Staff profiles

Photo of Professor Neville Morley

Professor Neville Morley

Professor in Classics and Ancient History


01392 724242

I've worked in Exeter since 2016, and research and teach in three different areas of ancient history:

(i) ancient economic and social history, including trade, urbanisation, slavery, agriculture and demography, with a particular focus on Roman Italy and the city of Rome;

(ii) the reception and influence of ancient texts and examples in the modern world, especially in the social sciences, with a particular focus on the influence of the Greek historian Thucydides in historiography and political theory;

(iii) theoretical and methodological approaches to ancient history, especially social-scientific approaches.

I've recently written a polemical little book on Classics: why it matters, forthcoming from Polity, and am currently working on Marx and Antiquity (OUP), as well as developing research projects on Thucydides and modern political thought, and globalization and identity in classical Athens (together with long-standing collaborators at Ruhr-University Bochum). I'm also active in exploring how Thucydides can improve contemporary political literacy, with a collaborative impact project together with Lynette Mitchell and The Politics Project, and a project exploring new dramatic presentations of the Melian Dialogue.

Research interests

I have three main research areas - though in practice they overlap and influence one another, as well as leading in new directions.

(i) Ancient economic and social history, including trade, urbanisation, slavery, agriculture and demography, with a particular focus on Roman Italy and the city of Rome. I have published monographs on the impact of the city of Rome on the Italian economy and on approaches to trade in classical antiquity, as well as articles and chapters on a wide range of economic topics. I am currently working on a series of article-length pieces on Roman economic thought and the Roman agronomists, seeking to develop a proper understanding of the concepts and values that shaped Roman thinking about economic matters. In the longer term, I have an interest in exploring the relationship between economy and ecology - the role of the environment in shaping economic structures - in the ancient Mediterranean.

(ii) The reception and influence of ancient texts and examples in the modern world, especially in the social sciences, with a particular focus on the influence of the Greek historian Thucydides in historiography and political theory. I have written on the development of different conceptions of 'modernity' and the contrast with 'antiquity' in the nineteenth century, as well as chapters on important figures like Marx and Nietzsche, and am currently working on a monograph on Marx and Antiquity. I ran a four-year research project, funded by the AHRC, on Thucydides: reception, reinterpretation and influence, which considered the modern reception of the ancient Greek historian in different fields, especially historiography; I am currently developing a follow-on project that will focus on his place within different traditions of political thought and social science.

(iii) Theoretical and methodological approaches to ancient history, especially social-scientific approaches. I have written about the rhetorical structures of economic history, quantitative methods, translation, and conceptions of time and change; further, my work on Thucydides is directly concerned with the dynamics of the relationship between history and social science.

As well as the above, I am currently editing a collection on The Futures of Ancient History, and in the longer term would like to write a book on classical reception in the work of the East German writer Christa Wolf.

Research collaborations

I have a long-standing collaboration with Prof. Christian Wendt (formerly Freie Universitaet Berlin, now at Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum), which included a period as Einstein Visiting Fellow at the FU (2015-18) when we worked together on a project entitled 'Kinesis: Bewegung als Prinzip' on ideas of change and transformation in classical Greece. We are currently developing a collaborative project on The Globalized Polis, considering cultural change and issues of identity in Athens as the city became increasingly affected by outside influences.

I am also associated with the University of Zagreb, making multiple visits to lead workshops for postgraduates.

Research supervision

I am happy to discuss research proposals related to any of my interests: ancient economic and social history, Thucydides and his reception, ancient and modern political thought, the modern influence of ancient ideas, and historiography and historical theory. Topics studied by students I have supervised in the past include the city in late antique Gaul and Britain, money and the economy in the Roman empire, Thucydides in seventeenth-century political thought, the reception of Thucydides in modern military education, Michel de Montaigne's reading of Sparta, and ancient and modern ideas of plague.

External impact and engagement

Together with my colleague Lynette Mitchell, I am developing a project to make use of extracts from the work of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides as a basis for promoting critical debate about politics, citizenship and power in schools. This includes performance of a special adaptation of The Melian Dialogue (see this version) and other key passages, and will involve the creation (in collaboration with the charity The Politics Project) of a range of written and web-based resources. I am also working with two theatre groups on a project to explore different ways of presenting the Melian Dialogue as a dramatic performance and as a piece of interactive theatre.

I blog regularly about my research, about the reception of Thucydides and his potential relevance to contemporary issues, and about anything else that catches my interest, at, and on Twitter @NevilleMorley. I also seek to correct misquotations and misappropriations of Thucydides on Twitter, via the Thucydiocy Bot (@Thucydiocy).

Contribution to discipline

Member of Editorial Board, Journal of Roman Studies

Associate Editor, Classical Receptions Journal.

Area Editor for Economic History, Oxford Classical Dictionary Online.

Standing Committee member, Council of University Classics Departments

Network Co-Chair for 'Antiquity' section of the European Social Science History Conference (

Editorial Board, Classical Receptions in Twentieth-Century Writing, Bloomsbury.

Editorial Board, Thoukidideia, Vandenhoek & Rupprecht


Contributor to In Our Time on Roman slavery, BBC Radio 4, 5/4/18:

'Classical Delusions;, The New European 7/4/17

‘How Thucydides helps explain Greece’s problems with Germany’, The Monkey Cage blog, Washington Post 9/4/15 (15,000+ views):

Contributor to In Our Time on Thucydides, BBC Radio 4, 29/1/15:

Contributor to Poor Us: an animated history of poverty, broadcast internationally November 2012 (

‘Monumental folly’, Aeon 22/10/2012 (

Contributor to BBC Ancient Worlds series, international edition, 2010; episodes 3, 5 and 6.

'Friedrich Nietzsche als Jazz-Kritiker’, JazzZeitung 30.2 (February 2005), p. 3.


Teaching has always been absolutely central to my career; if I had to choose between teaching and research, it would be teaching every time - but in practice they support and reinforce one another, as I teach a wide range of subjects related to my research interests and often find that teaching a subject then informs my research in that area, and offers a chance to try out ideas. I have always taught both Greek and Roman history and historiography, as well as historical theory and methodology, and different topics in classical reception; in recent years I’ve found myself teaching more Greek than Roman, and more cultural/historiographical themes than economic and social - but that can easily change, depending on what needs to be taught. I also have a long-standing interest in experimenting with new forms of teaching, new technology and new approaches to assessment - I’ll try anything that looks as if it might improve students’ engagement with and understanding of the subject. I was an early member of the Institute for Higher Education (the precursor of the Higher Education Academy), and published various working papers on new approaches to assessment, which have probably now disappeared from the internet...

Modules taught


I studied History and then Classics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, continuing on to a PhD, under the supervision of Peter Garnsey, on the city of Rome and its influence on the economy of Italy. I worked as a temporary lecturer in Classics at the University of Wales Lampeter (as it then was) in 1994-5 before moving to a lectureship in Bristol, where I spent more than twenty years, working my way up to a personal chair, and also serving for eight years as Undergraduate Dean and Faculty Education Director. I moved to Exeter in 2016 in search of new challenges and exciting new colleagues - while being very happy to remain in the West Country, where in my spare time I grow vegetables, brew, make sausages and salami, and play jazz guitar very badly.