Statement released by The Vindolanda Trust 21st December, 2020

The Vindolanda Trust conveys with great sorrow that Professor Anthony Birley (Tony) died peacefully in his sleep early during the morning of Saturday December 19th at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. He had become terminally ill with lung cancer and bore his short illness with bravery and the utmost dignity.

"In addition to a long and distinguished academic career, Tony made a major contribution to the Vindolanda Trust over many years.  As current guardians of the trust, my fellow trustees and I always appreciated Tony's expertise and wise counsel. We will miss him greatly".  Chair of Trustees, Helen Woodford. 

Anthony Birley was born at Chesterholm, (now the Vindolanda Museum) on 8th October 1937 and was the younger son of Eric and Peggy Birley. He said that his earliest memories of the place were from 1943 when the family returned to Northumberland after being away for the first years of the Second World War. For Tony, and his elder brother Robin, Chesterholm and Vindolanda became a place of boyhood freedom and adventure which left a deep love and impact on the rest of their lives.

At school, Clifton College, he showed talent mainly for languages, so, as still allowed in those days, concentrated from the age of 13 on Latin, Greek, and Ancient History to the exclusion of most other subjects and this led to Classics at Oxford.

After reading Literae Humaniores at Oxford he was Craven Fellow of that university 1960-1962 and then became a Research Fellow at Birmingham; Lecturer, later Reader at Leeds; Visiting Lecturer, Duke University, N. Carolina; Professor of Ancient History at Manchester and at Düsseldorf, retiring in 2002. He was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1969. Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute in 1981, full Member from 1992; Member of the Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften 1994-2002, now Corresponding Member; Member of the School of Historical Studies, Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton 1994

He always enjoyed digging, mainly in England and especially, for many years, joining his brother at Vindolanda, Scotland and Wales, with two spells in Libya. After his experience of directing a dig himself (at Maryport in 1966) he chose to stick to teaching and writing history (several books on Roman Britain and three more on Roman emperors including extensive contributions with many more academic articles).

Anthony became a Founder Trustee of the Vindolanda Trust in 1970 and served until 2016, for the final twenty years as Chair, and then became our senior Patron. His contribution to the reading of the Vindolanda writing tablets and the numerous inscriptions from the site was immense and he never failed to apply the formidable brilliance of his academic mind for our benefit. 

We mourn this kind man who was so generous with his knowledge and personal time to everyone he met. Professor Anthony Birley was loved by all at Vindolanda, he is irreplaceable and will be forever embedded in the history of the Vindolanda Trust.

May he now rest in peace and our heartfelt condolences go to his wife, children, and grandchildren.