Rich as Croesus

Faculty Profile

"When I was in the later days of gymnasium, a friend of mine said to me 'Now there are these mysterious Etruscans and we must learn about them.' He made me get interested with him. As it turned out, he became an actor; but I am still studying the Etruscans."

Professor George M. A. Hanfmann's current ancient mystery is the fabulous Lydian civilization, whose capital city in Sardis, Turkey, will be excavated during the next three summers. He returned on April 14th from a preliminary survey of the area and will leave again late in May to begin digging. "Sardis is an extremely rich place," says Professor Hanfmann, his "r's" revealing a slight German accent. "There are several big ruins above ground from the Hellenistic and the Roman period, but the palace of Croesus and the Temple of Zeus are buried. We will probably take on some of these big buildings, although most of our work this summer will be recording and testing to locate the city of Croesus."

"We shall also, eventually, have a go at the Royal Cemetery nearby which has sixty to one hundred mounds in it. Some of these have been looted, of course, and one finds tunnels made by grave-robbers. I tried to crawl into the biggest one myself; it had been filled nearly to the top already and more earth came down, so I had to stop. It is quite tantalizing, however, since you can see a great distance into the tuunel."

Professor Hanfmann's present role in the excavation of Sardis culminates a varied career in art and language. He was born in Russia but left in 1921 to become a Lithuanian citizen. Most of his education took place in Germany where he received a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin. "That was in the afterglow of the great German classical education, and the emphasis then was on philology." he explains. "My experience after coming to Fogg Museum, in 1935, was a very good counterpoise to that training. Fogg combined a museum with active art collecting--this was a new idea to me. I had not been accustomed to treating the work of art as an individual piece."

For some time, I have been using the method of Professor Jaeger, who was my teacher in Berlin, of uniting the history of ideas with the history of art. The problem is to what extent an art work is an expression of the ideas and ideals of a particular culture."


When World War II interrupted his scholarship, Professor Hanfmann was in the office of War Information. "My job was to control our dear writers to see that they didn't all go off in different directions. In London, I was chief of the German Language Section, and it was interesting work. We had to plan radio shows for broadcast to the Germans. Our Prisoner of War shows had a certain effect, I think, near the end when things were going badly for them."

His partner in the present effort is Professor Detweiler of Cornell. "There are two essential people in an excavation" says Professor Hanfmann, "an archeologist and an architect. Detweiler is both."

Professors Hanfmann and Detweiler are financing the work with funds from Harvard and Cornell, matching a contribution from the Bolingen Foundation. Excavation could go on indefinitely, however. "As long as you dig you can always use more money," Professor Hanfmann says. At Sardis, he hopes to find clues to the Lydian language, which still baffles philologists. "We have a few samples now, but most of them read: 'This is the tomb of so and so, whosoever violates it will have to pay a fine'--Well, you can't get very far that way." He also plans to find archeological evidence that the ancients believed that Bacchus, god of wine, was born on a mountain near Sardis, and that his cult spread from Asia Minor to Greece.

The Turks themselves seem excited about the excavation of Croesus' city. "They have received us with a great deal of enthusiasm" says Professor Hanfman. "Our expedition catches their imagination."