Brunt The Fall Of The Roman Republic And Related Essays
Peter Astbury Blunt was born on June 23 1917, the son of a Methodist minister, the Rev Samuel Brunt, and of Gladys Eileen Brunt. His mother, whom his friends remember as a warm, cultivated and lively person, was important to him throughout his career, and died only after his retirement. He was educated at Ipswich School and Oriel College, Oxford, where he took a First in Mods in 1937, and in Greats two years later. Both the nature of these undergraduate courses and the dates were highly relevant to his intellectual development and academic record. Mods was devoted to reading the works of the Classical canon, and Greats to a combination of Ancient History, studied through the major narrative writers, and Philosophy, in which Plato and Aristotle played a large part. His eventual predecessor in the Camden Chair, Ronald Syme, who had been Examiner in 1939, was to recall later that PA Brunt's translations had been of exceptional quality.
In 1951 he came back to Oxford as Fellow and Tutor at Oriel, of which he was later an honorary fellow, and then, after a two-year spell in 1968-70 as Bursar of Caius College, Cambridge, he was elected to the Camden Chair and a fellowship at Brasenose, and played important roles in the university and outside it: as a member of the General Board; as chairman of the committee which reviewed the working of the Ashmolean Museum and laid the basis for its present structure; as a delegate of the University Press; and, outside Oxford, as president of the Roman Society in 1980-83 and as a member of the council of the British School at Rome.
What was important, however, was, first, the power and clarity of his lectures and his devotion to tutorial teaching, and second the formidable range and quality of his academic writing, which included a substantial group of papers on Greek History, later collected in Studies in Ancient Greek History and Thought (1992).
But his major impact, even today not yet fully absorbed or sufficiently acknowledged, was in Roman history. A number of major studies, later collected in Roman Imperial Themes (1990), analysed the working of the Empire.
His greatest originality lay in the Republic. At Oriel he had written two fundamental works, of contrasting types, both published in 1971: his massive Italian Manpower, and a slim paperback, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic, whose title implicitly asserted that the prevailing view of Republican politics, as a mere struggle for pre-eminence between individuals, families or "factions", simply did not correspond to the evidence. While personal ambition was of course important in Roman society, political strife related to major social and constitutional issues.
This theme, or set of themes, was more fully argued in the papers, whether new or re-printed, collected in perhaps his most important work, The Fall of the Roman Republic and Related Essays (1988).
This volume includes fundamental papers such as The Army and the Land in the Roman Revolution; but it was the four concluding chapters, Libertas in the Republic, Amicitia in the Republic, Clientela and Factions, which systematically demolished the interpretation of Republican political history which had reigned for most of the 20th century.
Peter Brunt was the embodiment of the individual scholar whose work was based on his own independent analysis of the evidence. Quintessentially English, he confessed to an aversion from speaking (as opposed to reading) foreign languages. With a deep scepticism about intellectual pretension, and a profound reserve which meant that he did not enter easily into social exchanges, he nonetheless formed strong and abiding friendships.
His tutorials could be eccentric. He liked to tell the story of how he had once dozed off in the presence of an undergraduate, and woke to hear himself declaring: "No, that cannot be correct." He quickly asked his student to repeat the last two sentences of his essay, and was relieved to discover a flagrant error.
He always suffered from ill-health (retiring two years early in 1982) and distrusted his capacity for inspiring others. A life-long bachelor, he lived quietly in Oxford for the remaining period of more than two decades, enjoying going often to Brasenose for lunch, but otherwise adding to his already enormous range of reading in history and in English literature, preparing the three major collections of 1988-1992, and then drafting papers on Roman Stoicism which it is hoped will be brought together in a book, along with some already-published articles.
Mildly teased on one occasion for his instinctive counter-suggestibility, he firmly rejected this idea too. It was perhaps only very near the end that he began to grasp the loyalty and affection which his unalterable intellectual and moral integrity had inspired.
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