Halil Edhem Eldem

Küratör, Araştırmacı, Siyasetçi, Yazar

24 Haziran, 1861
Vienna Polytechnic Institute

Curator, researcher-author, politician (B. 24 June 1861, Istanbul – D. 1938, Istanbul). He is the son of Grand Vizier İbrahim Edhem Pasha and brother of painter Osman Hamdi Bey and expert of ancient coins İsmail Galip Bey. He started his secondary education in Kaptan İbrahim Pasha Secondary School and completed it having a chemistry and biology education in 1875 in Berlin where he was because of his father’s ambassador position. Later he continued to University of Zurich for one year and studied in Vienna Polytechnic Institute, having an education on geology and chemistry (1881-84). Besides he made a PhD in Switzerland Berne University, Faculty of Philosophy and returned to Istanbul in 1885.

Upon his return to Turkey he was assigned to vice ministry of military factories. Four years later he passed to the translation branch of Erkân-ı Harbiyye-i Umumiyye (General Staff). Apart from his official duties he taught in various schools. He taught between 1885- 93 in Dârüşşafakati’l-İslâmiyye, in 1887 in Mekteb-i Mülkiye (Civil Service School) , in 1900 in Dârülmuallimîn (Boys Training School), and one year later in Dârülfünun (Istanbul University) mineralogy, geology and chemistry. In 1892 he was appointed Director of Museums and Fine Arts Academy. He took part during the transformation of Topkapı Palace into a museum.

In 1919 when he was Director of National Museums, he revealed Piri Reis’ Map, which is one of the unique treasures of Topkapı Palace. Meanwhile he published a small book upon the earthquake in Istanbul dated 1894, with the title “Hareket-i Arza Dair Birkaç Söz” (Is­tanbul 1312). One of his important successes in this field which made his name pass to the literature is his discovery of two new fossils named after him, during the excavations around Gebze he did with his teacher from Vienna Fr. Toula.

Halil Edhem was assigned to vice directorate of Âsâr-ı Atika Müze-i Hü­mayunu (Museum of Eastern Antiquities) in 1892. After the second constitutional period (1908) he was assigned in Istanbul Municipality (1 August 1909). However, he resigned from this duty which was very boring for him (19 January 1910). He was one of the founder members of Istanbul Antiquities Lovers Association which was established under the presidency of Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha in order to prevent the antiquity massacre done in Istanbul. This association was closed in the years of 1st World War. It was replaced by the Commission of Antiquities established by the Ministry of Education and Halil Edhem was appointed its president. 1913 yılında, Cumhuriyet döneminde Türk Tarihi Encümeni (Türk Tarih Kurumu)’ne dö­nüştürülen Tarih-i Osmanî Encümeni’nin üyeliğine seçildi. In 1913 he was chosen to membership of Ottoman History Commission, which would later be turned into Turkish Historical Society in the republic period. He published numerous articles in Tarih-i Osmanî Encümeni Mecmuası” and  ”Türk Ta­rih Encümeni Mecmuası” which were the press organs of this institute about Turkish history. He also reviewed and introduced books published in the West. During his museum directorate he continued his duty in this commission which was established by his effort and joined its meetings as a member after his retirement in 1931.

He made a presentation in 1932 about the maintenance and protection of antiquities in the 1st Turkish History Congress organized in Istanbul, Dolmabahçe Palace. In 1933 he was assigned to vice presidency of Turkish History Association. Meanwhile upon the request of Atatürk he participated to preparation works of the book titled “Türk Tarihinin Ana Hatları” and wrote the chapter “Anadolu Selçukluları Devrinde Mimarî ve Tezyini Sanatlar” of the fourth sample fascicle for this great book.

Halil Edhem Bey was elected prime minister from Istanbul in the year he was retired and kept his position for two periods. He never interrupted his connection with Darüşşafaka Society he deeply loved and became sometimes president and other times a member in the executive board of this institution. He was closely interested in antiquities since he was administrating Museum of Oriental Antiquities as a vice director and a director, however, this did not cause him to neglect Islamic-Turkish artifacts. His first publication in this field is titled “Arap ve Arap-Bizantin ve Osmanlı Kurşun Mühürler Katalo­ğu” (Istanbul 1309). In 1915 he published subsequently “Kayseriye Şeh­ri: Mebânî-i Islâmiyye ve Kitabeleri” (Istan­bul 1334) which is still used as a reference book.

He attempted to prepare a large edition of the first Islamic tablets in Anadolu together with Max van Berchem, the first specialist of Arabic language and epigraphy in Europe. This work would be a corpus and introduce Arabic building tablets in various fascicles categorized due to regions. However, upon the disorder and defeat of 1st World War this great attempt was left incomplete after the publication of two fascicles. His first publication in republic period is a small book titled “Elvâh-ı Nakşiyye Ko­leksiyonu” (Istanbul 1924) which is about history of Turkish painting and painters. His interest in ancient coins made Halil Edhem prepare a very useful bibliography work, “İslâmî Nümizmatik İçin Bir Bibliyografya Tecrübesi” (Ankara 1932), after his retirement. Later he published his tractate titled “Mısır’ın Son Memlûk Sultanı Melik Tomanbay II Adına Çor­lu’da Bulunan Bir Kitabe” (Ankara 1935). 

Apart from these, Halil Edhem also published picture books without any scientific claim and which addressed large mass of people. Later a book of him titled “Topkapı Sarayı” (Istanbul 1931) was published, which provides general information on Topkapı Palace assisted by numerous pictures provided by Sebah-Joaillier, the most famous photographer’s studio in Istanbul at that time and which was also translated into French. Besides, a small picture book titled “Yedikule Hisarı” (Istanbul 1931) and “Camilerimiz (Istanbul 1932) were published. Halil Bey’s another booklet which addressed large mass of people is “Niğde Kılavuzu” (Is­tanbul 1936).

Halil Edhem Eldem was elected as an honorary member in 1892 by the Russian Geology-Anthropology and Ethnography Institute, in 1895 by the German Archeology Institute, in 1899 by the Austrian Archeology Institute, in 1904 by the Greek Archeology Institute and in 1933 by the Historical Artifacts Institute of Sydney. He was granted in 1931 the title of emeritus professor by Istanbul Darülfünunu (University), in 1933 honorary PhD by Leipzig University. Halil Edhem Eldem passed away on the 17th of November 1938. After his death Turkish History Association published a commemoration book of two volumes in his name titled “Halil Edhem Hâtıra Kitabı” (I-Il Ankara 1947-1948).

Eldem is an important figure of Turkish cultural history which was active during the last periods of Ottoman Empire and by the beginning of the republic period. In terms of his education, he was not an expert of antiquities. However, he gained this skill from his brother Osman Hamdi Bey and became a perfect curator, besides a decent expert of Turkish-Islamic coins and epigraphs. His effort to develop Turkish museology has to be mentioned especially. Besides, he gathered many manuscripts from different places and took them under protection, which was an unforgettable service of him. His considerable service to Turkish-Islamic history consists primarily of translation S. Lane-Poole’s important book, extending it with supplements, collected hundreds of manuscripts in Anatolia and published them. Apart from these, in spite of various difficulties he made efforts to protect and recover Turkish architectural artifacts, published articles and books and finally in the last years of his life, he wrote some small books introducing historical artifacts of Istanbul to a large mass of people.


ANALYSIS: Osmanlı Meskâlâtı ve Kurşun Mühürler Kataloğu (Istanbul 1309),  Arap ve Arap-Bizantin ve Osmanlı Kurşun Mühürler Katalo­ğu (Istanbul 1309), Sivas ve Divriği Şehirlerinin İslâmî Kitabeleri (1719), Kayseri Şehri (1916), Elvâh-ı Nakşiyye Ko­leksiyonu (İstanbul 1924), Düvel-i İslâmiye Tarihi Topkapı Sarayı (1931), Yedikule Hisarı, Camilerimiz (1932), Kitabeler Nasıl Kayıt ve Zaptolunmalıdır? (1940), Halil Edhem Hâtıra Kitabı Cilt I (1947), Kayseri Şehri / Selçuklu Tarihinden Bir Bölüm (Ed.: Kemal Göde, 1982), Trabzon’da Osmanlı Kitabeleri (2001).

TRANSLATION: Nos Mosquees de Stamboul (From E. Mamboury, 1934).

REFERENCE:  Halil Edhem Hâtıra Kitabı (I-II, 1947-48), Rakım Ziyaoğlu / İstan­bul Kadıları – Şehreminleri - Belediye Reisleri (s. 172-176, 1971), Türkiye Ansiklopedisi (1974, c.3, s.1103), Fahri Çöker / Türk Tarih Kurumu (s. 233-253, 1983), L. A. Mayer  / “Halil Edhem Eldem 1861-1938 (Almanak VI, 1968), Reşat Ekrem Koçu / “Halil Edhem” (İstanbul Ansiklopedisi IX, c. 9, 1958-74), Semavî Eyice / “Eldem, Halil Ethem” (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi (c. 11, s. 18-21, 1995),  İhsan Işık / Türkiye Yazarlar Ansiklopedisi (2001, 2004) - Resimli ve Metin Örnekli Türkiye Edebiyatçılar ve Kültür Adamları Ansiklopedisi (2006, gen. 2. bas. 2007) – Ünlü Bilim Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 2, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013), http://www.camlicakitap.com/kitap/yedikita-dergisi-77-sayi-ocak-2015-1407, http://yedikita.com.tr/basin/fihrist/files/assets/common/downloads/publication.pdf, http://www.sabah.com.tr/kultur_sanat/2015/01/06/osmanli-arsivi-nasil-kurtarildi, Okkası 3 Kuruşa Satılan tarih Var (Yedikıta Dergisi, Sayı: 77, Sayfa: 20,Ocak 2015), Osmanlı Arşivi Yok Olmaktan Nasıl Kurtarıldı? (sadakatforum.com, 7 Mart 2016).


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