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Igor Mikhailovich
Diakonoff

Doctor of Sciences (equiv. Habilitation) - History
(12.01.1915 — 02.05.1999)
Dr Igor M. Diakonoff, one of the greatest Assyriologists of the 20th century, was born on January 12, 1915, in St Petersburg, the Russian Empire. His father was a bank clarkm his mother a doctor. From 1922 to 1929 (with the 2 years interval) his family lived in Oslo (then Christiania) where I.D. mastered Norwegian. Actually, he started reading Russian and English very early, among his first books there were guides to the Egyptian and Messopotamian sections of the British Museum. This is how his interest in the Ancient East was aroused, though first he was especially interested in Egypt.

After coming back to the USSR, I.D. went to the Soviet school and then, in 1932, was admitted to the Historical Department of Leningrad State University. He was taught by some preeminent scholars of that time, Prof A.P.Riftin being his principal teacher who invited him to the Assyriological Group organized by him. To earn money, I.D. processed the famous N.P.Likhachev cuneiform collection and thus learnt almost all the kinds and genres of the cunieform writings. Moreover, he worked as a guide at the Hermitage Museum, and from 1937, even before he completed his University course, joined the Museum’s staff. Here, at the Department of Ancient East, he “found his second University”, as he himself put it. In 1936, he married and, in 1937, his first paper was published.

By early 1941, his PhD Dissertation on the land relations in Assyria was ready to be defended. This was the time when conditions for academic work as well as for ordinary life in general worsened much, the purges effected almost all the families of intellectual elites (I.D.’s father was arrested and died).

Soon after the war with Germany began, I.D. was called up for military service and sent to the army headquarters of the Karelian front where his knowledge of many languages proved very useful. In 1944, the Soviet troops freed eastern Norway of the Germans and I.D. was sent to the city of Kirkenes as a representatibe of the command. For his good deeds he was later appointed honorary citizen of Kirkenes.

After he entered civil life in 1946, I.D.Diakonoff started working at the University where he defended his PhD Dissertation, and published his first book, The Development of Land Relations in Assyria [Развитие земельных отношений в Ассирии] (Leningrad 1949). Later he worked at the Hermitage Museum, the Institute of History, and from 1956 till the end of his life, at the Institute of Oriental Studies, the USSR Academy of Sciences (now the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts). In 1960, he defended his Habilitation Dissertation. In his academic activities he showed himself as an incredibly many-sided scholar, who was partially effective as an historian (his numerous papers on social and economic, political and cultural history, issues of ethnogenesis, etc.), philologist (editions of texts, brilliant literary translations from various old and new languages) and linguist (researches into many languagesm belonging to different language families). For his achievements he was appointed a member of the British Academy, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, many Orientalist societies and an Honored Doctor of Humanities at the University of Chicago. The latter’s confirming document states that it was given to “the man whose Historical, Social and Economic, Philological and Linguistic researches have no superior in both scope and quality”.

I.D. was also a member of many Soviet, Russian and foreign editorial boards, including Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum. History and Languages of Iranian peoples were among his academic priorities almost from the very beginning of his academic work. He took an extremely difficult task, to decipher and edit Parthian documents from Nisa. He started his studies of them in late 1940s along with V.A.Livshits and his elder brother, M.M.Diakonoff (who unfortunately died soon). Their work lasted for more than twenty years (the first joint paper was published in 1951) and, in the 1970s, resulted with the monumental edition, Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, Pt. I-III, Vol. II. Parthian Economic Texts from Nisa. Ed. D.N. MacKenzie. L., Lund Humphries, 1979. The participants of the project had to work as historians, linguists and decipherers so as to read a difficult type of the Arameian writing and interpret the language of these texts. After many years of discussions, the editors’ opinion that the texts were written in Parthian with Arameian allograms is now commonly accepted.

Meanwhile, I.D. published the comprehensive monograph, History of Media From the Earliest Times to the Late 4th Century B.C. [История Мидии от древнейших времен до конца IV в. до н. э.] (Moscow—Leningrad 1956). Thanks to his manysidedness, I.D. could use original cunieform, Old Persian and Old Greek documents and interpret archaeological data. His book (also published in Persian in Iran, in 1966) remains relevant and was re-published in 2009.

In addition to the above-mentioned books, I.D. published also a number of papers on various issues of Iranian studies.

I.D. died on May 2, 1999. Almost until the very end of his life, he kept vivid interest in science in general and researches of his disciples in particular. He left his unique library to the group of Ancient Eastern philology of the Institute.

Dr V.A. JACOBSON

Tr. by A.Zorin

Publications ( the entire list as a *.pdf file)

[2009]

Diakonoff I.M. History of Media from the Earliest Times to the Late 4th Century B.C. [История Мидии от древнейших времен до конца IV в. до н. э.] / Ed. by Vladimir A. Jakobson and Sergey R. Tokhtas'ev. 2nd, suppl., ed. St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg State University Faculty of Philology, 2008. 572 p. (“Historical studies”).

[1990]

Diakonoff I.M. Archaic myths of the Orient and Occident [Архаические мифы Востока и Запада]. Moscow, Nauka GRVL Publishers 1990. 247 p. (Issledovaniya po folkloru i mifologii Vostoka).

[1959]

Diakonoff I.M. Society and State in Ancient Mesopotamia. Sumer [Общественный и государственный строй Древнего Двуречья. Шумер]. Moscow, IVL Publishers 1959.


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