William Woodthorpe Tarn

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Sir William Woodthorpe Tarn (26 February 1869 – 7 November 1957), usually cited as W. W. Tarn, was a British classical scholar and a writer. He wrote extensively on the Hellenistic world, particularly on Alexander the Great. He was a Fellow of the British Academy (1928). He was born in London and died in Muirtown.


According to some, Tarn offers a somewhat idealistic interpretation of Alexander's conquests, as being essentially driven by his vision of the "unity of mankind", in line with the interpretation of Plutarch (Alexander the Great, Vol. 1). In his outdated work 'Alexander the Great,' Tarn offered a pedigree for Alexander which flips upside down the notion of a Macedonian or much less Greek lineage: "Alexander certainly had from his father (Philip II) and probably from his mother (Olympia) Illyrian, i.e., Albanian, blood."

Jeanne Reames remarked that "Tarn's portrait of Alexander turned the Greek conqueror into a proper Scottish gentleman (as was Tarn himself). Engaging in sometimes elaborate apologetics to explain away Alexander's questionable decisions, Tarn painted him as the original philosopher in armor, a chivalrous young king who brought higher Greek culture to the poor benighted barbarians.(...) [Tarn's] two-volume biography of Alexander and his article in the "Cambridge Ancient History" influenced the popular thinking of future generations even after in scholarly circles his theories had been torpedoed by Harvard's Ernst Badian.[citation needed] In fact, portrayals of Alexander in some high school and college world history text books still reflect Tarn more than anyone who has come after.[citation needed] Reames also saw Tarn's strong influence in Mary Renault's trilogy of historical novels about Alexander - though Renault's acknowledged Alexander's homo-erotic tendencies, while Tarn had regarded references to them in ancient sources as "defamations" which the Macedonian king had to be defended against.[1]

He also researched extensively on the history of the Greco-Bactrians and Indo-Greeks, thereby documenting a nearly lost area of history.[citation needed] In his book The Greeks in Bactria and India, Tarn relied on classical Western and Indian sources, as well as numismatics, to give a multi-faceted account of their dynastic rule and conquest.[citation needed]


  • Antigonos Gonatas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913. (Later editions: Oxford University Press, 1969 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-814275-7); Chicago: Argonaut, 1969 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8244-0142-5)).
  • The Hellenistic Age: Aspects of Hellenistic Civilisation (with Bury, J.B.; Barber, E.A.; Bevan, Edwyn). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923.
  • Hellenistic Civilisation. London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1927. (2nd, rev. ed., 1930. 3rd ed., with G.T. Griffith, 1952.)
  • Seleucid-Parthian Studies (Proceedings of the British Academy; XVI). London: Humphrey Milford, 1930.
  • Hellenistic Military and Naval Developments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930. (Latest ed., New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-8196-0169-1)).
  • Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind. London: Humphrey Milford, 1933.
  • The Greeks in Bactria & India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938. (3rd, revised ed. Chicago Ridge, IL: Ares Publishers, 1997 (hardcover, ISBN 0-89005-524-6)).
  • Alexander the Great. Vol. I, Narrative; Vol. II, Sources and Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948. (New ed., 2002 (paperback, ISBN 0-521-53137-3)).
  • Treasure of the Isle of Mist. Junior Literary Guild and G P Putnam's Sons, 1934.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beyond Renault - Mary Renault, Jeanne Reames reviews 3 books on Alexander the Great written by Renault

Further reading[edit]

  • Adcock, F.E. Sir William Woodthorpe Tarn, 1869–1957. London, 1959.

External links[edit]