Antiquarians and Their Epic Adventures

August 22, 2017




Antiquarians can be seen as the more adventurous, less scientific precursors to Archaeologists. While the still exist today, they were most populous from the Renaissance to around the 18th and 19th centuries. Antiquarians came about as a response to literary historians. Rather than focusing on written works of the past, Antiquarians preferred to conduct empirical research on ancient sites and objects- they wanted to challenge literature and rather than place things in chronological order, they would prefer to collect information in higher quantities and present them as subjects.


Antiquarians consumed themselves with the obscure and arcane; obsessed with death, the unusual, the old they often met with much scrutiny in the academic world. Oftentimes, they would focus meticulously on certain aspects or subjects in history without fully developing an understanding for the context and value of these facts and fail to create an argument.

Antiquarianism has been evident since ancient times, beginning with the Ancient Greeks and the Romans, but the antiquarianism that one refers today began in the Middle Ages and expanded into the Renaissance. Due to the nature of their academic pursuits, Antiquarians often visited sites and would document inscriptions of monuments, usually taking pieces for themselves to add to their collections. So although proper excavation methods were not used, this shift in focus from the literary to the physical was integral to the development of archaeology.


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The trophies of time: English antiquarians of the seventeenth century by Graham Parry


“Ancient History and the Antiquarian” by  Arnaldo Momigliano, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 13, No. 3/4 (1950), pp. 285-315, The Warburg Institute Stable



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