Thomas Ashby
Thomas Ashby FBA  (14 October 1874, Ashford Road, Staines
Staines is a Thames-side town in the Spelthorne borough of Surrey and Greater London Urban Area, as well as the London Commuter Belt of South East England. It is a suburban development within the western bounds of the M25 motorway and located 17 miles west south-west of Charing Cross in...

, Middlesex – 15 May 1931) was a British archaeologist.


He was the only child of Thomas Ashby (1851–1906), and his wife, Rose Emma, daughter of Apsley Smith. His father belonged to the well-known Quaker family to whom belonged Ashby's brewery at Staines - this became a private company in 1886

Appearance and manner

Stocky in figure, he had a tall and forceful head and a neat beard (first red and later white). His English and Italian were both equally brusque (John Ward-Perkins
John Bryan Ward-Perkins
John Bryan Ward-Perkins CMG, CBE, FBA was a British Classical architectural historian and archaeologist, and director of the British School at Rome.-Background:...

 recalled a ‘flow of impeccably idiomatic Italian spoken in an accent which to his dying day remained obstinately British’), and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls him "shy with strangers, blunt with acquaintances, and devoted to his friends".

Early life

An exhibitioner at Winchester College
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

 (1887–93), Thomas there gained the lasting nickname Titus.
Ashby won a scholarship at Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England...

, studying under Francis John Haverfield and John Linton Myres, then gained a first-class degree in classical moderations (1895) and in literae humaniores (1897). Concentrating on Roman antiquities after 1897 (the year he was awarded a Craven fellowship), he next published his first article (‘The true site of Lake Regillus’, 1898), gained an Oxford degree of DLitt (1905) and won the Conington Prize
Conington Prize
The Conington Prize is awarded annually by the University of Oxford.The cash prize is offered for a dissertation on a subject chosen by the writer and approved by the Board of the Faculty of Classics...

 for classical learning (1906).

Understanding of the city of Rome was then being transformed by a series of excavations, including renewed work on the Roman forum (started under Giacomo Boni
Giacomo Boni (archaeologist)
Giacomo Boni was an Italian archaeologist specializing in Roman architecture.Born in Venice, Boni studied architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in his native city and later dedicated himself to extensive and important excavations in the Forum Romanum in Rome...

 in 1898), and Ashby wrote a regular series of reports on these developments for the Classical Review (1899–1906), The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Antiquaries Journal (1921–5, 1930). (Also, four years after the Staines brewery's privitization, Ashby's father had settled in Rome, exploring the Campagna
Campagna is a small town and comune of the province of Salerno, in the Campania region of Southern Italy.-History:The town, located in a mountainous district, gradually lost importance in the 20th century...

 and becoming friends with Rodolfo Lanciani
Rodolfo Lanciani
Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani was an Italian archaeologist, a pioneering student of ancient Roman topography, and among his many excavations was that of the House of the Vestals in the Roman Forum....



Ashby enrolled in January 1902 as the first student of the British School at Rome
British School at Rome
The British School at Rome was established in 1901 and granted a Royal Charter in 1912 as an educational institute in the fields of archaeology, literature, music, and history of Rome and Italy of every period, and for the study of the fine arts and architecture...

, under its first director Gordon McNeil Rushforth, and was the same year appointed its honorary librarian and elected as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries
Society of Antiquaries of London
The Society of Antiquaries of London is a learned society "charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with 'the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries'." It is based at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London , and is...

. Rushforth and his successor Henry Stuart Jones
Henry Stuart Jones
Sir Henry Stuart Jones was a British academic and fellow of Trinity College, University of Oxford, where he held an appointment from 1920 to 1927 as Camden Professor of Ancient History....

 both retired early due to ill health and Ashby (assistant director 1903-06) became the School's third director, until 1925. His first assistant directors were Augustus Moore Daniel (later a director of the National Gallery in London), then from 1909 Eugénie Strong - the latter appointment made Ashby's position at the school more secure and extending the School's influence in Roman society, with Eugénie in effect serving as its hostess.

Trying to make the British School at Rome a focus for archaeological research in the western Mediterranean, Ashby appointed as associate student of the BSR Duncan Mackenzie
Duncan Mackenzie
Duncan Mackenzie was a Scottish archaeologist, whose work focused on one of the more spectacular 20th century archaeological finds, Crete's palace of Knossos, the supposed centre of Minoan civilisation....

, who had just worked with Arthur Evans
Arthur Evans
Sir Arthur John Evans FRS was a British archaeologist most famous for unearthing the palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete and for developing the concept of Minoan civilization from the structures and artifacts found there and elsewhere throughout eastern Mediterranean...

 at Knossos
Knossos , also known as Labyrinth, or Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace appears as a maze of workrooms, living spaces, and store rooms close to a central square...

. Ashby and Mackenzie presented a joint paper on the ethnology of Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

 to the British Association for the Advancement of Science
British Association for the Advancement of Science
frame|right|"The BA" logoThe British Association for the Advancement of Science or the British Science Association, formerly known as the BA, is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between...

 meeting in York
York is a walled city, situated at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. The city has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence...

 in summer 1906 (after a joint trip there that June). This research area at the BSR dried up in 1909 when Mackenzie returned to work for the Palestine Exploration Fund
Palestine Exploration Fund
The Palestine Exploration Fund is a British society often simply known as the PEF. It was founded in 1865 and is still functioning today. Its initial object was to carry out surveys of the topography and ethnography of Ottoman Palestine with a remit that fell somewhere between an expeditionary...

 in the eastern Mediterranean, though Ashby did make a return trip to Sardinia in 1912. Turning his attention to the British islands of Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 and Gozo
Gozo is a small island of the Maltese archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is part of the Southern European country of Malta; after the island of Malta itself, it is the second-largest island in the archipelago...

 and their possibilities for research on Mediterranean prehistory, and joined by Thomas Eric Peet for the 1905–6 session, Ashby visited Malta alone on various occasions in 1908 and 1909 and returned with Peet to excavate the sites of Hagiar-Kim and Mnaidra
Mnajdra is a megalithic temple complex found on the southern coast of the Mediterranean island of Malta. Mnajdra is approximately 500 metres from the Ħaġar Qim megalithic complex...

 in 1910 and 1911.

WWI and after

With the support of the British ambassador Sir Rennell Rodd, the BSR decided in 1912 to relocate a new, larger, permanent building in the Valle Giulia, designed by Lutyens
Edwin Lutyens
Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, OM, KCIE, PRA, FRIBA was a British architect who is known for imaginatively adapting traditional architectural styles to the requirements of his era...

, and to expand into not only archaeology but also art and architecture. The move itself occurred in 1915 saw the actual move, and Ashby's volunteering not to fight in the First World War but instead to serve as a translator in the first British Red Cross
British Red Cross
The British Red Cross Society is the United Kingdom branch of the worldwide impartial humanitarian organisation the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The society was formed in 1870, and is a registered charity with over 31,000 volunteers and 2,600 staff. At the heart of their work...

 ambulance unit, based at the Villa Trento near Udine, leaving Mrs Strong to run the School. Ashby felt this appropriate to his Quaker leanings and, though it drew criticism, he was still asked to return to Rome and the BSR, and was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery in his ambulance work on the Asiago
Asiago is the name of both a minor township and the surrounding plateau region in the Province of Vicenza in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy...


Moving to the British Red Cross headquarters in Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

 from late 1917 to spring 1918 after the Italian defeat at the battle of Caporetto
Battle of Caporetto
The Battle of Caporetto , took place from 24 October to 19 November 1917, near the town of Kobarid , on the Austro-Italian front of World War I...

, Ashby then moved to Rome as an education officer (lecturing on ancient Rome to the troops), and only resumed his role as director of the school in spring 1919. On his return, he and Strong had immediately to re-start the school's work on the sculpture catalogue which Stuart Jones had begun, though Ashby still managed to return to Malta in March 1921 to work with Themistocles Zammit
Themistocles Zammit
Sir Themistocles Zammit was a Maltese archaeologist and historian, professor of chemistry, medical doctor, researcher and writer, serving as Rector of the Royal University of Malta and first Director of the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.-Career:After graduating in medicine from the...

 at Hal-Tarxien
Tarxien Temples
The Tarxien Temples are an archaeological complex in Tarxien, Malta. They date back to approximately 2800 BC. The site was accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 along with the other Megalithic temples on the island of Malta.-Description:...

 (in work published in the Antiquaries Journal (1924) and to continue his interest in prehistory by collaborating with Peet and H. Thurlow Leeds on an essay on the western Mediterranean for the Cambridge Ancient History
Cambridge Ancient History
The Cambridge Ancient History is a comprehensive ancient history in fourteen volumes, spanning Prehistory to Late Antiquity, published by Cambridge University Press. The first series, of twelve volumes, was planned by J. B. Bury and published between 1924 and 1939. A second series, revising and...


On his return from Malta in spring 1921, Ashby met Caroline May, eldest daughter of the civil engineer Richard Price-Williams and cousin of Walter Ashburner (an old friend of Ashby's with links to the British Institute of Florence
British Institute of Florence
The British Institute of Florence is a cultural institute founded in 1917 in Florence, Italy, with the aim of promoting Anglo-Italian cultural relations, teaching English and Italian languages, and running a Library of English books to illustrate British and Italian literature, art, history and music...

), working in the school library. The couple married on 20 July 1921 and, though they had no children, Caroline began to take over Strong's role as hostess at the school, straining relations between them. In 1924 the BSR executive committee decided to only renew Strong's and Ashby's appointments until 1925, when Mrs Strong would reach retirement age at sixty-five. General shock greeted the decision, with Rennell Rodd writing in late November 1924:
"almost everyone I meet deplores the decision … In spite of Ashby's eccentricities he had the regard of all the Italian archaeologists and they are all very much upset at his going. In his own particular line he is considered one of the greatest authorities and his collections and maps which have been at the disposal of students are almost unique in their way."

Retirement and death

Ashby settled in Rome after his enforced retirement and set to work completing "Some Italian scenes and festivals" (1929, a work dedicated to his wife, which also appeared in 1995 in a revised edition as "Sagre e feste d'Abruzzo"), a revision of the second part of W. J. Anderson and R. P. Spiers's 1902 "The architecture of Greece and Rome" (1927), and a revised edition of Samuel B. Platner
Samuel Ball Platner
Samuel Ball Platner was an American classicist and archaeologist.Platner was born at Unionville, Connecticut, and educated at Yale College...

's "Topographical dictionary of ancient Rome" (1929). He also carried out lecture tours of Australia (having first visited in 1914) and - in 1926 - he embarked of North America (the latter in conjunction with the Archaeological Institute of America
Archaeological Institute of America
The Archaeological Institute of America is a North American nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion of public interest in archaeology, and the preservation of archaeological sites. It has offices on the campus of Boston University and in New York City.The institute was founded in 1879,...


Ashby's health seems to have declined in this period, including deteriorating eyesight. Elected in 1930 to a senior research studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, he returned to England to fulfil the post's residence requirements. However, on his way to Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

 on the morning of 15 May 1931, he fell from the Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

 to Waterloo
Waterloo station
Waterloo station, also known as London Waterloo, is a central London railway terminus and London Underground complex. The station is owned and operated by Network Rail and is close to the South Bank of the River Thames, and in Travelcard Zone 1....

 train between New Malden
New Malden
New Malden is a town and shopping centre in the south-western London suburbs, mostly within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and partly in the London Borough of Merton, and is situated from Charing Cross...

 and Raynes Park
Raynes Park
Raynes Park is a suburb within the London Borough of Merton south-west London, centred around Raynes Park station and situated between Wimbledon and New Malden. It is 8.2 miles south-west of Charing Cross. The area is effectively divided into two by the Waterloo - Southampton mainline railway...

, Surrey. An enlarged brain tumour was revealed in the post-mortem, though an open verdict was recorded despite there suspicions of suicide. Ashby was cremated, with his ashes interred at St Margaret's Bay in Kent (R. R. Campbell stated that Ashby "was almost as fond [of St Margaret's] as of his own beloved Rome" ).


Excavation in Italy, in the post-Risorgimento period of the 1910s, was limited to Italians and disallowed to foreigners, leading to their concentration on topographical and museum studies. Ashby was no exception, producing a series of detailed topographical studies of Italy's Roman roads, later collated in the valuable work "The Roman Campagna in classical times" (1927, republished in 1970 with an Italian edition in 1982), and studies on the aqueducts in the city of Rome, the first of which was published in the Classical Review in 1900. (After his retirement, he also produced "The aqueducts of ancient Rome", published posthumously in 1935 under Ian Richmond's guidance.) Indeed, Ashby grew into a master of Rome's urban topography
Topography of ancient Rome
The topography of ancient Rome is a multidisciplinary field of study that draws on archaeology, epigraphy, cartography and philology.The classic English-language work of scholarship is A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome , written by Samuel Ball Platner, completed and published after his...

, working from both classical and early modern literature and prints, and drawing on (among other things) Antonio Labacco's 16th century architectural drawings, Eufrosino della Volpaia's 1547 map of the Campagna, the Étienne du Pérac's 1581 topographical studies, Giovanni Battista de'Cavalieri
Giovanni Battista de'Cavalieri
Giovanni Battista de'Cavalieri , an Italian engraver, was born at Lagherino and died at Rome. His style of engraving resembles that of Aeneas Vico, although inferior to it. Many of his plates are copies after the great Italian masters; they are etched, and finished with the graver. He was very...

's "Antiquae statuae urbis Romae", and the art collections at Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a medieval castle and royal residence in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, notable for its long association with the British royal family and its architecture. The original castle was built after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I it...

, the Sir John Soane Museum, and Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....



Haverfield also encouraged and supported Ashby in gaining excavation experience at the Roman town of Caerwent
Caerwent is a village and community in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is located about five miles west of Chepstow and eleven miles east of Newport, and was founded by the Romans as the market town of Venta Silurum, an important settlement of the Brythonic Silures tribe. The modern village is built...

 in south Wales as part of the Caerwent Exploration Fund (1899–1910, 1913), presided over by Lord Tredegar and initiated by the Clifton Antiquarian Club. Ashby, Alfred E. Hudd and A. Trice Martin, an assistant master at Clifton College, all worked on the project, with Ashby contributing to the annual reports published in Archaeologia (1901–7, 1909–11).


Ashby was a member of the German Archaeological Institute
German Archaeological Institute
The German Archaeological Institute is an institution of research within the field of archaeology , and a "scientific corporation", with parentage of the federal Foreign Office of Germany-Origin:...

 (1913), of the Pontificia Accademia Romana d'Archeologia (1914); a foreign member of the Reale Accademia dei Lincei
Accademia dei Lincei
The Accademia dei Lincei, , is an Italian science academy, located at the Palazzo Corsini on the Via della Lungara in Rome, Italy....

 (1918); an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects
Royal Institute of British Architects
The Royal Institute of British Architects is a professional body for architects primarily in the United Kingdom, but also internationally.-History:...

 (1922); an honorary member of the Reale Accademia di San Luca
Accademia di San Luca
The Accademia di San Luca, was founded in 1577 as an association of artists in Rome, under the directorship of Federico Zuccari, with the purpose of elevating the work of "artists", which included painters, sculptors and architects, above that of mere craftsmen. Other founders included Girolamo...

 (1925); and a fellow of the Reale Società Romana di Storia Patria (1923), and of the British Academy
British Academy
The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national body for the humanities and the social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.It receives an annual...


External links

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