Professor Greg Woolf

Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London


Greg Woolf is an historian and archaeologist of the Roman Empire.He has been Professor in St Andrews since 1998 before when he held fellowships in various Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and has held Visiting Professorships in France, Germany, Italy and Brazil and has lectured all over the world.

Greg was brought up in Sussex and educated at Bexhill Sixth Form College where he was lucky to be able to study Latin and Greek among his A levels. He studied Classics and then History at Oxford and did a doctorate at Cambridge where his supervisors included archaeologists and Roman historians who encouraged him to read as widely as possible in search of inspiration. That was excellent advice and almost all his more successful work has involved trying to think about the past in new ways drawn from other disciplines or else comparing ancient Rome to other ancient societies. History is about exploration and interpretation much more than about establishing facts. What actually happened often does not make much sense until it is seen in the context of what might have happened or what did happen elsewhere.

The doctoral thesis was the basis for a book on the cultural aspects of the Roman takeover of what is now France, a project that required him to spend a lot of time in Burgundy and Paris.

Since then he has written about ancient literacy, about the archaeology of the economy and about prehistoric Europe. His most recent book, Rome, An Empire’s Story was published by Oxford in 2012. At the moment he is writing about migration in antiquity and about the origins of pluralism.

Greg believes in a strong Scotland within Europe and within the United Kingdom. Science should know no national boundaries.

Greg believes universities should promote social justice by example (including how they treat their staff and students) and in the contribution they make to local communities and the wider world.
Historians have a special responsibility to remember and reflect on the past, and to prevent its abuse, whether by national governments or self-serving individuals and parties.