Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Seeking the elusive dead

It is a well-known fact of British prehistory that burial monuments, sometimes on a monumental scale, are well-documented in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, but largely absent in the Iron Age, outside certain distinctive regional groups at particular periods.

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Shakespeare the Classicist

The traditional view of Shakespeare is that he was a natural genius who had no need of art or reading. That tradition grew from origins which should make us suspect it. Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson famously declared that Shakespeare had ‘small Latin and less Greek’.

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Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis

His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.

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Seders, symposiums, and drinking parties

The symposium is a familiar feature of academic life today: a scholarly gathering where work on a given topic or theme is presented and discussed. While the event may be followed by a dinner and drinks, the consumption of alcohol is in no way essential to the business of the gathering.

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Roman author, Greek genre: Martial’s use of Epigrams

An epigram is a short poem, most often of two or four lines. Its typical metre is the elegiac couplet, which is also the metre of Roman love poetry (elegy) and the hallmark of Ovid. In antiquity it was a distinctively Greek literary form: Roman writers were never comfortable in it as they were in other imported genres, such as epic and elegy. When they dabbled in epigram they often used Greek to do so. Martial’s decision to write books of Latin epigrams, and nothing else, is thus a very significant departure.

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History of Eurasia [interactive map]

The history of Eurasia is vast, much like the land it covered millions of years ago. Over time the development, not only of European, Near Eastern, and Chinese civilizations, but also food production, the first use of gunpowder, and the cavalry took place.

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Introducing Martial: Epigrams

Who is ‘Martial’? “Up to this point, Madam, this little book has been written for you. You want to know for whom the bits further in are written? For me.” (3.68) Marcus Valerius Martialis was born some time around AD 40 (we know his birthday, 1st March, but not the year) at Bilbilis in Hispania Tarraconensis, a province of oil- and wine-rich Roman Spain.

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Arabia: ancient history for troubled times

In antiquity, ‘Arabia’ covered a vast area, running from Yemen and Oman to the deserts of Syria and Iraq. Today, much of this region is gripped in political and religious turmoil that shows no signs of abating.

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Can you get X out of X in our Latin poetry quiz?

The shadow of the Roman poets falls right across the entire western literary tradition: from Vergil’s Aeneid, about the fall of Troy, the wooden horse, and the founding of Rome; through the great love poets, Catullus, Propertius, and Tibullus; Ovid’s Metamorphoses, treasure-house of myth for the Renaissance and Shakespeare; to Horace’s Dulce et decorum est, echoing through the twentieth century. We all take it for granted … so now’s the time to check your working.

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Legal order: lessons from ancient Athens

How do large-scale societies achieve cooperation? Since Thomas Hobbes’ famous work, Leviathan (1651), social scientific treatments of the problem of cooperation have assumed that living together without killing one another requires an act of depersonalization in the form of a transfer of individual powers to an all-powerful central government.

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A history of firsts [slideshow]

We live in a globalized world, but mobility is nothing new. Set on a huge continental stage, By Steppe, Desert and Ocean tells the story how human society evolved across the Eurasian continent from Europe to China.

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Art across the early Abrahamic religions

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered kindred religions–holding ancestral heritages and monotheistic belief in common–but there are definitive distinctions between these “Abrahamic” peoples. The early exchanges of Jews, Christians, and Muslims were dominated by debates over the meanings of certain stories sacred to all three groups.

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A comma in Catullus

Only Oscar Wilde could be quite so frivolous when describing a matter as grave as the punctuation of poetry, something that causes particular grief in our attempts to understand ancient texts. Their writers were not so obliging as to provide their poems with punctuation marks, nor to distinguish between capitals and small letters.

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What five recent archaeological sites reveal about the Viking period

The famous marauders, explorers, traders, and colonists who transformed northern Europe between AD 750 and 1100 continue to hold our fascination. The Vikings are the subject of major new museum exhibitions now circulating in Europe and a popular dramatic television series airing on The History Channel.

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