topics this blog will focus on, Classics is perhaps the least familiar to a wider audience. The Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider franchises popularised the basics of archaeology, and academia is pretty self-explanatory – but what is Classics, exactly?

Most people who aren’t already acquainted with the subject usually assume Classics has something to do with books. Or maybe music? In either case, it’s definitely something old – old and dusty and classic. And there is some validity to this belief, since Classics most certainly deals with old things. Yet what people are usually thinking about are the works of Shakespeare, or Mozart, or perhaps Cervantes, and while these are most certainly ‘little-c’ classics, they are generally not part of the study of ‘big-C’ Classics.

As with most things these days, a quick answer can be found by a simple Google search, or by looking up the right Wikipedia page:

“Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or Classical Civilization) is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world (Bronze Age ca. BC 3000 – Late Antiquity ca. AD 300-600); especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity (ca. BC 600 – AD 600).”

I know, I know – Wikipedia is a terrible source to quote in any serious discussion. And yet, this definition stands up pretty well when compared to what many (arguably more respectable) university Classics departments have listed on their websites, so I think it’s pretty safe to go ahead and use it as a baseline definition.

There are some people who may have differing opinions about exactly what qualifies as Classics – as opposed to Classical Studies, history, archaeology, numismatics, or any one of an endless list of classifications – yet such divisions are largely cosmetic or administrative concerns about personal identification, and are a subject I will explore in more detail at a later time. For the purposes of a general understanding of Classics, however, it’s pretty safe to use a broad characterization. And, covering nearly every aspect of life around the Mediterranean basin over a roughly three-thousand year period, Classics can be a very broad subject.

As a result of the sheer scope of the field, however, Classics can sometimes be intimidating or confusing for people trying to understand it for the first time. At first glance, it seems rather counter-intuitive to lump early dynastic Egypt, first-century AD Britain, and sixth-century Bulgaria into one category; topics of such geographic and temporal disparity appear to have very little in common. One of the things I would like to accomplish with this blog, therefore, is to demonstrate just how these seemingly unrelated topics fit together. This is by no means an easy feat, so don`t look for a “This is how Egypt connects to Bulgaria!” post, but hopefully after a little while things will become a little clearer.

I don’t expect my explanations to be perfect, either, so if you have any questions at any time, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’ll keep a close eye on the comments below, and can also be reached via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

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3 responses to “What is Classics, exactly?

  1. I think you gave a good explanation of a very meaty topic. :) Whenever I say ‘classics’ people think Dickens or something…

  2. Pingback: Why Classics? Daphne and Apollo | The Northern Strands·

  3. Pingback: Why study Classics? Daphne and Apollo | The Northern Strands·

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