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.

The creation of a research institute

If it is right to say that we may thank England for the foundation of the French School, it may be added that we may thank Germany for its second birth. The defeat of 1870 shocked the whole of French intelligentsia: ‘the raising of academic standards became a national preoccupation’ that had direct consequences for the FSA’s life. German research was not only ahead in all areas of archaeological scholarship (such as corpora of inscriptions, vases, and the identification of sculptural works), but was now entering into competition on Greek soil: the German Institute at Athens, a branch of the Berlin Archaeological Institute, was created in 1873, the excavation of Olympia began in 1875, and the first volume of a German academic journal devoted to Greece appeared in 1876. France had not only lost its monopoly, as the FSA was no longer the only foreign establishment in Greece, but from an academic point of view it had been left in a state of inferiority: it had no policy of systematic excavations, its bulletin for disseminating information appeared sporadically and was of low quality, and there was vacillation over the FSA’s purposes. In order to combat this, it was first necessary to improve the upper classes’ knowledge.

The reform of 1874 had the merit of clarity: it left only one section, that of Literature. The supervisory powers of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres were reinforced, and it received members’ dissertations and proposed two names to the Ministry for the appointment of the director. There were six members, who stayed for three years and were admitted at a rate of two per year. A few modifications (of the number of members and the duration of their stay) aside, this system operated until the new statutes were published in 1985. On the other hand, the ambitious programme for the entry competition, which encompassed written and oral examinations, including ones in Latin epigraphy and the modern Greek language, was soon abandoned.

The most groundbreaking move was the creation of a Roman branch, which was decided on in 1873: the members were to spend a year there, to be trained for their future work in Greece, but only two year-groups followed this training course and it was abolished as soon as the School at Rome became autonomous, in 1875. Of it remained only the traditional travels in Italy, which were intended to precede work in Athens; this custom continued, with interruptions, until the 1980s.

Although the reform was put together by the second director, Émile Burnouf, the revival was inextricably associated with Albert Dumont, deputy director of the Roman branch at the age of thirty-two and third director of the FSA in 1875. Dumont not only organised a research centre from scratch but in three years implemented a wide-ranging academic programme.

He created an Institut de Correspondance hellénique to bring information together and establish links with Greek circles. Papers and data, presented in Greek and French at this Institute’s meetings, were published in an annual journal, the Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, of which the first volume appeared in 1877. A series, the Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, was created, in conjunction with the new School at Rome, to publish members’ work.

In planning this work, A. Dumont showed an impressive breadth of vision. Himself a scholar with a diverse range of research interests and a pioneer in many different areas (from prehistory to stamped amphora handles, and from the chronology of the Athenian archons to terracotta), he directed the ‘Athenians’ towards all areas of the study of the Greek world: some he pushed towards Mount Athos, others to Constantinople, where they studied Byzantine topography; he devised a vast survey of modern Greek dialects, of which the first piece of research, on Cyprus, was published in 1879. He urged those interested in the Classical world to put together corpora, an area in which the Germans were past masters. Finally, during his directorship the excavation at Delphi received a decisive boost and explorations in Asia Minor were resumed.

When he returned to France after three years, to become a university rector and then Director of Higher Education, A. Dumont had genuinely transformed the School into a research institute. He left behind him a work that promised much but which it would fall to his successors to bring to fruition. This is what they did, but to a certain extent they abandoned Dumont’s ambitious programme in order to focus the School’s activities on Classical studies.

The era of major excavations

So, the time of major excavations – demanding in terms of both men and resources – had begun. Amid rivalry, because more and more foreign missions were being founded in Greece, the major sites were shared out. Sometimes competition was fierce, and it reflected the conflicts between nations in search of cultural prestige that would serve their political interests. Indeed, the medal struck in celebration of the FSA’s fiftieth anniversary in 1898 bore the legend ‘For learning, for the homeland’ on the obverse. All the nations working in Greece could have claimed for themselves the same motto.

The FSA still works today at these sites, the legacy of the major excavations of the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, while drawing on new methods and areas of interest. The list is as follows:

  • Delos: excavations were undertaken from 1873 onwards and were developed in several different periods. Work was especially intensive between 1904 and 1914 thanks to the grants provided to the School by the Duke of Loubat.
  • Delphi: The ‘Major Excavation’ lasted from 1892 to 1903. The French government voted an extraordinary grant for the relocation and reconstruction of the village of Kastri, which had been built on the ancient site.
  • Argos: 1902-1913, excavations at various locations in the town of Argos by a Dutch member of the FSA and with resources provided by his government.
  • Thasos: beginning of excavations in 1911.
  • Philippi: opening of the site in 1914.
  • Malia: 1922, excavations of the Minoan palace, in collaboration with the Greeks.

These choices were made for both political and academic reasons. On the one hand, France made its presence felt in the regions of the Greek world that had recently been acquired by Greece (Philippi and Thasos); on the other, it followed the development of pre-Hellenic archaeology in Crete (at Malia). On balance, this policy was very judicious as, in ranging from prehistory (Malia) to the Byzantine era (Philippi), the FSA’s major sites covered virtually all areas of ancient studies. The sanctuaries of Delos and Delphi played a leading role in Greek history. Three urban sites, Delos, Argos, and Thasos, offered limitless material for research on urbanism. Thasos made it possible to study a Parian colony in a Thracian setting, and Philippi a Roman colony in the east. All the essential questions in the study of the ancient Greek world could be addressed. The French would have been wrong to complain about the distribution. Although they had lost Knossos, not without a fight, to the English, in Malia they possessed another, even older, Knossos, as the excavations of the 1960s showed.

The discoveries made in the course of these major excavations were in all respects of the first order, and it is not possible to give a proper overview of them here: they included thousands of inscriptions, hundreds of works of art, and dozens of original buildings. Let us note only that the findings from Delphi were revolutionary for our understanding of Greek art, and that the results were felt beyond academia: Matisse (amongst others) contemplated Archaic statuary, the kouroi,tall, naked young men with simplified features, that were discovered in the major excavation. Once again, Greek art served to provide new models for contemporary art. This frenzy of work was not without its problems: the excavators did too much and worked too fast, and academic publications were rather slow in coming. This criticism may be applied to almost all the undertakings of this period, except perhaps Delos, where the team, well organised by M. Holleaux, produced publications in an efficient manner. But let us not carp at the past, which remains glorious, while the prestige derived from it by the School and by Greece was an investment for the future.

Although the French School’s work in the last third of the century and up to the 1920s was predominantly concerned with the opening of the major sites, ‘ancillary’ initiatives were not neglected: between 1878 and 1890, there were no less than eighteen different excavation sites in Greece and Asia Minor. Excavations and expeditions were undertaken in increasing numbers in Anatolia, in the search for Hellenism outside Greece, until the ‘catastrophe’ of 1922.

Opening up to the world

The creation of the foreign section of the School at Athens in 1900, and that of the French primary school known as the Giffard School after the generous donor who financed its setting up in 1903, should also be seen in the context of rivalry between nations. These two initiatives were in accordance with concerns that had been in evidence since the School’s foundation and which were returning to the fore. The foreign section, planned in the case of Belgians since 1846, was intended to host resident members from friendly nations which did not have permanent missions in Greece; they were paid by their countries of origin and had the same rights and duties as the French members. From its first years onwards, the School hosted a Dutchman and Belgians – who distinguished themselves, in the former case at Argos and the latter at Tenos, in excavations financed by their governments – as well as Danes and Swiss. After the First World War, admissions broadened to the extent that that the FSA resembled a real ‘League of Nations’. Poles, a Russian, Swedes and a Czech joined, and negotiations were begun with Albania, Romania, and Yugoslavia. It was as foreign members that the first women, from the Netherlands, made their appearance at the FSA in 1927. These foreign members played an active role in the School’s work (two Danish architects were engaged on the excavations at Delos before 1914) or pursued their own research. The foreign section contributed to the FSA’s international prestige and played a very active part in the institution’s academic life.

While the foreign section continues to flourish, and is irreplaceable, the ‘Giffard Foundation’ became independent; in this way the FSA turned a page of its history. The creation of a French primary school, which took up residence on a plot of land adjourning the School, was decided upon in 1903. It was a question of furthering the spread of the French language in Greek society, under the control of the School at Athens, and the director organised examination sessions in Greece itself, but also in Constantinople and Smyrna. This base for French propaganda in Greece acquired a certain amount of administrative independence in 1925, as the Higher Institute of French Studies, but a separate director was appointed only in 1938. In any case, before the First World War the FSA, supported by its two new props and distinguished far and wide by the broad and varied nature of its work, constituted a power in Greece and outside it. This was a source of jealousy, and criticism, from both academic and political points of view, was not lacking. A representative example is the newspaper campaign of Chronos, the organ of the military league, against the overseas Schools in 1909: the paper accused the official in charge of archaeology in Greece, P. Kavvadias, of having stifled all Greek archaeological activities and of having assigned the best excavations to foreigners. The foreign institutes, united in the face of these attacks, protested in the press.

The School at war

The First World War interrupted the School’s actual archaeological work: the ‘Athenians’ served in France or on the eastern front as soldiers and interpreters, and the war effort took a heavy toll. They also excavated in Greece and in Macedonia and participated in the Oriental Army’s archaeological service, which had been created on the instigation of Gustave Fougères, the School’s director. In Athens, the latter enthusiastically co-ordinated propaganda in favour of France and its allies. The School had to close its doors in December 1916 following attacks by the royalist army on French troops who supported Venizelos’ government. The French were evacuated and the School was entrusted to the director of the American School. On his return, as head of the Franco-Hellenic League, which numbered 4000 members in 1918, Fougères organised meetings to encourage Greeks to mobilise alongside the Allies. When taking stock of the war years, this intellectual, who had been transformed into a real soldier on the eastern front, could write that ‘the war of 1871 briefly plunged the School into the inertia of isolation. That of 1914-1919, in the twists and turns of which it was caught up, gave it a new energy’.

The conditions for stability

The resumption of activities, driven by the new director Charles Picard (1919-1925), did indeed bring distinction to the School; the greatly increased number of links with foreign countries that sent resident members to the French School and the Malia excavation in 1922 have already been mentioned, and the efforts made to regain a foothold in Asia Minor should not be forgotten. Nevertheless, a number of factors were about to put something of a check on this momentum: the closure of sites in Turkey after the events of 1922, the ‘three excavation sites’ rule imposed by the Greek government in 1924, and financial difficulties. These developments, along with the newly independent status of the ‘Giffard Foundation’ and the decree of 1928 that officially termed the establishment in Didotou Street the ‘French Archaeological School at Athens’, show that a turning-point had been passed. The School was moving from the period of profuse research, which contributed to a particular kind of idea of the French presence in Greece, to that of the methodical management of major excavation sites in the service of academic archaeology.

The ‘three excavation sites’ rule would determine the FSA’s entire academic policy. The Greek government, overwhelmed by problems with inspecting excavations and preserving monuments and objects, decided that the foreign missions could demand the opening of no more than three excavation sites a year. Moreover, a site that had been abandoned for more than 15 years could no longer be claimed. No new excavations were authorised, except for those who were working on two sites only. The director protested in vain, while the rule was upheld with, it seems, a certain amount of flexibility.

Moreover, from 1923 onwards the School experienced quite serious financial problems. In his report to the Academy, the director remarked bitterly that the foreign Schools, even the German School, thanks to a private foundation, had more resources than the FSA. With variations that are referred to in the annual reports to the Academy, the financial crises of the interwar period did not spare the School, and in 1936 the devaluations of the franc halved the value of its funds. Was the worldwide crisis also the reason for the decrease in the number of foreign members? There were a mere three in 1930, and only one in 1935.

This period of turbulence did not prevent ongoing academic work, and publications and excavations continued apace. With regard to excavations, although the major pre-war undertakings (at Delos and Delphi) were not neglected, this was above all the time when Malia, Philippi and Thasos were unearthed. Some new initiatives saw the light of day, of which the most significant was the opening, in 1941, of the site of Gortys in Arcadia, famous for its sanctuary of Asclepius. Nevertheless, the School also showed an interest in Olous, in Crete, and Kirra, the port of Delphi. Major restoration works were undertaken at Delphi (the temple and the Marmaria tholos) and, in collaboration with the Americans, at Amphipolis, where the famous Lion was reassembled.

The vitality of a research centre is essentially measured by its publications. At the point when it celebrated its centenary, in 1947, the FSA was able to present a not insignificant record. The Bulletin de Correspondance hellénique, with its Excavation Chronicle, which covered Greece and part of Asia Minor and had no equivalent elsewhere, had appeared regularly since 1922 and had been very little affected by the Second World War. The series intended for site publications had expanded remarkably in 50 years:

  • Exploration Archéologique de Délos numbered nineteen volumes, to which the virtually complete Corpus of Inscriptions should be added.
  • in Fouilles de Delphes, 17 volumes had been published.
  • in Études Crétoises, launched in 1928, the ninth title appeared in 1945.
  • the Études Thasiennes series was launched with a first volume published in 1944.

Synoptic works on the types of materials and the history of Delphi, Delos and Philippi appeared in the Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome series (in which the ‘Athenians’ were the authors of 85 works between 1896 and 1945, which did not cover all the FSA’s sites, but which are varied contributions to knowledge of the Greek world). The foreign members published 6 volumes in the Travaux et Mémoires series. Since what remained to be done was as substantial as the work that had been completed, it was clear what one of the School’s fundamental tasks would be in the 50 years to follow.

The war years and the postwar years

The School’s life was disrupted by the war years and by the internal Greek struggles that lasted until 1949: this resulted in the mobilisation and demobilisation of the ‘Athenians’, the suspension of admissions between 1939 and 1941 and then again in 1944, the impossibility of reaching the sites by sea, and the dangers of land routes. The School, however, continued to operate and carry out its work. When a new director was nominated in 1950, he nevertheless found a rather deteriorated state of affairs. The buildings were in ruins, the School resembled a caravanserai in which the families of members and staff were crammed, the library was overflowing, and the staff entirely lacked discipline. Georges Daux restored order to the place and for 19 years carried out a policy of adapting the School to the needs of modern archaeology.

These needs were threefold: to develop the infrastructure, appoint technical staff, and adapt the School’s work to the new demands of archaeology. Although he did not meet only with successes in this policy of renewal,as in particular he was faced with financial hurdles, he was unsparing in his efforts. His successors, who were more fortunate and enjoyed better conditions, brought some of his projects to fruition.

The School’s adaptation to the needs of modern archaeology

‘Our establishment operates as it did 100 years ago’, wrote G. Daux in 1959. The buildings had not been developed, there were insufficient technical staff (there was no librarian, photographer or architect – those who were taken on were paid from the materials budget), and only of support staff were there enough, if not too many. It proved possible to fill these gaps with greater or lesser speed: in 1962 a post of Librarian was assigned to the school, and in 1966 one of Sub-Librarian. More time was needed to win the posts for an architect and photographer, which were obtained by Pierre Amandry, shortly after he took up his duties, in 1972. The favourable economic climate of France’s ‘thirty glorious years’ and policy of actively supporting research, from 1981, made it possible to appoint technical staff and develop all the services: the archives, drawing office (for the architect and draughtsmen), photograph library, library of plans, and restoration. Although all these needs were not yet met, the team that was brought together at the FSA was equal to the demands of a modern research institute. In order to organise these technical services, it was first necessary to house them. To do so, G. Daux obtained the funds to build, in 1962, a new building. On the other hand, neither he nor his successor managed to interest the government in renovating the library. Olivier Picard got a basement extension built only in 1987-1989 but, despite the benefits it brought, the fitting out of the library and the operational reorganisation of the FSA remained current topics. The School found it rather difficult to expand within premises that were full to overflowing and for the most part more than a hundred years old.

Academic programmes: traditions and innovations

In 1950, the FSA had not been touched by the developments in archaeology that had for twenty years been opening up new fields and transforming its methods. Nevertheless, as a short-lived mark of these new times, underwater excavations using the Cousteau-Gagnan diving suit were carried out under the auspices of the School in 1950. The results were very inconclusive, and a little more than thirty years passed before the FSA again showed an interest in the field of subaquatic archaeology.

The most significant respect in which the School was behind was excavation methods, which had not evolved in a hundred years, whereas in the 1930s the Englishman Wheeler had devised a rigorous stratigraphic method for the exploration of archaeological sites and the recording of data. This lag was due to the forms of training followed by the ‘Athenians’, who were admitted on the basis of a competition that put most emphasis on their knowledge of ancient Greek and the history of ancient art. Excavating, for which the work was done by many labourers, was learnt in the field and was more a matter of clearing the ground than undertaking an academic project. The new methods were introduced by P. Courbin on the site at Argos: ‘the method used this year was closely based on the principles formulated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler,’ he wrote in 1956. It took a slow and difficult process for the new techniques to spread to all the School’s excavation sites, but in the end ‘modernity’ prevailed.

The site at Argos, reopened in 1952, thus became the School’s pilot-site for forty years. From the 1960s onwards, new generations of ‘Athenians’ spent time there in order to learn to excavate. Areas of interest were extended to older periods, at Argos itself but also elsewhere: the School’s previous excavation of the tell at Dikili Tash, in Macedonia, was resumed, and from 1961 to 1975 and then from 1986 excavations of the Middle and Late Neolithic levels were carried out in collaboration with the Archaeological Society of Athens.

At Malia, a new impetus for research was provided by the opening in 1966 of the ‘Mu Quarter’, an establishment of the same age as the first palaces, from which the quality of finds means that it can rightly be deemed a new Protopalatial Knossos (the excavations went on until 1991 and covered 4000 m2). Although in academic terms the undertakings at the prehistoric and protohistoric sites were the most profitable, as they introduced the School to new methods and new ways of working in teams, the traditional areas were not neglected: the excavation of Gortys was completed (1951-55), the houses in the northern district of Delos were excavated (1963-1968), and excavations continued at Thasos, where the uncovering of a Classical residential district at the Gate of Silenus (1971-1980) was especially noteworthy. Outside the traditional major excavation sites, some initiatives that were restricted in space and time were also launched: the resumption of work at Lato in Crete, the excavation of the grotto of the Corycian Cave (1970), above Delphi, which was occupied from Neolithic times onwards and in historical times was dedicated to the cult of Pan and the Nymphs, the resumption of excavations of the sanctuary of Poseidon and Amphitrite at Tenos (1973), and the uncovering of three monumental funerary ensembles at the necropolis at Rhenea (1975).

A major new initiative was begun in 1975. At the request of the local authorities, after the tragic invasion of Cyprus by Turkish troops in 1974, P. Amandry agreed to open a site at Amathus, co-funded by the excavations committee of the Foreign Ministry. This opening up to the eastern part of the Greek world revived a tradition by sending the School once again beyond the frontiers of Greece.

New structures and new purposes

Revision of the School’s statutes was the order of the day from the 1970s onwards, since as a public establishment that was financially independent it could not do without, at the very least, a Board of Trustees. A ‘review committee’ met in Paris in 1975, former members were consulted, and a ministerial mission came to Athens and produced a report, which was not acted on.

The ‘crisis’ of 1980-1981 affected all the overseas establishments that the Minister for Universities, Ms A. Saunier-Seïté, had decided to reform in a radical manner: the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres would lose almost all its prerogatives, the Foreign Ministry would be consulted for the nomination of the director, and the French Ambassador would chair a Board that would be virtually all-powerful, including in academic matters. The members would be obliged to deliver ‘high-level teaching open to nationals of the country’. To place the FSA under the control of the Foreign Ministry and assign it a teaching role would have more or less gone back to 1846! The only slightly progressive element of the project was the expansion of admissions to all fields. Protests were raised from all quarters (the Academy, and Italian, Greek, Egyptian, Belgian and Swiss intellectual and academic circles), and the project was dropped.

The 1985 reform was prepared with more consultation between the different parties. It allowed sufficiently for tradition and introduced a satisfying amount of innovation, and enjoyed broad support. Since then the School has had a Board of Trustees, to approve its budget in particular, and an Academic Board, to assist the director in decision-making. The Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres is reasonably well represented on the new boards (six seats of the 20 that make up the Academic Board), and retains its supervisory right over the academic dissertations of members and its right to present candidates for the directorship. The National Centre for Academic Research (CNRS), Higher Universities Council, French Museums Directorate, and Higher Council of Archaeological Research are also represented. The members of the FSA choose a representative on the two boards, and the staff are represented on the Board of Trustees.

These transformations, which were aimed to enable all relevant bodies to participate in the School’s work, satisfied the demands that had been expressed for 15 years (the Societies of Professors of Ancient History and of History of Art and Archaeology, and some members and former members of the FSA, had voiced concerns of this kind). They established useful links between the School and the major higher educational, academic and cultural bodies in France. These new statutes, however, were not merely a simple administrative reform, as they also broadened the School’s purpose; from then on its ‘mission [was] also to be open to the many different aspects of the civilisation of the ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary Greek worlds’. In 1990, the creation of a post for a ninth member, intended for a specialist in modern and contemporary Greece, enabled the School to realise this new mission and to reconnect with neo-Hellenic studies, which it had neglected to rather too great a degree. Similarly, the statutes of 1985 had created the category of ‘scholarship-holders’. From 1991 onwards, a special budget was reserved for doctoral students whose research necessitated a period of time in Greece. In broadening its purposes and giving it the means to play a pivotal role in all the research on Greece in France, the 1985 statutes mark a definite turning-point in the School’s history.

Only admissions procedures were not affected by the 1985 reform, despite the criticisms that were audible in Athens and elsewhere; it was said that the competition favoured literary specialists and that aesthetic knowledge had a stranglehold over it, and that it did not take in account the recent development of archaeology. The competition was governed by no regulation and was dictated by custom. Thus, in 1929, Edmond Pottier, the head of the admissions panel, who had held the role for several years, wrote to the Director of Higher Education to ask him what the rules were: ‘they have been revised several times, and I only know them by a few extracts out of context’. A ministerial committee, chaired by J. Marcadé, was appointed in 1993 to study the problem. From its conclusions the director drew up a draft regulation which, after being amended, was approved by the Academic Board in 1995. This regulation set out specific examination papers for Classicists, Byzantinists and modern specialists – which already existed in practice – and, in an innovation, created one for prehistorians. The latter were from then on exempted from the compulsory examinations in ancient Greek. The new rules introduced a test on archaeological techniques and methods for all candidates.

Towards the School of the future: the 1980s and 1990s

The directorship of Olivier Picard (1981-1992) was marked by three major changes in the School’s life: the computerisation and development of its services, new programmes at the old excavation sites, to match the interests of modern archaeology, and the support provided to new undertakings outside Greece.

The post of Publications Assistant, provided for in the 1985 statutes, was created in 1989. All the services – from the library to the archives, via hospitality management – were not only strengthened with skilled staff but also computerised. This computerisation initiative also covered archaeological materials, in the creation of databases of coins and amphoric stamps, and the recording of museum holdings (at Delphi and Delos). It now extends to excavation plans and the restoration of buildings.

Although the FSA elected to pursue computerisation at the right time, it has been a little slow in areas of cutting-edge archaeology. Academic subaquatic archaeology has recently made an appearance in Greece, and the FSA has made use of it when excavating the port of Thasos, in collaboration with the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, and also the port of Amathus. Likewise, systematic research on the organisation of ancient territories, based on field surveys, interpretation of aerial photographs and, more recently, interpretation of satellite images, is well advanced in France – in the 1980s systematic surveys of Thasos, with the Kavala Ephorate, research on the chora of Delos, and surveys of the territory of Malia were carried out. Archaeology today excavates less and surveys more; it is less tied to sites and more concerned with archaeological maps and the relationship between humans and their environment.

So a wider range of issues, but also a wider range of areas of interest. After being obliged to stay within Greek territory between 1923 and 1975, the FSA, especially after 1989 when it could benefit from changing circumstances in the east, gave renewed support to operations outside Greece. Although the excavations in Ukraine were a relative failure, its establishment in Albania succeeded, with programmes covering all periods from prehistory to the modern and contemporary eras. With sufficient resources, the FSA could develop its role as an international research centre. It has the requisite infrastructure and skilled staff, and it has proved able to demonstrate its presence in all fields of contemporary archaeology.

Bibliography on the history of the French School at Athens:

  • ‘Le cinquantenaire de l’École française d’Athènes’, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, supplement, volume 22, 1898.
  • ‘Le centenaire de l’École française d´Athènes’, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, supplement, volume 71, 1948.
  • ‘Cent cinquantenaire, 1846-1996, École française d´Athènes’, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, special number, volume 120, issue 1, 1996.
  • Étienne, Roland et al., L’Espace grec: cent cinquante ans de fouilles de l’École française d’Athènes, Paris, Fayard, 1996.
  • Radet, Georges, L’histoire et l’œuvre de l’École française d’Athènes, Paris, 1901.
  • Valenti, Catherine, Les membres de l’École française d’Athènes: étude d’une élite universitaire, 1846-1970, Diplôme d’études approfondies thesis, University of Provence Aix-Marseille I, 1994.
  • Valenti, Catherine, L’École française d’Athènes (1846-1981): histoire d’une grande institution universitaire, doctoral thesis in history, University of Provence Aix-Marseille I, 2000.
  • Valenti, Catherine, L’École française d’Athènes, Paris, Belin, 2006.

The BCH can be consulted online on the Persée site, and all the works are available in the FSA library.