Robert Johann Koldewey

Birth: 1855


Robert Johann Koldewey (10 September 1855 - 4 February 1925) was a German archaeologist, famous for his in-depth excavation of the ancient city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq. He was born in Blankenburg am Harz in Germany, the duchy of Brunswick, and died in Berlin at the age of 70. His digs at Babylon revealed the foundations of the ziggurat Marduk, and the Ishtar Gate; he also developed several modern archaeological techniques including a method to identify and excavate mud brick architecture. This technique was particularly useful in his excavation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (1899-1917) which were built ca. 580 BC using mainly unfired mud-bricks.

A practicing archaeologist for most of his life, he participated in and led many excavations in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. After he died, the Koldewey Society was established to record and mark his architectural service. After attending a gymnasium in Braunschweig, Koldewey moved with his family to Altona in 1869 where he attended the Christianeum, achieving his abitur in 1875.

Koldewey was a self-trained archaeological historian of the classical area. Although he studied architecture and art history in Berlin and Vienna, he left both those universities without an advanced degree. In 1882 he was signed on as a participant to the excavation of ancient Assus in Turkey, where Koldewey learned several excavation methods and how best to draw ancient remains.

Francis H. Bacon (an advisor to Heinrich Schliemann) introduced Koldewey to archaeology at the excavation of Assos in 1882-1883. Koldewey went on to conduct digs for the German Archaeological Institute, at Hellenic sites including Lesbos (1885-1886) and Mesopotamian sites such as Lagash (1887). In 1890-1891 and 1894, he worked with Felix von Luschan on the excavation of a Hellenic city in Sicily.

With support from the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society), Koldewey directed the excavation of Babylon from 1899 through 1914, using comparatively modern archaeological techniques. (The site had been identified a century earlier by Claudius James Rich.) More than 200 people worked daily, year round, for fifteen years.

When the team unearthed Babylon's central Processional street in 1899, the modern world had its first look at the site of this much-storied ancient city. The expedition also found the outer walls, inner walls, and foundation of Etemenanki, a temple sometimes identified as the "Tower of Babel". It also unearthed Nebuchadnezzar's palaces. Walter Andrae, a participant in the expedition, later created models of Babylon for the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin. The excavations at the famous city of Babylon were considered prestigious for Germany, and were consequently well-sponsored and well-publicized.

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