The St John’s College Classics and Ancient History Essay Competition will be running for the 14th time during the academic year 2023-24.

This competition is open to all students currently studying at a UK School or College in Year 12 (Lower Sixth) or equivalent, whether or not they are currently studying a Classical or Ancient subject. Each student may submit one essay (only) of up to 2,000 words on any of the following four questions:

1 Classical Literature: 'You wander to and fro...but all you achieve is to make the problem worse' (Seneca Letter 28). Is travel in ancient literature always a bad idea?'

2 Ancient History: ‘How far did ancient Greek and Roman travellers go, and why did they not get any further?’

3 Ancient Philosophy: ‘Early Greek philosophers treat motion as identical to change. Are they right?’

4 Archaeology: ‘How and why did similar images or artistic motifs move in the ancient world? (Please focus in your answer on transmission between media/material/type of object, or across time, or between different places.)’

Prizes Awarded

A £100 book token will be awarded to the best essay in each category and an additional £75 book token to the overall winner. A further £75 book token will be awarded to the best essay submitted by a pupil who has not previously studied a Classical or Ancient subject. All applicants will receive a certificate of entry.

Visit St John's - Subject Exploration Day

Students who submit an entry to the Classics Essay Competition are invited to our Classics and Ancient History Subject Exploration Day on the 1st May. This is a chance to visit St John's College and sample lectures delivered by our resident tutors.

How Do I Apply?

You can submit your essay to Please have the subject line: "Classics Essay Competition: [First Name] [Surname] Question [Number]". Please attach this as a PDF, and ensure that your name is not included in the actual document.

The deadline for submission of the essay is Friday 8th March.

For the Subject Exploration Day, please submit an application to this form:

Advice and Guidance

The competition gives students currently studying any subjects at a UK School or College, in Year 12 or equivalent, an opportunity to write an essay on the classical world. The organizers are interested in providing an occasion for independent research, to encourage curiosity and reflection in those who have studied the ancient world before and those who have not.

The essay titles have been chosen to take account of research interests of our tutors and to encourage the widest possible approach to investigation of the ancient world.

All primary texts can be considered in translation or in the original language. Where either primary or secondary sources have been used they should be acknowledged with full references given.

All essays should:

  • Be word-processed with double-spaced lines, and saved in a PDF format.
  • Include ONLY your initials and date of birth in your header or footer (to allow anonymous marking).
  • Be no more than 2000 words in length.

2023 Essay Competition Report

For information regarding last year's report, which highlights the strengths of the winning essays, please click here.