Gaston Maspero

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Gaston Maspero
Gaston Maspero.jpg
Gaston Camille Charles Maspero

(1846-06-23)23 June 1846
Died30 June 1916(1916-06-30) (aged 70)
Occupation Egyptology
Children Henri Maspero
Relatives François Maspero, grandson

Sir Gaston Camille Charles Maspero KCMG [1] (23 June 1846 – 30 June 1916) was a French Egyptologist known for popularizing the term "Sea Peoples" in an 1881 paper.

Sea Peoples Purported ancient seafaring confederation of invaders

The Sea Peoples are a purported seafaring confederation that attacked ancient Egypt and other regions of the East Mediterranean prior to and during the Late Bronze Age collapse. Following the creation of the concept in the nineteenth century, it became one of the most famous chapters of Egyptian history, given its connection with, in the words of Wilhelm Max Müller: "the most important questions of ethnography and the primitive history of classic nations". Their origins undocumented, the various Sea Peoples have been proposed to have originated from places that include western Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Mediterranean islands and Southern Europe. Although the archaeological inscriptions do not include reference to a migration, the Sea Peoples are conjectured to have sailed around the eastern Mediterranean and invaded Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Canaan, Cyprus and Egypt toward the end of the Bronze Age.


Maspero's son, Henri Maspero, became a notable sinologist and scholar of East Asia.

Henri Maspero French sinologist

Henri Paul Gaston Maspero was a French sinologist and professor who contributed to a variety of topics relating to East Asia. Maspero is best known for his pioneering studies of Daoism. He was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II and died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

East Asia Subregion of Asia

East Asia is the eastern subregion of Asia, defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms. The region includes China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan. People indigenous to the region are known as East Asians. China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam belong to the East Asian cultural sphere.


Gaston Maspero was born in Paris in 1846 to parents of Italian origin. While at school he showed a special taste for history, and by the age of fourteen he was already interested in hieroglyphic writing. It was not until his second year at the École normale in 1867 that Maspero met fellow Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, who was in Paris as commissioner for the Egyptian section of the Exposition universelle. Mariette gave him two newly discovered hieroglyphic texts of considerable difficulty to study, and the young self-taught scholar produced translations of them in less than a fortnight, a great feat in those days when Egyptology was still almost in its infancy. The publication of these texts in the same year established his academic reputation.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

Italy European country

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands. Italy is located in Southern Europe, and it is sometimes considered as part of Western Europe. The country covers a total area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Egyptian hieroglyphs Formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians

Egyptian hieroglyphs were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphs combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, with a total of some 1,000 distinct characters. Cursive hieroglyphs were used for religious literature on papyrus and wood. The later hieratic and demotic Egyptian scripts were derived from hieroglyphic writing, as was the Proto-Sinaitic script that later evolved into the Phoenician alphabet. Through the Phoenician alphabet's major child systems, the Greek and Aramaic scripts, the Egyptian hieroglyphic script is ancestral to the majority of scripts in modern use, most prominently the Latin and Cyrillic scripts and the Arabic script and Brahmic family of scripts.

A short time was spent in assisting a gentleman in Peru who was seeking to prove an Aryan affinity for the dialects spoken by the Quechua of that country to publish his research[ citation needed ], but in 1868 Maspero was back in France at more profitable work. In 1869 he became a teacher (répétiteur) of Egyptian language and archeology at the École pratique des hautes études , and in 1874 he was appointed to the chair of Champollion at the Collège de France , succeeding Emmanuel de Rougé. [2]

Peru Republic in South America

Peru, officially the Republic of Peru, is a country in western South America. It is bordered in the north by Ecuador and Colombia, in the east by Brazil, in the southeast by Bolivia, in the south by Chile, and in the west by the Pacific Ocean. Peru is a megadiverse country with habitats ranging from the arid plains of the Pacific coastal region in the west to the peaks of the Andes mountains vertically extending from the north to the southeast of the country to the tropical Amazon Basin rainforest in the east with the Amazon river.

Aryan self-designation of an ancient Indo-Iranian people

"Aryan" has as its root a term that was used as a self-designation by Indo-Iranian people. The term was used by the Indo-Aryan people of the Vedic period in India as an ethnic label for themselves and later refer to the noble class as well as the geographic region known as Āryāvarta, where Indo-Aryan culture is based. The Iranian people used the term as an ethnic label for themselves in the Avesta scriptures, and the word forms the etymological source of the country name Iran. It was believed in the 19th century that Aryan was also a self-designation used by all Proto-Indo-Europeans, a theory that has now been abandoned. Scholars point out that, even in ancient times, the idea of being an "Aryan" was religious, cultural and linguistic, not racial.

Maspero, 1883 Gaston Maspero Reutlinger BNF Gallica.jpg
Maspero, 1883

In November 1880 Professor Maspero went to Egypt as head of an archeological mission sent there by the French government, which ultimately developed into the well-equipped Institut français d'archéologie orientale. This occurred a few months before the death of Mariette, whom Maspero then succeeded as director-general of excavations and of the antiquities of Egypt.

Institut Français dArchéologie Orientale French research institute based in Cairo, Egypt

The Institut français d'archéologie orientale, also known as the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo is a French research institute based in Cairo, Egypt, dedicated to the study of the archaeology, history and languages of the various periods of Egypt's civilisation.

Aware that his reputation was then more as a linguist than an archaeologist, Maspero's first work in the post was to build on Mariette's achievements at Saqqara. He expanded their scope from the early Old Kingdom to the later, with particular interest in tombs with long and complete hieroglyphic inscriptions that could help illustrate the development of the Egyptian language. Selecting five later Old Kingdom tombs, he was successful in that aim, finding over 4,000 lines of hieroglyphics which were then sketched and photographed.

Saqqara village in Giza Governorate, Egypt

Saqqara, also spelled Sakkara or Saccara in English, is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world-famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas. Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km.

As an aspect of his attempt to curtail the rampant illegal export of Egyptian antiquities by tourists, collectors and agents for the major European and American museums, Maspero arrested the Abd al-Russul brothers from the notorious treasure-hunting village of Gorna, who confessed under torture to having found the great cache of royal mummies at Deir el-Bahri in July 1881. The cache was moved to Cairo as soon as possible to keep it safe from robbers.

In 1886, he resumed work begun by Mariette to uncover the Sphinx, removing more than 65 feet (20 m) of sand and seeking tombs below it. He also introduced admission charges for Egyptian sites to the increasing number of tourists to pay for their upkeep and maintenance.

In spite of the brutality towards the Abd al-Russul brothers, Maspero was popular with museum keepers and collectors because he was known to be a "pragmatic" director of the Service of Antiquities, one who would allow them to remove from the country what he did not want for the Bulak Museum in Cairo. Maspero did not attempt to halt all collecting, but rather sought to control what went out of the country and to gain the confidence of those who were regular collectors. When Maspero left his position in 1886 and was replaced by a series of other directors who attempted to halt the trade in antiquities, his absence was much lamented.

Maspero resumed his professorial duties in Paris from June 1886 until 1899, when, at 53, he returned to Egypt in his old capacity as director-general of the department of antiquities. On October 3 that year an earthquake at Karnak collapsed 11 columns and left the main hall in ruins. Maspero had already made some repairs and clearances there (continued in his absence by unofficial but authorized explorers of many nationalities) in his previous tenure of office, and now he set up a team of workmen under French Egyptologists and regularly visited to oversee its reconstruction work, opposing some Romantics who wished the ruins left as they were. In 1903 an alabaster pavement was found in the court of the 7th Pylon, and beneath it a shaft leading to a large hoard of almost 17,000 statues, with every part of the dig drawn, recorded and photographed.

On his arrival in 1899 he found the collections in the Bulak Museum enormously increased, and while working to expand them further he superintended their removal from Gizeh to the new quarters at Qasr El Nil in 1902. The vast catalogue of the collections made rapid progress under Maspero's direction. Twenty-four volumes or sections were already published in 1909. This work and the increasing workload of the Antiquities Service led to an expansion of staff at the museum, including the 17-year-old Howard Carter. It was Maspero who recommended Carter to George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1907, when the Earl approached him to seek advice for the use of an expert to head his planned archaeological expedition to the Valley of the Kings.

He also set up a network of local museums throughout Egypt, including a new larger Cairo facility, to encourage the Egyptians to take greater responsibility for the maintenance of their own heritage by increasing public awareness of it. In 1912 he also succeeded where his predecessors had failed in the introduction of a series of anti-looting laws, before retiring in 1914.

Maspero died on 30 June 1916 and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.


Among his best-known publications are the large Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient classique (3 vols., Paris, 1895–1897, translated into English by Mrs McClure for the S.P.C.K.), displaying the history of the whole of the nearer East from the beginnings to the conquest by Alexander; a smaller Histoire des peuples de l'Orient, 1 vol., of the same scope, which passed through six editions from 1875 to 1904; Etudes de mythologie et d'archéologie égyptiennes (Paris, 1893, etc.), a collection of reviews and essays originally published in various journals, and especially important as contributions to the study of Ancient Egyptian religion; L'Archéologie égyptienne (1907), of which several editions have been published in English. He also established the journal Recueil de travaux relatifs à la philologie et à l'archéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes; the Bibliothèque égyptologique, in which the scattered essays of the French Egyptologists are collected, with biographies, etc.; and the Annales du service des antiquités de l'Egypte, a repository for reports on official excavations, etc.

Maspero also wrote: Les inscriptions des pyramides de Saqqarah (Paris, 1894); Les momies royales de Deir el-Bahari (Paris, 1889); Les contes populaires de l'Egypte ancienne (3rd ed., Paris, 1906); and Causeries d'Egypte (1907), translated by Elizabeth Lee as New Light on Ancient Egypt (1908).

Gaston Maspero was also the one to find Amenemhat's pyramid, located at Lisht. The pyramid was already eroded at the time of his discovery.

Some public domain e-books by Maspero:


The radio and TV building in Cairo, Egypt was named after Maspero in honor of his contributions to the study and preservation of ancient Egyptian monuments.

The Egyptian director Shadi Abdel Salam included Maspero in his feature film, The Mummy .

See also

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Preceded by
Emmanuel de Rougé
Chair of Egyptian
Philology and Archeology at
the Collège de France

Succeeded by
Alexandre Moret