Ernst Badian

Ernst Badian (8 August 1925 – 1 February 2011) was an Austrian-born classical scholar who served as a professor at Harvard University from 1971 to 1998.[1][2]

Early life and education

Badian was born in Vienna in 1925 and in 1938 fled the Nazis with his family to New Zealand.[3] There he attended the University of Canterbury, Christchurch (then Canterbury College), where he met his future wife Nathlie Ann Wimsett. He received a BA in 1945 and an MA the following year.

After a year teaching at the Victoria University of Wellington, Badian went to University College, Oxford,[4] where he studied under George Cawkwell, gained a first class BA in Litt Hum in 1950, an MA in 1954 and a DPhil in 1956. In addition, he gained the degree of LittD from New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington in 1962.

Academic career

After teaching in the universities of Sheffield, Durham, and Leeds in England 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 John Moors Cabot Professor of History Emeritus in 1998.

An active promoter of classical studies in the United States, Badian helped found The American Journal of Ancient History (1976), the Association of Ancient Historians (1974), and the New England Ancient History Colloquium.

Academic works

One of Badian's major fields of interest was Alexander the Great. Even though he never published a monography on him, he wrote several dozens of contributions as articles or reviews related to Alexander and his time. His main goal was to counter the influential works of William Woodthorpe Tarn (1869–1957), who made a very idealistic portrait of Alexander, presented as a fine gentleman spreading Greek civilisation over the Earth, while also dismissing some points of his personality (his drunkenness, bisexuality, or cruelty). Badian's depiction of Alexander was more that of a ruthless dictator.[5] In 1958, Badian published his first article on Alexander, in which he bluntly wrote in the introduction:

Ever since 1933, Tarn's figure of Alexander the Dreamer has explicitly claimed the credit for this re-orientation: the phantom has haunted the pages of scholarship, and even source-books and general histories of philosophy and of ideas – at least in this country – have begun to succumb to the spell. Perhaps a quarter of a century is long enough for the life-span of a phantom: it is clearly threatening to pass into our tradition as a thing of flesh and blood. It is the aim of this article – an aim in which it can hardly hope to be immediately successful – to lay the ghost.[6]

Eugene Borza tells that this paper—and another published the same year on Alexander's eunuch and lover Bagoas—created "a revolution in Alexander studies", as he exposed many flaws in Tarn's treatment of the Macedonian king.[7] Many of his subsequent articles continued to contradict and harshly criticise Tarn's findings. For example, in his 1971's article on Agis III, Badian wrote that Tarn was "blinded by even more than his usual prejudice towards opponents of Alexander, and distort[ed] the actual facts in an all but irresponsible fashion".[8]


Badian was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974.[9]

In 1999 Austria awarded him the Cross of Honor for Science and Art (Österreichische Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst).[10] The same year, the University of Canterbury awarded him an honorary degree.

Personal life and death

Badian died at the age of 85 after a fall in his home in Quincy, Massachusetts.[11] He was survived by his widow Nathlie, his children Hugh and Rosemary, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


The Ernst Badian Collection of Roman Republican Coins[12] is housed by the Special Collections and University Archives of the Rutgers University libraries.

At the 2012 meeting of the Association of Ancient Historians[13] in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, ancient historians T. Corey Brennan and Jerzy Linderski delivered papers reflecting on the historical methodologies employed by Badian.[14]


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Further reading


  1. ^ "Ernst Badian, professor of history emeritus, 85". Harvard Gazette. February 14, 2011.
  2. ^ "Ernst Badian, 85, noted scholar on ancient Rome". May 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Andreas W. Daum; Hartmut Lehmann; James J. Sheehan (30 December 2015). The Second Generation: Émigrés from Nazi Germany as HistoriansWith a Biobibliographic Guide. Berghahn Books. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-1-78238-993-4.
  4. ^ Gloria Negri (May 23, 2011). "Ernst Badian, 85, noted scholar on ancient Rome". Boston Globe. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
  5. ^ Eugene N. Borza, Collected papers on Alexander the Great, pp. ii, xiv, xv.
  6. ^ Badian, "Alexander the Great and the unity of mankind", pp. 425, 426.
  7. ^ Eugene N. Borza, Collected papers on Alexander the Great, pp. xiv, xv.
  8. ^ Badian, "Agis III", p. 171.
  9. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  10. ^ Europa Publications (2003). The International Who's Who 2004. Psychology Press. pp. 91–. ISBN 978-1-85743-217-6.
  11. ^ "Ernst Badian, professor of history emeritus, 85". Harvard Gazette. February 14, 2011.
  12. ^ The Ernst Badian Collection of Roman Republican Coins Archived 2015-06-02 at the Wayback Machine, Rutgers University, USA.
  13. ^ "AAH History".
  14. ^ Carol G. Thomas (2013). The Legacy of Ernst Badian. ISBN 978-0-615-79212-5.