Lionel Casson

Lionel Casson

American classicist, professor emeritus at New York University and specialist in maritime history
Date of Birth: 22.07.1914
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Lionel Casson
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Contributions and Works
  4. Legacy

Biography of Lionel Casson

Lionel Casson, born Lionel I. Cohen on July 22, 1914, in Brooklyn, was an American classical scholar, distinguished professor at New York University, and a specialist in maritime history. He was the author of the books "The Ancient Mariners" and "Libraries in the Ancient World." His encounter with Jacques-Yves Cousteau opened up new ways of studying maritime affairs in the ancient world. His interest in ancient works and archaeological findings helped uncover the mysteries surrounding the birth of the first libraries.

Lionel Casson

Early Life and Education

As a teenager, Casson owned a sailboat which he used in the Long Island Sound. He attended New York University (NYU) to further expand his already extensive knowledge and obtained a Bachelor's degree in 1934. In 1936, he earned a Master's degree, and in 1939, a Ph.D. Casson started his career in the teaching system at NYU from the bottom. During World War II, he served as an officer in the United States Navy, responsible for interrogating prisoners of war. After the war, Lionel returned to NYU where he remained a professor of classical languages from 1961 to 1979.

Contributions and Works

Casson authored 23 books on maritime history and classical literature. His works relied on a wide range of ancient and old materials, including speeches by Demosthenes and works by Thucydides, ship cargo declarations, and archaeological research. He was interested in the development of shipbuilding, maritime trade routes, and naval warfare in the ancient world. In his speech at the Archaeological Institute of America in 2005, when Lionel received the Gold Medal, he recalled his trip to the south of France in 1953, where he had the opportunity to meet Jacques-Yves Cousteau. At that time, Cousteau was investigating an ancient shipwreck. Casson remembered visiting a warehouse filled with hundreds of amphorae that had been raised to the surface. He immediately realized that he had discovered a new source of information about ancient sea voyages and decided to integrate this new find into his database, which revealed details about the ancient world.

Casson's book "The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times" (1959) tells the story of the birth of civilization on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Lionel writes that it all began with ships sailing along the coast, gradually venturing further into the sea. Trade and military expeditions helped establish routes to remote regions such as India, and the development of specialized crafts transformed flat-bottomed boats into real ships, including triremes. Triremes were propelled by 170 rowers and reached speeds of up to seven knots.

In 2001, Yale University Press published Casson's book "Libraries in the Ancient World." The author referred to ancient works and archaeological findings in the Near East and the Greco-Roman world to trace the development of writing, the creation of the first books, their manual copying, and the birth of the first libraries. In this work, Casson ranks Homer as the most popular ancient author and gives higher praise to the "Iliad" than the "Odyssey" on his list of the best ancient works.


Lionel was a member of the male literary dining club "Trap Door Spiders." He passed away from pneumonia on July 18, 2009, at the age of 95. Casson left behind his wife, Julia Michaelman, two daughters, and two grandchildren.