Skip to content

Ward-Perkins, J. B.

    Full Name: Ward-Perkins, J. B.

    Other Names:

    • John Bryan Ward-Perkins

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1912

    Date Died: 1981

    Place Born: Bromley, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): ancient, archaeology, architecture (object genre), Classical, and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): directors (administrators)


    Classical architectural historian and archaeologist; Director, British School in Rome. Ward-Perkins was the eldest son of Bryan Ward-Perkins, a civil servant in India, and Winifred Mary Hickman [Ward-Perkins]. The younger Ward-Perkins attended the Winchester School and New College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1934. He was awarded the Craven traveling fellowship at Magadalen College, which he used to study archaeology in Britain and France. Between 1936-39 he was Assistant under Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976) at the London Museum. He wrote an important catalog of the collection during that time. He was also involved in a Roman villa excavation near Welwyn Garden City. In 1939 he accepted the Chair of Archaeology at the Royal University of Malta. The advent of World War II curtailed this position after only six months. He enlisted in the British Royal Artillery where he participated in the Allied invasion. Ward-Perkins was assigned to North Africa to protect the sites of Leptis Magna and Sabratha. There he gained an intimate knowledge of Tripolitania, the Roman ruins. He was appointed director of the Allied sub-commission for monuments and fine arts in Italy. He married Margaret Sheilah Long in 1943. In 1946 Ward-Perkins accepted the position of Director of the British School at Rome. He maintained an interest in North Africa, largely because excavation work in Italy was still impossible. When peninsular excavations could resume, Ward-Perkins secured aerial photographs from RAF reconnaissance of Italy, in order to map out excavations better. He remained at the British School in Rome until his retirement in 1974. In the 1950’s his interest particularly in the technical aspects of Roman building resulted in The Shrine of St. Peter and the Vatican Excavations, 1956, and David Talbot Rice‘s The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors, 1958. In 1963 Ward-Perkins revived the stalled publication project Corpus signorum imperii Romani, a corpus of Roman sculpture held throughout the world. He held various guest professorships, including New York University (1957) and Rhind Lecturer (Edinburgh), 1960. In 1970 he wrote the Roman section of the prestigious Pelican History of Art volume on Etruscan and Roman architecture, co-authored with Axel Boëthius. His portion of the text was expanded and reissued as a stand-alone volume the year of his death. His students at the British School at Athens included Roger Ling. Ward-Perkins’ major interests were in the materials of ancient art and city topography. He wrote major works on city planning in classical Greece and Rome and the historical topography of Veii. He also reinitiated the project to map the Roman Empire, Tabula imperrii romani, which had begun in 1928 but had drawn to a standstill. He was a seminal figure in the founding of the Association for Classical Archaeology, and the issuing of its bibliographic organ, Fasti Archaeologici. His use of field surveys to study land use patterns and identification of marble types in Roman building and sculptures changed the discipline of Roman archaeology.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Boëthius, Axel. Etruscan and Roman Architecture. Pelican History of Art. Baltimore: Penguin, 1970.; 2nd ed.: Roman Imperial Architecture. New York: Penguin Books, 1981; David Talbot Rice, ed. The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors. Second Report. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1958: 52-104; “The Italian Element in Late Roman and Early Medieval Architecture.” Proceedings of the British Academy 23 (1947): 163-94; and Reynolds, Joyce Maire. The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania. Rome: British School at Rome, 1952; and Toynbee, J. M. C. The Shrine of St. Peter and the Vatican Excavations. New York: Longmans, Green, 1956; The Art of the Severan Age in the Light of Tripolitanian Discoveries. Proceedings of the British Academy 37. London: British Academy, 1953; Cities of Ancient Greece and Italy: Planning in Classical Antiquity. New York: G. Braziller, 1974; Landscape and History in Central Italy. 2nd J.L. Myres Memorial Lecture. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1965; Marble in Antiquity : Collected Papers of J.B. Ward-Perkins. Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome 6. London: British School at Rome, 1992; Studies in Roman and Early Christian Architecture. London: Pindar Press, 1994; “A Carved Marble Fragment at Riom (Puy-de-Dome) and the Chronology of the Aquitanian Sarcophagi.” Antiquaries Journal 40 (January-April 1960): 25-34; “Nero’s Golden House.” Antiquity 30 (December 1956): 209-219; “The Hunting Baths at Lepcis Magna.” Archaeologia 93 (1949): 165-195.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pp. 39, 22 n. 41; Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 pp. 304-6; Dictionary of National Biography 1981-85: 411-12; Ridgway, David. “John Bryan Ward-Perkins.” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, p. 1185; [obituaries:] Reynolds, J. “John Bryan Ward-Perkins, CMG, CBE, FBA.” Papers of the British School at Rome 48 (1980): xiii-xvii. [methodological comments:] Wharton, Annabel. “Rereading Martyrium: the Modernist and Postmodernist Texts.” Gesta 29 no. 1 (1990): 3-7.


    "Ward-Perkins, J. B.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: