William T. Semple, Head 1920-1959. Semple “saw the study of classical antiquity as a single undertaking, not to be divided sharply into separate compartments; the historical and archaeological approaches to the subject were not less important than the linguistic and literary and not ancillary, but integral components to the classical discipline.” (J. L. Caskey)
From its nineteenth century roots as traditional Departments of Greek and Latin, the Cincinnati Department of Classics has blossomed into one of the most distinguished and distinctive in the world, with a rich and fascinating history. When William T. Semple assumed the Headship in 1920, he worked together with his wife, Louise Taft Semple, towards the ambitious goal of creating the finest department in the country. Under Semple’s direction, the Department embraced the holistic view of ancient studies that continues to be our hallmark, combining under one roof the study of Greek and Latin language and literatures, ancient history, and Mediterranean archaeology.


The Semples supported this ambitious project with their personal funds, fostering goals as diverse as the landmark excavations of Carl Blegen at Troy and Pylos (Palace of Nestor) and the creation of deep library resources in rare areas like Palaeography and modern Greek scholarship. When Louise Taft Semple died in 1961, she left to the department a large dedicated endowment. Because of this endowment, the Department is able to maintain what we believe to be the finest Classics library in North America, if not the world; to bring in dozens of visiting scholars every year, including three scholars-in-residence; to pamper our large graduate population; to attract a faculty of the highest caliber; to offer computer resources and services unparalleled among Classics departments; to fund several archaeological excavations and surveys (most recently in Troy, Cyprus, Pylos, Albania). The Department maintains three professorial chairs: The John Miller Burnam Professor of Latin and Romance Palaeography; the Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology; the Marion Rawson Professor of Greek Archaeology. In the current era, the Department has collected a prize-winning faculty with a strikingly rich and diverse set of approaches to antiquity, including textual, literary, material, historical, sociological, theoretical. The current Department, that is, proudly continues its tradition of bringing the diverse strands of the study of Classics together in a single Department, thereby nurturing intense and productive dynamic of interaction among faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars


In 1900 John Miller Burnam (b. Irvine, Kentucky 1864. B.A./Ph.D.Yale) came to the University of Cincinnati as Professor of Latin in an independent Department of Latin. The University at that time also had a Department of Greek, headed by Joseph E. Harry (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins). In the first decade of the 20th century, Burnam and Harry were regularly assisted by at least one Instructor or Assistant Professor. These men included:

N.A. Walker, Instructor in Latin,1900.
E.F. Alexander, Instructor in Latin, 1901.
G.H. Allen, Instructor in Latin, 1903-04, 09-11.
G.D. Hadzsits, Assistant Professor of Latin and Greek, 1904-05.
A.J. Kinsella, Instructor in Greek and Assistant in English, 1905-11.
G.W. Thayer, Instructor in Latin and Greek, 1908-09. 
A.T. Condit, Instructor in Latin and Greek, 1908-09.
J.D. Rea, Instructor in Latin and Greek, 1908-09.

In 1910-11, William T. Semple (b. Liberty, Missouri. BA/MA William Jewel College. Ph.D. Princeton), after supplemental graduate studies in Rome and Halle, came to Cincinnati as Acting Assistant Professor, where he replaced Allen in the Department of Greek. His dissertation was soon published (Authenticity and Sources of the "Origo gentis romanae," Cincinnati, Ohio, University Press, 1910), and the following year he assumed the rank of Assistant Professor. From 1911-1917, he, Burnam, Harry, and Kinsella offered instruction in the two departments of Greek and Latin, assisted in 1915-16 by Helen A. Stanley, the first woman Instructor. By 1917-18, William A. Battle had replaced Harry as professor of Greek.


The Early Years

When Burnam died in 1920 at age 57, he had completed only three of a projected eighteen volumes in his life’s work, Palaeographica Iberica. He, Semple, and Battle constituted the sole personnel in Latin and Greek. After his death, Semple became head and the department in its present form is largely his brainchild. In 1917, he married Louise Taft and, after Burnam’s death, Semple, as departmental head (1920-1950), with the help of his wife embarked on lifelong mission to create, through the investment of their own personal fortune, the finest Classics department in North America. In the words of J.L. Caskey, Semple "saw the study of classical antiquity as a single undertaking, not to be divided sharply into separate compartments; the historical and archaeological approaches to the subject were not less important than the linguistic and literary and not ancillary, but integral components of the classical discipline." With such goals in mind, Semple soon enticed three distinguished scholars to Cincinnati: Roy K. Hack (in 1924-25), a philologist, Allen B. West (in 1927-28), an historian and epigrapher, and Rodney Robinson (in 1920-21), a paleographer, with research interests similar to those of Burnam. A flood of distinguished publications soon followed from their pens. A sample of these might include:

R.K. Hack, God in Greek philosophy to the Time of Socrates, Princeton, Princeton University Press,1931.

B.D. Meritt and A.B. West, The Athenian Assessment of 425 B.C., Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1934.

R.P. Robinson, Palæographia iberica: fac-similés de manuscrits espagnols et portugais (IXe-XVe siè cles) avec notices et transcriptions par John M. Burnam, Paris, H. Champion,1912-25.

R.P. Robinson, C. Suetoni Tranquilli De grammaticis et rhetoribus, Paris, É . Champion, 1925.

R.P. Robinson, The Germania of Tacitus: A Critical Edition, Middletown, Conn., American Philological Association, 1935.

R.P. Robinson, Manuscripts 27 (S. 29) and 107 (S. 129) of the Municipal Library of Autun. A study of Spanish Half-uncial and Early Visigothic Minuscule and Cursive Scripts, New York,1939

R.P. Robinson, Palæographia iberica: fac-similés demanuscrits espagnols et portugais (IXe-XVe siècles) avec notices et transcriptions par John M. Burnam, Paris, H. Champion,1912-25.

A.B. West, Fifth and Fourth century Gold Coins from the Thracian Coast, New York, The American Numismatic Society, 1929.

A.B. West, Corinth VIII, 2: Latin Inscriptions, 1896-1926, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1931.

A unified Department of Classics had been formed in 1920-21 through the combination of the old departments of Greek and Latin. The addition of Hack, of Hilda Buttenwieser, Instructor, then Assistant Professor, and of J. Penrose Harland (in 1923-24), an Assistant Professor and former fellow of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, made it possible for the first time in 1924-25 to offer a separate curriculum in each of four subfields, Greek, Latin, Ancient History, and Archaeology. Harland was replacedby Carl W. Blegen in 1927-28. In 1926-27 the first classes in ancient literature in translation were offered. In 1928-29 a class in Early Christian literature was first listed among those of the department. By the mid-1930s classes in archaeology had expanded in scope and included courses in Monuments and Institutions of Athens, Monuments and Institutions of Rome, and in the Mycenaean Age. Blegen had served as assistant director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where he had already acquired a substantial reputation as a leading student of prehistoric Greece. As assistant director of ASCSA he had already directed excavations at Nemea and Prosymna on behalf of the University of Cincinnati. Resources provided by Semple now permitted him to initiate landmark excavations at Troy and at Pylos.

In the years prior to World War II principal members of the faculty of the Department of Classics included Semple, Blegen, Buttenwieser, Hack, Harland (until 1926-27, when he departed for UNC-Chapel Hill), Malcolm McGregor (from 1937 as Instructor and from 1938-43 as Assistant Professor), Robinson, and West (until his death in 1936). Georg Karo taught for one year in the department (1939-40), before moving to Oberlin. The professors of the department were assisted in these years by an impressive group of Instructors and Teaching Fellows. These included:

Aline Abaecherli Boyce (1931-32, 1936-37)
Cedric G. Boulter (1937-43)
Jack L. Caskey (1932-43)
Kenneth Evans (1927-28). Librarian, Burnam Classical Library.
Clarence A. Forbes (1926-27)
Elizabeth Gwyn Caskey (1935-39)
Sidney P. Goodrich (1930-35)
Moses Hadas (1928-30)
Charles H. Reeves (1939-40)
Rachel Sargeant Robinson (1931-32)
Jerome W. Sperling (1930-37)
Vernon E. Way (1926-27)

The Post-War Period

From 1943-47 a substantial part of the faculty of the department, consisting of Professors Blegen and Crist, and Instructors Boulter and Caskey (who had joined the faculty only in 1943), was called to active duty in the American and Canadian armed forces. Elizabeth Gwyn Caskey taught regularly in these years. Alister Cameron joined the faculty in 1946-47, Carl Trahman in 1948-49, and James Vail in 1949-50. Caskey departed after the 1949-50 academic year to accept an appointment as director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, while Blegen returned to the department after brief service as director of ASCSA and as Cultural Attache of the Embassy of the United States in Greece. Semple retired after the 1950-51 academic year. Hack died in 1944, Robinson in 1950.

The Classics Library

The Semples nurtured the growth of a special Classics library by making funds available for the acquistion of books. The meteoric growth of the department and its library necessitated that special accommodations be made for both in the new University Library building, dedicated in 1930 (and rededicated in 1983 to the memory of Carl W. Blegen). The library of the Department of Classics is today the largest of the college and departmental collections at the University of Cincinnati, with the exception of the Law Library. It is named after Burnam, whose personal library of some 5000 volumes, once housed in his 2nd floor office in VanWormer Library (now the central administration building), became the nucleus of the departmental collection. Many of the rarer titles in the Paleography Collection within the Classics Library once were his. A gift of some 600 Teubner texts by E.F. Blissin 1906 had preceded Burnam’s bequest.

The library at present contains almost 300,000 volumes, 26,195 bound periodical volumes, 2300 journal subscriptions, and 10,500 microforms. Special strengths include Spanish Latin Paleography (reflecting the particular interests of Burnam and Robinson) and a collection of 18,000 “Programmschriften” and dissertations of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, from European (particularly German) universities purchased ca. 1915. In 1983 the conversion of records of the library was made possible through funds suppliedby a federal grant. The Classics Library reflects the remarkable diversity nurtured by the Semples. As Mildred Smith, departmental librarian for some three decades, wrote in 1961, "The Classics Department at U.C. differs from the majority of Latin and Greek departments in other universities in that it is not limited to the study of Latin and Greek languages and literature, but it comprises all the related studies of ancient culture consisting of archaeology of the classical world and the Near East, history, civilization, art and philosophy."

Semple and Robinson assured that library and the department would be integrated when Blegen Library was built in 1930. Generations of faculty and graduate students have now flourished in these quarters, although the department has expanded in numbers and in the space it occupies.

The Modern Greek Collection and Program

In 1930, the year that Blegen Library was first dedicated, the Semples expanded the mission of the Classics Library to include the purchase of books in the modern Greek language: "It was then recognized as fitting that standard editions of the ancient authors published by outstanding scholars of Greece today, and the distinguished modern Greek works in ancient history and archaeology, should be given the place they merited on our shelves." Blegen became the purchasing agent and arranged for the shipment to Ohio each year of scores of volumes purchased in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and elsewhere. Soon requests by Interlibrary Loan for the volumes acquired provided further encouragement for the project, and gradually there was conceived the hope that the Classics Library "could ultimately become the nucleus about which might be formed a center of Medieval and Modern Greek study in the United States."

In 1948, UC joined a formal program of cooperation among some sixty universities to collect research materials published abroad, the so-called Farmington Plan, committing itself to the acquisition of all books published in Greece, except in the fields of medicine and agriculture. The Modern Greek collection at present contains some 45,000 volumes and is now the finest public collection of its kind in North America. It continues through Interlibrary Loan to fill the important function for which it was intended. Its contents have been described in several publications:

P.W. Topping,  Modern Greek Studies and Materials in the United States, Boston, Mass., The Byzantine Institute, Inc., 1941.

N. Kyparissiotis, The Modern Greek Collection in the Library of the University of Cincinnati, Athens 1960.

Catalog of the Modern Greek Collection, University of Cincinnati, Boston, G. K. Hall, 1978.



Carl Blegen at Troy with camera around his neck
Carl. W. Blegen, Head of Department 1951-57, excavator of Troy, Pylos, Nemea.
Blegen succeeded Semple as only the second head of the Department of Classics. Under his administration the faculty of the department was stable but small, consisting for the first two years of Boulter, Cameron, McGregor, and Trahman. A year after McGregor’s departure following the 1952-53 academic year, Donald W. Bradeen joined the faculty to teach history in 1955-56. Blegen’s retirement from the university in 1957 left the department without a head and, for the first time since 1927, also without a professor specializing in Greek prehistory. Blegen did, however, continue to direct excavations at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos on behalf of the University with the sponsorship of the department until his death in 1971. For two years (1957-59) Cameron served the department as acting head while a suitable replacement for Blegen was sought.


After eight years as director of ASCSA and as director of its excavations at Lerna in the Argolid, Caskey returned to the department as head in 1959. His headship witnessed substantial changes in the staff of the department and considerable growth in its resources. Archie Christopherson joined the faculty in 1965-66, Jack Keefein 1969-70, Getzel Cohen and Mervyn Popham in 1971-72. Grube (1965-66) and Mitchel (1967-68) were visitors in the faculty. The addition of Popham brought a second prehistorian to the faculty for the first time.


In 1964-65 the Classics Department moved from the sixth floor to newly remodelled space on the second floor of the library.

The Modern Greek Program

Final steps in the creation of a program in modern Greek studies were also taken when Blegen personally recruited Peter Topping from the Gennadeion Library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Topping accepted a post as Professor of History and Modern Greek Studies in 1961-62. He flourished in this position, even as he embraced new styles of interdisciplinary collaboration by working closely with regional archaeological projects sponsored by the University of Minnesota in Messenia and by the University of Pennsylvania in the Argolid. Eugenia Foster was recruited by Blegen to assume the post of curator of the modern Greek collection.

In the late 1960s, gifts from Herbert Lansdale, director of the YMCA in Greece before WW II, and after WW II the Director of Field Ops of the American Mission for Aid to Greece, substantially enriched the collection.

The Semple Lectures and Colloquia

Upon the death of Louise Taft Semple in March 1961, it was learned that she had established a trust fund to support classical studies at the University, providing in this way an enduring continuation of the benefactions which she had given during many years of her life. Her intentions were made clear in the Trust Agreement, where it was stated that the income from the fund should be used, under the direction of the Trustees, "solely for the purpose of promoting the study of the classics, such term to be interpreted in its broadest sense as the endeavor to make vital and constructive in the civilization of our country the spiritual, intellectual and esthetic inheritance we have received from the Greek and Roman civilizations." This donation was adjunct to a general endowment for humanities, established 30 years earlier by her mother, Annie Sinton Taft, in honor of her father, Charles Phelps Taft.

Her generosity has made possible it possible for the department to continue to attract an extraordinary faculty; to offer exceptionally generous fellowships for graduate and undergraduate studies; to maintain the Burnam Library to the highest standards; to support a varied and rich program of research, excavations, and publication; and, most recently, to fund the Tytus Fellowship program for visiting scholars. In 1961 a series of lectures and conferences was instituted by the department as a suitable honor in recognition of her many benefactions. The remarkable series of publications that have resulted include:

Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple: First series, 1961-1965. Edited by D. W. Bradeen, and others, Princeton, N. J., Princeton University Press for the University of Cincinnati, 1967.

Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple: Second Series, 1966-1970. Edited by C. G. Boulter, and others, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press for the University of Cincinnati, 1973.

The End of the Early Bronze Age in the Aegean. Edited by Gerald Cadogan, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1986.

The Aegean and the Orient in the Second Millennium: Proceedings of the 50th Anniversary Symposium, Cincinnati, 18-20 April 1997. Edited by Eric H. Cline and Diane Harris-Cline, Liège, Université de Liège, Histoire de l'art et archéologiede la Grèce antique, 1998.

Plato as Author: the Rhetoric of Philosophy. Edited by Ann Michelini, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 2003.

The New Posidippus: A Hellenistic Poetry Book. Edited by Kathryn Gutzwiller, New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome. Edited by William Johnson, New York, Oxford University Press, 2009

T. H. Carpenter, K. M. Lynch, E. G. D. Robinson (eds.), The Italic people of ancient Apulia: New evidence from pottery for workshops, markets, and customs, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2014.


In the past five decades the department has continued to flourish under the headships of Bradeen (1973-74), Christopherson (1974-75), Bernard Fenik (1975-81), Getzel Cohen (1981-88), Michael M. Sage (1988-2001), C. Brian Rose (2001-2005),  William Johnson (2005-2009), Peter van Minnen (2010-2015), Jack Davis (2016-2022), and Daniel Markovich (2022-). When a much larger university library, Langsam Library, was constructed in the 1980s, the facilities of the department were remodelled once again and it was reinstalled in the second and third floors. Today the Classics Department remains in possession of these floors, as well as parts of the fourth and fifth floors.


It appears that the first steps toward the creation of a program of archaeological fieldwork in the department were taken in 1921, two years before the University became a co-operating institution of the American School of Classical Studies in 1923. Edward Perry, secretary of the Managing Committee of ASCSA wrote to Edward Capps,Chairman of the Managing Commitee that:

"Those Cincinnati people are very enthusiastic about a Cincinnati excavation. One of their number, George Warrington...proposes to go to Greece next winter with his family with the sole motive of catching up with the School and taking part in the Cincinnati dig, for which we must select a classical site."

It is clear that Robinson and Semple in particular were the driving academic force behind this initiative. The Semples enthusiasm provided the essential patronage to nourish research in the department and today allows a vigorous program of field archaeology to be supported by the Semple Classics Fund. Blegen later described how

In 1924 a small group of philhellenes and friends of archaeology, gathered together by Professor W.T. Semple in Cincinnati, offered to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens a fund to support an excavation in Greece. With the approval of the Managing Committee, Dr. Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the School, welcomed a project of this kind and at once began to look about for a suitable site. He soon became deeply interested in the ruined temple of Zeus at Nemea.

Three annual campaigns of large-scale excavation were conducted within the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea in 1924, 1925, and 1926-27. Blegen, assistant director of ASCSA, took overall responsibility for direction of the project. Special attention was given to the Temple of Zeus. A full set of plans and elevations of theTemple were prepared by Lewey Lands, an advanced student in the architectural school of the University of Cincinnati.

The prehistoric mound of Tsoungiza was located in the course of investigating the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea. With support from the department the entire top of the mound was explored by Blegen and Harland, as well as a lower terrace on the north side of the hill. The Roman Odeum of Corinth had been located by Hill in 1906. The excavations were adopted by the University of Cincinnati in 1927 and were completed in two major campaigns, directed first by Benjamin Meritt and then by Oscar Broneer. In 1928 the department also supported, under Blegen's direction, a short excavation at the low prehistoric mound of Hagiorgitika, not far to the east of Tripolis in Arcadia. The campaign lasted only about three weeks, but revealed extensive stratified remains of dwellings with stone foundations and fixed hearths, both circular and rectangular.

Excavations at Prosymna in Greece (1925-31) were directed by Blegen in four campaigns focussed on exploration of the earliest history of the Argive Heraeum. Study of finds and the publication of the results of excavations were made possible by the department after Blegen moved to the University of Cincinnati in 1927. Then from 1932-38 Blegen and a team from the department re-investigated the mound of Troy with the blessings of Wilhelm Dörpfeld who had succeeded Heinrich Schliemann. Graduate students participated in the project and later shared in the publication of its results. Marion Rawson, a graduate of UC in architecture, directed the editing of the publication. She was first associated with thedepartment in 1927 and had already assisted Blegen with the preparation of the publication of the excavations at Prosymna.

After surface explorations in 1938 and 1939 a joint Greek-American team directed by Konstantinos Kourouniotis and Carl Blegen concluded that a site on the upper part of the Englianos ridge near the modern town of Hora held promise of revealing the palace of Homer's King Nestor. On the very first day of excavations in April 4,1939, stone walls, fragments of frescoes, painted Mycenaean pottery, and fragments of tablets with inscriptions in the Linear B script, the first to be found on the Greek mainland, were uncovered.

Full-scale excavations began on Keos in 1960 and continued until 1968 under the direction of J.L. Caskey. Study of finds on-site continued through 1989, after Caskey's death in 1982 under the direction of E. Schofield. In addition to the prehistoric settlement of Ayia Irini, Caskey's team excavated Kephala, a Final Neolithic settlement and cemetery to the north of Ayia Irini, and Troullos, a prehistoric hilltop shrine nearby.

Several new projects began in the 1980s. From 1982-88 excavations sponsored by the department and the British School at Athens investigated the remains of a large ashlar building of the thirteenth century B.C., apparently the principal administrative center of the region of Maroni in southern Cyprus. The Midea Archaeological Project investigated the prehistoric citadel of Midea in the Argolid from1985-1999. The University of Cincinnati excavations on the Lower Terraces within the fortification wall were one part of an international cooperative effort with the main goal of discovering the history of the site and its role during the prehistoric, especially the Bronze Age, and historic periods. In 1987 Prof. Dr. Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tübingen developed plans to resume excavations at Troy, and it was agreed that he would serve as Director of the project and would oversee the Bronze Age excavations; Cincinnnati would oversee the post-Bronze Age age excavations, i.e. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine. Cincinnati's involvement in the project spanned fifteen years (1988-2002), during which excavation focused in particular on the West Sanctuary, the public buildings on the south side of the citadel, the large Theater, and the Roman houses in the Lower City.

Other fieldwork was initiated in the 1990s. From 1991-1995 the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project explored an area of approximately 40 square kilometers in western Messenia. These included areas to the north, east, south, and west of the modern town of Hora, and the entirety of the Englianos Ridge (Upper and Lower)—the location of the Palace of Nestor. Between 1998 and 2006 the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project has investigated the history of prehistoric and historic settlement and land use in central Albania, in an area centered on the Greek colony of Apollonia. In 2001, a joint Albanian-American team explored uplands north of the modern city of Durrës in Albania (ancient Durrachium). Between 2001 and 2010 the Bamboula Archaeological Excavation Project has explored the prehistoric site of Episkopi-Bamboulanear Kourion on the south coast of Cyprus in the western part of the Akrotiri Peninsula. Since 2005 Cincinnati has been involved in two new fieldwork projects in Greece and Italy: the East Isthmia Archaeology Project, the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, and since 2007 in the Knossos Little Palace North Project, and since 2010 in the Knossos Gypsades Geophysics Project.  Finally, in 2015 new excavations were initiated at the Palace of Nestor and in 2019 at the site of Tharros in Sardinia.