The Imperial Archaeological Commission

The Imperial Archaeological Commission

By the early 1850s archeology was already widely developed in Russia, however, the absence of coordination in this area led to disagreements between various central and local departments. By a decree issued in 1856 Count Sergey Stroganov was entrusted with the task of overseeing all archaeological excavations controlled by the Ministry of the Imperial Court. The Imperial Archaeological Commission initiated by him was established by Alexander II on February 15, 1859. It became the first state archaeological institution in the Russian Empire.

S. G. Stroganov remained its chairman until 1882. A significant role in the development of the commission belonged to V. G. Tiesenhausen, who began a career being in charge of records management and finally became Deputy Chairman. Not only did he advance the “oriental” direction of archaeological research, but he was also in charge of a great deal of organizational work, particularly after the resignation of S. G. Stroganov in 1882 and the appointment of A. A. Vasilchikov as chairman (1882–1886). Throughout its existence, the commission considered field research as the basic form of its activity and this played a fundamental role in the establishment of archeology in Russia as a science. Initially, the focus was on Scythian and ancient monuments, but gradually the scope of research expanded due to Siberian antiquities, medieval monuments of Eastern Europe, and also Varangian monuments. The commission made a major contribution to the systematization and regulation of archaeological excavations, and issued archaeological excavation permits. Other important activities of the commission included restoration, protection and description of monuments, including those that were accidentally discovered. A. A. Bobrinsky, who headed the commission from 1886 to 1917, paid much attention to these issues. He initiated a number of trials on unauthorized excavations and a circular letter of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of November 27, 1886, which prohibited excavations without the permission of the commission. It was due to his efforts that in 1889 the commission became the only institution that issued permissions for excavations on state, municipal and peasant lands. The commission existed until 1919, when its functions were entrusted to the Russian Academy of the History of Material Culture. Members of the commission were prominent historians and archaeologists: I. Ye. Zabelin, N. P. Kondakov, A. S. Lappo-Danilevsky, V. V. Stasov, A. A. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov and many others. The Imperial Archaeological Commission, the department of the Imperial Court, was the only state body in Russia that had the mission to study, collect and protect objects of antiquity. The practices of the commission formed the basis of the modern regulation of archaeological research and the system of protection of monuments in Russia.

The collection, dedicated to the 160th anniversary of its foundation, comprises publications of the commission, as well as archival documents on its establishment and development.

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