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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most