In 1802, classical philology was established as an academical discipline at the reopened University of Tartu (Dorpat). The first professor was Karl Morgenstern who came to Tartu from Halle, Germany, and was a student of Friedrich August Wolf. The ideas of Morgenstern on classical education laid the basis for further development of classics in Tartu. Close contacts with the German universities were established at that time. The development of classical philology at that time, in German-Russian cultural sphere, was on solid ground. In 1918, at the newly established national university of the independent Republic of Estonia, classical philology continued its existence under the leadership of prof Wilhelm Süss and prof Pärtel Haliste, and the first generation of Estonian classicists was educated.
The interruption in the classical education came about after World War II, during the Soviet regime: the Chair of Classical Philology was closed in 1954. The study of classical antiquity was considered as unnecessary in the new political surroundings. This caused a long gap in the education until the year 1990 when the Chair was reopened. Meanwhile, there remained the teaching of Latin at the elementary level for the students of modern philologies, history, law and medicine. It was, however, possible to study Greek and Latin authors on the individual basis in addition to the officially confirmed curricula. The teachers were from the pre-war times and they did this work as complementary to their common working load. This allowed the continuation of the classical education in preparing teachers of Greek and Latin.
In 1991, the first 15 students were admitted to the reopened discipline of classical philology. Afterwards, students have been admitted every second year. The first doctoral thesis was defended in December 2002. In 2007, the university structure was reformed and the former Chair of Classical Philology became the Department of Classical Philology.
The main fields of research at the Department are ancient drama and characters in classical literature, Greek and Roman metre and Neo-Latin studies (Latin poetry of the 17th century written in Estonia). The classicists in Tartu have good connections with many Western universities; the cooperation is especially good with Germany and Scandinavian countries. Our students have received scholarships at the universities of Göttingen, Fribourg, Basel, Oxford, Helsinki, Uppsala, Lund, etc. An on-line journal of the humanities, Studia Humaniora Tartuensia
, established by young scholars in 2000, also helps to develop international cooperation.