Classical tradition at Edinburgh

Classical languages have been taught and studied at the University since its foundation in 1583.

Initially, Greek and Latin formed the basis of the four-year Arts degree, along with various branches of Philosophy, all taught by the first Regent of Philosophy, Robert Rollock.

When it became apparent that potential students did not know enough Latin (or Humanity as it was known in Scotland) to follow his lectures, Glasgow graduate Duncan Nairn was appointed to teach them.

16th-20th centuries

By 1587, a new position of Regent of Humanity was established with John Ray. Regents of Philosophy and Humanity covered the entire curriculum for the next 120 years, until the University’s reorganisation in 1708.

William Scott and Laurence Dundas, who held new Chairs in Greek and Humanity, were each succeeded by 12 incumbents, not least by the distinguished John Stuart Blackie, S.H. Butcher and Sir Arthur Pickard-Cambridge (in Greek) and W.Y. Sellar and O.L. Richmond (Humanity).

Around 1900 a generous bequest allowed for the establishment of the Sir William Fraser Lectureship in Ancient (Greek and Roman) History. Departments in Classical Archaeology and Ancient Philosophy were well established by the mid 1940s.

20th century

Changes in school curricula in the mid 20th century meant that first-year undergraduates had a less secure grounding in the Classical languages. A shift towards the study of cultural and historical matters became evident.

In the late 1960s, the teaching of beginner’s Latin and Greek was introduced, allowing able students to complete a Classics degree without knowing both languages from the outset.

The final quarter of the century saw considerable extension in the range of degree programmes on offer. Traditional honours degrees like Greek and Latin Language and Literature, were joined by single honours degrees, joint degrees and courses which combined different disciplines.

When Arthur Beattie retired from the Chair of Greek in 1981 and Ian Campbell from the Chair of Humanity a year later, funding restrictions prevented replacements from being appointed. University structures were moving in the direction of ever-larger units. By 1987, the Classical departments were united into one, with John Richardson as the first Professor of Classics.

21st century

In 2002 the department was incorporated into the School of History and Classics. Douglas Cairns, the present Professor of Classics, was appointed a year later.

Archaeology joined the family in 2007, completing the current School of History, Classics and Archaeology, all three housed within gloriously restored, state-of-the art facilities in the William Robertson Wing of the Old Medical School.