Ernö Gaál


(by Tamás Bács)

Professor Ernö Gaál, Head of the Egyptology Department of the Eötvös Loránd University, passed away with tragic suddenness at the age of 64 in August 2005.

Born 19 July 1941 at Szombathely (Hungary), Ernö Gaál completed his high school studies at Gyr, subsequently enrolling at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in 1961 (originally as a student of English language and literature and History). From early on his interest turned to Ancient Near Eastern History, which he mastered through specialised courses on the subject then available at the university. From 1970 he became a member of the teaching staff of the Ancient Near Eastern History Department, later to be reorganised as the Department of Egyptology. He eventually succeeded his late mentor and life-long friend Professor László Kákosy as Head of Department in 2003 besides directing the Institute of Classical Studies at the university between 2002 and 2005. He was also elected to the faculty senate and at one point during his academic career served as a Vice-Dean of the faculty.

Deeply committed to the study of ancient economic history from the outset, his early research centred on the small North-Syrian city-state of Alalah. Intrigued by the social, economic, and cultural possibilities available to small states existing in the shadow of empires inevitably led him into the discussions of empires, most specifically those of Mittani and Urartu respectively. Inspired by the very same scholarly concern, in his latest field of research he embarked on the pursuit of understanding the nature of conflicts between empires, taking as a primary case study that of the Egyptian-Hittite conflict.

Ernö Gaál's primary research as a text-based historian was complemented by archaeological field-work in Egypt. Sharing in the view of L. Kákosy for the need of Hungarian participation in the uncovering and preservation of the material remains of ancient Egypt's heritage, he partook in the foundation of the Hungarian Mission in 1983 and its first excavation in Theban Tomb 32 (Djehutymes). Since 1996, besides lending continuous and generous support to other field projects of the department, he had himself embarked on the archaeological and epigraphic research of a small group of New Kingdom rock-cut tombs at Thebes (TT -59-: Bakenamun, TT-61-: Amenhotep).

During his distinguished career Ernö Gaál became a member of several learned societies, among these the International Association of Egyptologists (IAE), and had been honoured with a number of scientific awards and scholarships.