Boris Turaev

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Turaev, Boris Aleksandrovich


Born July 24 (Aug. 5), 1868, in Novogrudok, in what is now Grodno Oblast; died July 23,1920, in Petrograd. Russian Orientalist. Founder of the Russian school of the history and philology of the ancient East. Seminal figure in Russian Egyptology and Ethiopian studies. Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1918; corresponding member, 1913).

After graduating from St. Petersburg University in 1891, Tu-raev traveled abroad, studying with H. Maspero and A. Erman and conducting research in museums in Berlin, Paris, London, and Italy. He became a privatdocent in 1896, an extraordinary professor in 1904, and an ordinary professor at St. Petersburg University in 1911. In 1912, Turaev was appointed curator of the Egyptian antiquities collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

Turaev’s principal work, The History of the Ancient East (parts 1–2,1911; new edition, vols. 1–2,1936), is unequaled in its geographical and chronological scope. It includes, in Turaev’s words, the history of countries “from the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, southern Arabia, and the countries of the African lakes; from the frontiers of Iran and India to the Pillars of Hercules” (Istoriia Drevnego Vostoka, vol. 1, 1936, p. 3), and it covers the period from the beginnings of class society through the Greco-Roman era. Turaev considered religion and spiritual culture to be the basis of historical development; he relegated socioeconomic relationships to a secondary position. According to Turaev, history is essentially political, with geography playing a major role.

Turaev was instrumental in the study and publication of texts, primarily ancient Egyptian, located in Russian collections, particularly in provincial museums and in private hands. He was the author of many works on Ethiopian history and the history of the church in medieval Ethiopia. He also specialized in Semitics, As-syriology, Sumerology, Hittology, and Coptic and Urartic studies. A list of Turaev’s works up to 1918 may be found in Izvestiia Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk (Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences), series 6,1918, no. 16, pp. 1707–12.


Krachkovskii, I. Iu. B. A. Turaev i khristianskii Vostok. Petrograd, 1921.
Beliaev, E. A. “B. A. Turaev.” Trudy Moskovskogo In-ta Vostok-ovedeniia, 1946, issue 3.
Struve, V. V. “B. A. Turaev—krupneishii istorik Dr. Vostoka.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1940, no. 2.
Korostovtsev, M. A. “Akad. B. A. Turaev.” Ibid., 1974, no. 2, pp. 111–14.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.