Skip to content

Harden, Donald Benjamin

    Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery

    Full Name: Harden, Donald Benjamin

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1901

    Date Died: 1994

    Place Born: Dublin, Ireland

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): ancient


    Scholar of ancient glass; museum director. Harden’s father was the Reverend John Mason Harden (1871-1931), Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Ireland, and his mother Constance Caroline Sparrow. After Kilkenny College (boarding school) and the Westminster School, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1920, where he studied under William Ridgway, Arthur Cook and Donald Robertson. Cook suggested he study terracottas, first at the British Museum and then in Rome at the British School on a Craven grant. He excavated Tunis with Arnold MacKay Duff in 1923-1924. He returned to be the Latin professor at the University in Aberdeen. He spent the summer of 1925 excavating in Carthage, where his interest had changed to Punic urns. He spent the1926-1927 year at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor on a grant. He began cataloging one of the major ancient glass collections, the D. L. Askren collection, in 1927, at a time when almost nothing in English was written on the topic. He again participated in a dig, the Michigan Archaeological Expedition to Egypt of 1928-1929. Harden became an assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 1929, under E. Thurlow Leeds (1877-1955), who had just vacated the assistant job himself. Harden contined to work on his Ph.D. thesis. He returned to Carthage in 1933 to complete his study of Punic urns, published in 1937. He married Cecil Harriss in (d. 1963) 1934. His dissertation, from the University of Michigan, appeared in 1936 as the important book, Roman Glass from Karanis. He established the archaeological journal Oxoniensia the same year.After World War II, where he worked in war service as a civil servant, Bernard Ashmole invited Harden to catalog the glass collection at the British Museum. Harden was awarded a Leverhulme Research fellowship to study this glass in greater detail in 1953. He left to Ashmolean to become director of the London Museum in 1956. Harden took over the Museum, now at Kensington Palace, from its previous location at Lancaster House under Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler. Wheeler’s high standards of research and publication were maintained under Harden. In collaboration with Norman Cook of the Guildhall Museum, the two worked to merge their respective institutions into the new Museum of London. In 1957 he founded a second journal, Medieval Archaeology which he edited for many years. He wrote The Phoenicians in 1962. In 1965 he also became acting director of the new Museum of London. The same year he married Dorothy McDonald. Three papers on Ancient Glass appeared between 1968 and 1971. After his retirement in 1971, Harden returned to the British Museum to continue cataloging the glass there. With Veronica Tatton-Brown, they published the first volume, Core And Rod-formed Vessels In The British Museum in 1981. Another major work, Glass Of The Caesars was published as an exhibition catalog for a show of the same name in 1987. As an archaeologist, artifacts rather than digs were a central focus of his work. Roman Glass From Karanis was a highly original work, a rigorous archaeological approach to the neglected field of ancient glass; the only other major studies were both German, by Anton Kisa and Fritz Fremersdorf, and then more general. His writing approach generally was to focus on an individual vessel, present all the evidence in a way that told a compelling story.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Roman Glass from Karanis found by the University of Michigan Archaeological Expedition in Egypt, 1924-29. Ph.D. University of Michigan, published, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1936; and Hellenkemper, Hansgerd, and Painter, Kenneth, and Whitehouse, David. Glass of the Caesars. Milan: Olivetti, 1987; The Phoenicians. New York: Praeger, 1962.


    [obituaries:] Price, Jennifer. “Donald Harden.” Guardian (London) June 3, 1994, p. T17; ” Donald Harden, 92, British Authority On Ancient Glass.” Pace, Eric. New York Times May 2, 1994, p. B9; Painter, Kenneth, and Thompson, Hugh. “Donald Harden.” Independent (London), April 29, 1994, p. 36.


    "Harden, Donald Benjamin." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: