Ronald Syme was born at Eltham in 1903, and was educated there, at nearby Stratford and at New Plymouth. At Stratford District High School his interest in Latin was encouraged by a far-sighted teacher, Miss Tooman. He later showed great facility with languages, studying Latin, French and Greek along with other humanities subjects, first at Victoria University in Wellington and later at Auckland University. In 1925 he won a postgraduate scholarship in arts which took him to Oriel College, Oxford, where he won prizes. After graduating, he became a fellow and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford. Extensive reading and travel gave him an enduring interest in Roman military history. His highly influential work, The Roman revolution (1939), was published on the eve of the Second World War. Returning to Oxford after war service and a period teaching at the University of Istanbul, Syme was appointed Camden Professor of Ancient History. In the 1950s he published more acclaimed books and was knighted in 1959. This was followed by numerous other awards and honorary doctorates, and, finally, the Order of Merit in 1976. Syme was sociable but essentially reserved, and remained a bachelor. He was a proud New Zealander all his life.
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National Portrait Gallery, London
Photograph by Walter Stoneman, August 1946
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