When the Freie Universität (FU) Berlin was founded on November 4th, 1948, Iranology was not among the first disciplines to be established as a department in its own right, in spite of there existing a model of a free-standing Iranian Studies department at Humboldt-Universität (the name given to the old Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität after the war) in what was then East Berlin. There, Heinrich J. Junker, a pupil of Christian Bartholomae’s and Paul Horn’s, taught Iranian philology, while Bozorg Alawi, a well-known Iranian author and scholar, was in charge of Literature and New Iranian Studies. At the FU in the western part of the city, on the other hand, Iranology remained associated with Indo-European linguistics and Indology for a long time. Traditionally it had been closely connected to these two disciplines ever since the sensational discovery, at the beginning of the 19th century, of the fact that the Indo-Iranian language group belonged to the wider family of Indo-European languages. With the great number of Turfan records found at the start of the 20th century, however, and the gradual opening up of a hitherto purely philological Iranology into the realm of cultural history, an autonomous discipline became an academic necessity. Although this had for a long time and repeatedly been stressed by scholars (e.g. Christian Bartholomae, Zum sasanidischen Recht II, Heidelberg 1918, preface, pp. 3f.), only very few universities in Western Germany were able to respond to this demand in the post-war years. Today, autonomous Iranian Studies departments exist not only at Berlin’s FU but also in Göttingen (Philip G. Kreyenbroek), Bamberg (Birgit Hoffmann) and Hamburg (Ludwig Paul).
Back in 1949, then, Iranology started as a section of the Seminar of Indo-European Studies at the FU. The Seminar’s first head was Olaf Hansen, a senior lecturer with a teaching appointment covering the Indo-European as well as the Indo-Iranian branch. After a proper chair had been established and entrusted to von Kienle in 1953, the Seminar was formally subdivided into an Indo-European and an Indo-Iranian section. Olaf Hansen was appointed head of the Indo-Iranian section and retained responsibility for both Iranology and Indology for almost a decade. The Seminar had its first seat in Boltzmannstr. 3 and in 1956 temporarily moved to Garystr. 45. From 1957 on, it resided on the first floor of a small villa in the residential district of Dahlem, in Faradayweg 1. The library catering for all three sections – which subsequently were to split up into three separate Institutes – was also set up here.
The first step towards an independent department was made at the beginning of the 1960s, when Olaf Hansen was appointed professor. In 1963, the “Seminar für Iranische und Indische Philologie” was founded and applications for a professorship in Indology were invited. In the same year the Seminar also separated physically from its Indo-European sibling, moving to Walter-Linse-Str. 12 in the adjacent residential area of Lichterfelde. Thus, the Indian and Iranian philologies remained united for the time being, but each had its own chair. It was since then that Hansen was exclusively in charge of the Iranian section.
Although Professor Hansen had covered the core aspects of both Indology and Iranology during the time prior to the establishment of the Indology chair, his own research interests clearly pointed to the Iranian side, particularly to Middle Iranian philology. His publication list includes first editions of Sogdian and Middle Persian texts (Zur soghdischen Inschrift auf dem dreisprachigen Denkmal von Karabalgasun, Helsinki 1930; Berliner soghdische Texte I. Bruchstücke einer soghdischen Version der Georgspassion C1, Berlin 1941; Berliner soghdische Texte II. Bruchstücke der großen Sammelhandschrift C2, Berlin 1955). In 1938 he published an important study under the unpretentious title Die mittelpersischen Papyri der Papyrussammlung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, in which he presented the first successes achieved so far in deciphering the almost inaccessible Pahlavi cursive script, which originates from the time of the Sasanid occupation of Egypt early in the 7th century (619-629). This pioneering work proved fundamental for later editions of the Pahlavi cursive (papyri, leather and linen cloth fragments), a script which occupies a special place in Iranian research due to the fact that only a very small number of written sources from the pre-Islamic period has survived. Hansen’s edition was to remain the only attempt at interpreting these key documents for more than half a century, i.e. until Dieter Weber undertook a new edition of the Berlin papyri in 2003 (cf. his Berliner Papyri, Pergamente und Leinenfragmente, published in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, London 2003). His decipherment work led Hansen to readings and interpretations that differed from the received opinion of his time, and thus to his own transliteration of the Middle Persian language, which he presented in his Mittelpersisches Lesebuch (Berlin 1963; cf. Werner Sundermann, “Mittelpersisch”, in: Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. by Rüdiger Schmitt, Wiesbaden 1989, p. 146). After the successful acquisition of newly found original leather and linen documents from the Sasanid period, our Institute resumed its tradition of analysing texts written in the Pahlavi cursive script in the 1990s, making it a main area of research.
Having separated from the Indo-European branch, the Iranian section of the recently founded “Seminar für Iranische Philologie” proceeded to consolidate: In 1964 it obtained a permanent tutorship for the Persian language, which was given to Farhad Sobhani, and in 1965 the first lectureship was created and awarded by Professor Hansen to his pupil Günter Gobrecht. Hansen himself had only a few years left to enjoy the Seminar’s freshly won autonomy and to use its endowment for the benefit of his work. Stricken by severe illness, he asked for early retirement in 1967 and died in Kiel early in 1969. In 1968 his chair of Iranian Philology was offered to Carsten Colpe from Göttingen, an eminent scholar who was comfortably at home in three different disciplines: Iranology, History of Religions and Protestant Theology. A second chair was established in 1970, with Günter Gobrecht as its first appointee. At around the same time the FU created a second lectureship specially for the History of Religions, subsequently to be held by Colpe’s pupil Hans Kippenberg.
With the appointment of Professor Colpe, Iranology as taught at the Seminar experienced a significant extension to include the history of religions, an acquisition which gained additional weight through the special research area “Syncretism” brought in by Colpe from his Göttingen Institute. Colpe, who had worked on the related topics of Gnosis and Manichaeism in his doctoral and postdoctoral theses, was now mainly interested in the Iranian elements of classical syncretism. His list of publications includes contributions on the religion of the Parthian period, on Mithraism and Manichaeism, Zoroaster and the Gathas and, above all, on the Iranian part played in the rise and decline of ancient syncretism (cf. bibliographies in the festschriften for Colpe: Loyalitätskonflikte in der Religionsgeschichte, Würzburg 1989, pp. 338-365; and Tradition und Translation, Berlin 1994, pp. 551-556). He also dealt extensively with Iranian issues in Handbuch der Religionsgeschichte (HdR) and Wörterbuch der Mythologie (WdM), to both of which he contributed substantially as an editor and co-author (e.g., “Altiranische und zoroastrische Mythologie”, in: WdM, vol. I/4, 1974, pp. 161-260, and 1982, pp. 261-487; “Zarathustra und der frühe Zoroastrismus”, in: HdR, vol. 2, 1972, pp. 319-357).
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