Joyce Reynolds, who has died aged 103, was an honorary fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, a classicist specialising in Roman historical epigraphy and the first woman to be awarded the Kenyon medal by the British Academy in 2017.
The high noon of a stellar academic career that saw Joyce actively engage with the ancient world in the Middle East and North Africa came in 1982 when she published Aphrodisias and Rome. This groundbreaking book focused on the Archive Wall uncovered in the theatre at Aphrodisias in Turkey’s western Anatolia and inscribed with letters between Roman authorities and the eastern city.
Joyce’s painstaking work with these ancient texts involved the location of stones that had been moved, the piecing together of numerous small fragments, and the inclusion of inscriptions from earlier travellers. The result was a published account that proved transformative for the understanding of Roman imperial history, in particular the relationship between the eastern provinces and the empire.
Aphrodisias and Rome was also innovative for its use of full English translations and exploration of the texts in their historical setting – and a fitting testimony to a lifetime of pioneering research in a man’s world. A former student and emeritus professor, Charlotte Roueché, recalled arriving on site in 1970s Anatolia with Joyce. The excavation of Aphrodisias was overseen by Kenan Erim, “a fascinating, terrifying character” who was unpredictable and anti-women. Few lasted the course; Joyce proved an exception.
“She just kept her head down and was one of the last women standing.”
Joyce’s modus operandi contrasted with the many on-site NYU colleagues who clashed with Erim, an old-fashioned Ottoman Turk. In comparison, Joyce was culturally sensitive and characteristically hardy. She would later admit: “I was often the only woman on a site. But I knew things men didn’t. I would tell them things, show them things, I would educate them in a way.”