1881, Tiflis, 5th
No archeological region proved more crucial to Russia’s identity, both politically and culturally. Condemned as “incapable of thought and action” from the turn of the 18th century by such influential historians as Edward Gibbon and Georg Hegel, Byzantium had provided Russia with the Orthodox religion that provided a cornerstone to its 19th-century ideology of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.” Preeminent archeologist Nikodim Kondakov led the way in challenging this image of the empire to which his own was currently laying claim in a nuanced translatio imperii. The journal Византійскій временникъ, ‘Byzantine Chronicle,’ began publication under V. G. Vasil’evskii in 1894.
The Caucasus became absolutely central to the Russian Imperial Imagination.
One of Imperial Russia’s and the USSR’s most complext academics, Marr had a Georgian mother, a Scottish father, and a brilliant mind that was as unconventional as his background. A linguist, he found himself dispatched to Armenia in 1891 by the Archeological Commission because he was one of the few educated Russians who could speak the langugage, and foreign archeologists were digging around there. Transforming himself into a formidable archeologist, he directed the reconstruction of Ani and excavated other sites in the Caucasus. After the revolution he returne to linguists, and developed a crackpot theory about the unity of Japhetic languages that, when Stalin embraced it, destroyed the discipline for decades.
An Armenian student who joined Marr on his excavations at Ani, Orbeli became one of the most prominent archeologists of the Armenian Caucasus, also conducting digs at Van and Urartu. However, his best known for his post-revolutionary career, when as director of the Hermitage he made its eastern collection among the best in the world. Skillfully, he managed to navigate the museum through the Stalinist repressions.