Professor Ronald Crossland

Unconventional Hittite scholar


Ronald Arthur Crossland, Hittite scholar: born Nottingham 31 August 1920; Henry Fellow, Berkeley College, Yale University 1946-47; Instructor in Classics 1947-48; Senior Student, Treasury Committee for Studentships in Foreign Languages and Cultures 1948-51; Honorary Lecturer in Ancient History, Birmingham University 1950-51; Lecturer in Ancient History, King's College, Durham University (Newcastle upon Tyne) 1951-58; Harris Fellow, King's College, Cambridge 1952-56; Professor of Greek, Sheffield University 1958-82 (Emeritus), Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1973-75; died Cambridge 29 January 2006.

Ronald Crossland, Professor of Greek at Sheffield University from 1958 to 1982, was an international authority on Hittite philology and linguistics, and played an important role in encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to studies on the prehistory of Greece and its eastern Mediterranean neighbours.

The son of a Nottingham headmaster, Ronald Crossland attended Nottingham High School before going up to King's College, Cambridge, in 1939 as a Major Scholar in Classics, taking a Double First in 1946. That achievement was the more notable because in 1941 he interrupted his studies to join the Army, attaining the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Until 1945, he saw active service during which he sustained severe wounds in the landings at Anzio that affected him permanently and led to his official classification as "disabled".

Courageous and determined, making light of his difficulties, he gained a coveted Henry Fellowship at Yale University, taking an MA and becoming an Instructor there in 1947. After experiencing Yale in its classical heyday, he continued on a high note with a Treasury Senior Studentship, awarded for research in Hittite philology and linguistics.

Thereafter his career took off, with a confirmed appointment in 1951 as Lecturer in Ancient History at King's College, Newcastle (then part of Durham University), before he assumed the chair in Greek at Sheffield, aged only 38. He was the Harris Fellow at King's College, Cambridge, for four years in the 1950s and also held visiting appointments at universities in Birmingham, Texas, Michigan and Auckland, and at the Academy of Sciences in the German Democratic Republic.

Approaching maturity at a particularly exciting time for a classical linguist, with the decipherment of the Linear B script and (unfulfilled) hopes for the decipherment of Linear A, he made his mark at the Mycenaean Studies seminars in London, which were regularly attended by leading international scholars. There he was noticed by the great Hellenist T.B.L. Webster of University College London (and, later, Stanford). Webster - apprehensive that with the unexpected death of Jonathan Tate the chair in Greek at Sheffield might lapse - went north to argue that it should be filled, and moreover that an exceptionally gifted young scholar, shortlisted elsewhere, was just the right person for the appointment.

There was, however, a slight hiccup on the way. On the eve of his interview, Crossland's progress was interrupted by the long arm of the law as he scaled a drainpipe to retrieve his bags from the upper floor of the locked Department of Classics in Newcastle, before catching the train to Sheffield. Unfazed, and without sleep, he arrived just in time to sail through his interview.

Breaking the traditional boundaries, he embraced a circle that went beyond classicists to Egyptologists, archaeologists, Near Eastern specialists, Slavic scholars, linguistic experts, sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists. Unconventionally starting his working day when others were homeward-bound, he surrounded himself with diverse groups of scholars, ranging from neophyte undergraduates to world-renowned authorities. Often, too, at around two or three o'clock in the morning, a hush would fall on the animated gathering, seated on the floor and refreshed with copious supplies of claret, as students listened attentively to the discourse of luminaries.

Irked by any obstacles to research and scholarship, Crossland strove energetically to remove them. In a Europe acquiescing in the Brezhnev doctrine, and before the Helskinki Accords were concluded, he threw a lifeline for many scholars beyond the Iron Curtain - even in Albania. His gestures were readily reciprocated. He was assisted by the generous hospitality of Sheffield's city fathers, ever ready in those days to reach out to their confrères beyond the divide of Europe.

Crossland concluded that in the wake of the decipherment of Linear B, and of other significant linguistic and archaeological discoveries in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, the time had come to ensure a broad interdisciplinary approach in investigating the prehistory and the proto-history of the area. Widening the range of scholars involved to the whole of Europe, and ensuring that leading American scholars could engage with them, Crossland drew together all the threads in a series of well-attended international colloquia in Sheffield during the 1970s.

He was supported by the three Sheffield departments of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, as well as the nascent Department of Archaeology and Prehistory. Particularly memorable was the 1970 colloquium "Bronze Age Migrations in the Aegean: archaeological and linguistic problems in Greek prehistory", the proceedings of which Crossland edited jointly with Ann Birchall.

Crossland's leading position in Hittite philology and linguistics meant that something of the mantle of O.R. Gurney fell on his shoulders. Professor Sir Denys Page, in History and the Homeric Iliad (1959), wrote that for the early chapters ideally "a profound knowledge of the Hittite language would be a pre-requisite . . . I have turned to Professor Crossland to find exactly the help I needed." For the definitive and revised Cambridge Ancient History, Crossland wrote two important sections: "Immigrants from the North" in 1967 and "Linguistic Problems of the Balkan Area" in 1982. He contributed a chapter on "Early Greek Migrations" to Michael Grant's Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean (1988), and was the author of numerous other articles, reviews and a popular book, Teaching Classical Studies (1976). He also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Sheffield.

Convivial, loyal to colleagues, students, friends and institutions, Crossland freely offered hospitality and his birthday parties each year in the Derbyshire Peak District attracted well- wishers from far and wide. His last appearance in Sheffield was in July 2005 at the university's centenary celebrations, when he was in exuberant form.

Derek Mosley

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits