William Ridgeway

Brereton Reader in Classics, Cambridge

The Evolution of Religions of Ancient Greece and Rome

These lectures remain unpublished. Gow and Robertson, who posthumously published Ridgeway’s The Early Age of Greece, vol. 2 in 1931, wrote, ‘Of the chapter on the gods a few pages were, as has been said, in proof in 1901, but the rest, though it served for Ridgeway’s Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen in 1909–11, seems not to have been committed to paper’. Further: ‘Short summaries of the Gifford Lectures appeared in the Aberdeen Free Press and the Aberdeen Journal’. 


William Ridgeway was born on 6 August 1858 in King’s County, Ireland. An Anglo-Irish classical scholar, Sir Ridgeway established the School of Anthropology at Cambridge. Severely disappointed by a rejected application at Gonville and Caius College while a resident scholar, he was appointed Chair of Greek at University College, Cork in 1883. Maintaining a close connection to Cambridge, he won the Disney Chair in Archaeology in 1892 and became Brereton Readership in Classics in 1907. 

Knighted in 1919, he received honorary doctorates from the universities of Dublin, Manchester, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. He was most proud of being elected President of the Classical Association in 1914. Although in many ways a reformer, Sir Ridgeway maintained traditional views, leading to his work losing relevance over time. Prominent works include The Origin of Metallic Currency and Weight Standards (1892), The Early Age of Greece (1901), The Origin and Influence of the Thoroughbred Horse (1905), Who were the Romans? (1907), The Origin of Tragedy, with Special Reference to Greek Tragedians (1910), Dramas and Dramatic Dances of Non-European Races (1915).