The Greek and Roman collections span the period from about 3000 BC to AD 400. In material and scale the objects range from engraved seal-stones, with minute designs that can hardly be seen by the naked eye, to colossal marble figures; from intricately painted fired clay vessels to precisely chiselled monumental inscriptions; from tactile small bronze panthers to imposing stone sarcophagi.

They were found throughout the Greek and Roman world, from Alexandria to the Rhine, from Palestine and Syria to Cambridge.

Some items were donated or bequeathed by members of the University of Cambridge, or collectors seeking a permanent home for their treasured possessions; others were allocated to the University from excavations, or occasionally purchased.