Michael Grant CBE (21 November 1914 – 4 October 2004) was an English classicist, numismatist, and author of numerous popular books on ancient history. His 1956 translation of Tacitus's Annals of Imperial Rome remains a standard of the work. Having studied and held a number of academic posts in the United Kingdom and the Middle East, he retired early to devote himself fully to writing. He once described himself as "one of the very few freelances in the field of ancient history: a rare phenomenon". As a populariser, his hallmarks were his prolific output and his unwillingness to oversimplify or talk down to his readership. He published over 70 works.
Grant was born in London, the son of Col. Maurice Grant who served in the Boer War and later wrote part of its official history. Young Grant attended Harrow and read classics (1933–37) at Trinity College, Cambridge. His speciality was academic numismatics. His research fellowship thesis later became his first published book – From Imperium to Auctoritas (1946), on Roman bronze coins. Over the next decade he wrote four books on Roman coinage; his view was that the tension between the eccentricity of the Roman emperors and the traditionalism of the Roman mint made coins (used as both propaganda and currency) a unique social record.
During World War II, Grant served for a year as an intelligence officer in London after which he was assigned (1940) as the UK's first British Council representative in Turkey. In this capacity he was instrumental in getting his friend, the eminent historian Steven (later Sir Steven) Runciman, his position at Ankara University. While in Turkey, he also married Anne-Sophie Beskow (they eventually had two sons). At war's end, the couple returned to the UK with Grant's collection of almost 700 Roman coins (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge).
After a brief return to Cambridge, Grant applied for the vacant chair of Humanity (Latin) at Edinburgh University which he held from 1948 until 1959. During a two-year (1956–58) leave of absence he also served as vice-chancellor (president) of the University of Khartoum – upon his departure, he turned the university over to the newly independent Sudanese government. He was then vice-chancellor of Queen's University of Belfast (1959–66), after which he pursued a career as a full-time writer. According to his obituary in The Times he was "one of the few classical historians to win respect from [both] academics and a lay readership". Immensely prolific, he wrote and edited more than 70 books of nonfiction and translation, covering topics from Roman coinage and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to the Gospels. He produced general surveys of ancient Greek, Roman and Israelite history as well as biographies of giants such as Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, Cleopatra, Nero, Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul.
As early as the 1950s, Grant's publishing success was somewhat controversial within the classicist community. According to The Times:
Grant's approach to classical history was beginning to divide critics. Numismatists felt that his academic work was beyond reproach, but some academics balked at his attempt to condense a survey of Roman literature into 300 pages, and felt (in the words of one reviewer) that "even the most learned and gifted of historians should observe a speed-limit". The academics would keep cavilling, but the public kept buying.
Degrees, honours and accolades
- Litt.D. (Cambridge)
- Hon. Litt. D. (Dublin)
- Hon. LL. D. (Queen's University, Belfast)
- Honorary Fellow, Royal Numismatic Society
- Medallist, Royal Numismatic Society
- President, Royal Numismatic Society
- Archer M. Huntington Medalist, American Numismatic Society
- OBE (1946)
- CBE (1958)
- From Imperium to Auctoritas (1946; rev. ed., 1971)
- Aspects of the Principate of Tiberius: Historical Comments on the Colonial Coinage Issued Outside Spain (1950), New York: American Numismatic Society (Series: Numismatic Notes and Monographs, no. 116).
- Roman Anniversary Issues: An Exploratory Study of the Numismatic and Medallic Commemoration of Anniversary Years, 49 B.C.-A.D. 375. (1950), Cambridge University Press
- Ancient History (1952)
- The Six Main Aes Coinages of Augustus (1953), Edinburgh: University Press.
- Roman Imperial Money (1954), Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd.
- Roman History from Coins (1958; Rev ed, 1968, Cambridge University Press)
- The World of Rome (1960; rev. eds., 19??/1974/1987)
- The Ancient Mediterranean (1961; rev. ed., 1969)
- Myths of the Greeks and Romans (1962; New biblio: 1986 & 1995) ISBN 0-452-01162-0
- Greece and Rome: The Birth of Western Civilization (1964; rev. ed., 1986)
- The Civilizations of Europe (1965)
- The Gladiators (1967)
- The Climax of Rome: The Final Achievements of the Ancient World, AD 161–337 (1968; rev. eds., 19??/1974)
- Julius Caesar (1969)
- The Ancient Historians (1970)
- The Roman Forum (1970; rev. ed., 1974)
- Nero (1970)
- Herod the Great (1971)
- Roman Myths (1971; rev. eds., 1972/1973)
- Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum (1971)
- Atlas of Classical History (1971; rev. eds., 1974/1986/1989/1994) [AKA Ancient History Atlas]
- Cleopatra (1972; rev. ed., 1974), Weidenfeld & Nicolson
- The Jews in the Roman World (1973; rev. ed., 1984)
- Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology: A Dictionary, with John Hazel (1973)
- Who's Who in Classical Mythology, with John Hazel (1973; Slightly revised 1993 & 2002)
- Caesar (1974), introduction by Elizabeth Longford (Reprint of 1969 book?)
- Army of the Caesars (1974)
- Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum (1974)
- The Twelve Caesars (1975)
- Erotic Art in Pompeii: The Secret Collection of the National Museum of Naples (1975), London: Octopus Books Ltd; Photos by Antonia Mulas, Collection descriptions by Antonio De Simone and Maria Teresa Merella (Original publication in Italian, 1974)
- The Fall of the Roman Empire (1976; rev. ed., 1990) ISBN 0-02-028560-4
- Paul (1976)
- Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels (1977)
- History of Rome (1978) ISBN 0-02-345610-8 ISBN 978-0-571-11461-0
- Greece and Italy in the Classical World (1978; rev. ed., 19??)
- The Art and Life of Pompeii and Herculaneum (1979)
- The Etruscans (1980)
- Greek and Latin Authors: 800 BC – AD 1000 (1980)
- Dawn of the Middle Ages (1981) — coffee table book
- From Alexander to Cleopatra: the Hellenistic World (1982) [AKA The Hellenistic Greeks (1990)]
- The History of Ancient Israel (1984)
- The Roman Emperors: A Biographical Guide to the Rulers of Imperial Rome 31BC – 476 AD (1985)
- A Guide to the Ancient World: A Dictionary of Classical Place Names (1986)
- The Rise of the Greeks (1987)
- The Classical Greeks (1989)
- The Visible Past: Greek and Roman History from Archaeology, 1960–1990 (1990) [AKA The Visible Past: An Archaeological Reinterpretation of Ancient History]
- Founders of the Western World: A History of Greece and Rome (1991) [AKA A Short History of Classical Civilization]
- Greeks and Romans: A Social History (1992) [AKA A Social History of Greece and Rome]
- The Emperor Constantine (1993) [AKA Constantine the Great: The Man and His Times (1994)]
- The Antonines: The Roman Empire in Transition (1994)
- St Peter: A Biography (1994)
- My First Eighty Years (1994), Autobiography
- The Sayings of the Bible (1994), Duckworth Sayings Series
- Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation (1995)
- Art in the Roman Empire (1995)
- The Severans: The Changed Roman Empire (1996)
- From Rome to Byzantium: The Fifth Century (1998)
- Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire (1999; Series: Routledge Key Guides)
- Sick Caesars (2000)
- Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome (1956; Rev. ed., 1977)
- Cicero, Selected Works (1960; Rev. eds., 1965, 1971)
- Cicero, Selected Political Speeches (1969)
- Cicero, Cicero on the Good Life (1971)
- Cicero, Murder Trials (1975)
- Cicero, On Government (1993)
- Roman Literature (1954; Rev. eds., 1958/1964); Cambridge University Press
- Roman Readings (1958; Rev. ed., 1967) [AKA Latin Literature: An Anthology (1979; New biblio: 1989)]
- Greek Literature in Translation (1973) [AKA Greek Literature: An Anthology: Translations from Greek Prose and Poetry]
- Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars: An Illustrated Edition (1979; Revision of Robert Graves' 1957 translation)
- Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean (with R. Kitzinger, 1988)
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass (1990; Revision of Robert Graves' 1950 translation)
- Readings in the Classical Historians (1992)
- "Translating Latin Prose", ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 2, No. 2; April 1971. (Reprinted in Radice William and Barbara Reynolds (1987), The Translater's Art: Essays in Honor of Betty Radice, Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp 81–91.)
- Foreword (1993), In: Reprint of Liddell Hart, B.H., Scipio Africanus, Greater than Napoleon (1994), New York: Da Capo Press, pp v–xi.
- Entry, "Julius Caesar" [Review of the 1953 film], In: Carnes, Mark C., ed. (1995), Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, New York: Henry Holt and Company (Series: A Society of American Historians Book), pp 44–47.
- Daily Telegraph Obituary: Professor Michael Grant 8 Oct 2004
- "Michael Grant" [Obit.], The Times, 13 October 2004.
- Martin, Douglas, “Michael Grant, Who Wrote Histories of the Ancient World, Is Dead at 89” [Obit., The New York Times, 25 October 2004.
- "Michael Grant" [Obit.], The Times, 13 October 2004.
Lord Ashby of Brandon
|President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University Belfast
Sir Arthur Vick
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