How many biographies of classicists does Wikipedia have?

Ideally, working out how many biographies of classicists there are on Wikipedia would be easy, but as the encyclopaedia is constantly growing it’s not a straightforward question. As well as biographies being added regularly, there is the issue that if you want to ask questions about quantity you need meta data.

There are two possible approaches that I can think of: using Wikipedia’s category system and using Wikidata. This post is to provide a snapshot of how Wikipedia’s biographies of classicists in December 2018 because Wikipedia’s tools don’t currently record historic data of this kind to map trends and changes over time.


The English Wikipedia’s category for classical scholars is a logical place to start. It is intended to cover historians, philologists, archaeologists, antiquarians, and anything else which might fit under the broad umbrella of ‘classicist’. These categories are populated manually, so it relies on people recognising that a person is a classicist and then adding the category.

But Wikipedia’s network of categories means that isn’t too simple. Under ‘Classical scholars’ sits ‘Classical scholars by discipline‎’, and under that is ‘Latinist’. Quite sensible, but that includes ‘Translators from Latin’, which is where things start getting hazier. Alfred the Great translated from Latin, but doesn’t surely doesn’t fit into a wide understanding of what is a classical scholar. Restricting the search to the first two tiers down from ‘classical scholars’ gives a total of 1,336 biographies on the English Wikipedia as of 14 December 2018.1

There is also a category for women classical scholars which, debates aside about whether there should be such a category without a corresponding one for men, makes working out a total much easier. As of 14 December, it stands at 214 biographies, 16.0% of the overall total.

Using Wikidata

Wikidata is a database linked to Wikipedia which distils articles into machine readable facts. It has a lot of other stuff, but to take an example the entry on Hella Eckardt states that she is an archaeologist, a university teacher, specialises in Roman archaeology, and works at the University of Reading.2

Like Wikipedia, the database isn’t complete but growing all the time and in some respects relies on manual intervention. If a person is marked as being a classical scholar (or a subclass) it can be picked up using a query service. This would pick up all classicists, but with a bit of tinkering it’s possible to refine this just to those with articles. On Wikidata, classical scholars include classical archaeologists, papyrologists, classical philologists, Hellenists, and historians of classical antiquity. Oddly, there isn’t a separate field for Romanists, but hopefully they have been classified as classical scholars. Classical philogists include Latinists, but on Wikidata that is not taken to include people who translated Latin – so the likes of Alfred the Great are excluded.

Wikidata has 5,896 entries on classicists (11.2% about women), so we need to work out how many have articles on the English Wikipedia. With the help of Nav Evans and Jason Evans, we’ve been able to work out that as of 14 December there are 2,088 articles about classicists on the English Wikipedia, and 268 (12.8%) are about women. Looking specifically at classical archaeologists, there are 193 biographies on the English Wikipedia, of which 37 (19.1%) are about women. It may be the case that classical archaeologists are not as well mapped as classical scholars, and that people may have been classified into the broader of the two.


The two methods produced different results which reflects the nature of how the two categorisation system have grown. As Wikidata contains information about the whole of Wikimedia, and does not Alfred the Great as a classicist, it is likely to be the more comprehensive of the two. As the Women’s Classical Committee have gone through creating articles, corresponding Wikidata items with information about them have typically also been created.

In 2016, I estimated that 7% of biographies about classicists were about women, using the category method. In the two years since, the Women’s Classical Committee have written or improved more than 200 articles. Considering that the English Wikipedia only has 268 biographies of female classicists this represents a transformative effort.

As Wikimedia’s tools do not provide snapshot data, this is intended to provide a record of the state of Wikimedia’s content on classicists in December 2018 and document the methods for checking progress.


[1] Category search available used the tool Petscan and can be repeated using this link.

[2] As an aside, there’s also bibliographic data so you can there’s a tool which uses that data to build visualisations. You can see how cool it is, and even visualisations for journals, but that’s not the point of this piece.

One thought on “How many biographies of classicists does Wikipedia have?

  1. Pingback: How many biographies of classicists does Wikipedia have? December 2019 update | Richard the Castellan

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