OBITUARY: Martin Price

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Martin Price was one of the leading scholars in the field of Greek coinage and one of the most generous and unselfish of men.

When he began his research at Cambridge, under the supervision of Sir Edward Robinson, his topic (for which he was awarded a doctorate in 1967) was the introduction of bronze coinage into the Greek world. From then on he produced a steady stream of publications on all aspects of the coinage of the Greek world.

To pick just the most notable examples: his joint publication with Nancy Waggoner of the Asyut hoard (1976) revolutionised the chronology of many early Greek coinages; his book Coins and their Cities, published the following year and written with Bluma Trell, showed for the first time how much light Greek city coinages, particularly those of the Roman period, could shed on civic buildings; he made several important contributions to the debate on the beginning of coinage and published a string of papers on the vast and previously impenetrable coinage in the name of Alexander the Great.

This last work culminated in his monumental publication of the British Museum catalogue The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus (1992), bringing to a conclusion a project planned by Sir George Hill in 1910 but - because it was such a daunting task - never completed.

Price also demonstrated his talents as a writer of more popular works when, in 1980, he edited the general survey of the subject entitled simply Coins, which received several awards, while his book Coinage in the Greek World (written with Ian Carradice, 1988) is the best short introduction to the subject.

Martin Price was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and Queens' College, Cambridge, where he obtained a First in Classics. In 1961 he won a Greek government scholarship, the start of a lifelong connection with Greece and the British School of Athens. The then Director of the British School used to complain that Price was never there because he was out learning modern Greek; the lessons clearly paid off, as his fluency in the language enabled him to meet and marry a Greek wife - Maria Zenaki, in 1965.

After a research fellowship at Downing College, Cambridge, he was appointed in 1966 Assistant Keeper in the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum with the intention that he should work on the museum's unrivalled collection of ancient Greek coins under Kenneth Jenkins, who had recently been appointed Keeper. He spent virtually the rest of his career at the British Museum, being appointed Deputy Keeper in 1978, until in September last year he became Director of the British School at Athens. It is a great sadness that he was unable to fulfil the possibilities of a position for which he was so well suited by both temperament and experience and where he and his wife Maria could have given full scope to their legendary hospitality.

It would be wrong to suggest that Price's contribution to the study of numismatics consisted exclusively, or even mainly, of published work. He served as Secretary of the Royal Numismatic Society for six years from 1977 to 1983, while in 1975 he initiated a new publication, Coin Hoards, which represented the first systematic attempt to record the vast quantity of new finds which are continually coming to light and which are so important in the study of numismatics; eight volumes were published under his editorship. He also served as chairman of the British Academy's Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum project and published four volumes in the series. Such was his personal reputation that he became a leading international authority and an unofficial final court of appeal on the authenticity of Greek coins.

Price devoted much time and energy to educational work, organising two very successful summer schools in numismatics at the the Institute of Classical Studies in London, and an international seminar on the temple of Artemis at Ephesus (1984). From 1975 to 1994 he ran single-handed a graduate seminar on Greek numismatics at London University. He was much in demand as a lecturer all over the world and provided help and encouragement to a whole generation of younger scholars, many of whom have gone on to make substantial contributions in their own right.

Price could simultaneously exasperate and endear himself to his friends through his habit of disagreeing point-blank with them, and then completely reversing his position five minutes later. But his enthusiasm and energy were an inspiration to his colleagues at the British Museum during times which were often difficult. The present physical layout of the rebuilt Department of Coins and Medals is mainly the result of his efforts: it was typical of the man that he was willing to throw himself into a project so unrewarding but so necessary.

He was a mainstay of his local church in north London and such was his modesty that it was only when an illness in 1990 meant that he was unable to drive for a period that his colleagues learnt how many people depended on his unofficial taxi-service.

Recognition of Martin Price's abilities came from many different institutions: the British Museum made him a Merit Deputy Keeper in 1978; he became a Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute in 1985 and was a visiting Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton in 1986-87. The Royal Numismatic Society awarded him its gold medal in 1992, the highest British award for achievement in numismatics, and he received similar awards from many other societies around the world.

Roger Bland

Martin Jessop Price, museum curator and scholar: born London 27 March 1939; Assistant Keeper, Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum 1966-78; Deputy Keeper 1978-94; Director, British School of Athens 1994- 95; married 1965 Maria Zenaki (two sons, one daughter); died London 28 April 1995.