Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark

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Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, who died on 15 October aged 71, was a man of great charm, an indefatigable traveller, a brilliant linguist and an anthropologist of distinct talent and enthusiasm. His earliest work in the social sciences (for which he received the degree of Docteur en Droit from the University of Paris) was a study from literature of Danish agricultural co-operatives in relation to the external market — mainly the export of bacon and eggs to England. This was written in French and published in 1935. But in 1934, at the international anthropological conference in London, he had met both R. R. Marett and Malinowski, and become attracted to anthropology. After a brief period at Oxford with Marett he found Malinowski’s concept of culture as adaptation to biological needs, and his functional method of study, ‘more dynamic and inspired’, and he attended seminars at the LSE between 1935 and 1937. Influenced by Malinowski’s findings in the Trobriands, and by his mother Princess Marie Buonaparte, a noted psychoanalyst (who rescued Freud from Vienna in 1938), and having himself been psychoanalysed in Paris, he became interested in the problem of the fate of the Oedipus complex in polyandrous societies. In the event, his contribution lay more in the anthropological than in the psychological field.

For six months in 1938 he travelled in the Western Himalayas, mainly among populations of Tibetan type, and emerged with fascinating novel material on the economic and social aspects of Tibetan polyandry. (Later he collected data also on marriage relationships among the Toda and some peoples of Kerala) After distinguished war service in the Greek Army, he hoped in 1950 to lead a Danish expedition into Tibet. But the Chinese threat to Tibet and the opposition of the Indian government led him to settle instead in Kalimpong, with his wife Princess Irene. There for seven years he was able to pursue studies among the large number of resident and refugee Tibetans. In time he learnt enough Tibetan to dispense with an interpreter, and despite fieldwork difficulties collected much important ethnographic material. (A few years ago, in the changed political climate, he was at last able to visit Tibet itself).

In 1959, Prince Peter completed a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics — where as a sensitive anthropologist he had been content to be introduced as a student to the Director, Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, and not follow royal protocol and have the Director presented to him. The results of his research appeared as A Study of Polyandry (The Hague : Mouton, 1963). The book was of uneven quality, but the mass of original data on Tibetan polyandry is a lasting contribution to the literature of this still somewhat obscure subject. Prince Peter’s more general works include a study of contemporary world trends (The ‘Eternal Question’, Copenhagen : Rosenkilde & Bagger, 1952), contrasting Greek-based western cultures with those of Asia, especially those of the steppe; and The Science of Anthropology (The Hague : Mouton, 1969), a set of lectures delivered in Athens in Greek and translated by the author. In all such work he was not a theorist of sustained systematic quality , but his wide-ranging curiosity and shrewd sense of human relationships led him to much fruitful observation. On the more personal side, he was a cheerful kindly man, with a lively sense of humour and many friends, and an ability to make light of the difficulties he faced in his determination to pursue a scientific career.


The Times of 17 October carried an in-formative Obituary of Prince Peter, including a sketch of his stormy relations with the Greek crown, but future historians will certainly need to use primary sources. Prince Peter contributed an article on Geza Roheim to RAIN (11, November/December 1975), part of which is a personal memoir.

This obituary first appeared as: Firth, Raymond. 1980. ‘Obituary’. RAIN, No. 41, p. 13 Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

FIRTH, RAYMOND. 1980. ‘Obituary’. RAIN, No. 41, p. 13 (available on-line:


Link to relevant records by or concerning the listed person on the RAI’s bibliographic database Anthropological Index Online