Obituary: Professor Martin Harrison
Saturday 12 September 1992
THE SUDDEN death of Martin Harrison in his 58th year has deprived Late Roman and early Christian archaeology of one of its leaders. While his lasting fame will rest on the excavation of the Palace Church of Anicia Juliana in Istanbul during the 1960s and the six seasons of survey and excavation at the city of Amorium in Eastern Phrygia, from 1987 to 1992, he was active in several other areas of the Byzantine world.
He was, physically and intellectually, a massive figure whose memory as colleague, teacher or travelling companion will long be cherished. He was an incomparable raconteur who could without effort diminish the longueurs of vigil in a Balkan airport or a stopping train between King's Cross and Newcastle upon Tyne. Once stranded on his way south in a blizzard he captivated his fellow train-passengers - after each had agreed to describe their purpose in travelling - with a version of the lecture on the early churches of Lycia intended for the Society of Antiquaries in Burlington House. His career as a teacher and scholar was centred on Newcastle upon Tyne, as Lecturer, later Professor of Archaeology (1964-85), and in Oxford, where his undergraduate and graduate studies were followed at Lincoln College and to which he returned in 1985 to succeed Sheppard Frere in the Chair of Archaeology of the Roman Empire at All Souls.
Spurning the advice of Walter Oakeshott of Lincoln College not only against marriage but also against taking up Byzantine studies, Harrison began researches on the early Christian churches of Lycia, to which he had already been introduced as an assistant on the excavations at Alahan directed by Michael Gough of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. Here his first venture as site supervisor ended in spectacular fashion when the overburden of goat-dung which covered the area was ignited by a workman's cigarette and continued to burn for several days and nights, lighting up the surrounding hills.
After the Ankara studentship was exhausted there followed a brief period in Italy studying in Rome and Ravenna, with the support of Talbot Rice and John Ward-Perkins, Director of the British School. From that acquaintance came, via Mortimer Wheeler at the Academy, an invitation to be Acting Controller of Antiquities in Cyrenaica (during the absence of Richard Goodchild in East Africa), where he spent the year 1960-61 working among the Early Christian basilicas of Apollonia and residing up the hill at Cyrene (Shahat). The year in Libya, in which he formed a deep affection for that land and its people, was followed by a year teaching Classical Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania.
Two years later Harrison was appointed to a permanent post at Newcastle. Here, as in most universities, archaeology then belonged within the provinces of Classics and history, and it fell to Harrison to play a key role in creating a new independent Department of Archaeology, with a new undergraduate honours degree in that discipline. Many visiting scholars, in particular from the Balkans and the east Mediterranean, made the journey to Newcastle to enjoy a warm welcome from Elizabeth and Martin Harrison at Linden Road, Gosforth. The department, enriched by books from the library of George Bean, attracted able students, among whom several have already made their mark in Roman and Byzantine Studies.
During these years Harrison was engaged in the publication of his excavations at Sarachane, undertaken in 1964-69 jointly with Nezih Firatli on behalf of Dumbarton Oaks (Harvard University's centre for Byzantine Studies) and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The discovery and excavation of the great church built by Anicia Juliana (AD 462-528), which drove the emperor Justinian (the patrician lady had despised him as an upstart) to the effort of creating the vast St Sophia, is described in Harrison's A Temple for Byzantium (1989) written to accompany the much longer full report published by his American sponsors. In architectural and artistic studies, the Sarachane volume is of cardinal importance for studying how those elements of classical art and design were brought together to form that which we now call Byzantine. Roman grandeur, Greek proportion and mathematical experiment, and oriental variety, were combined to create the greatest church at the centre of the new Christian Empire.
In recent years Harrison returned to the field in order to study the problem he had confronted in Lycia nearly 30 years before: what became of the classical cities of Asia Minor? Honoured by the Turkish authorities with a special research permit, he began a survey in 1987 at Amorium, a major civic and military centre until destroyed by the Arab Caliph Mutasim in 838. Supported by an excellent team, he completed this year a fifth season of excavation.
During these years he had fought to overcome the disabilities following a stroke early in 1986. With the support of family and colleagues, notably his former student and research assistant Hazel Dodge, he kept the momentum of scholarship going.
Convivial and hospitable, Harrison was generous with his time and effort to all those places and institutions with which he was associated. Above all he gave most to Asia Minor, with a lifelong affection for the land and people of Turkey. A Christian in belief and a Christian scholar in upbringing, Martin Harrison had a strong sympathy for the beliefs and traditions of others. For that, and for much else, he will be missed.
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