Koldewey, Robert [Johann]

Date born: 1855

Place born: Blankenburg am Harz, Brunswick, Saxony, Germany

Date died: 1925

Place died: Berlin, Germany

Self-trained classical era architectural historian; discoverer of the spectacular Procession Street and Ishtar Gate. Although Koldewey studied (practicing) architecture and art history in Berlin, Munich and Vienna, little of what he learned assisted him in later life. He left the university without an advanced degree. In 1882, the Bostonian Francis H. Bacon, the son-in-law to Frank Calvert (1828-1908), consular agent for the United States at the Dardanelles and an advisor to the excavations of Heinrich Schliemann (q.v.), signed Koldewey on as a participant to the excavation of ancient Assus (Assos) in western Turkey. The 1882-83 dig taught Koldewey archaeological method and sharpened a talent for architectural drawing of ancient remains. He was a surveyor for subsequent excavations of the DAI (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut or German Archaeological Institute) including Lesbos (1885-86). In 1887 he assisted in Mesopotamia (Surghul, and ancient Lagasch at El Hibba). At Neadnria in Greece, he discovered the “Aeolian capital” in 1889. Between 1890-91 and 1894 he assisted Felix von Luschan (1854-1924) unearthing the late Hellenistic city of Schamal. He was a co-contributor to Die griechische Tempel in Unteritalien und Sizilien of Otto Puchstein (1856-1911), appearing in 1898. This was followed by an unhappy teaching stint in Gölitz, Germany, from 1895-1898. Puchstein then contracted Koldewey to do a survey of Babylon in 1898, and, on Puchstein’s recommendation, was hired by Richard Schöne (q.v.) to do a similar rendering of Mesopotamia. Working for the Berlin Museum, Koldewey continued excavating the Babylon site, discovering the spectacular “Procession Street” and Ishtar Gate, both in the Pergamon Museum. His excavations ceased in 1917 when the British assumed control of Baghdad during World War I. The Koldewey Society was established to mark his architectural service.

An anti-academic his whole life, dour and misogynistic, his work nevertheless marks the modern archaeological discovery in the Near East. He never held a university position.

Home Country: Germany

Sources: Calder, William, III. “Koldewey, Robert (1855-1925).” Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 646-47; Hrouda, B. “Koldewey, Robert.” Neue deutsche Biographie 12: 459-60; Andrea, W. Babylon: Die Versunkene Weltstadt und ihr Ausgräber Robert Koldewey. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1952.

Bibliography: [architectural drawings] and Puchstein, Otto. Die griechische Tempel in Unteritalien und Sizilien. 2 vols. Berlin: A. Asher & Co., 1899.