Obituary: Michael Grant 1914–2004

by Sebastian Heath

Professor Michael Grant, distinguished author of both numismatic scholarship and popular histories of the ancient world, died on October 4th in London at the age of 90. Dr. Grant was most prominent as the author of more than 50 books that aimed to make the politics and society of ancient Greece and Rome accessible to the interested public.

In numismatics, a field he pursued most actively in the middle decades of the last century, he is best known as the author of From Imperium to Auctoritas, published in 1947. This work, begun during his years at Trinity College, Cambridge, broke new ground in the attribution and analysis of the coins issued throughout the Mediterranean world during the last years of the Republic and the early period of Augutus’ reign as the first Roman emperor. Grant’s effort to integrate numismatic evidence into our understanding of Augustus’ constitutional position remains an important contribution to the ongoing debate on this central problem of Roman historiography. In 1950, two monographs appeared, Aspects of the Principate of Tiberius, published as number 116 in the Society’s Numismatic Notes and Monographs, and Roman Anniversary Issues: an exploratory study of numismatic and medallic commemoration of anniversary years 49 BC – AD 375. The first of these further pursued issues raised in From Imperium to Auctoritas, whereas the second emphasized the role of anniversary celebrations in the selection of Roman coin types. In The Six Main Aes Coinages of Augustus: Controversial Studies, published in 1953, Dr. Grant closely studied six series of bronze coinages issued at western and eastern mints. While the historical theses put forth by Dr. Grant have been critiqued by subsequent generations of numismatic scholars, his technical contributions are still relevant, and were lauded in one instance as “unquestionably brilliant,” (JRS 43 [1953]). In addition to these monographs, Dr. Grant published numerous numismatic articles that explored his interest in the provincial mints of the early Roman Empire. With the publication of Roman Imperial Money, in 1954, and Roman History from Coins, in 1958, his commitment to reaching broader audiences began to manifest itself. It is certainly the case that breadth of vision and attention to mints outside of Rome are hallmarks of Dr. Grant’s legacy, and both were cited in 1964 when the ANS awarded him its forty-fourth Archer M. Huntington Medal.

Michael Grant was born in London on November 21, 1914 to a journalist father with a military background and a mother of Danish ancestry. After graduation from Harrow, where he excelled at cricket, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was elected fellow in 1938. Service in the British Army during World War II was followed by academic appointments at the University of Edinburgh until 1959, and at Queen’s University Belfast until 1966. From 1956 to 1958, he also served as first vice-chancellor of the University of Khartoum. In 1966, Dr. Grant moved with his wife to Italy where he turned his attention to the numerous works of accessible history for which he will be most widely remembered. Among numerous other professional responsibilities that he undertook, Dr. Grant served as president of the Royal Numismatic Society from 1953 to 1956. The RNS awarded him its medal for distinguished service to numismatic science in 1962.