Ronald Syme was New Zealand's most eminent classics scholar. He studied at Auckland and Victoria universities before leaving for the University of Oxford in 1925, where he completed a first-class degree in ancient history and philosophy in 1927. Syme was an outstanding student and was awarded several prizes as an undergraduate.
He was elected a fellow of Trinity College at Oxford, were he wrote his ground-breaking book The Roman revolution (1939). He eschewed the orthodox constitutional interpretation of Roman history pioneered by Theodor Mommsen in the 19th century, instead analysing the Roman state through the political manoeuvrings of the leading families. Syme was adept at prosopography, which involves investigating the biographies of and data about related groups of people. Other major works include a two-volume biography of Tacitus, biographies of Sallust and Ovid and The Augustan aristocracy (1986). Syme died in 1989 in England, where he had lived since his undergraduate years.
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National Portrait Gallery, London
Photograph by Walter Stoneman, August 1946
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