The Biography of Lev Nikolaevich
(October 1, 1912 - June 15, 1992)
Lew with his parents - Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921) and Anna
Akhmatova (1889-1966). Tsar Selo (near Sankt-Peterburg), 1916 (it's
|Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev was born on October 1, 1912. It was still Imperial
World War I and the Revolution were just a few years away.
His father, Nikolai Gumilev, was a very well known poet. He was also a
Traveler, an Adventurer, and an Officer of the Russian Imperial Army.
He had a very strong concept of honor, and that was a good enough reason for the
Bolsheviks to shoot him in 1921. Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev inherited that sense of
making it difficult for him to establish his career in the Humanities in the Soviet
His mother, Anna Akhmatova was a Poetess, one of the
greatest Russia ever had.
Lew Gumilev in Bezhetsk (Tverskaya oblast, Russia), 14
year old. Foto by P. N. Luknitskij in 1926.
|Lev Gumilev was born in Imperial Russia, but studied at a Soviet high
which he graduated in 1930. After that he applied to the University, but he was
since he was from a noble family (and that was a problem in the Soviet Union of the
1930▓s). Gumilev took a few jobs in some research expeditions (Sayany, Pamir). In
Pamir (Central Asia) he learned colloquial Tajik and Kyrgyz.
1934 - Gumilev, 22 years old, finally enrolled in the Oriental Studies department of
Leningrad University. Among his teachers there were Tarle, Struve, and other scientists
who were very well known in the discipline. 1935 - Gumilev was expelled for not informing
the authorities about conversations in the circle of his family (but somebody with
"good will" anonymously informed on him). He was let out of prison along with
some other students after appeals by Anna Akhmatova to the government (the authorities
found no case for litigation).
But Gumilev was not reinstated to the University, and found a job at the Leningrad
Branch of the Oriental Studies Institute. During his free time he kept studying materials
on the history of the Ancient Turks. At the same time he continued to attend classes at
1937 - Gumilev was reinstated at the University.
1938, January - Gumilev was again arrested because of someone informing on him,
convicted and sentenced to 5 years of strict isolation. The place he was to do time was
Belomorcanal. But then the authorities found it to be too soft and ordered death through
shooting, and then finally they changed it to imprisonment in Norilsk GULAG. Later Gumilev
often flashed back to that time while talking about the punishment systems of Rome, Spain,
China, and Persia: galleys and mines, as he said, were the worst punishment - because it
wasn't just hard, but involuntary labor. It was that GULAG where Gumilev wrote his
dissertation (that later appeared as book "Huns") on the yellow wrap...
1943 - the term of imprisonment expired. Gumilev volunteered for the army; it's WWII.
But not until the autumn of 1944 was he finally allowed to go into the active
army, to a part of the Special Shock Army of the 1st Belorussian front. As a private
he participated in the Berlin battle.
1945 - Gumilev was reinstated at the University.
1946 - Gumilev passed all 10 state exams to complete the whole course of study and
graduated knowing four languages: French, German, Ancient Turkic and Latin. His
concentration was on the history of the Hun and early Mongol civilizations.
1946, spring - Gumilev passed the entrance exams and enrolled in the graduate school of
the Leningrad Branch of the Oriental Studies Institute of the USSR. He participated in
archeological expeditions to the Ukraine, Altai, and Kazakhstan.
Lew Gumilev as a prisoner of Karaganda gaol (GULAG), 1951 г.
1946 √ a new wave of communist purges began. Gumilev was expelled from the
graduate school with a phony excuse and was rejected from the archeological expedition
staff. With difficulty he found a job as a librarian at the Leningrad City
psychotherapeutic hospital, and then only due to the good recommendation of the hospital
was he allowed to defend his dissertation for a Masters degree in History. This was the
first step in his scientific activity, and it was not easy. Due to the circumstances he
had, that path was hard. Gumilev was already 36 years old.
1948, November 7 - Gumilev was arrested again, as he used to say: "For
mother". (First time - in 1935 - "for himself", in 1938 - "for
father"). He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years of camps (GULAG) "for
1956 - Gumilev was released "for the absence of the case". He was 44 years
old then. He worked again as a librarian at the Hermitage, and after a few years defended
his doctoral dissertation (it was published in 1967 as a book: "The Ancient
Lew Gumilev (stands at the center) in the Chair of Economic
Geography of Leningrad State University (LGU), end of 1960's.
Beginning from 1966, for 20 years, Gumilev taught his special course of lectures at the
geography department. The course was called "narodovedenie", which meant
"science of ethnology".
Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev worked at the research institute affiliated with Leningrad
University until 1986, when he retired. Those lectures formed a few generations of
Gumilev's disciples, who were researchers and students from the departments of
history, physics, biology, math, etc. Gumilev is indeed "Father" of
ethnology, which is
principally a new science and didn't exist before, neither in the USSR nor
Soviet ideologized schools of ethnographists and orientalists did not accept Gumilev,
whose theories contradicted their well-established "lay-outs". Science in the
Soviet Union had its own implicit "political correctness" code, and Gumilev just
didn't fit there. These days those accusations sound very funny, but then, when science
was monitored by the Communist Party, it meant ostracism. Gumilev was accused of being an
"anti-Marxist", "geographical determinist", "mystic
biologist", "bourgeois solipsist", "behaviorist",
"anarchist", etc. He was accused of forgetting about class struggle and class
animosity as the basis and motivating force of history┘ It is really hard to believe
educated people (and the accusers were professors and academics!) could come up with such
a nonsense, but it was the reality in those years.
Gumilev was ostracized by the ideologized and politicized Soviet academics. The only
scientists that appreciated his works were also exiles, Vernadsky and Savitsky, who lived
Lew Gumilev at a rostrum of Russian Geographical Society,
begin of 1980's.
1974 - Gumilev defended his second Doctoral dissertation, this time in geography. The
dissertation of Gumilev bore the same name as his book that was published 15 years
later: "Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere". Politicized Council
found the dissertation to be an achievement of Science, "higher
than doctorate", therefore Gumilev was refused the doctorate!!! This
was quite a trick of Soviet ideological bureaucracy!
Then some groups considering themselves patriots (pro-Communist patriots)
accused Gumilev in some mutually exclusive acts: of being pro-Western and being
pro-Asian. He was accused of "blindly following conservative Christian
orthodoxy" and so on. He was accused of pan-turkism and pan-mongolism┘
Some provocateurs explained their hatred of Gumilev by the fact that they found
the Communist Party hinted at by the Mongols and the struggle of medieval Russia
against the Mongols as a struggle against the Party (no comment:). Gumilev
didn't even acknowledge those accusations with a rebuttal, saying "one
can't refute nonsense". Gumilev was accused of being an ideologist of the
contra-revolutionary White Army ideology of Eurasism, etc.
Lew Gumilev after a lecture, begin of 1980's.
His works were banned from publication in the then politicized (when Communist Party
decided what can be published and what can't) publishing house "Nauka"
("Science"). He was never accepted in the Academy of Sciences - Gumilev's ideas
were too bold for the Soviet Academy, and his conclusions displeased many established
Gumilev lived through the beginning of "Perestroyka" (or, as he called
it, "Re-combination of the genetic vices/defects of society"). He looked at it
with the skepticism of a man who had seen a lot in his life.
The grave of Lew Gumilev at the Aleksandro-Nevskaya
Lavra (St. Peterburg), 1993
In June of 1992 Gumilev appeared on TV and Radio. He read his lectures and his books
were published. When he died on June 15, 1992, many people took it as a big loss. Lev
Nikolaevich Gumilev was buried at the Aleksandro-Nevskaya Lavra, where the remains of
Alexandr Nevsky are also located.
Lev Gumilev had a very deep knowledge and understanding of the interactions between
various cultures, ethnic groups (he used term "ethnoi" in his
on a larger scale - civilizations. He was a Historian and a Geographer. When he was
talking about the history of various regions - he knew their geography. Lev Gumilev was
the Master of geographical history and historical geography.
Lev Gumilev was a father of the theory of ethnogenesis, one of the most interesting and
revolutionary theories in history, geography and ethnography. He originated the
archeological discovery of Khazaria. Lev Gumilev was also a professional interpreter from
several languages into Russian. His works are interesting food for thought, not only for
historians and geographers, but also for climatologists, archeologists,
physicists, ethnographists, cultural anthropologists, and all of those who are interested in those
For writing this short biography I used an article "L.N. Gumilev
and his time", by Aider Kurkchi. I cannot say I translated it, I rather rendered some
parts. And I cannot say that all that is said here comes from that article, although it
was that article that served as a basis for this biography
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