1846 - 1870
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  • Circumstances of birth

    A few words from one of the FSA's directors, Théophile Homolle, sum up perfectly the conditions of its birth: we owe the School's existence to 'two revolutions, one political and one literary; the Greek revolution and the Romantic revolution. The Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem and the Orientales [of François-René de Chateaubriand], by extolling the beauties of ancient Greece, and the miseries and heroism of modern Greece, impressed on all minds and all hearts the fatherland of Pericles and Kanaris'.

    In fact, France had been an active participant in the emergence of the Greek state. As a powerful protector, it had dispatched General Maison's expeditionary force, which brought fighting in the Peloponnese to an end. Associated with this military action was a major academic expedition, the Morea Expedition (1829-1831), on the same model as the expedition that had been sent to Egypt under the patronage of the three Academies. This joint action by soldiers and academics is a rather apt symbol of the twofold, geopolitical and academic, interest in Greece.

    These two motivating factors explain the foundation order of September 1846. It was born of the will of 'politicians': the French ambassador to Greece, Piscatory, and the Greek minister Kolettis, who had forged ties during the War of Independence, wishing to strengthen the interests of the French 'party' against the influence of the English, to the extent that it is not completely paradoxical for a historian of the FSA to assert that 'the French School is an English creation'. In France the Athenian 'plot' received the backing of the Minister for Public Instruction, de Salvandy, a devoted philhellene, and enjoyed the support of intellectual circles: from 1841 onwards Sainte-Beuve formulated the idea of a French establishment in Greece and, in 1845, the Academy of Fine Arts permitted the resident members at the Villa Medici in Rome to proceed to Athens to study the ancient remains there.

    The purposes of the French School at Athens

    What form to give the new establishment, and what aims to assign it? The foundation order is quite vague and does not treat its different purposes individually: 'a French School for the advanced study of Greek language, history and antiques is to be established at Athens. The members of this school are to be pupils of the Ecole normale supérieure who have passed the agrégation in the fields of the humanities, history or philosophy. It is to be placed under the supervision of a Faculty professor or a member of the Institute... '. The members were nominated for two years, and could be granted a third year by special decision. With the authorisation of the Greek king, they could initiate free public courses in the French language and French and Latin literature. They awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts to the pupils of the French and Latin schools in the east. Two unprecedented initiatives were put into practice only later: a Fine Arts section, provided for by a decree of 1847, was confirmed only in 1859, and the admission of Belgian members, seriously considered in inter-governmental discussions, happened only in 1900 with the creation of the foreign section.

    What did the first generation of young Frenchmen do in Athens? 'We go horse-riding; we do the watering; we dig a hectare of the garden each day and have moustaches 10cm long. We go out in public; we visit; we dance at balls. There we are presented to Coletti and are proud to have a five-minute conversation with the true king of Greece.' Faithful to humanist and Romantic tradition, the members roamed through Athens with the ancient authors in their hands, travelled in poetic fashion, and were ecstatic to discover the ancient world in the Greece of that time. This first phalanx of Athenians fulfilled the duties of teachers for two years, then gave them up. As for scholarship, there was little or no evidence of it.

    Four years after the foundation order, the reform of 1850 placed the FSA under the supervision of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres and affirmed the FSA's academic purpose: the members were required to produce research dissertations, sent to the Academy, which monitored and provided the impetus for the work, just as happened with the artists at the Villa Medici in Rome. This monitoring system is still in operation today. Nevertheless, the new purpose took time to become established, for the first two directors were not well disposed towards scholarly research. It was only in the 1870s that the School entered its academic era for good.

    An assessment of the first thirty years

    It would be wrong to say that nothing positive was achieved in the first thirty years. Strong characters spent time at the School, but to a great extent their careers developed outside it.

    For the record, it is worth mentioning the most famous of the 'Athenians', Edmond About, whose satirical literary works, La Grèce contemporaine of 1855 and Le roi des montagnes of 1856, served to fuel a current of opinion that was less than favourable towards the young Greek nation. There were also, however, real scholars, such as Numa Pompilius Fustel de Coulanges, whose La cité antique (1864), still in print today, was one of the foundational books for the academic study of history in France. Paul Vidal de La Blache, who created the French School of Geography, also spent time in Athens.

    As for field archaeology, travels - exploratory ones, in the best cases - were in an more advanced state than excavations, in the tradition of the Morea Expedition. The French had, though, excavated: the first undertaking, which received a great deal of publicity in Greece and France, was carried out by Ernest Beulé at the foot of the Acropolis. He thought he had discovered the Classical entrance of the Acropolis, which actually turned out to be a Byzantine gate; from his research he put together a synoptic study of the Acropolis. There was also Paul Foucart's first season at Delphi, which he completed on his own initiative and at his own expense (!): he uncovered a new part of the great polygonal wall, which served as a retaining wall for the temple terrace.

    Léon Heuzey and Honoré Daumet's mission to Macedonia was financed in 1861 by Napoléon III, who was interested in Caesar's battlefields in the east: it was not truly an official School enterprise but was conducted by two 'Athenians' and brought to light the ancient remains of a region that had been little explored. As was then fashionable, the Louvre was enriched by a certain number of finds.

    The Fine Arts section and the scientific section

    The fame of this section owes much to the quality of the drawings of Honoré Daumet, member of the School's Fine Arts section. Indeed, a decree of 1859 had made provision for a scientific section and a Fine Arts section. Although the activities of the former were on a small scale, being limited to the work of the physicist Henri Gorceix at Santorini (1870), many architects, who came from the French Academy at Rome, benefited from the positions offered them in the latter.

    The abolition of these sections in the 1874 reform did not represent progress: as large-scale excavations were developed in the following decades, the admission of architects continued to be piecemeal. In retrospect, it is a shame that the scientific section did not last, as collaboration with scientists (such as geologists, physicists and naturalists) has become one of the new dimensions in contemporary archaeology.

    © EFA

    ARCHIMAGE : The latest pictures

    Amathonte - PALAIS - N138-040

    Tête de koré en calcaire.,
    Archimage is intended to gradually put online the graphic and photographic documents, kept in the Archives service of FSA.

    Archaeology in Greece ONLINE

    Prosymna, PROPERTY OF D. MERMIGKI. Georgia Ivou (?'????) reports on the discovery of a cluster of graves which were part of a Christian cemetery, in this property extending south from the church of Agios Georgios. Three were rectangular pit graves which had been severely damaged by looters. Two (II, III) were covered with limestone slabs which had fallen into the pits as a result of the looting. To the south of these were another two graves (IV, V) built with bricks and internally lined with plaster and covered with stone slabs (Fig. 1). They contained multiple burials, (Fig. 2) one of which must have belonged to a woman. A cross had been engraved on the eastern narrow side of grave V (Fig. 3).
    A collaborative project with the BSA.