Elena Abramovna Davidovich
On December 5th of this year at the age of almost 91, Elena Abramovna Davidovich died after a long period of poor health. This Doctor of Historical Sciences, professor and archaeologist was an outstanding scholar in the field of oriental source-study. Her passing marks the end of a whole era in fundamental research and important discoveries in her country and above all in the numismatics of the Islamic world. Elena Davidovich was a prolific writer in this domain, producing nine monographs and around three hundred articles published in her own country and abroad. The main focus of her interest was research into the coinage of Central Asia between the 8th and 18th centuries.
Elena Davidovich was a person of unusually wide-ranging talents and interests. In addition to her rare determination, when it came to extending her knowledge, she was also musically gifted and no mean sportswoman and actress with professional appearances to her credit.
A major period of her life was devoted to archaeology. At the city-site of Ancient Nisa near Ashkhabad (Turkmenistan) she was in charge of the investigation of the celebrated Square House complex: it was there, during the 1948 field season, that she discovered the famous hoard of Parthian rhyta.
Her broad horizons, mathematical skills and rare analytical mind enabled Elena Davidovich to resolve extremely complex questions regarding money circulation in medieval Central Asia, using a multi-disciplinary approach to a whole range of written, numismatic and epigraphic sources (A History of the Coinage of Central Asia in the 17th-18th Centuries, Dushanbe, 1964; A History of Money Circulation in Medieval Central Asia, Moscow, 1983 etc.).
The work carried out by Professor Davidovich on the texts of Persian and Arabic manuscripts was also extremely fruitful. She was able to point out many errors made by both authors and copiers, which had eluded the notice of previous researchers.
Elena Davidovich also assembled, studied and published a large range of hoard materials and she devised and elaborated a metrology for Central Asian coins (Hoards of Ancient and Medieval Coins of Tadzhikistan, Moscow, 1979; Materials for a Metrology of Medieval Central Asia, Moscow, 1970 etc.). Works by Professor Davidovich demonstrated the importance of coins as a valuable and sometimes even leading source for resolving specific issues – not just in connection with coinage but also those relating to socio-economic and political history.
The chronological range of the research undertaken by Elena Davidovich was also unusually wide: from her classification of the coins of Kushan ruler, Heraios (2nd-1st century BC) to her detailed research into the coinage of the Qarakhanids (9th-11th centuries), the Anushteginids or Khwārazm-Shāhs (11th-13th centuries), the Chaghatayids (13th-14th centuries), the Chingizids (13-15th century), Timurids (14th-16th centuries) and the Shaybānids (16th century) (Corpus of the Gold and Silver Coins of the Shaybānids – 16th century, Moscow, 1992).
The task of developing multi-disciplinary source study and subsidiary historical disciplines was given pride of place in the section which Professor Davidovich headed at the Institute of Oriental Studies from 1973 and also for the series of “Bartold Lectures” which she inaugurated in 1974. The collection of academic articles, Historical Oriental Studies and Specialist Historical Disciplines (Issues 1-6, Moscow, 1989-2004) was directed towards the same goal: Elena Davidovich was its general editor and contributed to it without fail. She made a major contribution to the work of the first All Russian Numismatic Conferences and also to such well-known publications as “Epigraphy of the East”, “Numismatics and Epigraphy” and “Central Asiatic Journal”.
Professor Davidovich was generous in the sharing of her knowledge and helped many other scholars as they wrote their dissertations, books and articles. She was a patient but at the same time demanding mentor: she would not countenance works, which “do not demand conscientious and painstaking study of sources and of the literature and leave room for arbitrary constructions or flights of fancy”.
The legacy of Elena Davidovich is a great one and one which has not yet been fully appreciated. Until almost the very end of her life she was working on the manuscript of her book in English, which incorporated the main results of her work over many years.