Classical studies and their reception

Here you'll find all the research on antiquity and its reception carried out at CNRS Humanities & Social Sciences and its laboratories.

This field has a long history in France as in many countries.The term "sciences de l’Antiquité" is widely used in France as is "classical studies" but in fact neither term is fully satisfactory. These expressions cover literary studies in Greek and Latin, the "classical" archaeology of Greece and Rome, other archaeology studying Egypt, the Near and Middle East, Etruscans, Carthage, Celts, etc., art history, philology and philosophy. The current dynamics of classical studies research at the CNRS involves a set of disciplines, themes and issues that are evolving over time (on the scale of almost a century and a half) and are constantly underpinned by one major issue - determining their spatial/areal and temporal perimeter and, correlatively, their object and methods. Thus, within the Greco-Roman world it gradually became clear that the divide between the Greek and Roman worlds could no longer be maintained. As early as the Archaic period, Rome was in contact with Greek cities - particularly Campania, Cumae, Pithecussia and Naples - and the cities of Magna Graecia like Taranto and Metapontum; in the 4th century BC, Rome became part of the Hellenistic kingdoms and eventually integrated the whole Greek world into the Roman Empire. As a result, the eastern part of the Empire straddled both Roman and Greek history. Also, the idea gradually took hold that study could not be confined to the sciences of the Greco-Roman world alone or of the Mediterranean even in its enlarged form. This development has major epistemological implications and is reflected currently at the CNRS in a shift involving the following three aspects:


  • Spatial boundaries are receding. Today, the dividing line being challenged here in France is the border distinguishing work on Eastern areas (China, Korea, Japan) and work on areas from the more established classical sciences (the Greco-Roman world, the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East).


  • Temporal boundaries are also evolving. If the reception of the ancient corpus, its translations, commentaries, uses and revisions are included then the field of classical studies potentially covers work on later periods. For example, in philosophy this particularly involves the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The field therefore extends beyond the "classical sciences" as such. From a temporal standpoint, the same applies "upstream". According to the dates when writing appeared, the civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia tend to be considered as "ancient" (and therefore "historical") while contemporary civilisations like the Western Europe of the megaliths for example are deemed to be 'protohistoric'. It thus seems more appropriate to consider all these geographical areas in the same time frame namely from the first manifestations of strong power structures of the state type. These are documented in writing in some cases but also represented by megalithic constructions in others or in the symbolism of power (steles, etc.) from the beginning of the Bronze Age.


  • Disciplinary boundaries are also being challenged. Classical studies are moving away from a discipline-based approach to mix in language specialities, history and geohistory, archaeology, archaeometry, cultural anthropology and so forth. The example of historians like Paul Veyne in France or Moses Finley in the United Kingdom show that these figures play a driving role in bringing disciplines closer together.

Finally, the fact that this field is constantly redefining its spatial and temporal boundaries and consequently its content, methods and tools means it is the ideal environment for the development of a historicised and areal reflexive view of what a society can consider its "classical culture" to be, the means of knowing about and transmitting that culture. It therefore also provides a kind of mirror for thinking about a society's past, present and future identity and its relationship to "other"cultures. In short then, classical studies serve as a true mirror for societies.


Centres de recherche et réseaux

CNRS Humanities & Social Sciences laboratories


Innovation and outreach