Classics and the acquisition and validation of power in Britain’s “imperial century” (1815–1914)

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International Journal of the Classical Tradition


During Britain’s ‘imperial century’ (1815–1914) the curriculum of the typical upper-class education was dominated by classics (liberal education). Commonly perceived at the time as a ‘general’ subject with no application to any profession, and, by extension, with no worldly or political ramifications, classics was, in fact, as argued in this piece, intimately connected with both access to and validation of imperial power during this period. As the hallmark of an elite a classical education provided access to positions in imperial administration where recruitment operated through patronage. Following reforms of the Indian Civil Service in the 1850’s, which abolished the patronage system in favor of competitive examination, a classical education continued nonetheless to be vital to success since knowledge of Latin and Greek was favorably weighted in the marking scheme. Throughout the imperial century, and increasingly self-consciously towards the end, analogies between the Roman empire and the British were made in a variety of ways to validate the British imperial enterprise and provide it with venerable precedents.



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Victoria Tietze Larson. “Classics and the Acquisition and Validation of Power in Britain’s ‘Imperial Century’ (1815-1914).” International Journal of the Classical Tradition, vol. 6, no. 2, 1999, p. 185.