John Boardman was educated at Chigwell School (1938–1945); then Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read Classics beginning in 1945. After completing two years' national service in the Intelligence Corps he spent three years in Greece, from 1952 to 1955, as the Assistant Director of the British School at Athens. He married Sheila Stanford in 1952 (d. 2005), and has two children, Julia and Mark.
On his return to England in 1955, Boardman took up the post of Assistant Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, thus beginning his lifelong affiliation with it. In 1959 he was appointed Reader in Classical Archaeology in the University of Oxford, and in 1963 was appointed a Fellow of Merton College. Here he remained until his appointment as Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology, a position previously held by John Beazley, and the concomitant Fellowship of Lincoln College in 1978. He was knighted in 1989 and retired in 1994, and is now Emeritus Professor.
He is an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and of Merton and Lincoln Colleges in Oxford, as well as the holder of many other academic distinctions.
He has carried out archaeological excavations at many sites, including in Smyrna, Crete, Emporio in Chios and at Tocra in Libya. His voluminous publications focus primarily on the art and architecture of ancient Greece, and in particular on sculpture, engraved gems, and vase-painting.
He is the author of the controversial book The Greeks Overseas, on the ancient Greek diaspora throughout the Mediterranean, in which Greek populations from the Aegean region, Greek coastal mainland and Western Turkey settled the coastal regions of Italy, North Africa, southern France, reaching as far as southern Spain. The book has now undergone four editions, as new archaeological research emerges.
The Cretan Collection in Oxford (1961)
The Cretan Collection in Oxford (1961) The Date of the Knossos Tablets (1963) Island Gems (1963)
CVA Ashmolean Museum 3 (1975) CVA Castle Ashby, with M. Robertson (1980)
10 handbooks and collection catalogues on ancient gems and rings