Léon Lacroix (1909-2016)

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by François de Callataÿ

August 25, 2016 – Léon Lacroix passed away in Liège on August 1st, 2016 in his 107th year. Born in Verviers on November 23rd, 1909, he probably was the eldest numismatist ever worldwide, dethroning Joseph Pellerin (April 27th, 1684-August 2nd, 1783) who died in his 99th year, as a model of exceptional longevity for all his contemporaries. 

Léon Lacroix at home in his 104th year.

Léon Lacroix proves also to have been very precocious, having published a collection of poems entitled “Premiers vers” at the early age of 18 (1928). After brilliant results at secondary school in Verviers, he studied philology at the University of Liège where he submitted his PhD in 1932 (he was only 23). Having got a grant for completing his studies in Paris, he attended the lessons of Charles Picard and Louis Robert.

Léon Lacroix (first on the left) at the French School of Archaeology in Athens.

In 1938, he became a member of the Ecole française d’Athènes where he came back after WWII to achieve his mandate (1938-1939 and 1946-1948). After some years of teaching at secondary schools, he entered into the academic body of the University of Liège (ULg) in 1951 where he did his full career as a professor of Greek archaeology and art history, only retiring in 1980 at the age of 70, as one of the last university professors to be allowed to do so. 

He left a vast (100 entries on the website of the ULg Library) and highly appreciated scholarly work centred on Greek numismatic iconography with three important books together with dozens of articles: “Les reproductions de statues sur les monnaies grecques: la statuaire archaïque et classique” (Liège, 1949), “Monnaies et colonisation dans l’Occident grec” (Brussels, 1965), and “Études d’archéologie numismatique” (Paris, 1974). Mastering historical and mythological written sources with archaeology and ‘auxiliary sciences’, Léon Lacroix provides a rare case of true interdisciplinarity.  

Among his many affiliations and distinctions, he received the Prix Attiambélos (Institut de France) in 1950 and was nominated as a member of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (1963). He was the oldest member of the American Numismatic Society (associate member since 1946), and served as vice-president of the Société royale de Numismatique de Belgique from 1961 to 1967 and as co-director of the “Revue belge de Numismatique” from 1963 to 1970 (he had been elected corresponding member in 1949 and ordinary member in 1953). In 1980, he held the charge of director of the Class of Arts of the Royal Academy of Belgium where he entered in 1966 and was elected ordinary member in 1973. 

Holder of an honorary doctorate from the University of Besançon (1960) and Great Officer of the Order of Leopold II, Léon Lacroix was also since the beginning (1963) and for long the director of the Committee for Belgian excavations in Greece. 

You find one of the most influential works of Léon Lacroix, “Les reproductions de statues sur les monnaies grecques: la statuaire archaïque et classique”, here.

And several of Lacroix’ articles are available on the Digital Library Numis website.