Collection Lepsius MSS - Karl Richard Lepsius Collection

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Lepsius MSS


Karl Richard Lepsius Collection


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Name of creator


Biographical history

German Egyptologist; he was born at Naumburg an der Saale, 23 Dec. 1810, son of Carl Peter L., Saxon Procurator for the district of Thuringa, and Friederike Glaser; he was educated at Naumburg School, 1823-9; the Universities of Leipzig, 1829-30; Gottingen, 1830-2, where he attended lectures on archaeology and Greek Antiquities and also learnt Sanskrit; Berlin, 1832-3, where he was critical of the philological school under Boeckh; PhD on the Eugubian Tablets, 1833; he went to Paris in 1833 to collect materials on ancient weapons for the Duc de Luynes and while there attended lectures given by Letronne on the history of Egypt, whose critical approach to the subject he afterwards praised; under the influence of Bunsen and Humboldt he studied Egyptology, but although well qualified in many ancient languages he would not learn Egyptian until Champollion's Grammar had appeared; in this he showed his orderly mind which was to be of great service to him later; he required to make comparisons of the different systems of decipherment then being discussed in order to establish the correct one at a time when scholars were still uncertain about them; his famous letter to Rosellini marked the turning-point in the study of hieroglyphs; in this he accepted the Champollion system and showed once and for all that it was the correct one, but also expanded and corrected it where necessary, showing the use and nature of syllabic signs for the fast time and the relationship of certain features to Coptic; in his spare time Lepsius learnt engraving on copper and lithography which he rightly considered would be useful in his work later; he also wrote poetry and music as diversions from his studies; while in Paris Lepsius made many squeezes and tracings of inscriptions and then spent four years visiting the principal Egyptian collections in England, Holland, and Italy; in 1842-5 he led the Prussian Expedition to Egypt and Nubia after having prepared for it most thoroughly; this was the best-equipped expedition that had ever gone to Egypt with skilled draughtsmen among the members; intending mainly to survey the monuments and gather objects Lepsius also excavated the site of the Labyrinth in the Fayum and made a stratified drawing of sections across the site, using a method not normally used in the Near East again until the present century; at this time his interest in Nubian languages was aroused; he went as far south as Khartoum and Sennar and also to Sinai in the north-east; he visited Palestine and later published the Nahr el-Kelb inscription of Ramesses II; in all he sent home 15,000 Egyptian antiquities and plaster casts; he was appointed Professor at Berlin University, 1846; he married Elisabeth daughter of Bernard Klein, the composer and niece of Gustav Parthey 1846; Member of the Acad., 1850; Corresponding Member of the Academie des Inscriptions in Paris, 24 Dec. 1858; co-director of the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, 1855; on the death of Passalacqua in 1865, he was made Keeper of the Egyptian collections and in 1873, Keeper of the Royal Library; the epigraphic and other material collected on the expedition was published in 1859 in the 12 vast volumes of the Denkmaler, probably the largest Egyptological work ever produced; the work consists entirely of folio plates, 894 in all, extremely accurate compared with earlier works of this type; the text did not appear until after his death, when it was compiled from his papers by Naville and others, and published in 5 further vols., 1897-1913; the Egyptian museum in Berlin was largely built according to his specification; in his later works he showed an interest in chronology and mensuration; he visited Egypt with another expedition, 1866, exploring the Suez area and the east Delta; this resulted in the discovery of the decree of Canopus at Tanis, of tremendous importance, as this bilingual stone acted as a check to prove the results achieved by Egyptologists up to 1866 by using the Rosetta stone and Champollion's system; for many years from 1864 on he edited ZAS; his last visit to Egypt was in 1869 when he was present at the opening of the Suez Canal; Knight of the Bavarian order of Maximilian, 1873; Privy Councillor, etc.; his bibl. lists 142 works.

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

Photocopy of diary by K. R. Lepsius, Oct. 30 to Dec. 7, 1844, discovered too late for use in L.D. Text.

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Conditions governing access

Property of the Griffith Institute. No restrictions. Consultation only.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copyright Berlin Museum.

Language of material

  • German

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Physical characteristics and technical requirements

No problems.

Finding aids

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Existence and location of originals

The original is in the Berlin Museum.

Existence and location of copies

These are photocopies.

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Physical storage

  • Shelf: 0702A