Obituary: Professor David Lewis

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David Malcolm Lewis, ancient historian: born Willesden, London 7 June 1928; Junior Research Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford 1954-55; Tutor in Ancient History, Christ Church, Oxford 1955-85, Student 1956-94; University Lecturer in Greek Epigraphy, Oxford University 1956-85, Professor of Ancient History 1985-94; FBA 1973; married 1958 Barbara Wright (four daughters); died Oxford 12 July 1994.

DAVID LEWIS was not only the outstanding ancient Greek historian in the English-speaking world, but an authority on ancient Jewish and Persian evidence of whom full-time specialists were in awe. He was not only a generalising historian of rare sweep and acuteness, but the world expert on the minute interpretation and restoration of Greek inscriptions on stone. Finally, and most important to his family friends and pupils, he was not only the cleverest ancient historian of his time, he was surely the kindest.

A London and Oxford education (amusingly evoked, alongside names like Isaiah Berlin and William Waldegrave, in Lewis's recent contribution to Corpuscles, the book of reminiscences of Corpus Christi College, Oxford) was followed by national service. There is an unexpected reference to his army days in his marvellous book Sparta and Persia (1977). Contemplating the curious blend of competitiveness and conformism which was ancient Sparta, Lewis recalled of this military phase of his life: "There were sharp differences of theory and practice as to whether it was best to remain as inconspicuous as possible, with the danger of being accused of lack of leadership qualities, or to risk doing things which might bring one attention, which could be unfavourable."

Lewis spent most of his professional life in Oxford, with visits to Athens and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, both places where first-hand epigraphic work could be done. The scholarly world always recognised Lewis's technical epigraphic gifts, which were displayed in a remarkable series of studies beginning in the mid 195Os and pouring out prolifically thereafter. His contributions were not confined to work appearing under his own name. He was generous about helping colleagues by providing unpublished material, ideas, and comments. Twenty years ago, when I started graduate work, I was asked by Keith Thomas (now head of Lewis's undergraduate college Corpus), who my supervisor was. …