Karl Richard Lepsius

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Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884)

Karl Richard Lepsius (born December 23, 1810 in Naumburg an der Saale , † July 10, 1884 in Berlin ) was a German Egyptologist , linguist and librarian .


Karl Richard Lepsius was the son of Naumburg District Administrator Carl Peter Lepsius (1775-1853) and his wife Friederike (1778-1819), a daughter of the composer Carl Ludwig Traugott Glaeser and the sixth of a total of nine children. His grandfather Johann August Lepsius (1745–1801) was Lord Mayor of Naumburg.

Karl Richard Lepsius married in Dresden on July 5, 1846 Elisabeth Klein (1828–1899), the daughter of the composer Bernhard Klein and his wife Lili Parthey . After his appointment to Berlin, the family moved into an apartment at Behrenstrasse  60 in Berlin's Friedrichstadt district , and from 1855 in the Villa Lepsius at Bendlerstrasse 18. The couple had six children, including the geologist and professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt Karl Georg Richard Lepsius (1851–1915), the chemist and director of the Griesheim Chemical Factory Bernhard Lepsius (1854–1934), the portrait painter and member of the Academy of Arts Reinhold Lepsius (1857–1922) and the Protestant theologian, orientalist and humanist Johannes Lepsius (1858– 1926). The daughter Anna Isis Elisabeth Lepsius (1848–1919) married the astronomer Karl Wilhelm Valentiner .

life and work

Lepsius memorial plaque at the Pforta State School

Lepsius attended the state school in Pforta from 1823 to 1829 - as did Rudolf Anthes and Karl-Heinz Priese after him , who were to succeed him as director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin - and then studied philology and comparative linguistics in Leipzig , Göttingen and Berlin . In 1833 he received his doctorate with the work De tabulis Eugubinis . In Paris he turned to the knowledge of the Egyptian language, which Jean-François Champollion had recently established with his translation of the Rosetta Stone . With one of his first writings, Lettre à M. Rosellini sur l'alphabet hiéroglyphiques, Lepsius completed the deciphering of the hieroglyphics , which was not completely successful , brought order to the writing system and thus founded the methodical research into the Egyptian language.

Pyramid of Illahun and stone quarries of Tura from monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia

He used a stay in Italy, where he became secretary at the Archaeological Institute in Rome in 1836 , to study the Umbrian and Oscar languages , the remains of which he presented in his book Inscriptiones Umbricae et Oscae (1841). The following year Lepsius was appointed associate professor at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin .

In this capacity he took over the management of the Prussian expedition to Egypt (1842-1845) sent by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV . Their aim was to bring plaster casts of important sculptures and, if possible, original art objects such as papyri to Berlin, in addition to a search for the so-called unknown, mythological fifth element in the land of the pharaohs . Lepsius had carefully selected his employees: the brothers Ernst and Max Weidenbach , draftsmen, the latter specially trained by Lepsius in copying hieroglyphic inscriptions, Joseph Bonomi , the architect Georg Gustav Erbkam made architectural and topographical photographs and the painters Friedrich Otto Georgi and Johann Jakob Frey created views. The yield of scientific records, epigraphic copies, paper prints , plan drawings and landscape pictures was enormous. The "Royal Prussian Expedition" led Lepsius over the pyramid fields and Memphis up the Nile Valley to Luxor , to the royal cities of the Meroitic Empire in today's Sudan , a little north of Khartoum and further along the White and Blue Nile , deep into Central Sudan. On the way back, the Nile Valley was crossed again, with a detour to the Red Sea and Sinai to the Catherine's Monastery . In the autumn of 1845 Lepsius started his journey home via Syria and Constantinople.

Thanks to an agreement with the Egyptian regent Muhammad Ali , Lepsius had a free hand to take pieces with him - even on original monuments - so that the Royal Museum suddenly became one of the great collections of Egyptian antiquities. The ancient Egyptian monuments that Lepsius brought with him can be seen today in the Egyptian section of the Neues Museum in Berlin. Lepsius put the results together in his main work Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia (1849–1859, 12 plate volumes). Lepsius never published the text on the "Monuments". His extensive diary was published posthumously by Ludwig Borchardt , Kurth Sethe , Heinrich Schaefer and Walter Wreszinski and edited by Édouard Naville . He wrote reports about his trip in the “ Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache und Alterthumskunde ”, which had been founded by Heinrich Brugsch in 1863, but which Lepsius had taken over in 1864.

In 1846 Lepsius became a full professor and in 1850 a full member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin . In 1853 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 1864 he became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh . He developed the Lepsius alphabet , a transcription for foreign languages ​​and scripts (1855, revised edition in English 1863 with information on 117 languages). In 1855 he became co-director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin at the side of the founding director Giuseppe Passalacqua , and after Passalacqua's death he became sole director. He prevailed against Heinrich Brugsch, who was favored by Passalacqua.

In the spring of 1866 Lepsius undertook a second trip to Egypt, in particular to carry out geographic studies in the Delta of the Nile . During this trip he found - together with the Austrian Egyptologist Leo Reinisch - a trilingual inscription in the ruins of Tanis , which had been written in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek in honor of Ptolemy Euergetes (Ptolemy III) by the priests gathered in Canopus ( Canopus Decree ); In addition to its scientific value, this find was associated with a tangible dispute over the history of science over the authorship of the discovery. On the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal , Lepsius stayed in Egypt in autumn 1869.

For the Baedeker volumes Lower and Upper Egypt he was involved in the creation of the maps.


In 1873 Lepsius was appointed senior librarian (director) of the Royal Library in Berlin; he held the office until his death on July 10, 1884. His tomb ( honorary grave of the city of Berlin ) is located in the cathedral cemetery II in Berlin-Wedding , Müllerstrasse 71-73, field left wall, G2. A street in the Berlin district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf has had his name since 1934.

Lepsius is considered to be the founder of the scientific study of Egyptian antiquity and thus the subject of Egyptology in German-speaking countries.

Lepsius was awarded the Bavarian Maximilians Order for Science and Art as well as the Royal Gold Medal in 1869 and received the Prussian Order Pour le Mérite in 1872 . He belonged to numerous scientific societies and academies in Germany and abroad.


  • Two comparative linguistic treatises . 1. About the arrangement and relationship of the Semitic, Indian, Ethiopian, Old Persian and Old Egyptian alphabets. 2. About the origin and relationship of numerals in the Indo-European, Semitic and Coptic languages. Berlin 1836.
  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead according to the hieroglyphic papyrus in Turin. Georg Wigand, Leipzig 1842.
  • Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia based on the drawings sent to these countries by His Majesty the King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm IV and in the years 1842–1845. carried out scientific expedition , Abth. 1-6 in 12 vol. Nicolaische Buchhandlung, Berlin, 1849-1859. Edition des Belles Lettres, Geneve 1972–1973. ( ULB Halle or The Giza Archives )
    • Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia. Text Vol. 1–3, ed. by Eduard Naville and Ludwig Borchardt, edited by Kurt Sethe. Leipzig 1897–1904. Reprint: Verlagsgruppe Zeller, Osnabrück 1970
    • Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia. Text Volume 4, ed. by Eduard Naville, edited by Kurt Sethe. Leipzig 1901. Reprint: Verlagsgruppe Zeller, Osnabrück 1970.
    • Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia. Text vol. 5, ed. by Eduard Naville, edited by Walter Wreszinski (arrangement), Leipzig 1913. Reprint: Verlagsgruppe Zeller, Osnabrück 1970.
  • About the first Egyptian group of gods and their historical and mythological origins. Wilhelm Hertz (Bessersche Buchhandlung), Berlin 1851. ( digitized version )
  • About some results of the Egyptian monuments for the knowledge of the Ptolemaic history. Academy of Sciences, Berlin 1852.
  • The general linguistic alphabet. Principles of the transfer of foreign writing systems and previously unwritten languages ​​into European letters. Verlag von Wilhelm Hertz (Bessersche Buchhandlung), Berlin 1855 (digital copies: archive.org , MDZ ).
    • Standard alphabet for reducing unwritten languages ​​and foreign graphic systems to a uniform orthography in European letters . Seeleys, London 1855; 2nd edition: Williams & Norgate, London 1863 ( digitized ).
  • with W. Bell: The XXII egyptian royal dynasty with some remarks on XXVI and other dynasties of the New kingdom. Trübner, London 1858.
  • About the Arabic language sounds and their transcription, along with some explanations about the hardvowel in the Tatar, Slavic and Romanian languages. Academy of Sciences, Berlin 1861. ( digitized version )
    • About the Arabic language sounds and their transcription, along with some explanations about the hardvocal in the Tatar, Slavic and Romanian languages. Academy of Sciences, Berlin 1861. ( digitized version )
  • About Chinese and Tibetan phonetic relationships and the transcription of those languages. Academy of Sciences, Berlin 1861.
  • The bilingual decree of Canopus.
  • Nubian grammar. With an introduction to the peoples and languages ​​of Africa , Berlin, Wilhelm Hertz, 1880
  • The report from 1884 on the reorganization of the Kgl. Library Berlin. Edition and commentary. In: Monika Estermann, Ernst Fischer, Ute Schneider (Eds.): Book cultures. Contributions to the history of literary communication. Festschrift for Reinhard Wittmann. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 978-3-447-05260-3 , pp. 547-563.
  • Catalog of Lepsius publications (PDF; 97 kB)

See also


(sorted chronologically)

  • Heinrich Brugsch : Obituary to Karl Richard Lepsius . In: Journal for Egyptian language and antiquity . Twenty-second year. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1884, p. 45–48 ( digitized version [accessed April 11, 2016]).
  • Georg Ebers : Richard Lepsius. A picture of life. Engelmann, Leipzig 1885 ( digitized ). Reprint Zeller, Osnabrück 1969.
  • German gender book Article Lepsius in volumes 4 (1896), 5 (1897) and 10 (1903).
  • Eduard NavilleLepsius, Karl Richard . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 51, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1906, pp. 659-670.
  • Bernhard Lepsius : The House of Lepsius, from the spiritual rise of Berlin to the imperial capital, according to diaries [from Elisabeth Lepsius-Klein] and letters. Klinkhardt & Biermann, Berlin 1933.
  • Hannelore Kischkewitz: The Egyptologists Richard Lepsius, Heinrich Brugsch and Georg Ebers and their position on questions of the time. In Research and Reports , Staatliche Museen zu Berlin , issue 20/1980, pp. 89–100.
  • Elke Freier, Stefan Grunert, Michael Freitag: A journey through Egypt. Based on drawings of the Lepsius expedition in the years 1842–1845. Henschelverlag, Berlin 1984, 5th edition: Berlin 1996.
  • Jürgen Settgast:  Lepsius, Karl Richard. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 14, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-428-00195-8 , p. 308 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Elke Freier, Walter F. Reineke (Ed.): Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884). Files from the conference on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death, July 10–12, 1984 in Halle. (= Writings on the history and culture of the ancient Orient. Vol. 20) Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-05-000574-2 .
  • M. Rainer Lepsius : educated middle class and science: Richard Lepsius and his family. In: Democracy in Germany. Sociological-historical constellation analyzes; selected essays. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1993, ISBN 3-525-35763-X , pp. 29-52.
  • Wolfgang Schmitz: The report by Richard Lepsius on the reorganization of the Royal Library Berlin from 1884. In: Library. Research and practice. Volume 18, Issue 1, 1994, pp. 77-88.
  • Wolfgang Helck : Small Lexicon of Egyptology. 4th, revised edition, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-447-04027-0 , p. 171.
  • Annette Dorgerloh : The artist couple Lepsius. On Berlin portrait painting around 1900. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-05-003722-9 .
  • Christine Hanus, Verena Lepper , Friederike Seyfried , Olivia Zorn: pioneers of Egyptology. Carl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884) . Staatliche Museen zu Berlin SPK, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-88609-691-6 .
  • Hartmut Mehlitz: Richard Lepsius - Egypt and the order of science . Kadmos, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86599-124-9 .
  • Verena Lepper, Ingelore Hafemann (eds.): Karl Richard Lepsius. The founder of German Egyptology. Kadmos, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86599-176-8 .


  • Prussia on the Nile - The Royal Prussian Expedition 1842–1845 . Documentary , Germany 2009, 50 min.

Web links

Commons : Karl Richard Lepsius  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Karl Richard Lepsius  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Behrenstrasse 60 . In: General housing indicator for Berlin, Charlottenburg and its surroundings , 1850, part 2, p. 10.
  2. Lepsius' contribution to general linguistic research - deciphering and systematising the hieroglyphs ( Memento of May 4, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Lepsius recognized the correct meaning of multi-consonant characters, which Champollion had taken for single consonant characters
  3. ^ Friedrich von Borries, Jens-Uwe Fischer: The Berlin World Improvement Machine. A story of continual failure (= IMD Volume 1). Merve, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-88396-343-3 , section: Lepsius: The search for the fifth element. P. 128.
  4. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed December 31, 2019 .
  5. Alex W. Hinrichsen: Baedeker's travel handbooks 1832-1990. Hinrichsen, Bevern 1991, p. 38.
  6. ^ The royal gold medal of the "Royal Institute of British Architects ". In: Centralblatt der Bauverwaltung , July 1, 1882, p. 235; Retrieved December 11, 2012
  7. ^ Jürgen Settgast:  Lepsius, Karl Richard. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 14, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-428-00195-8 , p. 308 f. ( Digitized version ).