In 1898, the Austrian Archaeological Institute (OeAI) was established as an immediate response to the extremely successful excavations carried out at Ephesos since 1895. Today it serves as a research institute of the state of Austria and is part of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW). Its twenty scientific staff members in the Head Office Vienna, as well as in the branch offices at Athens and Cairo, are responsible for numerous archaeological projects at home and abroad. The most well-known research site of the OeAI is Ephesos on the west coast of Turkey.
On the 1st of October, 1898, the Royal Imperial Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna began its scientific activities. About one and a half years earlier, Emperor Franz Josef I had approved the proposal for the foundation of such an institute with his signature.
At that time, it was the duty of the Institute to unite all the activities of the monarchy in the area of classical archaeology. Included amongst these were scientific research (in particular, excavations both at home and abroad and their publication), the administration of the museums in Aquileia, Pula, Zadar and Split (at that time belonging to the Austrian state), and the bequest of foreign stipends. Foreign offices of the Royal Imperial Ministry for Culture and Teaching in Constantinople/Istanbul, Smyrna/Izmir and Athens were taken over by the OeAI in 1898. The secretariat in Constantinople was abandoned in 1901, while on the contrary in Athens, the offices were moved into their own building. The excavations at Ephesos, begun in 1895 and still under the direction of the Institute, were initially under the control of the branch office at Smyrna. In Greece, the Institute began regional surveys at Lousoi, Elis and Aigeira (all in the Peloponnese), sites which – like Ephesos – remain the focus of Austrian archaeological research.
In the economically difficult years following the collapse of the monarchy, the Institute only just managed to remain active, while the sister-institute in Izmir had to be abandoned and the number of personnel diminished to a bare minimum. The Institute’s survival could only eventually be secured through its incorporation into the University of Vienna in 1935. Nevertheless, even in these difficult times numerous scientific projects were undertaken, amongst them the exposure and conservation of the second amphitheatre at Carnuntum in the 1920s.
After the annexation of Austria by Germany (1938), the Institute lost its independence in 1939 and was adopted as a sister-institute of the Archaeological Institute of the German Reich. In 1945, its previous status of 1935 was restored.
With only a few staff members, the Institute resumed its scientific activities after the Second World War with, above all, excavations at home. In the 1950s, it was possible to resume excavations at Ephesos, in 1964 the branch office at Athens was reopened, and in 1973, a new branch office, developed from a long-standing research site, was founded at Cairo.
With the transformation of the UG 2002, the structure of the Austrian Archaeological Institute was placed on a new basis, and the Institute was provided with its own legal status. The area of responsibility of the OeAI includes, pursuant to its legal mandate, field research at home and abroad, and the scientific publication of this research.
100 Jahre Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, SoSchrÖAI 31 (Wien 1998).