From 1897 until 1908 Ernst Sellin was Professor of Biblical Archaeology in Vienna and carried out excavations at first at Tell Ta’anakh, later also in Jericho and Sichem. For this research, he was able to attract public funding as well as private sponsors. ‘Vienna in the Holy Land’ reconstructs the archaeological investigations of Ernst Sellin, their reception in Austria, and his networks in Vienna.
The fact that Vienna, at the end of the monarchy and during the First Republic, was a centre for archaeological and cultural-scientific research in the Near East has largely disappeared from scientific reception as well as from the awareness of an interested public. The pioneering archaeological work of Ernst Sellin, initially based in Vienna and later at German professorships with active Austrian participation, at a variety of sites in the Holy Land has generally remained unknown.
Ernst Sellin was born in 1867 in Alt-Schwerin and from 1884 until 1888 studied Protestant Theology and Oriental Studies in Rostock, Erlangen and Leipzig. In 1897 he was appointed Associate Professor the Evangelical-Theological Department in Vienna. After many journeys to Palestine, Sellin undertook excavations from 1902 until 1904 at Tell Ta’anakh, work which was financed by diverse public authorities and private individuals.
From 1907 until 1909, Sellin was active at Tell es-Sultan (the biblical Jericho), work which had been prepared in Vienna but which was then carried out in the framework of his appointment in Rostock. Although this excavation was sponsored by the German Oriental Society, the trial excavations in 1907 were nevertheless paid for by private funds from Austria.
In 1913 Ernst Sellin eventually accepted a position at the University of Kiel, where he would remain until 1921. In 1913 and 1914 Sellin also undertook initial excavations at Tell Balāṭah, the biblical Sichem. The first two excavation campaigns were once again carried out with Austrian financial participation.
Numerous (old)Austrian scholars took part in Sellin’s excavations. At Tell Ta’anakh, Sellin was accompanied by the classical archaeologist Dr. Paul Münsterberg, the adjunct custodian of the Kunsthistorisches Hofmuseum, while the cuneiform tablets found there were translated and published by Bedřich Hrozný, a Czech theologian and orientalist who was active in Vienna until 1918 and who also accompanied Sellin on the 1904 campaign. At the 1913 and 1914 excavations in Sichem, Camillo Praschniker (Austrian classical archaeologist, 1884–1949), amongst others, participated, while in addition Adolf Grohmann (Austrian Arabic scholar, 1887–1977) was also part of Ernst Sellin’s team.
Over a long period of time, Ernst Sellin’s research in the Holy Land formed part of the archaeological activities which were initiated in Vienna, and numerous scholars who later elsewhere held leading positions at Austrian and foreign universities and academies were products of Ernst Sellin’s school. This project aims to trace the scholarly personality of Ernst Sellin, to reappraise the Austrian reception of his work, and to reconstruct his networks in Vienna.