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the study of the archaeology and language of ancient Egypt
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the comprehensive science that studies the language, writing, history, culture, and archaeological remains of ancient Egypt. It is a branch of Oriental studies. Sept. 22, 1822, is usually considered to be the date of the founding of Egyptology. On that day, the French scholar J.-F. Champollion, originator of scientific Egyptology, presented a report to the Academy of Inscriptions in Paris on the results of his research on deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. By studying the texts of the Rosetta stone and other remains, he found the key to reading Egyptian writing and subsequently compiled the first grammar and dictionary of the Egyptian language. In the 18th century and the early 19th century, the Swedish orientalist J. D. Akerblad, the French Arabist Silvestre de Sacy, the Danish scholar Zoëga, and the British physicist T. Young, among others, attempted to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphics without success. Zoëga managed to determine that the names of the pharaohs in the texts were enclosed by cartouches. Young established the meaning of several symbols.

From 1828 to 1830, Champollion headed an expedition to Egypt, where he collected a great number of antiquities, providing their first scientific description. His successors, the representatives of the so-called old school, included I. Rosellini of Italy; K. R. Lepsius, H. Brugsch, and G. Ebers of Germany; and V. E. de Rouge and F. Chabas of France. They continued to describe and study the antiquities of ancient Egypt (Rosellini’s and Lepsius’ multivolume publications have not lost their significance to this day). In addition, they worked out problems in Egyptian language, writing, and especially, history. Brugsch is credited with deciphering the demotic (cursive) writing. Systematic excavations in Egypt were begun in 1851. At Saqqara, near Memphis, the French scholar A. Mariette unearthed an underground necropolis revealing the burials of sacred bulls and other remains. He founded the Egyptian Museum and the Antiquities Service.

The emergence of the so-called Berlin school in the 1890’s was of enormous significance for the development of Egyptology. The school, which was founded by A. Erman, emphasized the philological aspect of the studies. Erman and his students, both in and outside Germany, placed the study of the Egyptian language and writing on a strictly scientific basis and created the basic works in Egyptian philology, including a multivolume dictionary of the Egyptian language (compiled by Erman and H. Grapow), Egyptian and New Egyptian grammars (compiled by Erman), and the fundamental analysis of the verb (by the German scholar K. Sethe). They also undertook a new, critical edition of the Egyptian texts. G. Maspero, who succeeded Mariette as director of the Antiquities Service in 1881, became head of the school of Egyptologists in France. In 1881, he investigated a hiding place of royal mummies of the 17th through 22nd dynasties at Deir el Bahri. In the last decades of the 19th century and early in the 20th century, the French archaeologist J. de Morgan and the British archaeologist W. Flinders Petrie discovered remains of the predynastic and protodynastic periods, thus beginning the study of the most ancient epoch in Egypt. Petrie also excavated a number of cities (Kahun, Naucratis) and tombs of the pharaohs of the 12th dynasty.

Scholars in Russia became interested in Egyptology in the first half of the 19th century. In 1824 the Decembrist G. S. Baten’kov summarized Champollion’s work Primer of the Hieroglyphic System. On Jan. 10, 1827, Champollion was elected an honorary member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. In 1826 the academy acquired a large collection of Egyptian antiquities in Milan, which were transferred to the Hermitage in 1862 and became the basis for its Egyptian collection. In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Russian Egyptologist V. S. Golenishchev undertook a series of expeditions to Egypt, where he copied inscriptions and acquired a large collection of Egyptian antiquities, which formed the basis of the collection of the A. S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. He discovered and published a series of unique texts (the Hermitage papyruses 1115A, 1116A, 1116B, the Misfortunes of Wenumen, and others). He also founded the chair of Egyptology at the University of Cairo. In 1887 the Russian Egyptologist O. E. Lemm introduced a course in Egyptology at the University of St. Petersburg. Beginning in 1896, this course was conducted by B. A. Turaev. Turaev was the author of numerous valuable works on the history of the religion and literature of ancient Egypt. He also formed the Russian school of Egyptology, to which I. M. Volkov, A. L. Kotseiovskii, V. M. Vikent’ev, N. D. Flittner, and V. V. Struve belonged. These scholars were the authors of a series of works on the history of religion, material culture, and art, which, until 1917, were published mainly in Zapiski russkogo arkheologicheskogo obshchestva (Transactions of the Russian Archaeological Society).

It became possible to give an account of the history of ancient Egyptian society on the basis of the remains discovered and studied by archaeologists and philologists. While in the first general works (for example, Brugsch’s) the historical account appeared static and invariable, later (at the end of the 19th century) the dynamics of the social and cultural development of ancient Egypt began to be considered. Maspero introduced the principle of strict historicity. The German scholars Erman and H. Ranke covered the stages in the history of the everyday life and culture of ancient Egyptians in detail. The German historian E. Meyer and the American Egyptologist J. H. Breasted created the most thorough general works on the history of Egypt. Meyer treated the subject in his multivolume history of the ancient world, and Breasted wrote a two-volume history of Egypt (which appeared in Russian translation in 1915).

Scholars have continued to study the language and texts since the 1920’s, thus expanding and deepening the achievements of the Berlin school: in the German Democratic Republic, H. Grapow; in the Federal Republic of Germany, H. Kees, W. Otto, E. Edel, and W Helck; in Great Britain, A. Gardiner and his students B. Gunn, R. Faulkner, H. Fairman, T. E. Peet, and J. Cerny; in France, P. Lacau, G. Lefebvre, E. Drioton, J. Vandier, and G. Posener; in Austria, H. Junker; in Italy, S. Donadoni; in the United States, J. Wilson, R. Parker, and R. Caminos; and in Belgium, J. Vergote and J. Capart. The publication of newly discovered as well as earlier known texts is significantly improving, and research into individual problems of language is deepening. Archaeologists and Egyptologists of different countries are constantly conducting excavations on Egyptian territory. In 1922 the British archaeologist P. Montet excavated the tombs of pharaohs of the 21st and 22nd dynasties at Tanis. The monuments that have been discovered by German, British, and American scholars in excavations at Tell el-Amarna are of great significance for the study of the period of the New Kingdom. Excavations have been conducted there for several decades and have not been completed yet. Likewise, the investigations of the British archaeologist W. Emery and the Egyptian scholars Selim Hassan and Abu-Bakr in the necropolises of Saqqara and Giza are of utmost importance for the history of the early dynastic period and the Old Kingdom. Between 1951 and 1954 the Egyptian archaeologist M. Z. Goneim excavated a previously unknown pyramid of the third dynasty containing an alabaster sarcophagus of the pharaoh Sekhemkhet. In 1960, in connection with the construction of the Aswan High Dam, an international committee under UNESCO was created in order to save the historical monuments situated in the flood zone. Archaeological expeditions from a number of countries have been sent to the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Sudan to excavate and study the temples on the island of Philae, at Abu Simbel, at Kalabishah (Kalabsha), and other sites.

Soviet Egyptology has inherited the best traditions of Russian prerevolutionary and West European science. Scholars in the USSR began the study of the problems of Egyptology from Marxist viewpoints. The socioeconomic relations of ancient Egypt are at the center of Soviet Egyptologists’ attention. V. V. Struve was the first in Soviet Egyptology to investigate these relations. The problems of socioeconomic and political history in ancient Egypt are dealt with in the works of lu. la. Perepelkin, I. M. Lur’e, D. G. Reder, I. S. Katsnel’son, A. I. Stuchevskii, and V. I. Avdiev. M. E. Mat’e and G. P. Frantsev have written works on the history of religion and mythology. The works of N. D. Flittner, M. E. Mat’e, and V. V. Pavlov are devoted to the history of ancient Egyptian art. M. A. Korostovtsev and N. S. Petrovskii have continued the study of philology, textual criticism, and the history of writing.

From 1961 to 1963 an archaeological-ethnological expedition of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR under the direction of B. B. Piotrovskii conducted investigations on the territory that was Nubia (Ad Dakkah and Wadi al Allaqi). The expedition discovered predynastic settlements and a large number of previously unknown inscriptions made on rock.

Investigators from other socialist countries have made a great contribution to the development of Egyptology, among them, H. Grapow and F. Hintze of the German Democratic Republic, F. Lexa and Z. Zaba of Czechoslovakia, T. Andrzejewski of Poland, and L. Kakosy and A. Dobrovits of Hungary, as well as scholars from the Arab Republic of Egypt, such as A. Badawy and A. Bakir.

The principal centers of Egyptology in the USSR are the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Moscow and Leningrad); the Hermitage (Leningrad) and the A. S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (Moscow), housing the Egyptian collections (there is also a collection of Egyptian antiquities in the archaeological museum in Odessa); and the Oriental department at Leningrad State University.

The most important Egyptology centers abroad are in Berlin (German Democratic Republic), West Berlin, Gottingen, Bonn, Paris, Strasbourg, London, Oxford, Chicago, Boston, Rome, Milan, Leiden, Vienna, Geneva, Prague, and Cairo. In the Arab Republic of Egypt, there is the state organization the Egyptian Antiquities Service, which is concerned with excavations and with protecting and restoring the monuments of antiquity on the territory of the Arab Republic of Egypt. All the antiquities museums in Egypt are subordinate to this organization, including the famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which contains the largest collection of ancient Egyptian remains in the world. A number of European countries (Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, the German Democratic Republic, the Netherlands, Poland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Czechoslovakia) and the United States, with the permission of the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, maintain their own permanent Egyptological institutions on Egyptian territory; these are specialized institutes or archaeological missions that conduct archaeological excavations and study Egyptian remains. The most important of these archaeological institutions is the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, which for many years has been engaged in the excavation and investigation of various remains.

The most important periodical publications on Egyptology are Vestnik drevnei istorii (Herald of Ancient History; founded in 1937), Aegyptus. Rivista italiana di egittologia e di papirologia (Milan, 1920—), Annales du service des antiquités de l’Egypte (Cairo, 1900—), Bulletin de l’lnstitute française d’ archéologie orientate (Cairo, 1901—), Chronique d’Egypte. Bulletin périodique de la Fondation égyptologique reine Elisabeth (Brussels, 1925—), Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (London, 1914—), Journal of Near Eastern Studies (Chicago, 1941—), Kêmi. Revue de philologie et d’archéologie egyptiennes et copies (Paris, 1928—), Revue d’ égyptologie, publiée par la Société française d’égyptologie (Paris, 1948— ),Recueil de travaux, rélatifs, à la philologie et à l’archéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes (Paris, 1870–1923), Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde (Journal for Egyptian Language and Archaeology; Leipzig, 1863—), Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Abteilung Kairo (Notes of the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo Section; Wiesbaden, 1930—) Orientalia. Commentariiperiodici Pontificii institutibiblici (Rome, 1932—), and Sphinx (Uppsala, 1897–1931).


Kagarov, E. Proshloe i nastoiashchee egiptologii. Sergiev Posad, 1914.
Buzeskul, V. P. Otkrytiia i nauchnye dostizheniia ia poslednie gody v oblasti izucheniia Drevnego Vostoka. Kharkov, 1927.
Turaev, B. A. Russkaia nauka o Drevnem Vostoke, do 1917 g. Leningrad, 1927.
Katsnel’son, I. S. “Materialy dlia istorii egiptologii v Rossii.” In the book Ocherki po istorii russkogo vostokovedeniia, second collection. Moscow, 1956.
Postovskaia, N. M. Izuchenie drevnei istorii Blizhnego Vostoka v Sovetskom Soiuze (1917–1959). Moscow, 1961.
Sethe, K. Die Ägyptologie … . Leipzig, 1921.
Glanville, S. R. K. The Growth and Nature of Egyptology. Cambridge, 1947.
Dawson, W. R. Who Was Who in Egyptology … . London, 1951.
Hornung, E. Einführung in die Ägyptologie … . Darmstadt, 1967.
Sauneron, S. L’ Egyptologie. Paris, 1968.


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