Jan Bouzek (1935 - 2020)

Jan Bouzek, one of the most important classical and prehistoric archaeologists of the later 20th and early 21st centuries, died on 3 November at the age of 85. He suffered a stroke in September, was in hospital in Prague, where he contracted Covid-19 and sadly succumbed to it. He had suffered a number of health problems in recent years, which meant he could only walk very slowly with the aid of two sticks, but continued working almost until the end.

Jan Bouzek was born in Prague on 17 February 1935. He studied prehistoric and classical archaeology in the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, where he became Assistent (equivalent to lecturer) in 1958; in 1966 he obtained the title of CSc (Candidate of Sciences) and in 1967 PhD. In 1967-69 he held a Humboldt Stipendium at the University of Tübingen, and at the turn of 1968-69 he defended his first habilitation (higher doctorate), but the process was cancelled for political reasons. In 1980 he defended his second habilitation and in 1983 became Docent, in 1991 full Professor, and in 1992 DrSc (a title given by the Czech Academy of Sciences).

Although in practice he ran the Institute for Classical Archaeology in Charles University from the time that Jiří Frel left to go to the USA in 1969, he only officially became its head in 1993, when it split from a more broadly composed Department of Ancient Studies. At the same time he directed the Department of Classical Archaeology in the National Museum in Prague, and established and guided the Gallery of Ancient Art at Hostinné, and the Museum of Ancient Sculpture and Architecture at Litomyšl, to display the cast collection of Charles University. He lectured widely, not only in other institutions at home but also abroad (Tübingen, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, Montpellier, Minnesota etc). He gave the James Eliot Norton Memorial lectures of the Archaeological Institute of America in 1989.

His many academic interests spanned early Greek, Etruscan, Caucasian, Provincial Roman and Thracian archaeology, as well as central European prehistory and ancient art. He undertook fieldwork at home in north-west Bohemia and Moravia, and abroad he published the excavations conducted in the 1920s at Kyme in Turkey and Samothrace in Greece by Antonín Salač. He was involved in projects under the aegis of UNESCO at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and Beirut in Lebanon. From 1984 he carried out many seasons of work at the Greek emporion of Pistiros in Bulgaria (published as Pistiros, Excavations and Studies, I-III, Prague 1997-2007).

He received many honours, not only at home (both the silver and gold medals of Charles University) but also abroad: he was given Honorary Citizenship and the Dignitario dell‘ Ombra della Sera of Volterra (Italy) and was honoured by the Ministry of Culture of the Bulgarian Republic for contributions to Bulgarian culture. He was a full member of the Austrian Institute of Archaeology and a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute. A number of volumes were created in his honour, most recently the proceedings of the conference held in Prague in 2015 to celebrate his 80th birthday (published as EUDAIMON: Studies in Honor of Jan Bouzek, Prague 2019).

His publications are too numerous to list, but they span the great breadth of his interests. A first list was published in Eirene 31, 1995, with later additions in Eirene 41, 2005, Archeologické rozhledy 57/2, 2005, and Studia Hercynia XIX, 2015.

Some personal reflections

I knew Jan for 50 years, from my time in Prague in 1970 until my last visit to him in 2018 and our last email exchange in May this year. It is hard to imagine a kinder and more generous man: I am one of very many who would say the same. There seemed to be no European language in which he could not converse fluently, though his rapid delivery and soft voice sometimes made comprehension difficult. The range of his knowledge was extraordinary: I knew him primarily as a prehistorian, but for others he was a specialist in Greek sculpture and pottery, Caucasian bronzes, Etruscan culture, and many other things. He was knowledgeable about art, music, philosophy and anthropology, had read the classics in all the major European languages, and cultivated acquaintances (who became his friends) all over the world.

His biography does not fully bear out the way that his achievements took place in an often hostile environment. As a child in occupied Prague he witnessed the burning of the Old Town Hall in May 1945, and spent his teenage and student years under the communist regime established in 1948. Jiří Frel’s departure during the heady days of 1968-69 left Classical Archaeology at Charles University in a difficult position, which Jan had to deal with. Everyone had to submit to questioning about their attitude to the Prague Spring two years before. Jan was never a party member but had to cope with those in the University and outside it, usually in positions of authority, who were. He adopted an attitude of tolerance and understanding, even towards his questioners, and steered a path through the minefield of doing what was asked of him (in order to defend his family, friends and colleagues) and maintaining his international profile, in spite of often being debarred from travelling to the West. Throughout the difficult years of the 1970s and 1980s (and indeed subsequently) he succeeded in keeping up an extraordinary output of books and articles, which were usually at the forefront of research and always perceptive and stimulating. Even if his wide span of interests and the difficulty of getting access to books meant his conference contributions did not always, in later years, seem as up-to-date as one might wish, he could nevertheless hold his own in any academic debate. He was usually the first to ask a question or make a perceptive comment after hearing a paper, in whatever language.

The world is the poorer for the loss of a great scholar and humanitarian, one whose life touched so many people throughout the archaeological world.

By Anthony Harding (A.F.Harding@exeter.ac.uk), EAA President 2003-2009

Jan Bouzek in 1979    

On location in Bulgaria