John Chadwick, FBA (/ˈtʃædwɪk/; 21 May 1920 – 24 November 1998) was an English linguist and classical scholar who, with Michael Ventris, was most notable for the decipherment of Linear B.
Early life and education
Chadwick was born in East Sheen, Richmond-upon-Thames, and educated at St Paul's School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He served as an officer in the Royal Navy's Special Branch during the Second World War. In May 1942, he was transferred to intelligence duties at the naval base HMS Nile in Alexandria, Egypt, and worked on breaking lower-level Italian naval codes. Chadwick was working on Italian naval codes as an Able Seaman when, in September 1942, he was suddenly (and immediately) promoted to Temporary Sub-Lieutenant as the material was classed as “Officers Only”. His superior Commander Murray had exploded when told that Chadwick would need six months training in England before promotion. Chadwick deduced from some R/T traffic meant to be handled at Bletchley Park that a British submarine had been sunk near Taranto.
In 1944, he was transferred to Bletchley Park (“Station X”), learned Japanese, and worked on reading the encoded messages sent by the Japanese naval representatives in Stockholm and Berlin.
After the end of the war in 1945, he returned to his studies at Cambridge, graduating with First Class Honours in Classics Part II, with a distinction in his special subject, linguistics.
While studying at Corpus Christi College, he attempted, with some of his fellow students, to use cryptographic methods to decipher the “Minoan Linear Script B”. They were already aware at the time of the work of Michael Ventris. They stopped working actively on the problem owing to a lack of published data from inscriptions.
In 1950 he published his first scholarly work, an edition of The Medical Works of Hippocrates, co-authored with his cousin, William Neville Mann, a distinguished physician. After finishing his degree, he joined the staff of the Oxford Latin Dictionary before beginning a Classics lectureship at Cambridge in 1952. That year he began working with Ventris on the progressive decipherment of Linear B, the two writing Documents in Mycenean Greek in 1956, following a controversial first paper three years earlier. Chadwick's philological ideas were applied to Ventris's initial theory that Linear B was an early form of Greek rather than another Mediterranean language.
After Ventris's death, Chadwick became the figurehead of the Linear B work, writing the accessible and popular book The Decipherment of Linear B in 1958 and revising Documents in Mycenean Greek in 1978.
He retired in 1984, by which time he had become the fourth (and last) Perceval Maitland Laurence Reader in Classics at Cambridge. He continued his scholarship until his death, being an active member of several international societies and writing numerous popular and academic articles. He was also a Fellow of the British Academy and of Downing College, Cambridge.
Chadwick married Joan Hill in 1947 and they had one son.
Decorations and awards
- 1992: Austrian Decoration for Science and Art
- 1997: International Antonio Feltrinelli Prize