Edward Arthur Thompson

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Edward Arthur Thompson (22 May 1914 – 1 January 1994) was an Irish-born British classicist, medievalist and professor at the University of Nottingham from 1948 to 1979. He wrote from a Marxist perspective, and argued that the Visigoths were settled in Aquitaine to counter the internal threat of the peasant bagaudae.


Thompson was born on 22 May 1914 in the town of Waterford, Ireland[1] to an Presbyterian family of both Irish and Scottish descent.[2]

Although taught to read only at the age of eight, Thompson proceeded to attend and finish at The High School, Dublin, with which he maintained sufficient links to be requested by its then-headmaster, Dr. John Bennett, to send a copy of A History of Attila and the Huns when Thompson published the book in 1948.[2]

Although his father worked for the administration of the National Health Insurance, Edward Thompson would be the first of his family to enter university: he graduated with First Class Honours in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin in 1936, later attributing his selection of the classics as a discipline to the arbitrary choice of his headmaster at The High School.[1][2]

Thompson's first appointment in academia, as Lecturer in Classics, was a two-year stint at Trinity College, Dublin  – although initially appointed for one year, Thompson's contract was renewed, and he stayed on (though at a reduced salary) until 1941.[2] Already prepared to enter the Second World War with an enlistment in the British Army, Thompson finally secured an appointment at the University of Swansea, having learned of an opening for somebody who could teach Greek from a friend, Swansea classicist Ben Farrington.[2]

From Swansea, Thompson transferred to King's College, London, teaching as a classics lecturer from 1945 to 1948. It was during this time that Thompson's first book, Ammianus Marcellinus, was published in Britain. He subsequently moved once more – this time to direct the classics department at the University of Nottingham, where Thompson worked from 1948-79.[1][2] Until his retirement in 1979, Thompson served as the first Chairman of the Editorial Board of the scholarly journal Nottingham Medieval Studies, founded by Lewis Thorpe in 1957.[2]

He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1964 – the first University of Nottingham academic to be so honoured.[citation needed]

Although Thompson left the staunchly pro-Soviet Communist Party of Great Britain in 1956, the year of the Soviet Union's intervention in Hungary, Thompson's academic work continued to demonstrate a Marxist-oriented outlook on history. No longer active in political life, he continued his enthusiastic interest for politics.[2] His interest in the class structure of societies, and in their material basis, continued to direct the structure of his studies.[1] Thompson died, aged 79, in Nottingham.


In reverse chronological order:

  • 1985: Who was Saint Patrick?
  • 1984: Saint Germanus of Auxerre and the end of Roman Britain
  • 1982: Romans and Barbarians
  • 1975: The Conversion of the Spanish Suevi to Catholicism
  • 1969: The Goths in Spain (Oxford: Clarendon Press)
  • 1966: The Visigoths in the Time of Ulfila
  • 1965: The Early Germans
  • 1952: Roman Reformer and Inventor: New Text of De Rebus Bellicis
  • 1948: A History of Attila and the Huns
  • 1947: Ammianus Marcellinus


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Markus, R.A. "Obituary: Professor Edward Thompson", The Independent, 6 January 1994; retrieved 29 March 2009. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-edward-thompson-1398226.html
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Edward Arthur Thompson, 1914-1994". "Proceedings of the British Academy, 111, pp. 679-93, The British Academy; retrieved 29 March 2009.

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