Last year, the only remaining A-level in ancient history was on the verge of being axed by the OCR examination board. But it was saved at the last minute after enthusiastic protests by teachers and academics - and Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP for Henley, dressed in a toga. This week, the same board has announced it will launch a GCSE in the subject.
The move, which could boost numbers opting for the A-level, has been widely welcomed by teaching organisations keen to offer the subject to a younger age group.
In publicity materials, the board sells the specification as an "opportunity to study the historical events behind the Hollywood blockbusters 300, Troy and Alexander".
Clara Kenyon, OCR's director of qualifications, said: "Now GCSE students can study the real history behind the movies and increase their understanding of the great ancient empires."
Tom Harrison, chair of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers, welcomed the new qualification, which will be taught from September 2009. "With the huge public interest in the ancient world, classics is buoyant and this qualification will bring the subject to a younger, broader audience," he said. "Now there is a situation where pupils learn about the Romans and the Egyptians at primary school."
OCR said the content of the GCSE will include the foundation of Rome, Greece and the Persian wars, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Cleopatra and Agrippina the Younger. He welcomed the GCSE's additional focus on other ancient civilsations, including the Minoans, Mycenae, ancient Egypt, the Persian Empire, the Hellenistic world and the Celts.
Zahra Newby, chair of the JACT ancient history committee, said: "Ancient history GCSE features exclusively historical study and is different to other qualifications such as classical civilisation and Latin, which have an emphasis on language, literature, art and architecture. This qualification is more related to modern history GCSE and will focus on original sources, such as archaeological evidence and literature in translation, and what they can teach us about historical events."
OCR said it received complaints "by the sackload" after The TES revealed its plans last year to drop the last remaining history A-level. Paul Steer, its director of stakeholder relations, wrote in the Journal of Classical Teaching: "There is no point pretending that OCR didn't get it wrong over ancient history."