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Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovitch

    Full Name: Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovitch

    Other Names:

    • Michail Ivanovich Rostovzev

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1870

    Date Died: 1952

    Place Born: Zhitomir, Zhytomyrs'ka Oblast', Urkraine

    Place Died: New Haven, New Haven, CT, USA

    Home Country/ies: Russia


    Dura Europos scholar; social- and art historian. He was born in Zhitomir, Urkraine, Russia, near Kiev. Rostovtzeff’s father, Ivan Yakovlevich Rostovtzveff, was a teacher of classical languages from whom the younger Rostovtzeff also learned. He continued study at the university in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he heard lectures by the Byzantinist Nikodim Pavlovich Kondakov. Rostovtzeff wrote his college thesis in 1892 on Pompeii, continuing to study during a three-year trip to the near east and Europe. His work took him to the British Museum in London, the Cabinet des Mèdailles in Paris under Maurice Prou, the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (German Archaeological Institute) in Rome where he studied Pompeii with August Mau, in Vienna, studying epigraphy under Eugen Bormann (1842-1917) and archaeology under Otto Benndorf. In 1898 Rostovtzeff, back in St. Petersburg, wrote his master’s degree on the parceling out of tax-collecting rights in ancient Rome, Istoriia gosudarstvennago otkupa v Rimskoi Imperii a topic first suggested by Bormann. In Russia he taught Latin and ancient history in St. Petersburg, marrying one of his students at the Women’s College, Sophia M. Kulchitski. His dissertation, on Roman lead tokens and social history, Rimskia svintsovĭia tessera, was accepted in 1903. As a dissenter from Bolshevism after the Russian Revolution, he fled to England. After teaching at Oxford for only two years, he moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in the United States in 1920, were he taught at the University of Wisconsin. While at Wisconsin, he wrote one of the most important works of intercultural history of antiquity, Iranians and Greeks in South Russia, 1922. The work examines the Scythians and their interchange with the Greeks. His courses ranged as far afield as Russian architectural history and his mid-western undergraduates, unable to pronounce his named, referred to him as “Rough Stuff” a reference to his high standards as much as his ethnicity. In 1925 he was appointed Sterling Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology at Yale University. His best-known work, The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire appeared in 1926. Between 1928-37 he excavated the Dura Europos site in Syria as part of Yale’s archaeological team. The result was the magisterial Dura Europos and its Art, 1938. In 1941, as the culmination of his scholarship, he wrote his second economic history, The Social and Economic History of the Hellenic World. Rostovtzeff fell into a deep depression, exacerbated by the unfolding of World War II and his general mental health. He underwent a lobotomy, which left him unable to research. He retired from Yale in 1944. Rostovtzeff’s histories derive from his wide ranging sources, epigraphic, stylistic, literary and cultural. The Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology termed him “one of the most original and profound classical scholars of the first half of the twentieth century.” J. Rufus Fears compares him to Mommsen and (Eduard) Meyer in his innovative methodology and breadth of knowledge. His scholarship, as C. Bradford Welles writes, was exacting as well as bold.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Welles, C. Bradford. “Bibliography-M. Rostovtzeff.” Historia 5 (1956): 351-388; [master’s thesis:] Istoriia gosudarstvennago otkupa v Rimskoi Imperii (ot Avgusta do Dīokletīapa). St. Petersburg, 1898, published: St. Peterburg: Tip. I. N. Skorokhodova, 1899; [dissertation:] Rimskia svintsovĭia tessera. Ph.D., St. Petersburg, 1903, modified, translated and published as, Römische Bleitesserae: ein Beitrag zur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit. Leipzig: Dieterich, 1905; Iranians and Greeks in South Russia. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922; The Animal Style in South Russia and China. [Lectures delivered in 1925 at Princeton University for the Harvard-Princeton Fine Arts Club].Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929; Catalogue des plombs de l’antiquité, du moyen âge et des temps modernes: conservés au Département des médailles et antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale. Paris: Rollin et Feuardent, 1900; “The Near East in the Hellenistic and Roman Times. ” Dumbarton Oaks Inaugural Lectures, 1940. Dumbarton Oaks Papers 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941; Dura-Europos and its Art. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938; edited. The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943ff.; A History of the Ancient World. 2 vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1926-1928; Inlaid Bronzes of the Han dynasty in the Collection of C. T. Loo. Paris/Brussels: G. Vanoest, 1927; A Large Estate in Egypt in the Third Century B.C.: a Study in Economic History. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1922; The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941; The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire. Oxford: The Clarendon press, 1926; “Die hellenistisch-römische Architekturlandschaft.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaeologischen Instituts. Römische Abteilung 26 (1911): 1-186.


    “Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovitch (1870-1952).” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 2, pp. 985-6; Fears, J. Rufus. “M. Rostovtzeff.” Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1990, pp. 405-18; Wes, Marinus Antony. Michael Rostovtzeff, Historian in Exile: Russian Roots in an American Context. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1990; Weber, Ronald, and Reilly, Deborah. Reliving Antiquity: Exhibits in Memory of Michael Rostovtzeff: Papyri and Roman Art from the Collections of the Rare Book Department of Memorial Library and the Elvehjem Museum of Art. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, 1983; Momigliano, Arnaldo. “M. I. Rostovtzeff.” Cambridge Journal 7 no.6 (1954): 334-346; Welles, C. Bradford. “Michael Ivanovitch Rostovtzeff (1870-1952).” Russian Review 12 (April 1953): 128-133.


    "Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovitch." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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