Classics and Ancient History Essay Competition 2020/21: Winners Announced

Date 29 April 2021

Congratulations to this year’s winners!

This year we are delighted to have run the St John’s Classics and Ancient History Essay competition for its 11th year! This year, we had 203 entries from all over the UK, a record number! The competition is open to all UK students currently studying in Year 12 or equivalent, whether or not they are studying a Classical or Ancient subject, and gives students of any subjects an opportunity to write an essay on the classical world. The organisers 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.

For this year’s competition, entrants were asked to write a reflective and convincing essay in response to one of the following questions:

  1. 'Nice guys finish last.' Is this statement true for characters (of any gender) in ancient literature?
  2. Did Greek and/or Roman elections express the will of the people?
  3. Plato thought that democracy was the rule of the ignorant. Was he right?
  4. In the ancient world, did the art of democracies express the same concerns as the art of the autocratic regimes?

The range of questions reflects the range of subjects on offer in the Oxford Classics course, and the range of expertise of our tutors. This year, the questions were set and the essays marked by Professor Alison Hills (Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy), Dr Emma Greensmith (Fellow in Classical Literature), Dr Georgy Kantor (Fellow in Ancient History), Dr Alison Pollard (Lecturer in Classical Archaeology).

£100 book token was awarded to the best entry in each category, and an additional £75 book token was presented to the overall winner, while all participants received a certificate of entry.

Four winners and ten commendations have been awarded this year. Many congratulations to this year’s overall winner, Isabelle, who wrote a brilliant essay in response to question number one.

Congratulations to all of the winners of this year’s awards and commendations!


  • Literature winner (and overall winner): Isabelle (Northamptonshire) 
  • Literature commendations: Remi (London), Mary (Derbyshire) and Katerina (Oxfordshire)
  • History winner: Claire (London)
  • History commendations: Mattie (Surrey), Nina (Belfast) and Matthieu (London)
  • Philosophy winner: Bulcsu (London)
  • Philosophy commendations: Alexander (London) and Adrienne (Lancashire)
  • Archaeology winner: Kasia (Lincolnshire)
  • Archaeology commendations: Hilary (Liverpool) and Christopher (London)

You can read the full marker’s report for this year’s competition here.

All of the competition entrants were invited to attend an Online Subject Exploration Afternoon in Classics and Ancient History on Thursday April 22nd 2021. The 143 attendees (another record for this year!) joined us to hear from Dr Georgy Kantor (Official Fellow in Ancient History) and Dr Emma Greensmith (Official Fellow in Classical Literature) about Classics and related courses we offer at Oxford and St John’s - you can watch the video for this session below.

The afternoon also provided the perfect opportunity to hear from our Tutors and students about studying Classics and Ancient History here at St John’s. Attendees were able to chat in small groups with current Classics students and Tutors from St John’s, to ask about courses they were interested in, student life, St John’s College and more!

Additionally, pupils each attended two academic taster sessions, offered by our St John’s Tutors. These sessions allowed pupils to share their ideas, working with the Tutors to discuss the topic in an ‘large-tutorial’ format. Pupils were able to select from a diverse range of sessions, covering Classics, Ancient History and related subjects:

  • Dr Panayiotis Christoforou (Lecturer in Ancient History): ‘Fiction and History: How to make sense of fabulous stories of Emperors’
  • Dr Emma Greensmith (Official Fellow in Classical Literature): ‘War of the Words: Speaking Showdowns and Power Plays in Ancient Epic’
  • Prof. Alison Hills (Official Fellow in Philosophy): ‘Plato’s Ideal State’
  • Dr Matthew Hosty (Lecturer in Classical Languages): ‘Clapping for Carers: Comic Women and the Socialist Utopia’
  • Dr Georgy Kantor (Official Fellow in Ancient History): ‘Canvassing for votes in ancient Greece and Rome’
  • Dr Alison Pollard (Lecturer in Classical Archaeology): ‘The Archaeology of Power: How to win over (or keep control of) the masses in ancient Greece and Rome’
  • Dr Justine Potts (Woodhouse Junior Research Fellow in Classics): ‘Curses, oracles, dreams: some puzzles of ancient religion’
  • Dr Karolina Sekita (Woodhouse Junior Research Fellow in Classics): ‘Gods in Translation? Herodotus, Herakles and the Phoenicians’

A huge thank you to all our participants, pupils, Tutors and students, who helped make the Online Subject Exploration Afternoon in Classics and Ancient History a fun event for all!