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

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