Campus & Community

Ernst Badian, professor of history emeritus, 85

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Professor Ernst Badian, John Moors Cabot Professor of History Emeritus, died on Feb. 1.

After teaching in the universities of Sheffield, Durham, and Leeds in Britain, and at the State University of New York, Buffalo, he was appointed to Harvard’s Department of History in 1971, and was cross-appointed to the Department of the Classics in 1973. He became emeritus in 1998.

Badian was one of the great historians of Greece and Rome of the 20th century. He was born in Vienna in 1925. In 1938, in view of the growing persecution of Jews in Austria and Germany, he moved with his parents to New Zealand. There he attended Canterbury University College, Christchurch, and received a B.A. with first-class honors in 1945, and an M.A. in 1946. He then transferred to Oxford University, in England, where he received another B.A., again with first-class honors, and went on to write his doctoral dissertation under Sir Ronald Syme; he later edited two of the seven volumes of Syme’s “Roman Papers.” His dissertation formed the basis of his first book, which remains his magnum opus, his “Foreign Clientelae” of 1958. This fundamental study of Roman imperialism in a period of crucial growth and transformation is still an unreplaced classic. Roman imperialism continued to be one of Badian’s major interests, and “Foreign Clientelae” was followed by “Roman Imperialism in the Late Republic” and “Publicans and Sinners.”

Unusually for someone whose main field was Roman history, Badian was also a major force in Greek history. In particular, beginning with an article on the city of Alexandria published in 1960, he brought about a revolution in modern understanding of one of the main figures in the tapestry of ancient history: Alexander III of Macedon, often called “the Great.” Reacting against the hero worship that was still offered to Alexander in the mid-20th century, Badian forced historians to look again at the contradictory and confusing texts on which most knowledge rests, and to realize that Alexander was as ruthless as any of the Roman generals that march through the pages of “Foreign Clientelae.” Allied to Badian’s deep historical sense was an acute philological ear, especially in his mastery of Latin, and he was a superb stylist in his second language of English.

Badian’s large output comprises well over 200 items, including six books and many notices for a basic tool of classical scholarship, the Oxford Classical Dictionary. He was also a formidable and sometimes devastating reviewer. Active in the historical profession in both the United Kingdom and the United States, he helped found the Association of Ancient Historians (1974) and the American Journal of Ancient History (1978). In 1999 he received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art.

Badian leaves behind a wife, Nathlie; two children, Hugh and Rosemary; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on March 22, at 1 p.m., at Harvard Hillel, 52 Mt. Auburn St.