John Chadwick, 1920-1998

by John Bennet
John Chadwick, 1920-1998
John Bennet
American Journal of Archaeology
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John Chadwick, 1920-1998


On Tuesda); July 1, 1932, Michael L'entris announced on BBC radio his decipherment of the Lin- ear B script.' Listening to that broadcast was John Chadwick, who Jvrote soon afterwards to t'entris indi- cating his conviction that the decipherment was valid and offering-as a "mere philologist"-his help in its development. The rest, as they say, is his- tory for Ventris and Chad~vick, together with a distin- guished international group of scholars on both sides of the Atlantic, founded the discipline of Mycenol- oa (or Mycenaean studies), the study of the Linear B documents of Late Bronze Age Greece. Michael \'entris died in an automobile accident on Septem- ber 6,1956, aged 34;John Chadwick died on Novern- her 24, 1998, aged 78.

John Chadwick was born in London on May 21, 1920, and was educated at St Paul's School. In 1939 he went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge Universi? to read Classics. His degree was interrupted by service in the Royal Navy, first in the east- ern Mediterranean, then in intelligence in Egypt and England. Mter his discharge with the rank of Lieutenant, he completed his degree in 1946 and moved to Oxford, where he became Assistant to the Editor of the O.yford Lntin Dictionary. In 1947 he mar- ried Joan Hill; she and their son Anthony both sur- vive him. In 1932 John was appointed Assistant Lec- turer in Classics at Cambridge and it was in the summer before he took up this position that he heard Ventris's radio broadcast.

John had begun to investigate the Linear B script in 1946, but had abandoned it for want of a fuller collection of texts. He was not, therefore, among the international group of scholars with whom t'entris carried on a correspondence from 1948 to 1932 as Ile developed his own ideas prior to the decipher- ment. Nevertheless, once John did become involved, the decipherment and its development occupied him intensely. He and \'entris co-authored the first scholarly account: "Evidence for Greek Dialect in the R4ycenaean Archives" (JHS 73 [I9331 84-103).

In April 19.36,Jolln and Michael t'entris attended the first international colloquium on Mycenaean texts held at Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris. Only three participants now survive: Michel Lejeune, one of its

' I am grateful to John Klle11 for supplying the photo- graph and to both him and Cynthia Shelmerdine for

Arn~ricanJournal ~f~ircharolo~ 103 (1999) .521-523

organizers, Martin Ruiperez, and Emmett L. Ben- nett, Jr., Professor Emeritus at the Universi~ of TVisconsin-Madison. At that colloquium, only four years after the decipherment, the scholarly disci- pline of Mycenology was formed, both officially- with the establishment of the "Cornit6 international permanent des etudes myciniennesn-and in spirit. International cooperation and scholarly generosity- characteristics of the "esprit de Gif"-have been no- table features of the discipline ever since, and throughout his career John was one of those most committed to them.

In the same year, Docum~nt.~

in Jlyc~nnecrn Grwk (Cambridge 1956) appeared, a book jointly authored by John and Michael \'entris, in which, by means of a sustained commentary on a selection of 300 Linear B documents, they established sound principles for their interpretation. The implications for the study of Late Bronze Age economy and soci- ety were immediately recognized by scholars (see, for example, M.I. Finley's review: Economic I-li,storj KrZI~PZU10 [I9571 128-41). For the second edition in 1973,John kept the original text intact as a tribute to his collaborator, providing revisions and new mate- rial instead in an additional commentan; and add- ing a valuable glossary. In response to critics of the decipherment, John produced The D~rciphmrnent of Lirw(~rB (Cambridge 1958), an elegant account and a fitting eulogy for Michael \'entris. That book too had a second edition, in 1967, remains in print, and has been translated into 13 languages.

John's distinction was quickly recognized at Cam- bridge. He was promoted to Lecturer in 1954, to a Readership in 1966, and, in 1969, he was named Per- ceval Maitland Laurence Reader in Classics, a title he retained (as an Emeritus) after his retirement, along with his fellowship at Downing College. In 1974 the university awarded him a Senior Doctorate (Litter- arum Doctor). His presence at Cambridge attracted students and visiting scholars from all over the world, all of whom remember him fondly as a pa- tient mentor, offering both encouragement and con- structive criticism. He and John Kllen, his student and colleague, have made Cambridge's name virtu- allj- synonymous with Mycenology in the English-

cornrnents on the text. although any errors remain the responsibility of the author.


19991 JOHN CHADWICK, 1920-1998 523
tological Congress ("Relations between Knossos and the Rest of Crete at the Tirne of the Linear B Tab- lets," Procepding~ of thp Third International Cretologicnl Conpss I [Athens 19731 40-45) was a challenge to archaeologists to understand how the llossos ad- ministration dealt ~vith contemporan settlements. On a personal note, it was toward this question that John steered me ~vhen I was contemplating possible research topics, encouraging me to choose one that linked archaeological and Linear B data, rather than

being narrowly focused on one or the other.

.Is an example of this practical streak (as well as John's generosity to his students) one can cite "The Geography of the Further Province of Pylos," a short paper he published as an appendix to Cynthia Shelmerdine's "The Pylos Ma Tablets Reconsidered"

77 [I9731 260-75). John drew out the practi- cal, geographical implications of Cynthia's reconstruction of four fiscal groupings employed by the Pylian administrators in assessing taxes for the pol- ity's "Further Province," the Parnisos valley region. In doing so, of course, he not only expanded on his own study of the contribution made by the Linear B tablets to our understanding of Late Bronze Age set- tlement in the region (in W.A. hlcDonald and G.R. Rapp, Jr. eds., The Minnesota ~M~sseniaExj)edition [Minneapolis 19721 100- 16), but also, by irnplica- tion, gave his approval for the new reconstruction of fiscal groupings.

John attracted many academic honors, many of them in Europe, an appropriate reflection of his view of scholarship as transcending national bound- aries. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1967. The Republic of Greece bestowed upon him the Order of the Phoenix and the Republic of Austria the Ehrenzeiclen fiir LYissenschaft und Kunst. He held honorary degrees frorn the Universi- ties of Athens, Brussels, and Salzburg, as well as Trin- ity College Dublin and the University of the Basque Country, L'itoria, Spain. He \\.as a corresponding member of the Austrian Xkademie der M'issenschaften, the French Acadkmie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, the Italian Accademia Na~ionale dei Lincei and the Deutsches Arch5ologisches Institut zu Berlin, and an Honoran Councillor of the Archaeo- logical Society of Athens. Perhaps his most distin- guished achievement in this area was the "Antonio

Feltrinelli" prize, awarded in 1997 by the Accadernia

Na~ionale dei Lincei.

,-Z Festschrift commemorated John's retirement in

1984: Studies in ibfyr~nnmn and Clnssicnl Gvetk Pr~sented to John Chad-cuirk (ibfinos Suppl. 20-22, Salamanca 1987). Lhsembled by a distinguished trio of second-genera- tion Mycenologists, the cast of 42 contributors from the U.S.L-Z. and almost every countn in Europe was, by John's wish, broad, both in age (from senior scholars to graduate students) and in subject, which, despite the volume's title, ranged frorn linguistic to archaeo- logical. It was a touching reminder of the large schol- arly cornmunity John had reached as well as a fitting

tribute to his own wide-ranging scholarly interests.

In retirement John remained active as a scholar and as a teacher, continuing to teach Linear B and Mycenaean epigraphy to new generations of Cam- bridge students, as well as producing an extremely valuable concise introduction to the Aegean scripts (Linear B and RPlated Scr$ts [London 19871). He maintained his record of attending all the interna- tional Mycenological colloquia since Gif, delivering a kevnote address that charted his im-olvement in naval intelligence during the war at the most recent, held in Salrburg, Austria in 1995. (Appropriately, the proceed- ings of that colloquiunl are dedicated to his memory) He also maintained his life-long interest in lexicogra- phy, continuing to compile a lexicon of the neo-Latin works of Emanuel S~vedenborg and publishing his last book, L~xicog-nphica (hzpra (Oxford 1997), a fas- cinating and at times amusing exploration of the meanings of a selection of ancient Greek words.

With John's passing we have lost not only one of the few remaining direct links to the heady days of the decipherment of Linear B, arguably one of the great- est intellectual achievements of the century, but also a scholar who, by example and enco~iragernent, created and helped to shape three generations of hlycenologists, linguists, and archaeologists.



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