Miriam Balmuth, née Scharf, was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She graduated from Cornell University in 1946 and earned an M.A. degree in classical languages at Ohio State University. In 1964, she received a Ph.D. in classical archaeology from Harvard, one of the first women to do so. She developed a strong interest in numismatics early in her career, with a particularly fascination with coins of the classical period in the Middle Eastern and lands controlled by Rome. From 1955 to 1962, she served as Keeper of Ancient Coins at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, where she was also the Assistant for the D. M. Robinson Collection from 1960 to 1962. In 1962, she joined the faculty of Tufts University, where she remained for 30 years, rising to become Professor of Classics and Archaeology in 1979 and Professor of Classics, Archaeology, and Art History in 1990. She became a key figure in several fields of archaeology. In the 1970s, she directed the first American excavation on the island of Sardinia, showing its importance as a trade route.
She was the editor of scholarly texts such as Studies in Sardinian Archaeology (1984), Studies in Sardinian Archaeology II: Sardinia in the Mediterranean (1986), and Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece (2001).