The History of the Institute

In comparison with other nations, the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy came relatively late to the scientific study of Egypt. France and England, followed by Germany, had been the leading countries in this area of research since the decipherment of hieroglyphic writing in 1822. Teaching positions in Egyptology were established in Paris in 1831 and Berlin in 1846, but it was only in 1873 that a chair in Egyptology was created in Vienna and Leo Simon Reinisch (1832-1919) appointed professor. Reinisch was linguistically gifted and had been employed in the 1850´s and 1860´s by the Royal family, in particular Herzog Maximilian, to purchase and scientifically record Egyptian antiquities.
Initially Egyptology was not an independent discipline in Vienna and was part of the faculty for Oriental and Indo-Germanic studies. It was limited to just two rooms on the ground floor of the main building of the University that had been newly opened in 1884. The study of Egyptian languages was of primary interest as these were associated with other North African and Near Eastern language groups. As a result of this, Egyptology developed a particularly close relationship with African Studies a relationship which endured until the institutes were separated a century later in 1979.

When Leo Reinisch retired in 1903, Jacob Krall (1857-1905) was appointed his successor as Professor for Egyptology and the Ancient History of the Orient. Krall, however, died unexpectedly in 1905 meaning that his position had to be advertised. The appointment of Wilhelm Freiherr von Bissing from Munich fell through, but the latter advised Hermann Junker (1877-1962) to apply. Junker, who had recently completed his habilitation, was subsequently employed by the University of Vienna as an assistant professor in 1907. He was made Associate Professor in 1909.
Right from the beginning, Junker devoted himself intensively to the study of Egyptian and Nubian languages but was mostly in Egypt due to his fieldwork activities. He directed excavations for the Academy of Sciences at Tura (1910), el-Kubanieh-Süd (1910/11), Kubanieh-Nord (1911), Ermenne (1911/12), Toshke (1912) and finally and most importantly near the pyramids of Giza (1912-1914, 1925-1929).
In 1921/22 Junker held the position of Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and in 1923 he founded the Institute for Egyptology and African Studies of which he was the first director. Both subjects were now separated from the Oriental Institute that had been founded in 1886 and moved to their own rooms in the Albertina (Herzog Albert Palais, Augustinerbastei).

Junker left Vienna in 1929 in order to take over the directorship of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo. Of his many students – including his successors Willhem Czermak and Gertrud Thausing-, Heinrich Balz deserves a special mention. Balz, who came from Vienna, achieved his doctorate in 1925 with distinction and was Assistant of the institute until 1930. In 1931 and 1932 he was a Research Associate at the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo. He was subsequently Assistant Lecturer in Vienna where he completed his Habilitation in 1934. In May 1940 he became Professor. Balz took part in a number of excavations (Merimde-Benisalame, Hermopolis, Thebes) and along with Egon von Komorzynski, edited the monthly egyptological journal “Archiv für ägyptische Archäologie”,which only ran for a single year. Balz was called up for military service in 1942 and did not return from the front.

Junker`s efforts with Nubian languages were not only reflected richly in various publications, but also in the care with which his student and direct successor Wilhelm Czermak (1889-1953) expanded African Studies in Vienna. Czermak became Professor for Egyptology and African Studies in 1931 and also Director of the institute of the same name
. The institute changed locations at the beginning of the war as the Albertina lay claim to the Egyptology rooms for their musical collection. The institute found abode in the immediate vicinity of the University Main Building at Frankgasse 1, 1090 Vienna, where it can still be found today. On the 15th April 1945 the University of Vienna officially reopened in this institute as the main building had been badly damaged by a number of direct hits. Czermak taught until 1953, was Dean during the early post-war years (1945-1947) and finally became Rector of the University of Vienna in 1953.

Following the death of Czermak (1953), Gertrud Thausing (1905-1997) succeeded to the chair. In the spirit of her teacher, she placed special emphasis on religious texts and the history of religion in class. As before, the maintenance of Egyptian languages, the different phases of Egyptian culture and African languages - Ewe, Kenzi-, Fadidscha- and Mahass-Nubian – also formed an essential focal point of teaching.
When Egypt (with UNESCO) launched an appeal for the world to take part in the rescue of Egyptian and Sudanese monuments in 1960, Austria did not remain inactive. The construction of the high dam near Aswan (“Sadd el-Ali”) and its resulting backwaters threatened 500km of Egyptian and Sudanese riverine landscape inclusive of its archaeological remains. As the Institute had no trained archaeologist, Professor Dr. Karl Kromer, the Director of the prehistoric department in the Natural History Museum of Vienna led excavations in the district of Sayala (ca. 130km south of Aswan). From 1961-1966 the terrain was systematically investigated and a wide range of evidence -rock-carvings to Coptic architectural remains- was recorded.

When Thausing went into retirement in 1977, it was an archaeologist – Dieter Arnold from the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo- who took over the leadership of the Vienna-based Institute in 1979. In the same year Egyptology was separated from African Studies which founded an independent institute. The employment of Arnold opened up a further possibility for Egyptian fieldwork for the Institute as Arnold led annual excavations at the Dahshur Pyramid of Amenemhat III in the name of the German Archaeological Institute. The institute’s other excavation was in the eastern Delta at modern day Tell el el-Dab’a, where Manfred Bietak led annual excavation campaigns from 1966-2009. This enrichment of the teaching program was valuable for both the institute and the education of the next generation of scholars and it was a loss when Arnold vacated the Professorship following an invitation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Manfred Bietak took over the directorship of the institute in 1989 and measurably intensified the archaeological training through both teaching and research particularly by means of collaboration between the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna.
At the beginning of the 1990´s, the university received the opportunity to rent additional rooms on the same floor in the Frankgasse. This was vital in order to cope with the increasing demand for space and the growing number of students, and now the entire second floor is available for Egyptology. Following the retirement of Bietak in 2009, E.Christiana Köhler was swiftly appointed to the Professorship. With her excavations at Helwan (since 1997) she continues the tradition of an archaeological focus for the institute.