Early life and education
He was born in East Sheen, Richmond-upon-Thames, and educated at St Paul's School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and he served as an officer in the Royal Navy's Special Branch during the Second World War. In May 1942 he was transferred to intelligence duties at the naval base HMS Nile in Alexandria, Egypt, and worked on breaking lower-level Italian naval codes. He was working on Italian naval codes as an Able Seaman, but in September 1942 was suddenly (and immediately) promoted to Temporary Sub-Lieutenant as the material was classed as “Officers Only”. His superior Commander Murray had exploded when told that Chadwick would need six months training in England before promotion. Chadwick deduced from some R/T traffic meant to be handled at BP that a British submarine had been sunk near Taranto.
After the end of the war in 1945, he returned to his studies at Cambridge, graduating with First Class Honours in Classics Part II, with a distinction in his special subject, linguistics.
While studying at Corpus Christi College, he attempted, with some of his fellow students, to use cryptographic methods to decipher the “Minoan Linear Script B”. They were already aware at the time of the work of Michael Ventris. They stopped working actively on the problem owing to a lack of published data from inscriptions.
In 1950 he published his first scholarly work, an edition of The Medical Works of Hippocrates, co-authored with his cousin, William Neville Mann, a distinguished physician. After finishing his degree, he joined the staff of the Oxford Latin Dictionary before beginning a Classics lectureship at Cambridge in 1952. That year he began working with Ventris on the progressive decipherment of Linear B, the two writing Documents in Mycenean Greek in 1956, following a controversial first paper three years earlier. Chadwick's philological ideas were applied to Ventris's initial theory that Linear B was an early form of Greek rather than another Mediterranean language.
After Ventris's death, Chadwick became the figurehead of the Linear B work, writing the accessible and popular book The Decipherment of Linear B in 1958 and revising Documents in Mycenean Greek in 1978.
He retired in 1984, by which time he had become the fourth (and last) Perceval Maitland Laurence Reader in Classics at Cambridge. He continued his scholarship until his death, being an active member of several international societies and writing numerous popular and academic articles. He was also a Fellow of the British Academy and of Downing College, Cambridge.
Chadwick married Joan Hill in 1947 and they had one son.
- Ventris, Michael; Chadwick, John (1953) "Evidence for Greek Dialect in the Mycenaean Archives", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 73, (1953), pp. 84–103.
- Chadwick, John (1958). The Decipherment of Linear B. Second edition (1990). Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-39830-4.
- Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-29037-6.
- Ventris, Michael and Chadwick, John (1956). Documents in Mycenaean Greek. Second edition (1974). Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-08558-6.
Decorations and awards
- "John Chadwick, 1920-1998", The Guardian, 1998-12-03, page 22.
- "Life of John Chadwick : 1920 - 1998 : Classical Philologist, Lexicographer and Co-decipherer of Linear B", Faculty of Classics, Cambridge University
- John Chadwick A Biographical Fragment; 1942-5 in Action this Day edited by Michael Smith and Ralph Erskine (2001, Bantam Press, London) pp 110-126 ISBN 0593 049101
- "William Neville Mann", Munk's Roll, Royal College of Physicians