St John's College Oxford

Year 12 Classics and Ancient History essay competition

Every year St John's holds a Classics and Ancient History essay competition for students in Year 12.

The 2019 competition will be announced in a few months' time. 

The competition is open to all students who are currently studying in Year 12 (or equivalent) anywhere in the UK, and is designed to give students of any subject the opportunity to write an essay on the classical world, whether or not they have studied the ancient world before. Topics include ancient history, archaeology, ancient literature and philosophy.  The essay titles are chosen to take account of the research expertise at St John’s, and to encourage the widest possible approach to investigation of the ancient world. 

Prizes of up to £175 in book tokens will be awarded for the best essays and all entrants will receive a certificate of entry.  Entrants will also be invited to attend a study afternoon at St John’s College in April.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Due to the large number of entries, we are not able to offer feedback on individual essays; instead tutors produce a report which reflects on the previous year's competition. 

The 2018 Competition
On 19 April, 83 school pupils from around the country came to St John’s for the annual Classics and Ancient History Study Afternoon. All had entered the Classics & Ancient History Essay Competition. A total of 156 students submitted essays, from 95 schools around the country, and all were invited to the Study Afternoon.

Please find here the Essay Competition Report for 2018. 

The participants enjoyed a series of four lectures on archaeology, philosophy, literature and history from St John’s tutors, united by the theme of ‘Interactions with the gods’. Professor Alison Hills spoke on gods and morality in the Euthyphro, Dr Georgy Kantor spoke on the role of divination in Roman Republican politics, Dr Lucy Audley-Miller explored how the gods were encountered by ancient Roman people through their images, and Dr Giulia Fanti’s talk addressed the subject of gods in Lucretius’ De rerum natura.

The winners were:
Literature: Naomi Cooper
How do gods and fate help the development of the epic plot? Discuss with examples from Greek and/or Latin literature.
History – and Overall Winner: Hye Lim Park
How can we write Graeco-Roman history from the point of view of the poor?
Philosophy: Vidya Divakaran
‘I know nothing except that I know nothing’ (Socrates). Is it possible for someone to teach if he does not know anything?
Archaeology: Maia Mellentin
‘We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us’. If correct, what are the implications of this statement for the field of Graeco-Roman archaeology?

Highly Commended:
Rachel MacNaghten – Literature 
Mark Selby – Literature 
Emma Starbuck – History 
Nathaniel Watson – Philosophy 

Classics Study Day April 18 photo: Congratulations to this year's winners of the Essay Competition.

Students also enjoyed a tour of College on a gloriously sunny afternoon, and informal discussion sessions over tea with the tutors and current students, on all aspects of living and studying at St John’s. They clearly enjoyed their visit; asked about what they enjoyed the most:

  • 'getting to further my classical understanding and being able to explore areas of study that wouldn't have otherwise been available'
  • 'the philosophy and archaeology talks as these are things I haven't had much opportunity to study at school. I also enjoyed meeting like-minded individuals in my age group'
  • 'having the opportunity to know what reading Classics here consists of and thus helping with my choosing of a course'

The 2017 Competition 
Classics essay competition winners161 students submitted essays as part of our Classics and Ancient History essay competition 2017. Please find here the Essay Competition Report for 2017. The winners were: 

  • Overall winner and winner in the Literature category: Constance Everett-Pite
  • Winner in the History category:  Nicholas Pymont
  • Winner in the Philosophy category: Charlotte DeLeyser
  • Winner in the Archaeology category: Laura Garratt

The following entrants received a certificate of high commendation for their entries: Rose Grossel, Jan Preiss, Matt Coleclough, James Maskill.

Studying the ancient world
St John’s offers courses in Classics & Joint Schools, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, and History (Ancient and Modern). We welcome applications from students with and without prior experience of studying the ancient world. 

This essay competition is part of a range of activities offered by the Classics faculty at Oxford. Further information about their work with schools can be found on their Outreach pages.