Ancient Near Eastern Studies and the Portuguese academia: a love-affair under construction

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For Modern Western societies, the ancient world comprised between the banks of the Mediterranean Sea, the Nilotic territory and the Near East, always stood as a fascinating place, where some of the roots of present day civilization are to be found. Though the allure for Antiquity was always felt within Western societies and academia, the 19th century stands as a special period where this appeal increased, much due to the Orientalism movement . In fact, as is well-known, the profound interest for everything that was “oriental” and, at the same time, “ancient” impelled the development of Archaeology and Philology, amongst other disciplines, which in turn allowed for an academic rediscovery of ancient civilizations and cultures. Consequently, History gained a new vigor, widening its subject-matters both in time and space. A new era for Humanities and Social Sciences began, where interdisciplinary work and critical reflection within different and new fields were cultivated.

Throughout the 20th century, this tendency deepened, with the development of multiple schools of thought that still influence the craft of the historian to this day. During this time, the Near Eastern Studies, as other Antiquity fields related, gradually claimed their vital place within Western academia. The 20th century saw the rise of multiple schools and research units focused on the specialized analysis of the linguistic, archaeological, and iconographic data left by the historical actors that once dwelt in the Ancient Near East.

The Portuguese society and academia also felt the attraction for this ancient Orient. However, due to its own historical context and historiographical development, throughout the late 19th century and the 20th century, most Portuguese scholars did not focus their research on Near Eastern Studies. This originated a rather small academic production on that subject-matter, when compared to the research outputs of other countries. Yet, much due to the efforts of some Portuguese Biblical scholars, who from the 1970’s on drew their attention to the East Semitic world, the Near East slowly began to appeal to more researchers and students. A timid love-affair came to light during the next decades, having been fueled, in recent years, by the members of the research group “Antiquity and its Reception”, which integrates CHAM – Centre for the Humanities of FCSH, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, and University of the Azores .

In the following pages, I propose to stress out three fundamental aspects: first, to present the motives that led Portuguese historiography to somehow resist the intense magnetism of the Ancient Near East; second, to highlight the work of the Portuguese predecessors in the field, from the 1970’s on. At last, to bring forward the research work currently being developed, that opens the possibility for a new chapter on the romance between Portuguese academia and the Near East.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on the History of Ancient Near Eastern Studies
EditorsAgnès Garcia Ventura, Lorenzo Verderame
Place of PublicationPhiladelphia
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-1-57506-836-7c
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Ancient Mesopotamia studies
  • Portuguese Historiography
  • Historiography


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