John Boardman was educated at Chigwell School (1938–1945); then Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read Classics beginning in 1945. After completing two years' national service in the Intelligence Corps he spent three years in Greece, from 1952 to 1955, as the Assistant Director of the British School at Athens. He married Sheila Stanford in 1952 (d. 2005), and has two children, Julia and Mark.
On his return to England in 1955, Boardman took up the post of Assistant Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, thus beginning his lifelong affiliation with it. In 1959 he was appointed Reader in Classical Archaeology in the University of Oxford, and in 1963 was appointed a Fellow of Merton College. Here he remained until his appointment as Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology, a position previously held by John Beazley, and the concomitant Fellowship of Lincoln College in 1978. He was knighted in 1989 and retired in 1994, and is now Emeritus Professor.
He is an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and of Merton and Lincoln Colleges in Oxford, as well as the holder of many other academic distinctions.
He has carried out archaeological excavations at many sites, including in Smyrna, Crete, Emporio in Chios and at Tocra in Libya. His voluminous publications focus primarily on the art and architecture of ancient Greece, and in particular on sculpture, engraved gems, and vase-painting.
He is the author of the controversial book The Greeks Overseas, on the ancient Greek diaspora throughout the Mediterranean, in which Greek populations from the Aegean region, Greek coastal mainland and Western Turkey settled the coastal regions of Italy, North Africa, southern France, reaching as far as southern Spain. The book has now undergone four editions, as new archaeological research emerges.
The Cretan Collection in Oxford (1961)
- Excavations at Emporio, Chios (1964)
- The Greeks Overseas (1st ed. 1964; rev. ed. 1973; 3rd ed. 1980; 4th ed. 1999)
The Cretan Collection in Oxford (1961) The Date of the Knossos Tablets (1963) Island Gems (1963)
- Excavations at Tocra (with J. Hayes, 1966, 1973)
- Archaic Greek Gems (1968)
- Greek Gems and Finger Rings (1970, 2001)
- Greek Burial Customs (1971) with D.C. Kurtz
CVA Ashmolean Museum 3 (1975) CVA Castle Ashby, with M. Robertson (1980)
- The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity, a volume based on his series of Andrew Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 1993.
- 4 Handbooks on Greek Vase Painting
- 3 Handbooks on Greek Sculpture
10 handbooks and collection catalogues on ancient gems and rings
- Persia and the West (2000)
- The History of Greek Vases (2001)
- The Archaeology of Nostalgia (2002)
- Greece and the Hellenistic World (2002)
- The World of Ancient Art (2006)
- The Marlborough Gems (2009)
- The Relief Plaques of Central Asia and China (2009/10)
- The Triumph of Dionysos (2014)
- The Greeks in Asia (2015)
- Greek Art (latest ed. 2016)
- Interview with Diana Scarisbrick, Apollo Magazine, May 2006 Archived 21 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 537.
- "John Boardman - The Classical Art Research Centre". Beazley.ox.ac.uk. 3 May 2016. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- "Kenyon Medal | British Academy". Britac.ac.uk. 9 April 2015. Archived from the original on 2 March 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- The Greeks Overseas: Their Early Colonies and Trade, Google Books review; Library Thing review
- John Boardman (1999). The Greeks Overseas: Their Early Colonies and Trade. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-28109-3.