In France, the archaeology of the Near East has long been a concern of the state. Since the nineteenth century, French political authorities have concerned themselves with archaeological exploration, often on the heels of military expeditions. The best example of this kind occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the company of the expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt. The artistic, archaeological, and scientific observations (from botany to zoology and ethnography) of the enterprise produced the monumental work Description de l'Égypte. France, like other European countries, were later attracted to other parts of the Near East, such as Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Iran. French teams sought to discover the history of civilizations in which the common past of humanity could be seen (and in which the Bible played an important role). The quest for inscriptions was a prime motivation. Furthermore, archaeological research aimed to enrich museums. The formation of the great Near Eastern collections of the Louvre in Paris dates from this period, as also the British Museum in London, and the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin, as well as in numerous other museums of Europe and America, not to mention private collections.
A first phase, begun in the 1840s, could be considered the “period of the diplomats.” First, in Mesopotamia, the French consul Paul-Émile Botta discovered the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad In 1843–1844. Interest in the Bible also explains the innumerable expeditions undertaken under diverse sponsorship (public and private) in Syria and Palestine (then under Ottoman rule), notably by Félicien de Saulcy in Jerusalem In 1850. In 1860, accompanying the French army of the Levant, the Mission de Phénicie (Phoenician Expedition) was officially sent by the government of Napoleon III under the direction of Ernest Renan, in the name of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. The campaign led by Melchior de Vogüé to Cyprus complemented the work in Phoenicia.
A coherent policy of archaeological research developed in France and England at the end of the nineteenth century. This was the “period of the engineers.” France wished to undertake large, long-term excavations in the Near East at prestigious sites, as had been done earlier by French expeditions in Delphi in Greece. In 1884 Marcel Dieulafoy initiated archaeological study of Iran with the exploration of Susa, which entailed the creation of a permanent organization In 1897, the French Delegation in Persia, under the direction of Jacques de Morgan. In Mesopotamia, Ernest de Sarzec opened the way to the discovery of the Sumerians with the excavation of Tello beginning In 1877.
In the twentieth century, the “scientific phase” of Near Eastern archaeology with the creation of archaeological services, museums, and the foundation of archaeological institutes and schools. France participated actively in these places of research in foreign countries.
Beginning In 1912, Roland de Mecquenem resumed excavations at Susa. After World War I, Abbé Henri du Verdier de Genouillac continued the excavations in southern Mesopotamia at Tello. He was replaced by André Parrot, who subsequently excavated at the neighboring site of Larsa.
In the Levant, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of a French Antiquities Service of the Mandate in Lebanon and Syria made the excavations of large sites possible: Byblos on the Mediterranean coast, previously dug by Pierre Montet In 1921–1924 and then by Maurice Dunand beginning In 1926; Ras Shamra/Ugarit beginning In 1929 by Claude Schaeffer; and Mari on the Euphrates, excavated by André Parrot beginning In 1933.
Currently official archaeological activity outside French territory is state-run under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Modern French archaeological policy began with the creation of a special commission of this ministry In 1947, the “Commission Consultative des Fouilles,” since 1970 “Commission Consultative des Recherches Archéologiques á l'Étranger” (Consulting Commission for Foreign Archaeological Research), under the authority of the General Directorate of Cultural, Scientific, and Technical Relations. This commission, which meets annually, submits proposals to the Foreign Ministry about the allocation of subventions to the French archaeological missions in different countries.
A great diversity exists among the “missions.” Some large projects include multidisciplinary programs extending over many years. The oldest in progress is the excavation at Ras Shamra/Ugarit in Syria. Other projects, however, involve surveys that are limited in time and area, such as emergency exploration required in some countries (for example, building projects such as dams that will permanently inundate archaeological sites).
The state provides financing of the projects through the recommendation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also through other public institutions which occasionally provide their own contributions. In fact, government's scientific programs that support the missions in the Near East also rely on various research institutes, such as those at the universities of Paris, Lyon, and Strasbourg, the teams of researchers of the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), the Départment des Antiquités Orientales au Musée du Louvre (Department of Eastern Antiquities, Louvre Museum), which in turn come under the jurisdiction of various ministries: the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Research, the Ministry of Culture, and of course, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres.
The French archaeological missions around the world are divided into five subcommittees of the Committee of Excavations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Near East currently represents about a third of the activities. Thus, for 1994, of 205 applications for 46 countries, 68 requesting subventions were designed to conduct research in the countries of the Near East subcommission: Syria (22), Jordan (10), Lebanon (3), Israel (8), Turkey (13), Cyprus (5), Greece (4), and intercountry programs (3). In other Near Eastern countries political turmoil has interrupted several missions of long duration (e.g., Susa in Iran or Larsa in southern Mesopotamia/Iraq).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also maintains several institutions that represent French archaeology of the Near East within the host countries. Financed by public money, these institutes support a large number of archaeological projects carried out under the auspices of the French government. The Institut Français d'Archéologie de Beyrouth (IFAB), founded after World War II with Henri Seyrig as its first director to accommodate fellows and a specialized library, has become today the Institut Français d'Archéologie du Proche-Orient (IFAPO), with offices in Beirut, Damascus, and Amman. Other institutions ensure the official presence of French archaeology in the Near East: the Institut Français d'Études Anatoliennes (IFEA) in Istanbul (Turkey), the Institut Français de Recherches en Iran (IFRI) in Teheran, the Délégation Archéologique Française en Iraq (DAFIQ) in Baghdad, the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) in Cairo, as well as a section of the Institut Français d'Études Arabes de Damas (IFEAD) in Syria for the medieval period.
Among private scientific undertakings, the Jesuit-run Université Saint-Joseph (USJ) in Beirut has received subventions from the French government for archaeological and museographical projects. The École Biblique et Archéologique Française (EBAF) in Jerusalem, a Dominican monastery, has also received subsidies from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for excavation projects as well as stipends contributed by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres.
[See also École Biblique et Archéologique Française; Institut Français d'Archéologie du Proche Orient; Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale; Institut Français d'Études Anatoliennes d'Istanbul; Institut Français d'Études Arabes; and the biographies of Botta, Dunand, Montet, Parrot, Renan, Saulcy, Schaeffer, Seyrig, and Vogüé. In addition, many of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]
- Caubet, Annie. “Donateurs du Louvre: Archéologiques et fouilleurs.” In Les donateurs du Louvre, pp. 55–67. Paris, 1989.
- Chevalier, Nicole. “L'administration de la recherche archéologique française dans le Moyen Orient du milieu du XIXe siècle à la seconde guerre mondiale.” Ph.D. diss., University of Paris I, 1993.
Translated from French by Nancy Leinwand