The University of Göttingen holds one of the four chairs of Iranology in Germany (besides Bamberg, Berlin, and Hamburg), and has been considered one of the most important and prestigious centers of Iranian studies throughout the 20th century to this day. Although a Göttingen Institute of Iranology has existed only since 1960, Iranian studies, and instruction on Iranian subjects, started there much earlier.

From the foundation of the University of Göttingen (1737) up to 1869, Persian was taught only sporadically, as an addition to the study of “Oriental languages” (i.e. primarily Hebrew, later also Syriac and Arabic). The first scholar to offer instruction on Persian seems to have been the Danish Orientalist Poul Tychsen, who in 1811 gave a Persian language course, and later (in 1830/31) also taught a course on the “History of Persian literature.” Some decades later, the theologian and Orientalist Heinrich Ewald (1803-75) regularly offered courses on comparative Indo-European philology, at that time a young discipline that was still mostly based on Ancient Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit. But in a class in 1861, he compared Armenian with Sanskrit and “Persian,” which probably meant Old Persian (or Iranian in general) in this context. Some years later, in 1866, the Sanskritist and Orientalist Theodor Benfey (1809-81) gave a course on the grammar of “Zend,” which meant Avestan at that time.In 1869, Paul Anton de Lagarde (1827-1891), a scholar whose areas of research, for the first time, included Iranian studies, was appointed professor of Oriental languages. Lagarde was a theologian and a specialist in Middle Eastern church history. He pioneered Septuagint studies, editing the text from recensions existing in various languages such as Greek, Syriac, and Coptic. He also worked on the lexical influence of Persian on these languages. Besides, he edited translations of parts of the Pentateuch into Judeo-Persian (de Lagarde, 1884), and was the first scholar to point to the importance of Judeo-Persian for Iranian studies (especially for Persian lexicology).

Lagarde was not only a brilliant philologist and a learned polemicist, but also a fervent Christian, anti-Semite, and German nationalist. He advocated the völkische Einheit ‘national unity’ of a German national church (unifying both Catholics and Protestants), led by an ideological elite. Although he was not influential ideologically or politically during his life time (rather a lonely “Rufer in der Wüste,” i.e. “one crying in the wilderness,” as he dubbed himself), his political writings found a broader audience some years after his death (e.g., his two-volume Schriften für das deutsche Volk was published in various editions in the first decades of the 20th century).

After de Lagarde’s death in 1891, Iranian Studies was again reduced to the role it had played before 1869 at the University of Göttingen. This, however, changed in 1903 when Friedrich Carl Andreas (q.v., 1846-1930) was appointed to a new chair of “Western Asiatic languages,” which in fact meant Iranian, Turkic, and Armenian. The appointment came as the greatest surprise to Andreas himself who was already 57 years old and had never held a permanent teaching position before. Andreas was born in present-day Indonesia, of a Malay-German mother and Armenian father (whose family originated from the New Jolfā).

He grew up in Hamburg and studied at various German universities (Halle, Erlangen, and Göttingen), graduating in 1868 with a doctoral thesis on Middle Persian. Seven years later, in 1875, Andreas departed (by sea) for India, to join an astronomy expedition in Iran that was organized by the Prussian Ministry of Culture. Andreas’ cooperation with the expedition crew did not work out well, so he decided to stay and do research on his own. His stay in Iran lasted, altogether, almost six years.

After returning to Germany in 1881, it took another six years for him to attain a (temporary) position as a Persian teacher at the University of Berlin (1887), from which he was dismissed two years later (1889). During the next fourteen years, until his Göttingen appointment in 1903, Andreas earned his living by giving private lessons in Persian and Turkish. He was also supported by his wife Lou Andreas-Salomé, the renowned German writer and literary figure, whom he had married in 1887. In Göttingen, Andreas taught officially until 1920, but since he had no immediate successor, he continued to teach up to his death in 1930.

As a scholar, Andreas possessed vast historical and linguistic knowledge and had many original ideas, but he seldom managed to write them down. One of his very few publications is a series of articles on the Avestan Gāthās (published 1909-13, partly in cooperation with the Indo-Europeanist Jacob Wackernagel; see Andreas, 1909). In these publications, Andreas developed his influential, but later disproved, “Andreas- Theorie” on the writing down of the Avesta during the Arsacid period (see ANDREAS iii. THE ANDREAS THEORY). Andreas practically never considered any one of his works on Middle Persian or modern dialects as major accomplishments, or good enough to be published, and withheld their publication.

Andreas’ teaching was also highly idiosyncratic. Teaching was a passion for him, a calling; when his students attended his courses, usually in the evening at his home, he totally forgot about time, rambled from one subject to another, and his classes often ended in the early morning. Such a pedagogical “approach,” which had probably been one of the reasons for Andreas’ dismissal from the University of Berlin in 1889, at least earned him a small number of excellent and devoted students during his Göttingen years, namely Wolfgang Lentz (q.v.), Herman Lommel, Hans Jakob Polotsky, Paul Thieme and, most importantly, Walter Bruno Henning (q.v.). The education of a number of leading Orientalists was perhaps Andreas’ greatest academic merit, even more so since after his death, some of them edited important works from his Nachlass or the notes they took in his classes (see Andreas, 1933; Henning, 1932-34; for further information on Andreas’ life and work, see ANDREAS ii. THE ANDREAS NACHLASS; or Paul, 2004).

After Andreas’ death, the Göttingen Oriental chair remained vacant for seven years. In 1937, Walther Hinz (q.v., 1906-92) was appointed, who had just published an important historical study of 15th century Iran (Hinz, 1936). Besides early Safavid history, Hinz showed broad interest in Iranian philological and historical topics, working on Old, Middle, and New Persian sources. Later in his career, he increasingly turned to working on Old Iranian Nebenüberlieferungen, esp. Elamite (see below).

Hinz was a charming personality, but during the first part of his career, he was also affected by the Nazi ideology. Allusions to this appear in his publications only occasionally (e.g. in Hinz, 1936, p. 124, when he talks about the “kulturschöpferische Entfaltung des arischen Persertums”). In his academic career, Hinz profited from his NSDAP membership, and acted as a representative of the Nazi regime (e.g., during his service as a dean of the faculty in 1937-39). During World War II, he served as a member of the German military intelligence in Istanbul, and used this also as an opportunity to work on Iranian manuscripts in Istanbul’s archives and libraries.

Because of his involvement in Nazi ideology and (university) politics, Hinz could not return to his Göttingen professorship after 1945. In 1946, his position was filled by Hans Heinrich Schaeder (1896-1957), an Iranologist who also had a remarkably broad interest in Iranian languages and cultures. He had written his habilitation thesis on the poet Hafez, but he also worked on Old and Middle Persian, Sogdian, and on the Manichean religious system (Schaeder, 1948).

After Schaeder’s death in 1957, Hinz (who had successfully gone through the de-Nazification process meantime) was able to re-join the Göttingen Oriental institute where he had previously taught from 1937-45. He now turned more and more to working on Old Iranian Nebenüberlieferungen, especially Elamite, and Elamite and Achaemenid history. He presented a new attempt at the decipherment of Old Elamite, which he later fleshed out with the publication of a complete dictionary of Elamite (Hinz-Koch, 1987).

In contrast to his predecessor Andreas, Hinz not only published prolifically, but he also had the talent to write solid scholarly books for the use of a broader audience, e.g. his concise description of the history of the Elamite empire (Hinz, 1964). In addition to his academic skills, Hinz was also an able administrator. He managed to enlarge his institute from one to six professorships, besides his own including those of Islamic and Arabic Studies, Turcology, Assyriology, and Archaeology of the Near East. Later, most of these professorships became independent institutes. When the institute of Islamic and Arabic Studies was established in 1960, Hinz took this as an opportunity to establish also an Institute of Iranology which was chaired by him.

Some of the scholars who held the chairs that Hinz helped to create were to make important scholarly contributions to Iranian Studies. The Turcologist Gerhard Doerfer (1920-2003) wrote his seminal, 4-volume Elemente (Doerfer, 1963-75), and contributed greatly to the study of Iranian-Turkic language contacts (Doerfer, 1967). The archeologist Klaus Schippmann (b. 1924) is the author of an important study on Zoroastrian fire sanctuaries (Schippmann, 1971), and later wrote two standard introductions to pre-Islamic Iranian history (Schippmann, 1980 and 1990). The Assyriologist Rykle Borger (b. 1929) cooperated with Hinz on the Behistun inscriptions, and published a study on their internal chronology (Borger, 1982).

From 1968 onwards, Hinz had the support of Dr. Gottfried Herrmann (b. 1931), a specialist in Iranian-Islamic history and Persian decrees, especially from the Mongolian period (see, e.g., Herrmann, 2004). Dr. Herrmann taught Persian grammar and gave courses in Classical Persian literature and Iranian-Islamic historiography. When he retired in 1996, his position was again turned into a non-permanent assistantship.

After Hinz’ retirement in 1974, the renowned Iranian philologist and specialist in a broad range of modern and Middle Iranian languages David Neil MacKenzie (q.v., 1926-2001) was chosen to fill the Göttingen Iranian chair in 1975. Early in his career MacKenzie had worked predominantly on modern Iranian languages, about which he wrote several books that continue to be standard works of reference to this day (esp. MacKenzie, 1961-62). From the mid-1960s onwards, MacKenzie turned more and more to the study of Middle Iranian languages and literatures like Middle Persian and Sogdian, where he also set some scholarly standards, above all with his A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary (MacKenzie 1971).

As a student of Henning’s at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, MacKenzie may be considered as the representative of an older Göttingen academic tradition, especially through his intensive work on Manichaean Middle Persian for which Henning (as a student of Andreas’, making use of notes from his courses) had laid the very foundations in the early 1930s.

After MacKenzie’s retirement in 1994, Philip Gerrit Kreyenbroek (b. 1948), a specialist in Iranian religions (Zoroastrianism, Yezidism) was appointed to the chair of Iranology in 1996, and he holds the position to this day. Kreyenbroek also works on various other subjects like the Iranian national epic, the Šāh-nāma, Kurdish oral traditions, etc. His major publications so far include a work on Yezidism (Kreyenbroek, 1995), and a series of joint publications on Middle Persian Zoroastrian ritual texts (i.e., Kotwal-Kreyenbroek, 1992 and 1995).

In 1920, the Göttingen Oriental Institute had moved to one of Göttingen’s most well-known historical buildings, the Michaelishaus (in Prinzenstrasse Nr. 21). This building, dating back to 1739, is named after the theologian and polymath Johann David Michaelis (1717-91), who taught at the University of Göttingen as a Professor of Philosophy from 1750 onwards. In 2005, the University of Göttingen had to sell this dilapidated building to an investor, and the institutes of Iranian, Islamic, Egyptian and Ancient Near East Studies had to move to another building in Weender Strasse.

Trying to summarize this overview of Iranian Studies at the University of Göttingen up to 2005, one may say that all holders of the chair of Iranology since Andreas have been the leading specialists in their field(s), and all of them are especially remarkable in representing a broad and comprehensive approach to Iranian Studies that includes different historical periods (Old, Middle and New Iranian) and various disciplines (linguistics, literature, and history), in a way that is increasingly falling out of fashion nowadays. This is likely to represent the specific “tradition” or “legacy” of Iranian Studies at the University of Göttingen – if it is possible at all to postulate or claim such a local legacy over the period of one century.



Carl Friedrich Andreas, “Die dritte Ghāthā des Zuraxtuštro (Josno 30),” Nachrichten der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, 1909, Heft 1, pp. 42-49.

Idem. Bruchstücke einer Pehlevi-Übersetzung der Psalmen. Aus dem Nachlaß herausgegeben von Kaj Barr. Berlin, 1933. [= Sitzungsberichte BAW, Phil.-hist. Klasse 1933, S. 91-152].

Rykle Borger, “Die Chronologie des Darius-Denkmals am Behistun-Felsen,” Nachrichten der AdW in Göttingen. I. Philologisch-Historische Klasse, Göttingen, 1982, pp. 105-32.

Gerhard Doerfer. Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen. Bd. I-IV, Wiesbaden, 1963-1975.

Idem. Türkische Lehnwörter im Tadschikischen, Wiesbaden, 1967 [= Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes XXXVII, 3].

Walter Bruno Henning. “Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesisch-Turkestan, I; II; III,” Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1932; 1933; 1934, pp. 173-222; 292-363; 846-912.

Gottfried Herrmann. Persische Urkunden der Mongolenzeit. Wiesbaden, 2004.

Walther Hinz. Irans Aufstieg zum Nationalstaat im fünfzehnten Jahrhundert. Berlin Leipzig, 1936.

Idem. Das Reich Elam. Stuttgart, 1964. W. Hinz and Heidemarie Koch. Elamisches Wörterbuch, Berlin, 1987.

Firoze M. Kotwal and Philip G. Kreyenbroek, eds. and trs., The Hērbedestān and Nērangestān. Vol. I: Hērbedestān; Vol. II: Nērangestān, Fragard 1, Paris 1992, 1995. [= Cahiers de Studia Iranica, 10, 16].

Phillipe G. Kreyenbroek. Yezidism – its background, observances and textual tradition. Lewiston (i.a.), 1995.

Paul de Lagarde. Persische Studien, Göttingen, 1884.

David N. MacKenzie. Kurdish dialect studies I, II, London, 1961, 1962.

Idem. A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, London, 1971.

Ludwig Paul. “Zur Geschichte der Iranistik an der Universität Göttingen, 1869-1974,” Iranistik 3/1, Teheran, 2004, pp. 5-16.

Hans H. Schaeder. “Der Manichäismus und sein Weg nach Osten,” Glaube und Geschichte. Festschrift für Friedrich Gogarten zum 13. Januar 1947, ed. Heinrich Runte, Gießen, 1948, pp. 236-54.

Klaus Schippmann. Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin – New York, 1971.

Idem. Grundzüge der parthischen Geschichte, Darmstadt, 1980.

Idem. Grundzüge der Geschichte des sasanidischen Reiches, Darmstadt, 1990.

(Ludwig Paul)

Originally Published: August 15, 2006

Last Updated: August 15, 2006