Ph.D. Program

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The head of Plotinus; Roman wall-painting of Priests of Isis worshipping, from Herculaneum; and Prof. Manning taking a core sample from a structure.

Our doctoral program fully promotes an interdisciplinary approach to the ancient world. We offer all students an opportunity to develop a comprehensive course of study within one of our five concentrations: ancient history, ancient philosophy, classical archaeology and art, classical literature and philology, and Greek and Latin languages and linguistics.

Some areas of strength in our program are:

  • Ancient Philosophy from Plato to Plotinus and Augustine
  • Ancient Religion from Classical Greece to Roman Egypt and Late Antiquity
  • Mediterranean and Near Eastern Archaeology from the Bronze Age through Late Antiquity and Byzantium (including fieldwork)
  • Scientific Approaches to the Classical Past
  • Textual and Visual Forms of Expression in the Ancient World

Our program looks for students who:

  • Have strong preparation in at least one discipline or domain of study
  • Have proficiency in the relevant languages (ancient and modern)
  • Are interested in research that cuts across disciplines and brings new approaches to the Classical field

General Requirements

During the week preceding the first week of classes of the Fall term, all entering students take a diagnostic test designed and evaluated by the First-Year Committee. It serves to guide the Committee in advising entering students on their curriculum for the first year.

By the end of the second semester a student should have chosen his or her own Special Committee, a group of at least three members (a Special Committee chair and two minor members). Two or more of these members should be in the Graduate Field of Classics as required by the individual concentration.

The following requirements are common to the five concentrations:

  • At least three years of residence.
  • Satisfactory performance on the “Q” Examination, by the end of their fourth semester (i.e. by the end of May). This examination is administered by the Field and is designed to demonstrate the level of proficiency in the language(s) required by the individual concentration and/or test progress on the reading list.
  • Satisfactory completion of course work required by the individual concentration.
  • Completion of 2 research papers (i.e. original contributions that could be presented to conferences or eventually submitted for publication) by the time of the “A” Examination.
  • Satisfactory completion of the “A” Examination, before the end of their sixth semester (i.e. by the end of May). This examination is administered by the student’s Special Committee. The “A” Examination is a comprehensive general examination covering the authors, fields, and subjects chosen by the student and his or her Committee. These usually comprise three areas distributed between major and minor areas as required by the individual concentration.
  • Prospectus requirements: The student’s Special Committee will select the format of the prospectus and determine its adequacy. It will usually take the form of a preliminary description of the proposed dissertation that delineates what topic and area the dissertation will explore, what approach will be taken to the topic, and why this topic and area merit such exploration.
    • Before the end of their sixth semester (i.e. end of Spring of their third year), students will establish with their committee what will be the format and content of their dissertation prospectus, including what they need to present in the Fall, and decide on a timeline for its completion.
    • Within the first three weeks of their seventh semester (i.e. beginning of Fall of their fourth year), students will present to their committee the agreed elements of their prospectus.
    • Presentation of a dissertation prospectus to the Field at the beginning of the second term of the fourth year. 
  • Satisfactory performance on two Modern Language Examinations. These are written examinations administered by the Field. All students must demonstrate reading knowledge of (a) German and (b) French or Italian. One of these modern language examinations must have been passed by the end of the student’s third year, and the second by the end of the fourth year.
  • Presentation and public oral defense (“B” Examination) of a doctoral thesis.
  • Submission of the approved doctoral thesis to the Graduate School.

For the requirements of the individual concentrations, click here.

Learning Outcomes

  • Make an original and substantial contribution to the field:
    • think originally and independently
    • identify new research opportunities
  • Achieve breadth and diversity of knowledge in the field:
    • proficiency in the relevant languages, ancient and modern
    • thorough command of theoretical and empirical knowledge across the field
    • in-depth knowledge of one major area
  • Communicate research findings effectively:
    • produce publishable scholarship
    • achieve excellence in spoken presentations
  • Demonstrate effective skills in undergraduate teaching


  • Ancient history at Cornell University can be studied either in the Field of History or in the Field of Classics. The two Fields cooperate in teaching and supervising graduate students and strongly encourage those in one Field to strengthen their preparation by relevant work in the other. In the Field of Classics, the concentration in Ancient History aims at training scholars who will be ready both to engage in cutting-edge research in history and to teach about the Greek and Roman world, including the literature and the languages. Click here for more information on the concentration and its requirements.

Core faculty in the concentration

Nicole Giannella: Roman history, Roman law, slavery.

Eric Rebillard: Roman history, Early Christianity and Late Antiquity.

Barry Strauss: Ancient history and military history.


  • The study of ancient philosophy at Cornell University is administered jointly by the Fields of Classics and Philosophy, and members of the two Fields cooperate in teaching and supervising graduate students. The program aims at training productive scholars and effective teachers of ancient philosophy who will also be well-rounded classicists and philosophers. The concentration is designed differently for students in the two Fields, but it strongly encourages those in one Field to strengthen their preparation by relevant work in the other.  Click here for more information on the concentration and its requirements.

Core faculty in the concentration

Tad Brennan
: Plato, Aristotle, Hellenistic philosophers, Late Platonists, and Pre-Socratics.

Charles F. Brittain
: Hellenistic epistemology and ethics, Platonist psychology and ethics, Augustine.

Jill Frank: Ancient Political Thought, Plato, Aristotle.

Rachana Kamtekar: Pre-Socratics, Hellenistic philosophy, Plato, Aristotle.

Scott MacDonald: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy.


  • The Concentration in Classical archaeology and art aims to provide the training and context to produce scholars ready to engage in cutting-edge archaeological and/or art historical research and teaching about the Greek and Roman worlds (including Cyprus and the wider Mediterranean area) in any period from prehistory through to Late Antiquity. Candidates are trained to be qualified for academic positions with an archaeological or art historical focus in Departments of Classics, History of Art, or Anthropology, as well as in interdisciplinary Archaeology Programs concerned with the ancient world and complex societies. The Cornell program offers a strong institutional setting, combining a long pedigree in outstanding Classical scholarship, cognate departments and courses in History of Art, Near Eastern Studies, and Anthropology, and world-leading science departments for those seeking to develop inter-disciplinary projects.  Click here for more information on the concentration and its requirements.

Core faculty in the concentration

Annetta Alexandridis: Greek myth and iconography; Roman portraiture and funerary culture; archaeology and its media, gender studies, animal studies.

Benjamin Anderson: Late antique and Byzantine art, architecture, and visual culture; archaeology and architectural history of late antique and medieval Anatolia.

Caitlín Barrett: Hellenistic Mediterranean; Greco-Roman Egypt; Egyptian archaeology and language; religion and ritual; long-distance trade; identity and ethnicity; coroplastic studies; wall painting; Delos; Campania.

Kathryn L. Gleason: gardens and designed landscapes of the Roman world; environmental archaeology, landscape archaeology; methods of ancient design, construction, water management; ancient cultivation.

Lori Khatchadourian: Anthropological archaeology, Near Eastern archaeology, the archaeology of empires, materiality, landscape.

Sturt W. Manning: Aegean, Cypriot, and east Mediterranean prehistory; archaeological science; dendrochronology; dendroclimatology; dendrochemistry; climate change science; radiocarbon dating.

Verity Platt: Art and religion; image and text; Roman wall-painting and funerary art; Greek culture in the Roman empire; historiography of ancient art.

Eric Rebillard: Late Antiquity; Roman funerary archaeology.

Astrid Van Oyen: Roman archaeology; socio-economics of the Roman empire; materiality; ancient innovation.


  • The concentration in Classical philology and literature, focusing on Greek and Latin languages and literature, is the most frequently chosen, and provides students with the opportunity to follow a traditional training in philology and textual criticism, to explore Classical literature in the light of modern literary critical methodology, or to do both. Click here for more information on the concentration and its requirements.

Core faculty in the concentration

Frederick M. Ahl: Greek and Roman Epic and Drama.

Charles F. Brittain
: Greek and Latin Literature.

Michael Fontaine: Latin Literature, Republican Drama, Augustan Poetry.

Nicole Giannella: Latin Literature.

Athena Kirk: Greek Literature.

Alan Nussbaum: Homer; Old Latin.

Hayden Pelliccia: Greek Literature.

Verity Platt: Hellenistic and Second Sophistic Literature, Art and Text

Eric Rebillard: Late Antique Latin Literature and Early Christian Texts.

Courtney Roby: Latin Literature, Scientific and Technical Literature.

Jeffrey Rusten: Greek Literature and Historiography, Greek Comedy.


  • Graduate applicants to the Field of Classics whose primary interest is in the Greek and Latin languages per se may choose to pursue the Concentration in Greek and Latin Languages and Linguistics. The aim of this concentration is to acquire a broad background in general linguistics; Greek, Latin, and Indo-European linguistics; and Greek and Latin philology.  Click here for more information on the concentration and its requirements.

Core faculty in the concentration

Larry McCrea: Sanskrit Studies.

Alan J. Nussbaum: Indo-European Linguistics, Greek and Latin Language and Linguistics, Homer, Old Latin.

Michael Weiss: Indo-European Linguistics, Historical Phonology and Morphology of Greek, Latin, and the Sabellic Languages.

Reading Lists

Check in the concentrations' requirements which are the relevant lists for each concentration.


All graduate students in the Field of Classics are admitted with six years of guaranteed support, including tuition, health insurance, as well as an annual stipend, and summer stipend after the first through fifth years. 

Two years of this support (ordinarily the first and the fifth) take the form of fellowships provided by the Graduate School. The other four years are derived from fellowships controlled by the Department and from teaching assistantships.

The Townsend Fund also enables the department to offer travel grants to graduate students. We encourage students to spend some time at other universities in North America and Europe in order to study with scholars whose work would complement and enrich their individual research interests.

Application Procedures

Complete the application online at Apply Now no later than December 15. Applications are evaluated in January, and applicants are usually notified of their status at the beginning of February.


In addition to all Graduate School requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants, the Field of Classics requires the following:

  • three letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores
  • a ten to twenty page writing sample

Writing sample

We strongly recommend that you choose as a writing sample work that shows your ability to work closely with ancient texts in the original language. Ideally your writing sample should also demonstrate research abilities and critical use of secondary sources. If you are writing an undergraduate Honors Thesis a chapter from it would be a good choice. 

If you are applying for the concentrations in Ancient History, Ancient Philosophy, Classical Archaeology abd Art, or Indo-European Linguistics it is particularly important that you submit a sample that will enable us to evaluate your work in that area.

Current Graduate Students & Alumni

  • Profiles of our current graduate students are here.
  • Profiles of our graduate alumni are here.