William Woodthorpe Tarn

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's empire and its successor states. Tarn has been criticized for romanticizing philhellenism, and using it to further his own racial colonial theories. He was a Fellow of the British Academy (1928). He was born in London and died in Muirtown.


According to some, Tarn offered 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 In his outdated work 'Alexander the Great', Tarn offered a pedigree for Alexander which flips upside down the notion of a Macedonian or much less Greek lineage: "Alexander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]

Tarn also researched extensively on the history of the Greco-Bactrians and Indo-Greeks in his book The Greeks in Bactria and India. His work followed Osmund Bopearachchi's publication on the study of Indo-Greek coins.


  • Antigonos Gonatas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913.[2] (Later editions: Oxford University Press, 1969 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-814275-7); Chicago: Argonaut, 1969 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8244-0142-5)). (See Antigonos Gonatas.)
  • The Treasure of the Isle of Mist. London: Philip Allan & Co, 1919. – fantasy adventure for children
  • The Hellenistic Age: Aspects of Hellenistic Civilisation, by J.B. Bury, E.A. Barber, Edwyn Bevan, and Tarn. 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 U. Press, 1930. (Latest ed., New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-8196-0169-1)).
  • Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind. 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 U. Press, 1948. (New ed., 2002 (paperback, ISBN 0-521-53137-3)).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Beyond Renault - Mary Renault, Jeanne Reames reviews 3 books on Alexander the Great written by Renault
  2. ^ "Review of Antigonos Gonatas by William Woodthorpe Tarn". The Athenaeum (No. 4467): 610–611. 7 June 1893.

Further readingEdit

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

External linksEdit