UC Berkeley News


William Pritchett

11 July 2007

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

Pritchett, who joined the 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.

Pritchett served as chair of the classics department from 1966 to 1970, and helped found the 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 its rigorous requirement that students learn at least two ancient languages.

Pritchett's eight-part Studies in Ancient Greek Topography (1965-92), the fruit of numerous trips to Greece and intense field work, set new standards for thoroughness and accuracy. His five-volume The Greek State at War (1971-91) 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.

In recognition of Pritchett's teaching career, the 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 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.

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 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 served during World War II, then returned to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; he 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 Berkeley's classics department, where he remained for the rest of his career, holding the rank of professor from 1954 until retiring in 1976.

Upon retiring he received the Berkeley Citation, the highest award the campus 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.

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.

- Kathleen Maclay