March 20, 1887|
Kutaisi, Russian Empire
|Died||February 2, 1961
Leningrad, Soviet Union
|Fields||Armenian studies, Iranian Studies, Oriental Studies|
|Institutions||Armenian Academy of Sciences|
|Alma mater||St. Petersburg University|
|Doctoral students||Aram Ter-Ghevondyan|
|Influences||Nicholas Adontz, Vasily Bartold, Ivane Javakhishvili, Nicholas Marr, Michael Rostovtzeff|
|Influenced||Hrach Bartikyan, Aram Ter-Ghevondyan, Karen Yuzbashyan|
|Notable awards||Order of Lenin (2)
Order of the Red Banner of Labour (2)
Joseph Orbeli (Armenian: Հովսեփ Օրբելի Hovsep Orbeli; Russian: Иосиф Абгарович Орбели, Iosif Abgarovich Orbeli; March 20 (O.S. March 8), 1887 – February 2, 1961) was a renowned Soviet Armenian orientalist and academician, who specialized in medieval history of Southern Caucasus and administered the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad from 1934 to 1951. He was also the founder and first President of the Armenian Academy of Sciences (1943–47).
Early life and education
Born into a medieval noble family in Kutaisi, Russian Georgia in 1887, Joseph Orbeli completed his secondary education at a classical gymnasium in Tiflis. In 1904, he was accepted to St. Petersburg University. He studied history and philology (with a particular emphasis in Latin and Greek) and graduated from the university in 1911. During his student years, Orbeli accompanied his professor, Nicholas Marr, to Russian Armenia, where he took part in excavations of the ruins of the medieval Armenian capital of Ani. Marr pushed his pupil to fully immerse himself in the fields of archaeology, literature, lithography and linguistics; otherwise, Marr reasoned, he would find himself unprepared in his research and his studies.
Following his graduation, Orbeli departed for Armenia once more. He became the director of an on-site museum that was established at Ani and, during Marr's absences, frequently headed the excavations himself. He also traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh (more precisely, to the historical region of Khachen), gathering and categorizing lithographic material. Orbeli also managed to travel to Turkish Armenia, where he was able to study Armenian, Seljuk, and Urartian monuments and conduct research on Armenian and Kurdish dialects.
Gradually, Orbeli was emerging as the leading authority on Armenian antiquities in the world. In 1912, he became a member of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society and in 1914, he began teaching Armenian and Kurdish studies at Saint Petersburg University. In 1916, he participated in a Russian archaeological expedition around the Lake Van region; it was here where he discovered an inscription attributed to the Urartian king Sardur II. He continued his work at St. Petersburg University (in 1917, he was appointed an assistant professor of Armenian-Georgian studies), but occasionally taught at Moscow's Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages as well. In the years leading up to the Russian Revolution, Orbeli published a number of books, including a catalogue of artifacts found at Ani and a series of studies dealing with classical philology, Armenian history, archaeology and art.
This led to his appointment to the Hermitage Museum, which he would steer through the hardships of Joseph Stalin's purges and the Siege of Leningrad. Orbeli considerably enhanced the museum's holdings of Oriental art, making it one of the top oriental art museums in the world. No less important was Orbeli's role as head of the national school of Caucasus studies. Orbeli underscored the importance of linguistic studies for proper understanding of historical processes. In 1955-60, he was in charge of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the Leningrad University.
He was buried at Bogoslovskoe Cemetery in Leningrad.
- (Armenian) Yuzbashyan, Karen. Ակադեմիկոս Հովսեփ Աբգարի Օրբելի (Academician Hovsep Abgari Orbeli). Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1987.