Obituary: Dominic Montserrat ; Egyptologist Who Lived on Borrowed Time

By Stevenson, Jane | The Independent (London, England), October 13, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Dominic Montserrat ; Egyptologist Who Lived on Borrowed Time


Stevenson, Jane, The Independent (London, England)


DOMINIC MONTSERRAT was an extraordinarily gifted Egyptologist, who combined his technical work as a scholar with an immense talent for introducing his subject to a wider audience.

He was born in Slough in 1964. The most significant facts about him were apparent from the first: he was born a haemophiliac, he was unusually intelligent, and quite remarkably brave. His parents had the rewarding but unenviable task of raising a child who was not only outstandingly gifted but fiercely independent and of extreme physical vulnerability; and his own achievement was in the context of a constant and heroic struggle against debilitating pain.

Montserrat studied Egyptology at Durham University, and subsequently took an MA and PhD in Classics from University College London, specialising in Egyptian, Coptic, Greek and papyrology, to which he added a variety of modern languages, including Arabic. His first job, from 1992, was as a lecturer in Classics at Warwick University, where he made of his office, a plain box in a bleak modern building, a peculiar Aladdin's cave, littered with antiquities and mysterious Eastern objects, invariably perfumed with exotic cologne and, despite university regulations, tobacco. There he presided, unorthodox and interesting, a fin-de-siecle dandy in beautiful clothes. His first book was Sex and Society in Greco- Roman Egypt (1996), subtle, well-written, wide-ranging and bizarre.

His gift for involving people in the subjects which fascinated him, combined with his increasingly unreliable health, led him to resign from Warwick and move in 1999 to the Open University, where he worked with the research group developing a course on "Art and Society in the Later Roman Empire". This allowed him to continue professionally without having to meet a regular schedule of undergraduate contact-hours.

Like many other haemophiliacs, his health was inadvertently undermined by unscreened blood transfusions, and he contracted Hepatitis B and C. It became clear to him gradually that he was living on borrowed time and, when he felt he could not continue even in the relatively unstructured environment of the Open University, he resigned.

In his brief working life, he was none the less amazingly productive.

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