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Ian Morris is interested in understanding why the west has dominated the earth for the last few centuries. He began his career as an archaeologist and historian of ancient Greece, studying early texts and excavating sites around the Mediterranean Sea, but in recent years he has moved toward larger-scale questions and an evolutionary approach to world history. He has written or edited more than eleven books. His book, Why the West RulesFor Now, asks how geography and natural resources have shaped the distribution of wealth and power around the world across the last 20,000 years and how they will shape our future. Morris discussed this subject in a February 2012 lecture entitled "Why the West RulesFor Now." The book was named one of 100 Notable Books of 2011 by the New York Times and as one of the best reads for 2011 by Nature.

Morris' book, The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations, (Princeton University Press, 2013) offers both a view of when and why the West came to dominate the world and a fresh perspective for thinking about the twenty-first century. His new book project is called War! What is it Good For? will trace the occurence of war from prehuman times to the current age. When that is complete, he will work on a book tentatively called The Ancient World: A New History (Princeton University Press) which will examine the period 10,000 BCE-600 CE across the entire globe.

From 2000 through 2008 Morris directed Stanford University’s excavation at Monte Polizzo, a native Sicilian town of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. As well as suggesting new ways of thinking about how indigenous peoples responded to ancient Greek colonialism, the project's finds have also opened up new perspectives on the similarities and differences between periods of imperial expansion in ancient to modern times.

Morris came to Stanford from the University of Chicago in 1995, and since then has served as Associate Dean of Humanities and Sciences, Chair of the Classics Department, and Director of the Social Science History Institute. He also founded and has directed the Stanford Archaeology Center. His teaching includes classes on world history, ancient Greece, slavery, and archaeology. He has appeared on numerous television shows and his prizes and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities.

In other media, he acted as historical advisor to the History Channel's twelve-part series Mankind: The Story of All of Us which aired in the fall of 2012. He is also advising the History Channel on a new series.

Key works

The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium. With Walter Scheidel. Oxford University Press, 2009.

The Greeks: History, Culture, Society. With Barry Powell. Prentice-Hall, 2005. 2nd ed., 2009.

The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World. Ed., with Walter Scheidel and Richard Saller. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

The Ancient Economy: Evidence and Models. Ed. with Joe Manning. Stanford University Press, 2005.

Archaeology as Cultural History: Words and Things in Iron Age Greece. Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. (Spanish translation: 2007.)

Democracy 2500? Questions and Challenges. Ed. with Kurt Raaflaub and David Castriota. Kendall Hunt Pub. Co., 1997.

A New Companion to Homer.  Ed. with Barry Powell. Brill Academic Publishers, 1997.

Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies. Ed. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, 1992. (Greek translation: University of Kriti Press, 1997.)

Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State. Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Prof. Morris in the News

July 30, 2015
Stanford historian and classics scholar Ian Morris explains why Augustus Caesar is considered...
July 9, 2015
Stanford classics professor Ian Morris writes in the New York Times about finding insights into...
June 24, 2015
Looking for something new to read this summer? Below is a list of suggested reading from Stanford...
April 30, 2015
Shahzad Bashir, professor of Islamic studies, and Ian Morris, professor of classics, will receive...
October 6, 2014
Classics Professor Ian Morris's latest book,"War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress...
August 13, 2014
Review of a recent book, "War! What Is It Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from...
May 12, 2014
Despite its horrors, war has made our world less violent, finds Ian Morris, a Stanford professor of...
April 25, 2014
Classics Professor Ian Morris makes the case that war creates larger, more peaceful societies.
April 23, 2014
Ian Morris, professor of classics considers the possible meanings of military exercises along the...
April 16, 2014
Ian Morris, professor of classics, writes about war in this excerpt from his book, "War! What is it...
January 11, 2011
Financial Times, January 11, 2011
December 15, 2010
New York Times, December 15, 2010
December 10, 2010
New York Times, December 10, 2010
Multidiscplinary Teaching and Research at Stanford, November 2006
Stanford News Service, October 24, 1995
The Human Experience at Stanford University: Thinking Twice, June 2009

Audio and Video

NPR interview for 'On Point Radio with Tom Ashbrook', December 13, 2010

Are democracy and gender equality always good? Are violence and wealth inequality always bad? This presentation will dive into what drives changes in human values and what we as a society consider good or evil. Stanford professor of Classics Ian Morris presented during Classes Without Quizzes, part of Stanford’s Reunion Homecoming 2015 in partnership with the Humanities Center.

November 13, 2015


  • Ancient Greece and the Mediterranean
  • Archaeology
  • Comparative history
  • World history


B.A., Birmingham University, 1981
Ph.D., Cambridge University, 1986