whose work revolutionized Mesopotamian archaeology. Koldewey studied architecture, archaeology, and ancient history in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna. His first archaeological experience came on the acropolis at Assos. The German Archaeological Institute subsequently commissioned him to excavate on Lesbos. In 1887, Koldewey worked with Robert Moritz at Surgul and al-Hiba, near Sumerian Telloh, in southern Mesopotamia. There Koldewey refined excavation techniques for following mud-brick walls, finding many small houses separated by twisting, narrow streets. He also followed foundation trenches by observing dark discolorations in the soil, an unheard-of technique at the time. For years, this talented archaeologist worked as an architectural instructor at the university in Gorlitz, Germany, while excavating at classical sites in Italy, Sicily, and Syria. He started large-scale excavations in Babylon in 1899. He remained there for the next eighteen years, only leaving during World War I, when the British advance up the Tigris River threatened to cut off his last route to safety. Koldewey developed sophisticated techniques for tracing that city's myriad mud-brick structures, training teams of diggers to distinguish the texture of room fill and mud brick after careful scraping and picking. Starting with a general knowledge of the city gleaned from cuneiform tablets, Koldewey identified King Hammurabi's city (1790 BCE) and then cleared a large part of Nebuchadrezzar's (604–562 BCE) capital, tracing the course of the paved Procession Street, reconstructing the Ishtar Gate, and untangling the long history of the city's citadel and ziggurat. Koldewey's excavation techniques recovered the general layout of the royal city and enabled him to reconstruct the magnificent enameled friezes that adorned the Ishtar Gate and Procession Street. His methods influenced the techniques of later excavators like Leonard Woolley at Ur. Koldewey did tend to overlook the potential of pottery and small artifacts for dating stratified layers, an oversight his successors regretted.

[See also Babylon.]


  • Koldewey, Robert. The Excavations at Babylon. London, 1914.
    Koldewey's account of the Babylon excavations, aimed at the general reader
  • Koldewey, Robert. Das Wieder erstehende Babylon (1913). Leipzig, 1925.
    Another description of the royal city
  • Lloyd, Seton. Foundations in the Dust: The Story of Mesopotamian Exploration. Rev. and enl. ed. London, 1980.
    General history of Mesopotamian archaeology that offers an assessment of Koldewey's work
  • Oates, Joan. Babylon. London, 1979.
    Definitive popular account of Babylon, drawing on both historical and archaeological sources, with numerous plans and illustrations

Brian Fagan