Professor Greg Woolf

Contact details

Professor Greg Woolf
MA (Oxon) PhD (Cantab)
Director, Institute of Classical Studies
Institute of Classical Studies
Institute of Classical Studies School of Advanced Study Senate House Malet Street London WC1E 7HU
+44 (0)207 862 8702
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Ancient History, Archaeology, Classics, Colonies & Colonization, emigration & immigration, History of the book
Research keywords:
Rome, Urbanism, Culture and Imperialism, Literacy, Libraries
Summary of research interests and expertise:

Greg Woolf is a cultural historian of the ancient world, especially known for his work on the Roman Empire.

Much of his work combines archaeological and historical material to explore history in the very long term. He has written on cultural imperialism and local responses to it, on the Roman economy, on Roman intellectual culture, and also on ancient religion. He has co-edited collections on ancient literacy, ancient libraries, encyclopaedic culture in premodern periods, the city of Rome, women in Roman cities and on ancient senses of the self. His latest monograph The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: a Natural History was published by OUP in 2020.

Together with Jason König at St Andrews he led a Leverhulme project on Science and Empire in the Roman World, and with Jörg Rüpke at Erfurt a project on sanctuaries and their place in the formation of religious experience and knowledge, funded by an Annaliese Maier research prize from the Humboldt Foundation. He is currently writing a book on ancient diasporas and migrations.

Professor Woolf is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, of the Society of Antiquaries of London and of the British Academy, and he is a member of the Academia Europaea. He has held visiting positions in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Spain and regularly lectures around the world. He will be leaving the School in JJune 2021 to take up the Ronald Mellor Chair in Ancient History at UCLA.

Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
01-Jul-2020 The Life and Death of Ancient Cities. A natural history


Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford

01-Jul-2020 Foreign Gods in the Age of Cicero.


in Cicero and Roman Religion. Eight Studies, edited by Claudia Beltrão da Rosa and Federico Santangelo, 117-133. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

01-Jul-2020 The Rulers Ruled


in Katell Berthelot ed. Reconsidering Roman Power. Roman, Greek, Jewish and Christian perceptions and reactions, Collections de l’École française de Rome 564 Publications de l’École française de Rome: Rome pp.000-000

01-Jul-2020 The Gallic Wars in Roman History


in A.P.Fitzpatrick and Colin Haselgrove eds. Julius Caesar's Battle For Gaul. New archaeological perspectives Oxbow Books: Oxford pp. 9-18

17-Jan-2020 Global Deities: Gods On The Move In The Ancient Mediterranean World,


Bandue 11 (2018-2019), 111-128

12-Sep-2019 Fragments of an emperor’s religious policy: the case of Hadrian


Arys 16 pp. 47-61

03-Apr-2019 Strangers in the City


in Xenofobia y Racismo en el mundo antiguo, Instrumenta 64 , pp. 59-71

21-Jun-2018 Can we write a history of Europe from the perspective of classical antiquity?


European Review 26.3 doi: 10:1017/S106798718000212

16-Oct-2017 Archaeological Narratives of the Collapse of Complex Societies


In Takaski Minamikawa (Ed.) Decline and Decline-Narratives in the Greek and Roman World, Proceedings of a Conference held in Oxford in March 2017 Kyoto University: Kyoto, 113-122

03-Jul-2017 Roman Things and Roman People. A Cultural Ecology of the Rome World.


In Astrid van Oyen and Martin Pitts (Eds.) Materializing Roman Histories Oxbow Books: Oxford, pp.211-215

10-May-2017 Empires, diasporas and the emergence of religions,


In J.Carleton-Paget and J. Lieu (Eds) Christianity in the Second Century.

 2017 Cambridge University Press

20-Jan-2017 Authority and Expertise in Ancient Scientific Culture

Edited Book

 Co-Editor, Cambridge University Press

01-Dec-2016 Moving Peoples in the Early Roman Empire


In E. Lo Cascio, L.Tacoma and Miriam J. Groen-Vallinga (Eds) The impact of mobility and migration in the Roman Empire, Impact of Empire 12 (Leiden: Brill), pp. 25-41.

07-Sep-2016 Only Connect? Network Analysis and Religious Change in the Roman World.

Journal articles

 2016, Single Author

08-Mar-2016 Movers and Stayers. In Ligt and L.E. Tacoma (Eds) Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire, Studies in Global Social History 23/7 , Leiden: Brill ch 17, pp.440-463


 2016, Signle Author, Brill

24-Apr-2015 Ritual Traditions of Non-Mediterranean Europe


Woolf, G. (2015). Ritual Traditions of Non-Mediterranean Europe. In Raja, R., & Rüpke, J. (Eds.), A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World. (pp. 465-477). Wiley-Blackwell

01-Apr-2015 Pliny/Trajan and the Poetics of Empire


Woolf, G. (2015). Pliny/Trajan and the Poetics of Empire. Classical Philology 110.2, 132-151



Publications available on SAS-space:

Date Details
Oct-2015 Rome and Imperialism


Contribution on ancient Rome to a general encyclopedia on imperialism

Apr-2015 Pliny/Trajan and the Poetics of Empire


A series of recent articles have challenged literal and realist readings of the tenth book of Pliny the Younger's Letters. This article builds on these to suggest some poetic effects of this addition to the collection.

May-2015 Ritual Traditions of Non-Mediterranean Europe


This piece is a contribution to a handbook to the archaeology of ancient religion and attempts to summarize the main lines of religious practice in temperate Europe in the late Iron Age and Early Historic periods.

Dec-2015 Ancient Illiteracy?


Ancient writing is conventionally approached as a counterpart of speech, as in the dyad orality/literacy. Alphabetical writing systems are often regarded as superior precisely because they are better able to record speech. This paper takes inspiration from the work on ancient Near Eastern writing systems and considers ancient literacy as a general competence in handling sign systems that are often as much about numbers and quantities as about phonetic transcription. Means of recording proper names assume a special importance in transactions between strangers, and in documents that circulate without much context. But judged in terms of a capacity to handle numbers, signs, diagrams, and other symbols the debate over ancient literacy, and illiteracy, looks rather different. The paper argues that relative to their need to handle sign systems of this kind, very few members of the ancient world can be considered as functionally illiterate. Moving away from orality/literacy also raises questions about the widespread (but incomplete) spread of alphabets and abjads in the last and first millennia.

Feb-2016 Movers and Stayers


A Mobile World? "The importance of mobility in early societies now no longer needs demonstration. Recent work over the last decades has rendered obsolete the image of populations that are for the most part immobile that demographers have sought to purvey. Within the Mediterranean area, throughout a very long period lasting from Antiquity down to modern times, the circulation of human beings constitutes a fact that is both structural and structuring, an element of continuity that forms the very basis of the Mediterranean network." Claudia Moatti, whose research has done so much to illuminate human mobility across Mediterraneans ancient and early modern, succinctly sums up the current consensus. As historians and archaeologists of the classical world we now repeatedly emphasise movement and communication, mobility and con-nectivity, hybridity and cosmopolitanism. Our fascination with movement and exchange is evident in revisionist accounts of the Roman economy, in studies of the ancient novel between east and west, in projects that track diasporas through haplotype distribution and stable isotope analysis, and in multiple appropriations of post-colonial criticism and globalisation theory. A little of this is simply the latest round in a familiar old game of asserting the modernity of the ancients, but the evidence for movement is undeniable. The issue now is to assess the scale, nature and significance of all this, and to avoid an exaggerated reaction that underplays the equally undeniable differences between globalised modernity and the ancient world.

Mar-2016 Moving Peoples in the Early Roman Empire


The opening pages of James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed offer a global account of the political economy and ecology of early states. The first states, for Scott, were miniscule authoritarian regimes nestled on arable plains and plateaux and surrounded by vast ungoverned peripheries of mountain, marshland, swamp, steppe and desert. Around them peripheral populations were both natural trading partners – because the ecologies of their respective homes were so different – and a constant threat. Peripheral populations posed a double threat in fact since they not only periodically raided the plains, but also represented an alternative, freer way of life, an object lesson in “the art of not being governed”.

Dec-2015 Greek Archaeologists at Rome


Jan-2016 Only Connect? Network analysis and religious change in the Roman World


The emergence during the Roman Empire of new religious forms and groups alongside the collective cults of the city and ruler worship invites analysis in terms of various kinds of network theory. Some of the main version of network theory currently in use are examined, and their applicability to ancient material is discussed and assessed. Network thinking turns out to be very useful, but the problems in conducting a more formal network analysis are formidable. Network theory does allow us to approach religious change from new directions and two models of change in current use – conversion as contagion, and religious change as the spread of idea – are examined. Thinking about religious change in these terms forces historians to formulate more precise descriptions of change as a process that involves socialization and the routinization of new habits and rituals, as well as a process of learning a new way of imagining and describing the cosmos.

May-2016 Movilidad y estabilidad de las poblaciones en el mundo romano: una reflexión metodológica e historiográfica


El presente artículo tiene como objetivo hacer una reflexión sobre las posibilidades de estudio de la movilidad en el mundo antiguo y en concreto en el Imperio romano. Para ello parte de un análisis de la obra The Corrupting Sea de N. Purcell y P. Horden y de estudios sobre la movilidad según la han estudiado los arqueólogos para época prehistórica y los demógrafos modernos para tiempos más recientes. Como conclusión se argumenta que, a pesar de las limitaciones de la documentación antigua para conocer en detalle el fenómeno, es posible sostener la existencia de una movilidad limitada cuantitativamente, pero que suponía un importante grado de conectividad en el mundo romano.

Research Projects & Supervisions

Research projects:

The Sanctuary Project

A programme of research funded by the award of an Anneliese Maier Prize to Professor Greg Woolf by the Humboldt Foundation on the nomination of Professor Dr Jörg Rüpke of the Max Weber Center of the University of Erfurt. This research programme asks how sanctuaries formed human experience and religious knowledge in the ancient world.Specifically the aim is to establish conversations between a range of different disciplines including prehistoric and classical archaeology, social anthropology and ancient history, art history, Jewish and early Christian studies, and the history of religions.

Available for doctoral supervision: Yes

Relevant Events

Related events:

Date Details
30-Jun-2015 Humboldt Foundation International Workshop: All under Heaven? The Empire's Spatial Dimensions

Paper on 'Unterritorial Empires: Putting Space in its Place' during 3-day workshop at Eisenach, Germany

17-Jun-2015 'Imapct of Empire' 12th International Workshop: Mobility and Migration in the Roman World

Keynote: 'Moving Peoples in Early Empires'

27-May-2015 London Ancient History: PhD Student Afternoon

Gave plenary lecture

27-May-2015 London Ancient History: PhD Student Afternoon

Gave plenary lecture

21-Apr-2015 Guest Lecture at University of Erfurt

Lecture on "Stabilizing belief and ritual practice with/by sanctuary building"

24-Feb-2015 Tangier Forum for Global Studies Lecture Series

Lecture on 'The Ecology of Roman Imperialism'

09-Jan-2015 Ancient Literacy Reprised

Paper on 'Ancient Illiteracy' at seminar at the Society for Classical Studies (APA) 2015 Annual Meeting in New Orleans

Defining Sanctuaries Workshop

Co-organizer of Workshop at the University of Erfurt, 27-28 April 2015

Rethinking artefacts in Roman archaeology: Beyond representation


Consultancy & Media
Available for consultancy:
Media experience:
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