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John Bryan Ward-Perkins (1912-81)
Director, British School at Rome (1945-74)

Thomas AshbyBiography

John Bryan Ward-Perkins was born in Kent in 1912 and died in Cirencester in 1981. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford where he obtained a First in Greats in 1934 and he first visited the British School at Rome as Craven Fellow in the same year. He was appointed Assistant at the London Museum under the Keepership of Mortimer Wheeler in 1936 and Professor of Archaeology at the Royal University of Malta in 1939 but after a few months returned home to volunteer as a soldier under the command of his former museum director. The war years took him to North Africa, where he was seconded to organize care of the antiquities under the Military Government in Libya and after rejoining his regiment in Italy, was appointed head of the Monuments and Fine Arts Sub-Commission for Italy, which documented damage to monuments in Italy caused by bombing during the war. He was appointed Director of the British School at Rome, which had been closed during the war years, in June 1945 where he remained until his retirement in 1974.

Thomas AshbyBritish School at Rome (BSR)

John Bryan Ward-Perkins was Director of the BSR for 29 years. His long Directorship was as remarkable as that of Thomas Ashby and his many and diverse scholarly interests and archaeological projects reflect those of his predecessor, as does his interest in photography and the importance of photographs as historical documents. His interest in archaeology began as a boy at Winchester and he chose the Iron Age of Britain and France as his topic for advanced study at Oxford. As Craven Fellow in Rome he began studying sculpture and architectural ornament from its classical origins to medieval times and during his time at the London Museum, participated in many excavations. When he took up his Directorship at the BSR, foreigners were not allowed to carry out archaeological excavations or field-work in Italy and he turned his attention to Libya, where he had worked during the war, and in particular to Roman and early Christian monuments. A series of important publications appeared during the following decade. By the mid-50s the situation in Italy had changed and Ward-Perkins began his ground-breaking archaeological and topographical enterprise, the South Etruria Survey, which was to last over 20 years. This followed on directly from the topographical work on the Roman Campagna carried out by Thomas Ashby, his predecessor and was to have a profound effect on future research. Later he became interested in the use of marble, its working and trade and in particular sarcophagi.

Thomas AshbyPhotographs

The extraordinary collection of c. 50,000 items (prints and negatives) which includes his own photographs as well as those of others, is well organized and annotated and a detailed inventory of the negatives was compiled by Ward-Perkins himself. The prints and negatives are now stored in conservation boxes and sleeves

The collection consists of approx. 32,755 photographic prints, 13,222 film negatives (6x6, 6x7, 6x9 cm), 2,219 film negatives (35 mm), 2,648 coloured slides.

It is the broad scope of this collection that makes it so valuable to scholars as it reflects Ward-Perkins’ many and diverse scholarly interests which include:

  • the archaeology of the Roman world, including North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor, Europe, particularly Italy
  • Roman, Byzantine and Medieval architecture in Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, particularly Italy
  • Roman pottery, sarcophagi, northern Italian tomb stones
  • marbles and quarries
  • damage to Italian monuments during World War II
  • miscellanea - during the reorganization of the Archive a large number (8,500) of unnumbered, unattributed photographs emerged that have been collected together in a ‘Miscellaneous’ section
The date of the images ranges from 1945-74 coinciding with Ward-Perkins’s Directorship at the BSR. Some of the images have been used by Ward-Perkins to illustrate his publications but the majority of them are unpublished. The collection of photographs has been part of the BSR Photographic Archive since the end of Ward-Perkins’s Directorship in 1974 and his family very generously donated his library and archive to the BSR in 1981. They have given us full permission to make his photographs available on the internet and the copyright is held by the BSR.
Go to the Photographs page for details of the items currently available on the website from this collection.


The BSR also holds Ward-Perkins’ paper archive of notes, plans, reports etc.
These have not been catalogued and are not available for consultation.
For more information see:
  • Proceedings of the British Academy, 69, 1983, p. 631-55
  • Papers of the British School at Rome, 48, 1980, p. xiii-xvii
  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, The British School at Rome: One Hundred Years, London 2001, p. 98-118.