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UC Berkeley Press Release

William K. Pritchett, emeritus professor of Greek, dies at age 98

– William Kendrick Pritchett, emeritus professor of Greek at the University of California, Berkeley, died on Tuesday, May 29, at his Berkeley home a day after taking a bad fall. He was 98.

Pritchett, who joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1948, was one of the most highly regarded authorities in the fields of Greek topography, military science and practice, and the intricacies of the Athenian calendar and time-reckoning systems. He authored more than 30 books and over 100 articles on topics including Greek grammar and syntax, literature and historiography, topography and the arts of war, time-reckoning and the calendar, and the study of inscriptions carved on marble.

Pritchett broke new ground in the field of Greek inscriptions by involving geologists and pioneering novel methods. In a series of articles, "The Attic Stelai" (1953-1961), his meticulous investigation of marble slabs carrying the record of a public auction of the confiscated properties of the politician Alcibiades and his associates (who were convicted of treason in Athens in 414 B.C.) revealed minute details about their slaves, land, furniture and even pottery.

Pritchett served as chair of UC Berkeley's Classics Department from 1966 to 1970, years considered to be especially formative for the department's modern shape and distinction. He was considered instrumental in UC Berkeley's rise to national prominence as a teaching and research center in the field of ancient studies.

Pritchett helped found UC Berkeley's Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology in 1968. The group went on to win international recognition as the premier interdisciplinary program of graduate study in the field, and it maintains rigorous requirements that students learn at least two ancient languages.

"He (Pritchett) set high personal standards for the combination of teaching and research, while fostering a spirit of collegiality and building a team of devoted younger scholars, rather than attempting to bring in academic 'stars' from outside," said Ronald S. Stroud, UC Berkeley's Klio Distinguished Professor of Classical Languages and Literature Emeritus, the director of the Sara B. Aleshire Center for the Study of Greek Epigraphy at UC Berkeley, and a former student of Pritchett's.

Pritchett's eight-part "Studies in Ancient Greek Topography" (1965-1992), the fruit of numerous trips to Greece and intense field work, set new standards for thoroughness and accuracy.

Pritchett's five-volume "The Greek State at War" (1971-1991) explores battle strategy and tactics, provisioning, soldiers' pay, pre- and post-battle religious observances, the distribution of booty and many other topics. The set became the classic work of reference in its field. Its second volume received the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit from the American Philological Association in 1976.

"To visit an ancient battlefield or site with Pritchett was like being accompanied by a library, for he had mastered in advance the texts of all the ancient authors, the accounts of the travelers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and all contemporary scholarship," said Stroud. "The emphasis fell on making new discoveries."

In recognition of Pritchett's teaching career, UC Berkeley's Classics Department in 1976 established the Pritchett Prize in Greek, which is awarded annually to the most promising student completing elementary Greek. His contributions also have been memorialized by an annual Pritchett Lecture at UC Berkeley and by the Pritchett graduate fellowship.

Born in Atlanta, Ga., on April 14, 1909, Pritchett retained his Southern manners and accent all of his life. He attended a public high school in Atlanta, where he had four years of Latin and three years of Greek instruction.

He graduated with an A.B. from Davidson College in North Carolina in 1929 and with an A.M. from Duke University in 1930, before moving on to The Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a Ph.D. in Greek in 1942. Davidson College awarded Pritchett an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1987.

From 1936 to 1942, he worked at the School of Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., as assistant to distinguished Greek epigraphist Benjamin D. Meritt. They collaborated in publishing Pritchett's first book, "The Chronology of Hellenistic Athens" (1940). Around this time, Pritchett also published several Greek inscriptions that had been recently discovered at the Athenian Agora through excavations by the American School of Classical Studies.

Pritchett joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and served during World War II from 1942 to 1945, earning the rank of captain. He was stationed first in the South Pacific and later in Germany, where he participated in the collection and presentation of evidence for the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals.

After the war, he returned to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and also was a lecturer at Princeton University before taking a teaching post at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. In 1948, Pritchett accepted an appointment as associate professor of Greek in the UC Berkeley Classics Department, where he remained for the rest of his career, holding the rank of professor from 1954 until retiring in 1976.

He was twice selected the Annual Professor at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and served on its managing committee from 1960 to 1976. Pritchett held a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Greece in 1951-1952 and was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, in 1951 and 1955.

Upon retiring, he received the Berkeley Citation, the highest award that UC Berkeley confers. He was an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and a corresponding fellow of both the German Archaeological Institute and the British Academy.

A connoisseur of fine wines, Pritchett amassed an impressive cellar in his Berkeley home and was often invited to special tastings by wine merchants in Berkeley and San Francisco.

In 1942, he married Elizabeth Dow, who died in 2000. They had one daughter, Katherine, who died at an early age. Pritchett is survived by two grandchildren.

A campus memorial event is planned for this fall.