Oriental studies in the epoch of ideologies in the framework of the GRISSO Project

By Silvia Alaura, Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico (ISMA), CNR, Roma.

One of the ongoing research clusters of the GRISSO Project (Gruppo di Ricerca Interdisciplinare di Storia degli Studi Orientali) is devoted to the Oriental studies in the epoch of ideologies. In the framework of this cluster, the following case study is being carried out by the present writer: Studien zur Entwicklung der Hethitologie in Deutschland in den 20er und 30er Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts.

The interwar period – beginning with the conclusion of World War I in 1918 and the following Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and ending in 1939 with the start of World War II – saw the rise of Hittitology with the first systematic publications of the cuneiform texts found at Boğazköy by H. Winckler and Th. Makridy between 1905 and 1912, and with the start of the new archaeological investigation of the site in 1931 under the direction of K. Bittel (the so-called Neue Ausgrabungen).

The Twenties and the Thirties were a crucial period also in Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first president of the Turkish Republic, proclaimed in 1923, promoted new researches on the history of pre-Islamic Turkey in the framework of his cultural policy. The Türk Tarih Kurumu (Turkish Historical Society), founded in 1931 with the aim to carry out excavations in Anatolia in order to reveal the early history of Turkey, was also soon involved in research on the Hittites.

My current research is focused on three German figures key to the understanding of this period.

Eduard Meyer. Photograph by Rudolph Duehrkoop. Published by: Zeitbilder 5/1918.
Eduard Meyer. Photograph by Rudolph Duehrkoop. Published by: Zeitbilder 5/1918.

First is the historian Eduard Meyer (1855-1930), already influential in Wilhelmine Germany and later a leading figure of the cultural climate of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), during which Berlin in particular was fertile ground for intellectuals and innovators from many fields.

Second are the Hittitologist and Assyriologist Hans Gustav Güterbock (1908-2000) and Albrecht Goetze (1897-1971), two of the world’s foremost and representative scholars on the ancient Near East, who were forced to leave Germany after the rise of the Third Reich in 1933 to reach Turkey and the USA respectively.

Documents scattered in various archives and recently studied by the present writer enlighten the life and activities of these three scholars during these years, giving important new information and insights. One of the most important goals of the GRISSO Project is, in fact, the identification, study and evaluation of unpublished or insufficiently exploited archival materials.

The contribution of Meyer to the nascent Hittitology is still underestimated. During the Twenties, Meyer managed to promote the publication of the cuneiform tablets found in Boğazköy during Winckler’s excavations. The publication of the Hittite texts was among the goals of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (DOG), of whom Meyer was an influential member. Also the German archaeological activities in Anatolia received Meyer’s support by means of his membership in the Deutsche Notgemeinschaft (Emergency Association of German Science), founded in 1920 on the initiative of leading members of the Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Prussian Academy of Sciences). In particular, Meyer was strongly engaged to resume the German Boğazköy excavations and to establish the stratigraphic exploration in Karaşehir Hüyük near Yerköy, then tentatively identified with the holy Anatolian city of Arinna. Pupils of Meyer such as E.O. Forrer and H.H. von der Osten played an important role in such initiatives.

Meyer had a long-term and deep consciousness of the importance of Hittite history, as also shown by his correspondence with the British Assyriologist A.H. Sayce during the years of the genesis of his Geschichte des Altertums, first published in 1884, in which a chapter was devoted to the Hittites. In 1914, Meyer himself had published a small monograph on the Hittites, Reich und Kultur der Chethiter, and the following year he introduced the Berlin conference in which B. Hrozný demonstrated that Hittite was an Indo-European language.

Hans Gustav Güterbock, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945, Frankfurt am Main.
Hans Gustav Güterbock, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945, Frankfurt am Main.

The archive papers of Hans Gustav Güterbock and Albrecht Goetze are a remarkably important source for the study of the Near Eastern studies during several decades of the Twentieth Century. Among these archival materials an outstanding role is played by the correspondence. Their most frequent common correspondents were Assyriologists, Hittitologists, archaeologists, and linguists such as W. Andrae, K. Bittel, H. Ehelolf, J. Friedrich, I.J. Gelb, B. Landsberger, P. Meriggi, H. Otten, B. Rosenkranz, F. Sommer and E.F. Weidner.

The correspondence between Güterbock and Goetze is of particular importance for the Thirties. Their rich epistolary exchange dates mainly to the time of their exile: Goetze left Marburg in 1933 to emigrate to the United States of America, where he taught at the Yale University for over thirty years, while Güterbock left Berlin in 1935 for Turkey, where he taught at the Ankara University following his Leipziger teacher and close friend Benno Landsberger. The correspondence covers the span of time from 1931-1970, shortly before Goetze’s death. In general, it highlights a relationship based on a deep reciprocal esteem and on a frank intellectual dialogue.

The main subject of the correspondence between the two scholars deals with the advancement of cuneiform studies. There are often lengthy discussions of problems in the transcription, translation and interpretation of ancient texts. The letters shed light on the extraordinarily stimulating exchange of views on philological matters. The correspondence deals also with the practical aspects of researching and teaching, and with publications, conferences and archaeological expeditions. The letters contain detailed updates of scientific activities and editorial outcomes. One is struck by the richness of information on the gestation of new works, not only their own, but also those of their colleagues. However, philological research is not the only topic Güterbock and Goetze deal with. Further themes of interest are found in the lively, free and unfettered exchange of information on colleagues and on the chairs of universities (mainly in the post-war correspondence). The letters reflect the depth of skills and the breadth of knowledge of Güterbock and Goetze, along with their commitment and involvement in the management of institutional affairs. Among the themes of the two correspondents there are also very personal notes on their careers and families.

Albrecht Goetze, Office of Public Affairs, Yale University, photographs of individuals (RU 0686, detail). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.
Albrecht Goetze, Office of Public Affairs, Yale University, photographs of individuals (RU 0686, detail). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.

The above-mentioned archival documents are mainly kept in the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (DOG) at Berlin, the Archiv der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBWA) at Berlin, the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945 at Frankfurt am Main, and the Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives at New Haven.

The archival work was made possible through the generous financial support of the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) and of the Short-Term Mobility Program of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR). For their help, I am particularly indebt to J. Klinger, Berlin, and B. Foster, Yale. I also wish to address my warmest thanks to Hans Gustav’s son Thomas and Walter Güterbock for the permission to study and publish their father’s correspondence.



For further information please contact: silvia.alaura@isma.cnr.it and grisso@isma.cnr.it


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