Grant, Michael (19142004), numismatist and ancient historian, was born on 21 November 1914 at 18 Victoria Grove, Kensington, London, the only son of Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Harold Grant (18721962), army officer, journalist, and art historian, and his wife, Muriel Ethel Fanny, née Jorgensen (1877/81981). His father had served in the South African War and written part of its official history, and then covered the Balkan wars for the Daily Mail. During the First World War he commanded a battalion in France. In later life he took up art history, and published a series of dictionaries of British artists, including one of British medallists; he served for many years on the council of the British Numismatic Society. Grant's mother was of Danish origin. After an unhappy stay at a prep school, The Grange, Surrey, Grant went to Harrow School, where he captained his house at cricket and spent three years in the sixth form, taught by the headmaster, Cyril Norwood, and by E. V. C. Plumptre. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read classics in 1933, where after wasting his first year he settled down, and won a number of awards including the Craven studentship. As a research student he conducted the research for a thesis later published as From Imperium to Auctoritas: a Historical Study of Aes Coinage in the Roman Empire, 49 BCAD 14 (1946), which was innovative in looking at coinages from outside Rome. He became a fellow of Trinity in 1938. He remained interested in numismatics throughout his life, and built up a collection of some 700 Roman coins, which later passed to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Grant went into military intelligence and served as a duty officer at the War Office. After a short spell in Paris he was transferred in 1940 to the British Council in Turkey, where he remained for the rest of the war. In 1944 he married Anne-Sophie Beskow, from Norrköping in Sweden; they had two sons, Patrick and Antony. In 1945 Grant returned to London as deputy director of the European division of the British Council, in which capacity he travelled in Austria, Hungary, and Germany.
In 1948 Grant returned to Cambridge for a year, but soon left to be professor of humanity (Latin) at Edinburgh University, a post which he held until 1959, with an interval of two years (19568) spent as the first vice-chancellor of the University of Khartoum. During this period he produced four books on coins, and also not only a valuable study, Aspects of the Reign of Tiberius (1950), but the first two of his general surveys, Ancient History (1952) and Roman Literature (1954), both greatly superior to all the works of this kind available at that time. From 1959 until 1966 he was vice-chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast. There he had to face grave problems arising from the political situation. Some time after his days at Belfast he expressed the view that Britain should withdraw its troops from Northern Ireland. During this period he brought out four books, including Myths of the Greeks and Romans (1962), then the best such treatment of the subject for the general public.
In 1966 Grant bought from Paolo Rossi, then the Italian minister of education, a delightful sixteenth-century house at Gattaiola, near Lucca in Tuscany. Lucca was the place where in 56 BC Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus had held a famous conference; it has Etruscan remains, and an amphitheatre of the late first century AD. There Grant continued to produce valuable work, notably The Gladiators (1967), The Ancient Mediterranean (1969), Roman Myths (1971), and Who's Who in Classical Mythology (with John Hazel, 1973), which won the Prima Latina. He wrote numerous biographies, including of Cleopatra, Herod the Great, and Nero, as well as of Jesus Christ, St Peter, St Paul, and Constantine the Great. He published excellent translations of the Annals of Tacitus, and of several of Cicero's speeches and letters. His autobiography, My First Eighty Years (1994), was admirably written. The long succession of his works ended with Sick Caesars in 2000. He served as president of the Virgil Society (19636) and the Classical Association (19789). He was appointed OBE in 1946, and advanced to CBE in 1958.
Grant was a man of rare personal charm, and to visit him at his Italian home was a delightful experience, much as it made his many friends regret his absence from England, to which he returned only shortly before his death. No scholar of his time did more to arouse and to satisfy the interest of the general reading public in the ancient world. He died on 4 October 2004 at St George's Hospital, Tooting, London, of respiratory failure and pneumonia, and was survived by his wife, Anne-Sophie, and their two sons.
M. Grant, My first eighty years (1994) · Daily Telegraph (8 Oct 2004) · The Times (13 Oct 2004) · WW (2004) · personal knowledge (2007) · private information (2007) · b. cert. · d. cert.