Ernest Barker's contributions to the study of classical political thought have remained a benchmark in that field for much of the twentieth century. This introduction seeks to place his output in historical context, examining the professional, political and personal factors which underpinned his success as an interpreter of Plato and Aristotle, especially. It considers his education, the popular nature of his work, his ambiguous relationship to the establishment, his English-British patriotism, his European connections and perspective, his dual career as a scholar and journalist, and his liberalism as central to the cultural authority he acquired in the first half of the twentieth-century. The introduction emphasises the close relationship between Barker's ‘national' status as a classical scholar, the methodological, democratic, and religious sensibilities that informed his work, and the deep sense of public mission by which he was moved, down to his last years. In doing so, it draws together themes which are explored more fully in the special issue as a whole.