Rostovtzeff, Michael

Rostovtzeff, Michael (Ivanovitch)

(1870–1952) historian; born in Kiev, Russia. His career divides almost evenly between his years at the University of Saint Petersburg, and then, after the Russian Revolution, at the University of Wisconsin and Yale (1925–52). One of the first historians to use archaeological evidence, he was director of the Yale excavation at Dura-Europus on the Euphrates (1928–38). He concentrated on economic history with a particular interest in ancient agriculture. His own experiences in Russia influenced his interpretation of the Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (1926) as the triumph of barbarism and the lower classes. His Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (1941) focused attention on a previously neglected era. His bibliography runs to more than 500 entries; he has been called the most important ancient historian of the first half of the 20th century.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovich


(also Rostovtsev, Rostovzeff). Born Oct. 29 (Nov. 10), 1870, in Kiev; died Oct. 20, 1952, in New Haven, Conn. Russian historian of antiquity and archaeologist.

Rostovtzeff was educated at the universities of Kiev and St. Petersburg. In 1898 he became a privatdocent, and in 1901 a professor at the University of St. Petersburg, where he remained until his emigration from Soviet Russia in 1918. From 1920 to 1925 he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and from 1925 to 1944 a professor at Yale University in New Haven. During the years 1928–37 he headed the excavations at Dura-Europos. Rostovtzeff was a member of many academies and learned societies, as well as the recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities. He concentrated on the socioeconomic aspects of Hellenism and the Roman Empire and on the ancient history of southern Russia, where he elucidated the complex interrelationships between Greek, Persian, and local cultures. He also made a critical survey of the literary and archaeological sources pertaining to the history of the Scythians and the Bosporan state (The Scythians and the Bosporus, 1925).

Rostovtzeff s overall conception of the Greek and Roman world’s development, as set forth in his general works on the socioeconomic history of Hellenism and Rome, is one of modernization. It is built on a recognition of the existence in antiquity of capitalism, an entrepreneurial Greek and Roman bourgeoisie, and proletarian revolutions. Still, the huge mass of factual material collected by Rostovtzeff, his meticulous treatment and synthesis of this material, and a number of the conclusions he draws are of great scholarly interest.


Istoriia gosudarstvennogo otkupa ν Rimskoi imperii (ot Avgusta do Diokletiana). St. Petersburg, 1899.
Ellinistichesko-rimskii arkhitekturnyipeizazh. St. Petersburg, 1908.
Rozhdenie rimskoi imperii. Petrograd, 1918.
Studien zur Geschichte des römischen Kolonates. Berlin-Leipzig, 1910.
Mystic Italy. New York [1927].
Dura-Europos and Its Art. Oxford, 1938.
The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire. Oxford, 1926.
A History of the Ancient World, vols. 1–2. Oxford, 1926–27.
The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World, vols. 1–3. Oxford, 1941.


Borozdin, I. Uchenyezaslugi M. I. Rostovtseva. [Moscow, 1915.]
Momigliano, A. “In Memoria di M. Rostovtzeff.” Revista storica italiana, 1953, [vol.] 65, issue 4.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.