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 Lev Gumilyov

Born:   October 1, 1912
Deceased:   June 15, 1992



Lev Gumilev, famous Soviet historian and author of ethnogenesis theory, was born on October 1, 1912, to the family of world-famous Russian poets Anna Akhmatova and Nikolay Gumilev. Lev’s parents broke up in 1914, and the boy was actually brought up by his grandmother. When Lev turned 9, his father was accused of taking part in the White conspiracy and shot down. This fact of Lev Gumilev’s biography was often used for political accusations.

In 1926 Lev moved to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where his mother lived. In 1930 Gumilev was denied admission to Pedagogical Institute, and the reason was his non-proletarian origin and lack of working experience. Young man spent following four years trying to earn his right to be educated – he worked as unskilled worker, collector and laboratory technician. In 1934, Gumilev was finally admitted to the history faculty of Leningrad University. In 1935, he was arrested for the first time, and then was expelled from the university. Lev Gumilev continued his higher education on his own – he studied ancient Turk history and Oriental languages. In 1937 Gumilev resumed his studies in the university, but one year later another arrest happened. Gumilev was condemned to five years of exile in Norilsk. After his exile finished, Gumilev wasn’t allowed to leave northern territories of Russia and worked in dispatch service of Norilsk integrated works. In 1944 during Great Patriotic War, Lev Gumilev joined the army as a volunteer and reached Berlin together with First Belarus Front.

Right after military discharge, Lev Nikolayevich Gumilev finished the history faculty of Leningrad University as nonresident student and started postgraduate education as the Institute of Oriental Studsies. Sadder but wiser, Gumilev was afraid his life out of prison wouldn’t be long, thus he passed all necessary examinations as quickly as he could and started preparing a dissertation. However, he didn’t finish his work – being a son of a disgraced poetess Anna Akhmatova, Gumilev was forced to quit his postgraduate education. Lev’s scientific career was interrupted once again. He succeeded in defending his candidate dissertation, covering issues of Turk Kaganate only in 1948. Gumilev worked as research fellow in Museum of Ethnography of USSR People for less than a year and got arrested again. At that time scientist’s punishment lasted for 7 years, which he spent in camps near Karaganda and Omsk. He used his imprisonment for writing two monographs “Hunnu” and “Ancient Turks”.

In 1956 Lev Nikolayevich Gumilev returned to Leningrad and started working in Hermitage. His book “Hunnu” came off the press in 1960 and was met by antipodal opinions. Doctor dissertation “Ancient Turks” was defended in 1961, and in 1963 Gumilev became a senior research fellow in the Geography Institute of Leningrad University, where he worked till the end of his life. In 1960 Lev Gumilev started reading lecture in ethnography, which soon became very popular among students of the university. His politically unreliable biography was no more a problem for the scientific career, however, difficulties with validation of Gumilev‘s second doctor dissertation, defended in 1974 and called “Ethnogenesis and Earth Biosphere”, were caused by unreliability of the whole concept.

Despite the fact that many views of the scientist were subject to slashing criticism, they were very popular among soviet intelligentsia. The reasons were his extraordinary ideas and surprisingly fascinating explanation of them in Gumilev‘s books. In 1980s Lev Gumilev became one of most readable Soviet scientists and finally got the opportunity to freely explain his ideas. Life under constant stress and constant hard work could not last long. In 1990 Gumilev suffered form the stroke, but continued scientific research. The scientists died on June 15, 1992 and was buried at Nikolskoye cemetery of Alexandro-Nevskaya Lavra. Scientific contribution of Lev Gumilev is enormous. HI colleagues remember him as a great Turkologist, who did a lot for studying history of nomadic tribes of Eurasia. Another achievement of the scientist was his attention to historical climatology – he explained migrations of nomads by fluctuations in moisture content and average temperature, which was heretic for Soviet historical science. Many ideas of Lev Gumilev were accepted by Russian scientific community after Soviet ideology collapsed. Among ordinary people Gumilev is also a well-known person, an author of an original theory of formation and development of ethnos.

Gumilev’s theory of Ethnogenesis says that ethnos is not a social phenomenon, but an element of Earth’s bioorganic world – biosphere. Ethnos development depends from energy flows, which come from space. Rare and very short space radiation bursts (only nine were detected during history of Eurasia) caused genetic mutation – a passionary burst. As a result, people start consuming much more energy than they need for normal everyday functioning. Excessive energy is released in hypernormal activity, in passionarity. Extremely energetic people, passionaries, explore or conquer new territories, create new religions or scientific theories. Too many super activists on limited territory, which is favorable for their reproduction, form new ethnos. Energy from passionary parents passes to their children, as well as behaviour stereotypes, which are extremely long-living.

Gumilev’s concept leads to the idea of thorough control of communication between different ethnos for avoiding unwanted contacts. During last years of the USSR, when ideas of Lev Gumilev for the first time became the object of public discussion, a paradox appeared. Those, who were not involved in professional social science, considered passionarity theory a real revolutionary science. As for professionals, they said that passionarity was doubtful at its best, and non-scientific at the worst. However, the majority of scientists said that the theory had too many assumptions, which were not corroborated by any facts.


Kizilova Anna

Tags: Lev Gumilev Russian history Russian historians   

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