North American Scholar

FINLEY, Moses Isaac

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1912-05-20
  • Born City: New York
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: Nathan Finkelstein and Anna Katzenellenbogen
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1986-06-23
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death State/Country: England
  • Married: Mary F. Thiers, 1932.
  • Education:

    B.A. Syracuse, 1927; M.A. Columbia, 1929; Ph.D., 1950; D. Litt. (hon.) Leicester, 1972; Sheffield, 1979; Saskatchewan, 1979; L.H.D., CCNY, 1982; LL.D., Syracuse, 1982; British citizenship, 1962.

  • Professional Experience:

    Teaching & research positions with the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1930-33; instr. Columbia, 1933-4; fell, hist., 1934-5; Inst. Soc. Res., 1937-9; instr. CCNY, 1934-42; exec, positions with war relief agencies, 1942-7; fell. ACLS, 1948; lecturer to asst. prof. hist. Rutgers, 1948-52; fac. fell. Fund for Advancement of Education, 1951-2; lctr. class. Cambridge, 1955-64; fell. Jesus Coll., Cambridge, 1957-76; librarian, 1960-4; hon. fell., 1977; prof. anc. soc. & econ. hist. Cambridge, 1964-70; prof. anc. hist., 1970-9; mstr. Darwin Coll., Cambridge, 1976-86; chair fac. board of class., 1967-9; chair soc. & pol. sci. comm., 1973-4; Sather prof., 1972; pres. Class. Assoc., 1973-4; trustee Brit. Mus., 1977-86; fell. Brit. Acad., 1971-86; mem. Royal Danish Acad. Sci. & Lit., 1975; knighted, 1979; Accad. Naz. dei Lincei, 1982.

  • Dissertation:

    “Studies in Land and Credit in Ancient Athens, 500-200 B.C.” (Columbia, 1950); printed (New Brunswick, 1952; repr. 1973, 1985).

  • Publications:

    The World of Odysseus (New York, 1954; rev., 1965; 2d ed. London 1977; rev. London & New York, 1978); The Greek Historians (ed.) (New York, 1959); Slavery in Classical Antiquity (ed.) (Cambridge, 1960; rev. 1968); The Ancient Greeks (New York, 1963; New York & Harmondsworth, 1977); Flavius Josephus. The Jewish War, ed. (New York, 1965); Aspects of Antiquity: Discoveries and Controversies (London & New York, 1968; 2d ed. Harmondsworth, 1977); “Ancient Sicily to the Arab Conquest,” in A History of Sicily (ed.) (London, New York, 1968; abridged & rev., 1987), publ. separately as Ancient Sicily (New York, 1968; rev. ed. London, 1979); Early Greece: The Bronze and Archaic Ages (New York, 1970; rev. ed., London & New York, 1981); introduction to Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. R. Warner (Harmondsworth & Baltimore, 1972); Democracy Ancient and Modern (New Brunswick, NJ & London, 1973; 2d ed., London, 1985); The Ancestral Constitution (London, 1971); The Ancient Economy, Sather Lectures 43 (Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1973; 2d ed., London, 1985); Problemes de la Terre en Grice ancienne (Paris & The Hague, 1973); Studies in Ancient Society (ed.) (London & Boston, 1974); The Use and Abuse of History (New York & London, 1975); Schliemann's Troy: One Hundred Years After (London, 1975); The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years with H. W. Pleket (New York & London, 1976); Studies in Roman Property (ed.) (Cambridge, Eng., 1976); Atlas of Classical Archaeology (New York & London, 1977); The BUcher-Meyer Controversy (New York, 1979); The Idea of a Theatre: The Greek Experience (London, 1980); Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (London & New York, 1980); The Legacy of Greece: A New Appraisal (ed.) (Oxford & New York, 1981); Economy and Society in Ancient Greece (New York, 1982); Politics in the Ancient World (New York & Cambridge, Eng., 1983); Ancient History: Evidence and Models (London & New York, 1986).

  • Notes:

    Sir Moses Finley (Moses Isaac Finkelstein until ca. 1946) brought to the study of ancient society radical new methods and perspectives, opening up expanded horizons through his efforts to revolutionize the study of antiquity. His influence, especially after he emigrated to England during the McCarthy period, extended from Britain to many European countries. Maturing during the turbulent decades that witnessed the Great Depression, Nazism and Fascism, Finley turned his genius to the elucidation of classical social and economic institutions, especially the Mycenaean and Homeric worlds, the Greek polis, slave and dependent labor. Under the influence at Columbia of such emigré scholars as Max Horkheimer (Institut für Sozialforschung) and the economic historian Karl Polanyi, he brought to bear on ancient institutions a mixture of Marxist-Hegelian dialectics, Weberian sociology, and “substantive” economic theories. His work was dominated by hostility to “vulgar positivism” on the one hand and rampant modernizing on the other. Ever intensely polemical, he demanded of himself and others exquisite analytical strategies, passionate concern for problems of methodology, and cautious use of comparative culture. For Finley study of antiquity was not an end in itself but useful knowledge to influence the contemporary world. He wrote and lectured not only for fellow historians but also for homo politicus and the general public. Finley was regarded by many (e.g., Arnaldo Momigliano) as one of the greatest ancient historians of the 20th century.

  • Sources:

    Cambridge University Reporter 82 (1986) 42-5; Jack Cargill, Journal of Rutgers U. Libraries 48 (1986) 65-74; Karl Christ, Neue Profile der Alten Geschichte (Darmstadt 1990); La cité antique: Á partir de l'oeuvre de M. I. Finley. Opus: International Society for Social and Economic History of Antiquity 6-7 (1987-9); Finley, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, ed. B. D. Shaw & R. P. Sailer (London & New York, 1981), ix-xxvi, 312-18; IntWhWh 1982-3:403-4; Christian Meier, FAZ (28 June 1986) 23; Wilfried Nippel, “II. Finley and Weber: Some Comments and Theses,” Opus 68 (1988-9) (Florence, 1991) 43-50; C. R. Whittaker, “Où êtes-vous, Sir Moses?,” London Review of Books (6 March 1986) 10-1; WhoWor 82:361-62.

  • Author: Meyer Reinhold