Vale Dr Graeme Clarke AO FAHA (1934-2023)

Graeme Clarke was an impressively accomplished academic, teacher and administrator who dedicated a lifetime to the study of the ancient Mediterranean world through which Australia and, indeed, the global community benefitted. His death was a blow to many, including the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens of which he was a Council member from 1982 and a member of its Executive Board from 2007 until his death. His long-term involvement with the AAIA stands as testimony to his belief in its goals and its achievements in delivering them. In his person Graeme encapsulated many of the research fields which the AAIA promotes: archaeology, history and literature to name but a few.

Graeme was by birth and upbringing a New Zealander. On completing his BA and MA with first class honours (and accolades) in Ancient Greek and Latin at the University of Auckland he went on to Oxford to continue his studies. However, before relocating to the UK he established his enduring links with Australia by teaching Classics for two terms at the Canberra University College (incorporated shortly thereafter into the Australian National University in1960). He returned to Australia in 1961, to a lectureship at ANU; from 1964 to 1966 he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia, and in 1967-1968 he held an Associate Professorship at Monash University. In 1969 he was appointed Professor of Classics at the University of Melbourne, a position he held through to 1981. In 1982 he took up the position of Professor of Classical Studies at ANU and the Deputy Directorship of that university’s Humanities Research Centre; from 1990 through to 1999 Graeme was the Director o the HRC.
In all these academic posts Graeme successfully promoted engagement with Greek and Roman studies, understood broadly, with the aim of understanding how the societies which formed these cultures operated and how they interacted with their neighbours. He was not a scholar restricted by narrow horizons. On the contrary, he was open to the examination, consideration and analysis of all categories of evidence which bore on his chosen topic, and was more than willing to adopt new methods and techniques developed in the ever changing world of scholarship. The important additions made to the museum of the University of Melbourne’s Classical Studies’ department under Graeme’s stewardship eloquently illustrates his interest in approaching the ancient world through various channels.
Graeme began his academic life with ground-breaking analyses on the surviving letters of the mid-third-century CE bishop Cyprian of Carthage. His numerous publications on this voluminous body of texts stand as a milestone in Patristic studies and shed light on various aspects of the broader world of early Christianity. Indeed, Late Antiquity (approximately the late third through to the seventh century CE) was to remain a primary focus of research for Graeme throughout his academic life as he strove to understand the people of the period, their beliefs and world views along with the various ways in which they lived their lives be it in north Africa, the Aegean or elsewhere in the Greco-Roman world and its neighbours.
As an archaeologist Graeme’s greatest contribution is the fieldwork he directed at the Syrian site known to locals as Jebel Khalid. This plateau on the western bank of the Euphrates had not been investigated before Graeme and co-director Peter Connor, from the University of Melbourne, started excavations in 1987 after Graeme had discovered the site in 1984. Their initial examinations determined that the site was a particularly well preserved Hellenistic fortress town. Founded in the early third century BC it was a town of the Seleukid kingdom, a state that Seleukos I, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, carved out for himself and which encompassed many of the regions conquered in the East by the legendary Macedonian king. The Australian excavations continued through to 2010, and after the sudden death of Peter Connor in 1996 Graeme led in steering their direction. With help from his team Graeme ensured that the excavation findings were published in an exemplary fashion as numerous academic papers and seven major volumes. The site, via those areas excavated to date including the Acropolis, the Temple site and the Palaistra, offers a unique view into how Greek institutions and culture developed, in dialogue with local cultures, on the banks of the Euphrates.
Graeme received many accolades throughout his long and productive career, well exemplified by his Order of Australia awarded in 2009. Far earlier, though, he had been elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy to the endeavours of which he, characteristically, contributed a great deal as he did to other organisations dedicated to the promotion of Classical studies and the humanities more broadly. His enthusiastic involvement in the AAIA, from its very early years, is just one instance of his vision and dedication.
Certainly, all who knew Graeme -as a generous colleague, teacher, friend, mentor- will feel his loss very keenly. This is especially the case at the AAIA. Graeme’s contribution to classical studies in Australia is simply inestimable. Our condolences to his family and many friends.


Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation
Level 4, CCANESA Madsen F09, University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
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