Gustav Seyffarth

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Gustav Adolph Hennig : portrait Gustav Seyffarth , painting from 1837

Gustav Seyffarth (born July 13, 1796 in Uebigau ; † November 17, 1885 in New York , USA ) was an early Saxon Egyptologist . As the successor to the philologist Friedrich August Spohn at the University of Leipzig , he took over his estate, which contained an attempt to decipher the hieroglyphs .


The son of the Lutheran theologian Traugott August Seyffarth (1762–1831) initially attended the parish schools in his father's service area. When he was fourteen he came to St. Afra in Meißen near Dresden . There he perfected his knowledge of Latin and Greek and went to the University of Leipzig with excellent certificates . He enrolled in theology . After four years he received his master’s and doctorate degrees with special recommendation to the ministry. He then prepared to take on a theological professorship. Meanwhile he studied oriental languages. In 1823 he was given permission to give lectures. When the classical philologist Spohn died in 1824, Seyffarth was commissioned to continue his work on the Egyptian hieroglyphs . On viewing the estate, he came to the conclusion that Spohn's claims must be checked against the papyrus holdings in European museums. He received a small grant from the Saxon Ministry of Culture for the necessary trip.

Europe trip and the "duel" with Champollion

To review and elaborate on this experiment, he made a trip to all the museums and collections in which Aegyptiaca were located. He realized that hieroglyphics did not reproduce whole words or individual letters, but groups of consonants, which he called syllables. However, contrary to modern transliteration, he also transferred Deutzeichen or determinatives .

Historically, he classified ancient Egyptian as the forerunner of Coptic in the Semitic language group .

On a trip to Italy he managed to reconstruct the Turin Royal Papyrus. On the same trip he was challenged to a discussion duel in Rome by his colleague and competitor Jean-François Champollion . Although Champollion could only read one-consonant characters and was thus far behind Seyffarth, Champollion won over the ignorant audience.

As an archaeologist in Leipzig

With the sarcophagus of Hedbastiru, Seyffarth laid the foundation for the Egyptian Museum at the University of Leipzig

Back in Leipzig, Seyffarth tried to publish the results of his study trips, but this failed. In 1830 he was appointed associate professor for archeology at the University of Leipzig, where in 1840 he arranged for the purchase of the first Egyptian exhibit for the later Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig .

He failed to fight the network of Egyptologists that was built up by the Prussian state official Bunsen and depicted Champollion as the decipherer of the hieroglyphs. Seyffarth had few students; one of the most famous was Maximilian Adolph Uhlemann .

Seyffarth was forced to give up his job in Leipzig and emigrated to the United States in 1854. There he worked first in St. Louis as a teacher. From 1859 he lived in New York, where he researched the Egyptian objects there and died in 1885.

In the founding year 1846 he became a full member of the Royal Saxon Society of Sciences ; from 1855 he was a corresponding member.

Despite great talent and effort, Seyffarth did not succeed in asserting his own position against the developing establishment of Egyptologists in Paris , Berlin and Pisa . With the British Egyptologists John Gardner Wilkinson or George Rawlinson , with whom he shared many views, he never got in touch.


  • De lingua et literis veterum Aegyptiorum (1825)
  • Clavis Aegyptiaca (1826)
  • De Hieroglyphica Aegyptiorum scriptura (1826)
  • Rudimenta Hieroglyphices (1826)
  • Contributions to the knowledge of the literature, art, mythology and history of ancient Egypt (1826ff.)
  • Thesaurus Copticus libri quattuor (1829)
  • Alphabeta genuina Aegyptiorum (1840)
  • The principles of mythology and ancient religious history as well as the hieroglyphic systems de Sacy's, Palin's, Young's, Spohn's, Champollion's, Janelli's and the author's (1843) online version
  • Chronologia sacra. Research on the year of the Lord's birth (1846) online version
  • Grammatica Aegyptiaca. First instructions for translating ancient Egyptian literary works along with the history of the hieroglyphic key (1855) online version
  • Theological writings of the ancient Egyptians. Translated for the first time from the Turin Papyrus (1855) online version
  • Overview of new discoveries in the biblical calendar, general world history and Egyptian antiquity, together with the translation of the first holy book of the ancient Egyptians (1857) online version


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Members of the SAW: Gustav Seyffarth. Saxon Academy of Sciences, accessed December 3, 2016 .

Web links

Wikisource: Gustav Seyffarth  - Sources and full texts