Prof Ernst Herzfeld (Biographical details)

Prof Ernst Herzfeld (archaeologist; architect; German; Male; 23/7/1879 - 21/1/1948)

Also known as

Herzfeld, Ernst; Herzfeld, Ernst Emil


The son of a Prussian major in the medical corps, studied architecture at the School of Technology in Berlin before changing to history, archaeology and Oriental studies at the Universities of Munich and Berlin in 1903. He obtained a doctorate four years later, qualified as a lecturer in historical geography in Berlin (1909) and was appointed full professor of the archaeology of the Orient (1918).

Herzfeld was a specialist in Islamic architecture, and the archaeology, history and languages of Iran. He published widely on the subject of ancient Near Eastern and Islamic art and architecture. He joined Friedrich Delitzsch's expedition to Assur as a draughtsman (1903-1906), during which time he first visited the Early Abbasid capital at Samarra. He travelled in Iran (visiting Luristan, Persepolis and Pasargadae) and subsequently wrote a monograph on Persepolis which earned him his doctorate at Berlin under Eduard Meyer and Kekule von Stradonitz in 1907. It was also during this year that he served as a field assistant to Guyer's expedition to Cilicia. He later collaborated with Friedrich Sarre (1865-1945), exploring sites in upper Mesopotamia together in 1907/1908, when they selected the early Abbasid capital of Samarra as a site suitable for excavation. A selection of their finds are in the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum (q.v.). In 1909 he published an influential paper on the Islamic palace at Mushatta (Jordan) and later directed excavations at Samarra (1910-July 1913), only stopping as a result of the First World War.

Between 1923 and 1929 he travelled extensively in Iran and Afghanistan, acquiring Islamic art works for the Islamische Kunst section of the Staatliches Museeen in Berlin, where his mentor and colleague Sarre worked. During this time he also made extensive surface pottery collections, held in linen bags of finds deposited in the same museum in Berlin; in 1924 he lectured to the newly founded Society for Iranian Heritage; he later became an archaeological adviser to the Iranian government (1927) and may have been instrumental in the ending of the French archaeological monopoly on Iran. In 1928 he acquired stuccoes and ostraca from Nizamabad (the ostraca were later bequeathed by Herzfeld to The British Museum). He visited the British Museum in the previous year, where he held a student's room ticket in the Dept of Egyptian & Assyrian Antiquities from 21 July 1927 - 21 January 1928. He then excavated at the sites of Kuh-e Khwaja and Pasargadae, wrote the prehistoric pottery volume of his excavations at Samarra (1929) and, from 1931-1934, directed excavations at Persepolis (Iran) on behalf of the Oriental Institute Chicago by which time his main focus was on Achaemenid rather than Islamic architecture. Unlike his earlier French colleagues at Susa, Herzfeld based himself at Tehran, to which he transferred his library from Berlin in 1928. He was a friend of André Godard but did not get on with Arthur Upham Pope, who was rapidly becoming an influential figure in circles concerned with Iranian art and antiquities.

In 1935 he was stripped of his (non-stipendiary) post as Professor of Oriental Archaeology in the University of Berlin following his official declaration (on file in the State Archives in Berlin) that his grand-parents were Jewish (although Herzfeld himself was baptised and appears to have been a Protestant). He travelled to London during the same year, against a background of accusations of antiquities-dealing, and delivered the Schweich Lectures at the British Academy before sailing to America during the following year, where he presented the Lowell lectures at Boston University in October/November 1936, and was appointed a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and also lectured at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. He sold his extensive remaining personal collection of antiquities during his brief period of residence in London, partly to The British Museum, although other material was sold through the Gans gallery in New York and part was later acquired Metropolitan Museum, including the so-called "Abdadana tablet" (cf. O.W. Muscarella, 'Bronze and Iron', which he had previously deposited at the British Museum, cf. WAA Deposit book entry dated 9 December 1942). He donated the bulk of his archives to the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, through his friend Richard Ettinghausen, but sold his library and remaining sketchbooks and photographic albums to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the sum of £17,000 (having first considered disposing of them to the University of London as reparation for German war damage). Herzfeld never felt at home in America and left in 1944. He finally fell ill in Cairo in 1947 while working on the Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum and died in Basel. In the words of Richard Ettinghausen's widow, Herzfeld "was very kind and thoughtful ... he was married to archaeology ... that was his life and his studies" (pers. comm. Washington, 2001).

Author of: "Ein Reise durch Luristan, Arabistan und Fars", 'Petermanns Mitteilungen' 53 (1907), pp. 49-63, 73-90; 'Archaeologische Reise im Euphrat- und Tigris-Gebiet' (vv. I, III in 1911, vv. II, IV in 1920); 'Iranische Felsreliefs' (1910); 'Am Tor von Asien' (1920); 'Zoroaster and His Times'; "Reisebericht", 'Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft' 80 (N.F. 5), pp. 225-84; 'Archaeological history of Iran: Schweich Lectures for 1934' (British Academy, 1935); 'Iran in the Ancient East: archaeological studies presented in the Lowell lectures at Boston' (OUP 1941, reprinted New York 1988); 'The Persian Empire. Studies in geography and ethnography of the ancient Near East' (edited by G. Walser; Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner 1968); 'Geschichte der Stadt Samarra' (1948). Among his other achievements were the first use of photography to record Sasanian rock reliefs in Iran; the first attempt to identify Sasanian mints; copying Parthian and Sasanian inscriptions at Paikuli; and a major article on Islamic architecture in Khurasan in 1921 (although apparently he had by that stage not yet visited that region).


Obituary by E. Weidner, 'Archiv für Orientforschung', 1945/51, p. 185; 'Dictionary of German Biography' [DGB], 'vol. 4: Gies-Hessel' (Walther Killy & Rudolf Vierhaus, eds), p. 682, München: K.G. Saur, 2003; C.R. Morey, "Ernst Herzfeld, 1879-1948", 'Archaeologica Orientalia in memoriam Ernst Herzfeld' (edited by G.C. Miles), pp. 1-4, New York: J.J. Augustin; Margaret Cool Root, "The Herzfeld Archive of The Metropolitan Museum of Art", 'Metropolitan Museum Journal' 11 (1976), 119-24; Margaret Cool Root, "The Adams (ex-Herzfeld) Collection of Prehistoric Stamp Seals: Prospects and Quandaries", 'Bulletin [of] The University of Michigan Museums of Art and Archaeology' XII (1997-2000; special issue, 'Recent Work on Kelsey Museum Collections'), pp. 9-40; Joseph M. Upton, 'Catalogue of the Herzfeld Archive', Washington: IDC Publishers, 2000; Ann C. Gunter & Stefan Hauser (eds), 'Ernst Herzfeld and the Development of Near Eastern Studies, 1900-1950', Proceedings of a Symposium held at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (3-5 May 2001), published Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2005.