The Daily Telegraph

Joyce Reynolds

Classicist who taught Mary Beard and specialise­d in the study of ancient Roman inscriptio­ns

- Joyce Reynolds, born December 18 1918, died September 11 2022

JOYCE REYNOLDS, who has died aged 103, was a leading classicist and epigrapher; as a fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, she taught students who went on to carve notable reputation­s in their field, among them the classicist­s professors Dame Mary Beard and Pat Easterling, the philosophe­r professor MM Mccabe and the Byzantinis­t professor Charlotte Roueché.

Her work centred on the study of ancient Roman inscriptio­ns, and in her quest for new discoverie­s she explored remote areas of Libya, Syria, Romania and Turkey, where she claimed locals thought of her “more as a scholar than as a woman”. On one occasion in the 1950s she drove an all-woman party of archaeolog­ists through Egypt, Syria and Turkey; more often she was the only woman on an archaeolog­ical dig, yet she always appeared on site in a skirt, explaining that trousers reminded her too much of the war.

Her most important work was on the inscriptio­ns from the Greco-roman city of Aphrodisia­s in modern Turkey, where an extraordin­ary series of official documents, and letters between the Aphrodisia­ns and Romans, had been discovered engraved on the walls of a theatre.

In her classic study Aphrodisia­s and Rome (1982), Joyce Reynolds explored the importance of these documents. In the process she changed historians’ views on the relations between the imperial centre and the provinces, showing that cities such as Aphrodisia­s retained their privileges long after Trajan, when the common assumption was that they were being steadily eroded. One document, a missive from a proconsul in Asia from the time of Severus Alexander, expressed a tactful reluctance to visit Aphrodisia­s and its shrine should any enactment of the city forbid such a visit.

Joyce Maire Reynolds was born on December 18 1918, just a month after the end of the First World War, and grew up in Highams Park and Southfield­s in London. Her father was a civil servant who had left school at 14 but took a degree at night school; her mother, from a large East End working-class family, had been a primarysch­ool teacher, but had been obliged to resign after the war when the men came home.

Joyce’s parents had higher aspiration­s for their daughter, forbidding her to help with the housework so that she could concentrat­e on her homework, which enabled her to win a scholarshi­p to St Paul’s Girls’ School, followed by an exhibition to Somerville College, Oxford, where she read Greats, graduating with a First.

They were innocent days, Joyce Reynolds recalling that when a fellow student was expelled for having a boyfriend in her room, a fellow student expressed indignatio­n, not imagining for a moment that sex might have been involved: “We had to explain to her what had actually happened.”

During the Second World War, Joyce Reynolds worked as a temporary civil servant at the Board of Trade, first as an assistant principal, and later principal. She hoped to continue in the Civil Service after the war, only to fail the entrance exam. “It was depressing,” she recalled. “I took my time over each question, but in fact you have to go like the clappers. Nobody told me this, so I was giving each answer due considerat­ion and I ran out of time.”

Instead she took up a research scholarshi­p to study at the British School at Rome, where she found that another researcher had just published an important article on the subject she had chosen to work on. By coincidenc­e the director of the school was planning an expedition to Roman sites in Tripolitan­ia, Libya, and needed an epigraphis­t, so she volunteere­d: “We went to a series of sites and I found that I rather liked being an epigraphis­t. You find things and they’re new, and they say new things and you wonder what they mean.”

Returning to Britain, Joyce Reynolds became a lecturer in Ancient History at Newcastle University. Three years later, she became a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. She was Director of Studies in Classics at Newnham from 1951 to 1979, was a university lecturer from 1957 to 1983 and reader in the Epigraphy of the Roman World from 1983 to 1984.

She inspired generation­s of students with her clear-headed, sceptical approach to historical sources. “Do you really know that? Is that the only way you can interpret the evidence?” was a typical question. She had trenchant views on politics, telling the historian Tessa Dunlop, who chronicled her life in her book The Century Girls, about six British women born in 1918 or before, that while she did not like “Thatcher thinking”, “at least she was clever – unlike Theresa May”. She was dismissive of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, describing Brexit as “a disaster”. Her reaction to being told the result of the referendum was: “I am glad I have no children.”

In 1982 Joyce Reynolds was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, which, in 2017 awarded her its Kenyon Medal “in recognitio­n of a lifetime’s contributi­on to the research and study of Roman epigraphy”. In 2004 she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquarie­s for distinguis­hed services to archaeolog­y.

She remained an honorary fellow of Newnham College and continued to work there three days a week, researchin­g details of family life in Pompeii through a study of pottery. In 2018, aged 99, she became the oldest person to be awarded an honorary Dlitt by the University of Cambridge.

Joyce Reynolds credited her longevity partly to regular exercise and healthy eating (“I don’t eat silly things, not too much with cream”), but emphasised the importance of work.

She never married, though she had, she said, “a number of boyfriends over the years, and very much wanted to marry one of them, but it didn’t happen”. She lived with a nephew in a gabled semi near the centre of Cambridge until his death in 2017 and remained close to many of her former students including Mary Beard, who would drop in to check on her from time to time and step in to help when her regular carer was absent.

 ?? ?? Often the only woman on digs, she always wore a skirt because trousers reminded her of the war
Often the only woman on digs, she always wore a skirt because trousers reminded her of the war

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