Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.40 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.40

Thorsten Beigel, Sabine Mangold-Will (ed.), Wilhelm II: Archäologie und Politik um 1900.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017.  Pp. 140.  ISBN 9783515115575.  €39.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Daniel S. Weiss, University of Virginia (

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Wilhelm II is a pivotal character in the historiography of German archaeology. Although he rose from a tradition of dilettantism, he supported more scientific archaeologists who characterized the field after him. No other monarch has linked royal power, state funding, and archaeological acquisition to such a great extent. Thorsten Beigel and Sabine Mangold-Will’s collection of essays comes from the meeting “Wilhelm II. Archäologie und Politik um 1900,” which took place June 1-2, 2012, at Bergischen Universität Wuppertal and vigorously deconstructs the role of Wilhelm, politics, imperialism, and colonialism in modern archaeology. The volume is timely as much of it deals with German archaeology and Politik in the Ottoman Empire while current relations between Germany and Turkey are under pressure.1

Three aspects of Wilhelmine archaeology that, the authors argue, remain almost entirely absent from scholarship are covered in a well- organized fashion in seven essays, beginning with Marchand and Steinbach’s look at Wilhelm’s archaeological enthusiasm rooted in the influence of his father and his schooling. These are followed by Vieweger, Serr, Serr, Mangold-Will, and Petersen’s analyses of German archaeological studies within the context of German imperialism and archaeological historiography. Finally, Beigel and Franzen discuss the continuation of Wilhelm’s archaeological interests during his exile in Doorn and his legacy. The volume is a useful collection and an example of recent research that addresses the connection between imperialism, national archaeological traditions, and scientific development.2

Marchand provides an overview of archaeology in the Wilhelmine Era, opening with the state of Prussian archaeology prior to the ascent of Wilhelm II. From the excavations at Olympia, which began in 1875, three points are notable: the slow separation of archaeology from dilletantism signified by Ernst Curtius’ endorsement of the excavations; political and financial support from Crown Prince Friedrich and Wilhelm I which continued under Wilhelm II; and the involvement of the newly founded Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI). With the academic credibility of archaeology, the tradition of royal support, and the establishment of a stable institution to support it in place, Wilhelm II was then able to compete with England and France in combining archaeological excavations and museum acquisitions. To this end, Marchand expands an argument from her 1996 book Down from Olympus: that particular developments provided the necessary funding and political backing for archaeology.3 The first was provided by the founding of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (DOG) in January of 1898, which became a funnel for state monies. The second was Richard Schöne’s and Theodor Wiegand’s successful negotiation for a secret excavation treaty with the central government of the Ottoman Empire. The combination of these two developments allowed what Marchand describes as an “unprecedented (and since unequalled) form of state intervention in support of archaeological endeavors” (21).

Steinbach’s offering is indicative of most of the essays in this book. He relies heavily on primary sources, divides the essay into sections, and demonstrates the ways in which Wilhelm’s seemingly dilettantish fascination with archaeology was intertwined with his Politik and the future of German archaeology. Steinbach is no apologist, however. While he argues against the idea that Wilhelm was wholly dismissed as a non-intellectual, he acknowledges that many, such as Bernard von Bülow and Baroness Spitzemberg, thought he was “stupid, immature, and impulsive” (30). In the post-war days in exile, Wilhelm continued to receive criticism, but even his critics acknowledged that the former Kaiser had promoted science on an unprecedented level.4 Although not an adept practitioner himself, Wilhelm’s funding of excavations provided opportunities for the likes of Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff and Adolf Furtwangler.

Vieweger, Serr, and Serr nicely complement Steinbach’s contribution by examining Wilhelm’s 1898 excursion to the Middle East as a continuation of the Politik which preceded his ascension. The authors combine primary source material with a dissection of the visit to highlight the political implications of Wilhelm’s activities in the Holy Land. The inauguration of the Protestant Redeemer Church in Jerusalem, for example, symbolized the tradition of the Crusader Orders in its design, and by its location in the heart of the Old City suggested Germany’s place next to France, Great Britain, and Russia in an imperialistic age. The most important and consequential archaeological aspect of the Kaiser’s trip, the authors argue, was the foundation of the Deutsches Evangelische Institut für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes (DEI) a year and a half later, which placed Germany on par with the French École Biblique et Archéologique and the American School of Oriental Research. Although archaeology was not the main reason for the trip, the journey had lasting effects on German archaeological programs, tied German activity in the area to the idea of universal imperialism, and, most importantly, prompted the foundation of the DEI, which has been in close cooperation with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut since 2007.

Mangold-Will addresses the same trip as Vieweger, Serr, and Serr but in terms of “Universal Kaiserdom.” The emphasis is on Wilhelm’s view and intent by using his own report of the trip, his speech at Damascus, and his later writing “Das Königtum im Alten Mesopotamien” (1938). In the official travel report, Mangold-Will cites an emblem at the end of the final chapter, “Heimkehr,” which pairs Wilhelm, dubbed imperator rex 1898 with the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II imperator romanorum 1228. The dates are those of the respective Kaisers’ arrivals to the Holy Land. By drawing parallels with the reclamation of Jerusalem and the Crusades, Wilhelm emphasized precedent, specifically a German one, and legitimacy for his ambitions in the Middle East. Further associations with the Crusades are cited in his so-called “Damascus Speech,” where he referred to the “Great Sultan Saladin.” In her dissection of the Damascus Speech, Mangold-Will notes that Wilhelm’s idea of Saladin is not of the historical Salah ad-Din, but rather the Saladin as portrayed in literature. The rest of the world viewed the Kaiser’s attempts to depict himself as the embodiment of Eastern and Western chivalry as outrageous and out of touch with current events. The thread of Wilhelm’s associations culminates in “Das Königtum in Alten Mesopotamien,” written in Doorn while in exile. In this text, he saw history as chronological and geographical translatio. He identified Indo-Germanic Sumerians as torch-bearers of culture and Hammurabi as a Babylonian predecessor of King Friedrich-Wilhelm I, the founder of the Prussian state. In essence, the archaeology of Wilhelm II and his journey to the east supported his idea of a Universal Kingship which, in his mind, culminated in his own rule.

Petersen focuses entirely on the Kaiser’s visit to Baalbek, which was part of the 1898 tour. Petersen’s argument is that Baalbek set the standard for modern excavation in terms of funding, scale, efficiency, scientific methodology, new technology, and interdisciplinary cooperation among archaeology, architectural history, history, and geography. The methods used by the author are a systematic chronological dissection of the excavations combined with pertinent circumstances and correspondence. The circumstances are those of the 1898 visit to the Middle East, the completion of a new road between Beirut and Damascus in 1895 with a side road to Baalbek in 1902, and steadily growing oriental tourism. The correspondence that supports the reasons for the excavations and legacy of Baalbek are Theodor Wiegend’s letter to Richard Schöne listing aspects of a “Great Nation”, which include “Museums and learned enterprises, just as much as electricity, electric wires, Krupp canons, and small caliber Mauser rifles” (68); Alexander von Humboldt’s suggestion of using photography at Baalbek; Wilhelm’s own letters; and the correspondence of Otto Puchstein, who worked on the publication while serving as General Secretary of the German Archaeological Institute from 1905 until his death in 1911.

Tightening the focus further and transitioning into the exile-themed portion of the volume is Thorsten Beigel. Here, a single artefact, the Gorgon from Corfu, is used to demonstrate Wilhelm’s archaeological interests, his shortcomings, and the close connection between archaeology and Politik. The excavations at Corfu were headed up by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, who had worked with Heinrich Schliemann. Dörpfeld’s theories conformed to the Homeric epics, which, although rebuked by the more scientific-minded Furtwängler and Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, found favor with Wilhelm. With the help of Leo Frobenius and Dörpfeld, Wilhelm interpreted the Gorgon as the Phoenician-Arabic sun god Shamash, using it as the centerpiece for the East to West translatio discussed at length by Mangold-Will. The Gorgon served for Wilhelm as a keystone in his theory of an Oriental-Greek cultural bridge. In the lead-up to World War I, he saw the contemporary state of affairs as Germany and the East versus the West (France, Great Britain, and the United States). His Gorgon, which he found at his excavation, was used as political capital to portray Germany as having closer ties to the Mediterranean than the Western powers and exploit the Oriental-Greek culture bridge that served as propaganda for the origins of kingship.

Franzen takes on the ethnographic implications of the Doorner Arbeits-Gemeinschaft (DAG). Frobenius looms large in this essay and occupies more attention than the Kaiser. The author examines in great depth the archaeo-ethnological monarchical propaganda produced by the DAG in the guise of historical treatises. This closing chapter before the conclusions caps off the discussion well as it provides an intellectual link between the Kaiser and World War II. Wilhelm’s “culture bridge” between Greece and the Near East, mirrored in relations between Germany and Turkey, gained an ethnographic aspect, which led to the racial politics of National Socialism. Franzen includes a chronological list of publications by the DAG at the end. The list is useful for any scholar wishing to pursue the topic further because it separates these primary sources from the extensive main bibliography.

One of the many strengths of this book is that these papers show awareness that they are in a volume together and overlap is minimal, yet each has enough necessary background to stand alone. Although they communicate tangential themes, unnecessary repetition is minimal. This lack of redundancy can be attributed to topic selection and the organization of the volume itself. It will prove a valuable resource for anyone studying the historiography of archaeology and the impact of colonialism and imperialism on the field. The editors have done a great service in creating a well-written, well-structured, and relevant resource that, 70 years after Wilhem’s death, is still current (126). One only needs to visit Museumsinsel in Berlin to see the lasting impact of the events and ideas covered in this book.

Only two typos were found: on p. 44 where “Einritt” should be “Eintritt” and p. 56 where “Kafanarum” should be “Kafarnaum,” and there is some inconsistency in the use of umlauts: “Wilamowitz-Moellendorff” on p. 32 but “Wilamowitz-Möllendorff” on p. 92, for example.

Table of Contents

1. Einleitung / Thorsten Beigel and Sabine Mangold-Will
2. German Archaeology in the Wilhelmine Era: An Overview / Suzanne Marchand
3. Wilhelm II. und die Gelehrten: Aspekte einer Beziehungsgeschichte / Matthias Steinbach
4. „Archäologie ist ein extrem politisches Geschäft“: Die Palästina-Reise Kaiser
Wilhelms II / Dieter Vieweger, Julia Serr, and Marcel Serr
5. Die Orientreise Wilhelms II.: Archäologie und die Legitimierung einer hohenzollernschen Universalmonarchie zwischen Orient und Okzident / Sabine Mangold-Will
6. Kaiser Wilhelm II. und die deutschen Ausgrabungen in Baalbek / Lars Petersen
7. Der Stolz des Dilettanten: Wilhelm II. und die Gorgo / Thorsten Beigel
8. Wilhelm II. und die „Doorner Arbeits-Gemeinschaft“ / Christoph Johannes Franzen
9. Schlussbetrachtung: Wilhelm II.—Archäologie als wissenschaftliche Herrschaftslegitimation in der Ambivalenz der Moderne / Sabine Mangold-Will


1.   “Archaeology strains German-Turkish relations”, Deutsche Welle, April 27, 2014.
2.   For France, see Ève Gran-Aymerich, “L’histoire des sciences de l’Antiquité et les correspondances savants: transfers culturels et mise en place des institutions (1797-1873),” in Anabases 3, 2006, 241-265, for Turkey and the Ottoman Empire see Wendy M. K. Shaw, Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire, Berkeley, 2003.
3.   Suzanne Marchand, Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1970, Princeton, 1996, 192ff.
4.   Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, Erinnerungen 1848-1914, Leipzig 1928, 257.

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