Informing and Enhancing the Public Understanding of the Classical World

Submitting Institution

Newcastle University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies

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Summary of the impact

Public understanding of the classical world has been informed and enhanced through new editions of the prestigious and internationally acclaimed Oxford Classical Dictionary (OCD) and its spin-off publications. These key reference items, which have sold in high numbers and been translated into several languages, are available in specialist, university, college and public libraries worldwide, thereby benefitting a wide range of users, including the general public, students, school pupils, and fellow professionals.

Underpinning research

The OCD is an Oxford University Press publication and is the world's leading English-language, one-volume reference work to the ancient Greek and Roman world, including topics such as Greek and Roman history, literature, archaeology, myth, religion and philosophy. Through the dictionary, underpinning research in Classics at Newcastle on the broad fields of ancient Greek history and classical archaeology is significant in making a distinct contribution to how the classical world is understood within and outside the academy. Based on a growing international reputation in the history and material culture of ancient Greece, Antony Spawforth (Professor of Ancient History, 2001 to present) was approached to co-editor on both the 3rd and 4th editions, with a key role in marshalling and editing the research driven scholarship which underpins the broader impact being claimed in this case study (1, 2).

Spawforth was directly responsible for revising and writing 250 entries in both editions, which were based on his research and outputs. For example, in OCD4 Spawforth's entries on `Sparta' and `Sparta, topography' were based on his research and many publications about ancient Sparta, its history and epigraphy, over thirty years (3); his entry on `court' was informed by the British-Academy funded interdisciplinary research project which he led, with a book-length publication, including his Introduction and a chapter on the court of Alexander the Great (4); and the entry for `Persian-Wars tradition' was grounded in his research on this subject going back to a paper for an Oxford seminar in the early 1990s and culminating in a chapter-length treatment in his latest book (5). Other Newcastle scholars were invited to contribute to both dictionary editions because of the recognised expertise upon which the reputation of the volume depends. These scholars based their entries on their research and academic outputs. For example, in OCD3 and OCD4, Rowland Smith's (Lecturer in Ancient History, 1992 to present) entry on `Julian' is based on his Oxford DPhil which in turn became a published as a book (6).

Research also underpinned the editorial of the dictionary. OCD3 was originally published in 1996, and was twice republished in 1998 (with corrections) and 2003 (with slight revisions) (1). Spawforth co-edited this edition with Simon Hornblower, and they aimed to retain the strengths of the 2nd edition (published in 1970), whilst developing OCD to take account of advances in Classics since the 1960s. In all 6250 entries by 364 contributors, OCD3 is 30% longer than OCD2. For example, a shift from the teaching of traditional Classics to a greater focus on Classical Studies or Classical Civilisation led to use of a more thematic approach to OCD3 and the creation of new entries to acknowledge key discourses and whole new sub-disciplines, i.e. Women's/Gender Studies, that were not represented in the previous edition. The overall aim of both editors was to maintain OCD's position as the most authoritative one-volume reference work to classical antiquity in English. OCD4 was published in 2012, revised and updated using the latest developments in the field of Classics, with 6,700 entries by 400 contributors (2). Once again Spawforth co-edited with Hornblower, with Esther Eidinow as Assistant Editor.

As co-editor Spawforth was co-responsible for:
  • Taking direct editorial responsibility with Simon Hornblower for Greek and Roman history, historiography, historical individuals, institutions, topography, archaeology and art, which constitute over half of the dictionary (both editions).
  • Defining general principles, such as conceiving the kind of updating that was needed, in terms of updating outdated information and identifying new directions for the dictionary. This involved the inclusion of many more thematic entries and the promotion of whole subject areas (i.e. Near East, Jewish Studies, Women's Studies in OCD3), identifying new emphases (i.e. anthropology and reception studies in OCD4), as well as promoting accessibility without losing academic quality.
  • Identifying and assembling the area advisors.
  • Approaching the c360 contributors and overseeing the follow-up process.
  • Editing (and occasionally translating) the entries as they were submitted by the contributors.
  • Generally steering the process to conclusion, including on-going extensive liaising with individual area advisors and contributors.

The editorial role throughout required academic decisions at every turn, from being able to take a large overview of the state of the subject c1990; knowing from personal expertise where there were gaps in coverage, or new finds, or new scholarly developments etc; knowing who the best expert was to approach (and who the next-best in the event of a refusal); knowing how best to edit entries as they came in (not a matter of mere sub-editing, but of academic judgments about factual accuracy, about significant omissions which a contributor should be asked to rectify, about where to cut, as well as translation of Ancient Greek and Latin and, in Spawforth's case, translation of whole entries from French into English).

References to the research

1) Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. (1996) The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rdh edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Revised 3rd edition (2003).


2) Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. (2012) The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 4th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


3) Cartledge, P. and Spawforth, A. (2002) Hellenistic and Roman Sparta. 2nd edn. London: Routledge.


4) Spawforth, A. (Ed) (2007) The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


5) Spawforth, A. (2012) Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. REF2 Output.


6) Smith, R.B.E. (1995) Julian's Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate. London: Routledge.


These publications broadly rate as 2* or above on the basis of the authoritativeness and scholarly quality of the contributors and, in the case of certain articles, the originality of the content. All publications can be supplied by the HEI on request.

Details of the impact

OCD and associated spin-off publications are key reference items for the general public and fellow professionals, and are available in specialist, university, college and public libraries across the world. The level of worldwide sales and number of book translations indicate the reach of the impact via the underpinning research. The 3rd (and revised 3rd edition) of OCD has been translated into three other languages (Georgian, Modern Greek, and Chinese), and now in its fourth edition, it has also been translated into Spanish, with a planned Chinese translation. OCD3 and OCD4 have had total sales of nearly 70,000 copies, with more than 10,000 of these sold after 2008 (this includes sales of over 3,000 of OCD4 in its first year of publication). Almost 40% of total sales come from outside the UK (IMP1). Given the significant cost of purchasing these reference books, copies purchased prior to 2008 will still be in use by individuals, educational establishments and library users.

Driven by the high sales response to OCD3, Oxford University Press commissioned two spin-off publications and Spawforth had a pivotal role in each of these. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilisation (Companion) is an anthology of the 3rd edition of OCD, with extensive illustrations, and has been published in both hardback (1998) and paperback (2004). Spawforth was co-responsible for identifying and editing suitable entries and approving and choosing illustrations. Spawforth was also co-responsible for identifying and editing suitable entries in the Who's Who in the Classical World (Who's Who), which was published in paperback (1998) as an accessible reference work focused on historical individuals from classical antiquity. Through changing the style of the way the material is presented and being considerably cheaper than the OCD editions, the aim of these spin-off publications was to reach wider and more diverse audiences, thereby extending the reach of public understanding of the classical world. The OCD spin-offs collectively have also had sales of over 75,000 copies. Companion has had sales of 68,846 copies of which around 15% were outside the UK, and has been translated into Chinese. Who's Who has sold 7,049 copies and just over 75% were sales outside the UK (IMP1). Both editions of OCD and its spin-off publications are also available electronically at and are accessed via schools, colleges, universities and public libraries. The total revenue generated from the OCD3 and OCD4 via this medium is over £50,000 (around £20,000 of this is from OCD4) (IMP1). Though figures presented are lifetime sales (and include sales prior to 2008), these publications continue to have an on-going impact and currency.

The reach of the impact is evidenced by the sheer number of libraries these publications can be accessed through worldwide, covering 33 countries worldwide. OCD3 and/or OCD4 is available in hard copy or electronically in more than 4,000 libraries, Companion in more than 1,500 libraries, and Who's Who in more than 600 libraries. These libraries are based in universities and colleges, as well as on army bases and in museums, and include public libraries. For example, at least one of these publications is available in one or more public libraries in all 50 states in America, and in other countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Singapore (IMP2).

OCD and/or the spin-off publications are also available in a number of school libraries, particularly in the United States of America, for instance in the Harvard Westlake School in California, the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, and the Abraham Lincoln High School in New York (IMP2). OCD3 is also suggested as a resource for 6th grade study of ancient Greece by the New York Department of Education Office of Curriculum, Standards and Academic Engagement (IMP3).

Where Greek, Latin or Classical Studies are taught in English at a university level, OCD3 and/or OCD4 are very likely to be held in the university library, and this is also likely to be the case for one or both of the OCD spin-offs. For example, the Universities of Cape Town, Sydney, Harvard and Cambridge all hold OCD and one or both spin-off publications (IMP2). The OCD is also listed as a key reference on undergraduate modules on a range of topics, such as: Theology and Religious Studies, Archaeology, Classics and History, in the UK and beyond. For example, it is listed in the module guide for `History of Ancient Greece and Rome', for the BA in Archaeology, at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw. OCD is also cited as a reference tool on courses in skills development, for examples, in an Open University course on creative writing for Classics students, and a research skills and referencing courses at the University of Exeter. The OCD spin- off publications are also listed as set texts or background reading on a number of modules, for example, the Oxford Companion to Classical Civilisation is recommended on an Open University level 2 undergraduate course, `Exploring the Classical World' (IMP4). According to Google Scholar, OCD has been cited more than 500 times, although this is a poor guide to citation-frequency, since academics who consult OCD and its spin-offs do not invariably acknowledge the fact in research (or other) publications (IMP5).

The worldwide use of OCD and spin-off publications signifies the reach and significance of its impact, which rests on its authoritative scholarship and its combined function of preserving the old while signalling what is new in the Classics discipline. The OCD is the premier English language reference tool for the ancient world and was described by the Library Journal as ", varied, and highly reliable...this magnificent work will form the cornerstone of any institutional or home- based Classical studies indispensable reference for individuals and libraries alike" (IMP6), and in the Modern Language Association (MLA) Literary Research Guide as "Authoritative and informative, the work is the best single-volume classical dictionary in English and an essential desktop reference. It truly has, as its editors claim, `no competitor in any language'" (IMP7).

Peter Green from the Washington Times said that OCD3 "offers not only that breakfast for the mind that we keep hearing about, but lunch, tea, dinner, supper and non-stop snacks...[and] offers a cornucopia of accurate and succinct knowledge that would be hard to equal" (IMP8). A recent review of OCD4 stated that "it's the scholarship of the OCD that justifies its continued publication..." and that the contributors "represent the best of living classical thought combined with the intellectual legacy of dead contributors". Harry Mount's review `The Classical World Just Refuses to Stay Dead', also acknowledges OCD's role in tracking the developments in the classical world, as well as recognising that its line-up of scholars, chief advisers and editors reflect "the make-up of modern classical scholarship". It also states that "Classical scholarship in this country is on the wane...the old standards survive on remote islands like the OCD" (IMP9).

In summary, public understanding of the classical world has been informed and enhanced by the underpinning research though the 3rd and 4th editions of OCD and spin-off publications, which are available all over the world to the general public, school children and teachers, scholars and other professionals. The reach and significance of the impact is evidenced by the extent of the on-going sales of the publications across the world, as well as their continued availability in libraries in 33 countries worldwide thereby bringing research and expert knowledge to a range of people globally.

Sources to corroborate the impact

(IMP1) Sales figures (UK and overseas), translations and electronic revenue relating to OCD editions and spin-off publications — provided by Oxford University Press. Available on request.

(IMP2) World Cat statistics of holdings of OCD and spin-off publications. Available on request.

(IMP3) New York Department of Education Office of Curriculum, Standards and Academic Engagement, Ancient Greece: A Lasting Legacy, 2009-10. Available on request.

(IMP4) Summary of examples where OCD and its spin-off publications are being used as a reference tool in universities. Available on request.

(IMP5) Citations of OCD, via Google Scholar. Available on request.

(IMP6) User group review: Library Journal review, 17 August 2012. Available at:

(IMP7) User group review — Modern Language Association Library Research Guide. Available at:

(IMP8) Media review, Peter Green, Washington Times. Available at: AACAAJ&redir_esc=y

(IMP9) Media review, 'The Classical World Just Refuses to Stay Dead', in the Telegraph, by Harry Mount, 17 March 2012. Available at: