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Obituaries

Michael Grant, 89; Historian Focused on Ancient Cultures

October 29, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Michael Grant, a renowned classical historian, numismatist and author who examined ancient coins as a social record of the Roman Empire and wrote scholarly yet highly readable histories of Rome, Greece and Israel, has died. He was 89.

Grant, who had lived for many years in Italy but returned to London in April, died Oct. 4 in a London hospital of unspecified causes.

The prolific scholar wrote and edited more than 50 books of nonfiction and translation, beginning with his Cambridge thesis on Roman coins, "From Imperium to Auctoritas", in 1946 through "Sick Caesars" in 2000. His work included not only histories of ancient cultures but biographies of their colossal leaders: Julius Caesar, Nero, Herod, Cleopatra, St. Paul, St. Peter and Jesus.

Some critics have noted that Grant's speedy writing could leave specialists wanting more depth. But they generally praised him for bringing Mediterranean history alive by providing substantial information in an often entertaining format.

"No one," noted a critic for the Canadian Journal of History in 2001, "has done more to popularize the ancient world: Grant's monographs populate the shelves of university and commercial bookstores."

A Library Journal critic once noted that Grant "writes in a lucid style, has an urbane way with anecdotes and arcane information, and is sometimes very funny."

Grant, who was born in London and educated at Trinity College at Cambridge, was a captain in British Army intelligence at the outset of World War II. By 1940, he had been transferred to the British Council, which promulgates British cultural and educational issues in foreign countries, and served in Turkey.

After the war, he returned to Cambridge to teach. He was an administrator and taught at the University of Edinburgh, Queen's University in Belfast and the University of Khartoum before turning to writing full time in 1966.

Grant served as president of the Royal Numismatic Society from 1953 to 1956 and of the Virgil Society from 1963 to 1966. Among his many awards, which included commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1958, Grant received the Huntingdon Medal of the American Numismatic Society and the Royal Numismatic Society Medal.

His collection of about 700 ancient Roman coins has been donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Grant is survived by his wife of 60 years, the former Anne-Sophie Beskow; two sons, Antony and Patrick; and two grandchildren.

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