Archaeology at St Petersburg University (from 1724 until Today)

By Tikhonov, Igor | Antiquity, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Archaeology at St Petersburg University (from 1724 until Today)


Tikhonov, Igor, Antiquity


The first period of archaeology studies at St Petersburg University (1724-1880s)

The reign of Peter the Great was a turning point for the development of Russian science in general. Several of his edicts, especially the one of 1718 creating the Kunstkammer served to initiate the gathering and preservation of artefacts. In 1724, Peter issued an edict founding an Academy of Sciences with the university as an integral part. Among the first professors there were T.G. Baer and G.E Muller, invited from Germany, who began an investigation of the sources for Old Russian history. The first systematic studies of archaeological materials in Russia were due to the Siberian and South Russian expeditions of Muller in 1733-43, P.S. Pallas and I.I. Lepekhin in 1768-74 and V.F. Zuyev in 1781-82. Many of the university students who took part in these expeditions later became famous scholars whose field of study included archaeology. The manual compiled by Muller, who went on to become the first rector of the university, was the earliest set of methodological regulations for Russian archaeology (Radlov 1894: 107).

At the very beginning of the nineteenth century the term 'archaeology' came into being, but then largely meant the study of classical art. A university statute of 1804 recorded that a Department of Fine Art and Archaeology was to be established at the faculties of history and Philology. In 1819, St Petersburg University was reconstituted as an institution independent of the Academy of Science, and A.I. Galich tried to set up a similar department at the university in 1826-32, but without success. The original department remained concerned with classical art, but F.B. Grefe made an important contribution to Russian archaeology through his work on classical epigraphy and the antiquities of the north coast of the Black Sea. Among Grefe's disciples was the famous Russian archaeologist Count A.S. Uvarov. The teaching activity of Professor M.S. Kutorga, who interpreted artefacts as historical sources, was also of great importance, and in 1867 his disciple F.F. Sokolov started lecturing on nonwritten sources in ancient Greek history. His works are considered to mark the origin of the Russian epigraphic school.

In the 1820s to 1840s the first university collections of artefacts were established: the Minz cabinet in 1822 (founded by academician H.D. Fren as a collection of oriental coins) and the Museum of Antiquities in 1841. In 1847, when I.I. Sreznevsky started lecturing at the Department of Slavonic Studies, archaeology was an important part of his interests. He was the author of several works on the sites of old forts, which he interpreted as pagan sanctuaries. In the 1860s he lectured on Slavonic antiquities of the sixth-twelfth centuries in which he described different kinds of sources and considered the material remains as a specific group. In another course, referred to as an 'Encyclopaedia of archaeology', Sreznevsky characterised archaeology as a separate branch of science, different from history, even though dealing with both written and non-written sources. Sreznevsky played an important role in the activities of the Russian Archaeological Society, participated in both international and the first Russian archaeological congresses and raised the problems of archaeological education at the universities. By the middle of the nineteenth century some archaeological data were included in lectures on history.

Classical and Slavonic-Russian archaeology at the faculty of history and philology (1880s-1919)

The political reforms of the 1860s stimulated the development of science and education in Russia. P.I. Lerkh, an orientalist and librarian at St Petersburg University, undertook important studies on the Stone Age, his numerous articles making him a pioneer in the field in Russia. According to a university statute of 1863, Departments of Theory and History of Art were to be established at all Russian universities. …

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