E.A. Wallis Budge

Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857-1934) was an English born Egyptologist, orientalist, and philologist.

Budget was born in England. As a child, he moved in with his grandmother and aunt in London.

He showed an early aptitude for languages. His schooling ended when he was 12 years old, and he began to worked as a clerk. He studied various languages during his spare time, including ancient Assyrian, Hebrew, and Syriac. These studies led him to be British Museum, where like-minded scholars studied ancient civilizations.

From 1869 to 1878, Budge spent every spare moment studying. He often studied at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and came to the attention of the cathedral’s organist. John Stainer decided to help the young man, contacting Budge’s employer and other politicians. The support and money that was raised allowed Budge to attend Cambridge University from 1878 to 1883, indulging his passion for antiquity.

Upon his graduation from Cambridge, Budge was hired by the British Museum. Originally appointed to the Assyrian section, he transferred to the Egyptian section soon after.

Budge took early steps to prevent the selling of antiquities. When the British Museum found itself purchasing its own cuneiform tablets at highly inflated prices, the museum staff realized there was a serious problem. Budge helped find the source of the leaks, and even found new sources of antiquities at lower prices.

Budge forged links between the museum and antiquities dealers in Egypt and Iraq. This helped the museum obtain antiquities at lower costs without having the expense of an excavation. Under Budge’s leadership, the British Museum developed one of the best collections of ancient near-Eastern art in the world.

Today, Budge is under great fire for his collection techniques. At the time, museums across Europe vied for the best antiquities. This competition led to several distasteful habits, including smuggling, bribery, and more. By the standards of the day, this was the way to get antiquities to the museum. Over time, debate over the ethics of these methods has led to a heightened sense of ethics in the archaeological community.

Budge was an accomplished author who wrote prolifically. In his study of the Egyptian religion, he suggests that the religion of the ancient Egyptians was similar to that of Northeastern and Central Africa. The racist viewpoints of the day, however, found this unacceptable.

His interest in religion and theology also sparked his interest in the paranormal. Budge was a firm believer in the spirit world. Around this time, spiritualism and the occult were gaining in popularity, particularly among those who are losing their Christian faith. Budge’s books gained a great following among spiritualists.

Budge passed on in 1934. Up to his final days, he remained a prolific writer. Many of his theories have since been discarded in favor of newer ones which offer better explanations for the mysteries of Egyptian civilization. However, the impact he had on the collections of the British Museum and our understanding of ancient history cannot be denied. He remains a respected Egyptologist, even today.

E. A. Wallis Budge in his office at the British Museum around the turn of the 20th century. Courtesy Wikipedia.