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Michael Grant Author
British classicist, numismatist, historian and author (1914-2004)
Michael GrantCBE (21 November 1914 - 4 October 2004) was an English classicist, numismatist, and author of numerous 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 freelancers 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 Runciman, his position at Ankara University. While in Turkey, he also married Anne-Sophie Beskow (they 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.
From 1966 until his death, Grant lived with his wife in Gattaiola, a village near Lucca in Tuscany. His autobiography, My First Eighty Years, appeared in 1994.
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.
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)
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.