Founded in 1922, the Institut Français d'Études Arabes de Damas (IFEAD) has as its focus Muslim archaeology and art as well as Arab and Islamic studies in the Bilad ash-Sham (Syria). Its works are published in the Bulletin des Études Orientales (BEO), created in 1931 and now published annually (vol. 46 in 1994), and in nonperiodical publications, currently 150 in number.
From its creation, the institute, under the direction of established directors and researchers, has maintained an interest in Syrian territory through urban studies, research involving the steppe and its inhabitants, and archaeological surveys conducted by Eustache de Lorey, Henri Seyrig, Jean Sauvaget, Jean Lassus, Robert Montagne, Michel Écochard, Albert de Boucheman, and Jacques Weulersse. Since the 1950s, historical research has been carried out on a wide variety of subjects, all with the same goal: to understand the country and its inhabitants in different periods.
The town has remained a recurring topic of research with, among others, the establishment of the Vieux Damas Extramuros (extramural Old Damascus) program. Work on the waqfs, Ottoman fiscal registers, and economic and dynastic texts has enhanced the approach to studying Islamic society (carried out by Sauvaget, Janine Sourdel-Thomine, Dominique Sourdel, Sami Dahan, Nikita Elisséeff, André Miquel, Khaled Moaz and Solange Ory, Jean-Claude David, J.-P. Pascual, Sarab Attassi, Robert Mantran, André Raymond, Henri Laoust, and Thierry Bianquis). Research on the contemporary period also constitutes a part of this study. Between 1970 and 1980, the institute devoted its attention to the archaeological areas in those towns that had served as rest stops for travelers along the right bank of the Euphrates River. Under the direction of Jean-Claude Golvin and Raymond, five salvage excavations were undertaken before the construction of the Assad dam at the site of Balis. De Lorey, G. Salles, and L. Cavro had conducted, but not completed, an excavation there in 1929–1931. Gilles Hennequin and Abd al-Faraj al-῾Ush published the coins from the excavation (IFEAD, 1978). A Franco-Syrian team at Rahba-Mayadin, on a site 350 km (217 mi.) from Balis, excavated a town from the ῾Abbasid and Mamluk periods in six seasons, under the direction of Bianquis. Arlette Nègre published the coins from this site (BEO 32–33 [1980–1981]). Marie-Odile Rousset has published an inventory of Islamic archaeological sites in Iraq with the institute (1992). A catalog of the pottery from Mayadin is in preparation.
Since 1983, the institute has devoted equal attention to archaeological research in rural Syria. Sophie Berthier has studied the Middle Euphrates in close collaboration with the anthropologist Olivier D'Hont, gathering information on the different types of human settlement along the banks of the river. The anthropological results appear in Vie quotidienne des 'Agedat (IFEAD, 1994). Alexandrine Guérin excavated the village site of Msayke in the Léjà, in southern Syria, in 1993 that followed numerous regional explorations conducted since 1991 (BEO 45 ). This multidisciplinary study, involving archaeology, architecture, historical geography, and anthropology, followed the work of a team headed by Jean-Marie Dentzer (CNRS, Equipe de recherche associée 20) studying the Hauran in the pre-Islamic periods.
The institute's library is open to all researchers. With 950 periodicals, 400 of which are current subscriptions, and 50,000 volumes, it is one of the best French libraries for Arabic studies. The institute cooperates with Syrian researchers and local institutions such as the Académie de Langue Arabe, the University of Damascus, the Direction des Antiquités, and the al-Assad Library (national library). It also cooperates with the Syrian Antiquities Authority in joint ventures.
[See also the biographies of Sauvaget and Seyrig.]
- Renaud Avez, L'Institut français de Damas au Palais Azem (1922–1946) à travers les archives. Damascus, 1993. .
Alexandrine Guérin and Jacques Langhade
Translated from French by Melissa Kaprelian