If you are interested in archaeology, history, or the Renaissance, you may have heard of the term antiquarianism. And if you are interested in archaeology or history, you should know about this fascinating field. So, what is antiquarianism? Why is antiquarianism important? And what is an antiquarian? This article is to provide you with knowledge on everything about antiquarianism. We will start with a brief introduction to antiquarianism, making a little bit of an entrance to dive deeper. 

A Brief Introduction to Antiquarianism

Antiquarianism is something that we can consider a study, a form of art, and a hobby. In general, it is the field that deals with antiques or antiquities. Antiques or antiquities are physical remnants of the past, such as coins, seals, statues, implements, tools, weapons, ornaments, books, and inscriptions.

Our understanding of antiquarianism depends on the perspective we hold when looking at it. The way a modern-day archaeologist sees it will be different from the way an art enthusiast sees it.

And also, our understanding of antiquarianism will totally depend on which time period’s antiquarianism we look into. That means that Renaissance antiquarianism was quite different from the antiquarianism that prevailed in later periods until today.

Hence, in order to better understand antiquarianism, we need to look at it over time. So, I hope to discuss this focusing on two periods of antiquarianism, considering the emergence of archaeology as the marker between the two periods. Throughout this article, I will specify the facts according to antiquarianism until the emergence of archaeology and antiquarianism after the emergence of archaeology.

Antiquarianism Meaning; Definition of Antiquarianism

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Antiquarianism is the study of old and rare objects and their past. But, at the beginning, antiquarianism was not such a studious thing. It was just a passion for old stuff. Also, this definition sounds similar to that of archaeology, making us confused. So, it is best if we look into its origin and history first because that will help us have a basic understanding before we move into more complex information.

Antiquarianism meaning; Origin of the Term ‘Antiquarianism’

There are a few terms that should be studied to understand antiquarianism and its meaning. Those are antique, antiquity, antiquary, and antiquarian.


The word antique is used as a noun as well as an adjective. The noun ‘antique’ means a collectable object such as a piece of furniture or work of art that has a high value because of its age and quality. It is derived from the old Latin word ante, which means ‘before‘. Then, the Latin forms of antiquus and anticus were derived from ante. Antiquus and anticus mean ‘former, ancient’. In the late 15th century, it was translated into English as antique as an adjective. It has the meaning of ‘belonging to ancient times‘. Then, with the transformation that happened during the Renaissance era, it gives the meaning of ‘having a high value because of age and quality.’


Antiquity is a noun and it means an object, building, or work of art from the ancient past in English. The word is derived from the old Latin word antiquus, which means ‘old, former’. Then it derived into the Latin form antiquitas, then into the old French antiquite, then into middle English antiquity.


The word antiquary is a noun and it refers to a person who studies or collects antiques or antiquities. It is also derived from the old Latin word antiquus, which means ‘old, former‘. Then the Latin word antiquarius, which means ‘ancient, former’, emerged from it. Then combining with the english word antique and the latin word antiquarius, the word antiquary was coined in the 16th century.


The term antiquarian is an adjective as well as a noun. The adjective antiquarian means ‘relating to antiques‘. The noun antiquarian means a person who studies or collects antiques or antiquities. And the term was derived from the Latin word antiquarius and from the English word antiquary in the early 17th century.


Finally, the term ‘antiquarianism‘ stems from the Latin word antiquarius, which means ‘ancient‘. As you may already have figured, antiquarian + ism = antiquarianism. The suffix ‘ism’ is used for forming nouns denoting a system, principle, or ideological movement. So, the system, practice, or way of dealing with antiquities or doing antiquarian work is antiquarianism, according to the meaning of the term.

Origin of Antiquarianism; History of Antiquarianism

Origin of antiquarianism

During the Renaissance era, there was a cultural revival of classical philosophy, literature, and art. It ignited renewed interest in old objects and historical remnants. This fascination with the past eventually gave rise to antiquarianism in the 16th and 17th centuries of the Renaissance era. Even though the term antiquarianism and the well-recognised field originated in this era, their roots can be traced back to ancient civilizations.

Background Era of Antiquarianism: The Desire for Antiquities

When we look into the history of antiquarianism, we can see that it had a background era. In other words, it has a history even before the term antiquarianism or even the terms antiquary or antiquarian came into use. If you have read the rest of the articles in this series, you already know that archaeology also has a background era of thousands of years. Well, both archaeology and antiquarianism share the same background era for their origin or emergence.

This background era goes back to the earliest human civilizations. And it is literally a much longer time span compared to the time up to this point today since the emergence of antiquarianism under that specific term.

Furthermore, this era contains several phases in the history of antiquarianism. Those phases do not show any clear division, but with the characteristics they had, they showed some level of distinction.

At first, in the earliest human societies, the curiosity for the past was there. Also, there was curiosity about the physical remains that those populations found in their surroundings that did not belong to them. Those existing physical remains might have been the main reason for triggering their curiosity about the past.

However, this curiosity led them to construct stories around those material remains. Those stories were passed on from generation to generation as legends, myths, and tales. This folklore culture and the reason for it inspired people to discover the ancient monuments that were described in the tales. Also, it encouraged them to investigate the monuments or any old objects they found. Under such circumstances, it is obvious that the people continued a practice of collecting collectible tangibles from the past.

With time, each of these practices of discovering, investigating, and collecting antiques evolved further. In summary, this evolution from just curiosity to actively engaged expertise in antiques happened gradually over time.

The individuals who were passionate about this became experts in the field. The thirst for knowledge drove them to keep records of these antiques they discovered or collected. Among those antiques, there were tangibles like coins, seals, statues, manuscripts, weapons, ornaments, natural remains such as shells, etc.

Antiquarianism in the Roman Era: The Systematic Collections of Everything Comes from the Past

Antiquarianism in the Roman era was a systematic collection of all the collectibles of the past. In ancient Rome, there was a deep-seated respect for tradition, leading to the study and recording of monuments, customs, and historical records.

Prominent Roman writers such as Varro, Pliny the Elder, and Macrobius contributed to the documentation of these antiquarian matters. Varro was the one who pioneered the systematic collection of all the remains of the past in antiquarianism. That led antiquarianism in this era to go beyond tangibles. Instead, antiquarians kept recording intangibles such as customs. Simply put, they kept records of anything they discovered.

During this era, there were antiquity collections. Individuals who had an interest in antiquities had their collections continue through generations. Those collections depended on the interests of the individuals.

The focus on conserving historical material is one of the characteristics of antiquarianism in this era. The Romans documented intangibles and tangibles such as customs, architectural principles, buildings, etc. They ensured the safety of those recordings as well as the manuscripts they inherited from the past. So, the most important feature of antiquarianism in the Roman era is the Roman involvement in preservation and conservation.

Antiquarianism in the Middle Ages: Focusing on Collecting, Studying, and Copying Ancient Manuscripts

The Middle Ages marked the demise of Roman antiquarianism.

The main characteristic of antiquarianism During the Middle Ages, its focus was on the copying of manuscripts. This practice is the reason many texts have survived without being lost forever. Mediaeval antiquarians made collections of inscriptions and records of monuments. They preserved the old texts as well as composed new ones, ensuring the existence of the knowledge of ancient civilizations.

However, the Roman practice of ‘systematic collections of all the tangible and intangible remains of the past faded away from antiquarianism. And the practice of collecting antiquities was less organised. Instead, antiquarians engaged in collecting inscriptions and records.

Antiquarianism in the Renaissance Era: The First Version of Antiquarianism

As mentioned earlier, the origin of antiquarianism was in the Renaissance period in Europe, in particular in the 15th and 16th centuries. There was a revival of interest in the classical world and its artefacts during this period. Initially, it was an admiration for the aesthetic beauty of antiquities. Then, it quickly evolved into an interest in knowledge about the past human civilizations that created those impressive antiques. So initial antiquarianism can be defined as the passionate pursuit of antiquities with a primary focus on their aesthetic and historical value.

The term “antiquarian” gained popularity during the Renaissance. The humanists of this era were on a journey to revive classical knowledge. Scholars expanded their studies beyond classical literature to include material evidence from the past, such as coins, inscriptions, artefacts, and more. This expansion of interests led to the development of more comprehensive methods of historical inquiry. And that established empirical evidence as the foundation of historical research. Notable individuals such as Petrarch and Poggio Bracciolini actively searched for ancient manuscripts and recovered lost texts, demonstrating the important connection between literature and cultural objects.

Many European scholars in the early 15th century engaged with the study of ‘antiquities,’ though not in the modern sense. Italian epigrapher Felice Feliciano is regarded as one of the earliest individuals described as an “antiquario”. These scholars were fascinated by ancient things such as coins, medals, and flint arrowheads. We consider these early antiquarians to be historians rather than proto-archaeologists. They were different from historians in their focus on actual antiquities rather than old texts. However, these individuals and their work mark the beginning of the scholarly field of antiquarianism.

During this period, antiquarians primarily concentrated on the antiquities themselves. Therefore, their archaeological and cultural contexts were often overlooked. And that set those antiquarians apart from future archaeologists. One prominent 17th-century antiquary, John Aubrey, played a leading role in linking antiquarianism to early archaeology. With his studies of Stonehenge and Avebury, he provided groundbreaking insights into their historical significance. Another scholar, William Stukeley, made significant contributions by conducting theodolite surveys and creating perspective drawings of these sites. That study solidified his status as a ‘field archaeologist.’ These antiquarians emphasised the importance of physical evidence in revealing the past. As a result, antiquarianism in this era laid the groundwork for archaeology.

Antiquarianism in the 18th Century: The Emergence of Antiquarian Societies

During the 18th century, antiquarianism became a formal scholarly act due to the establishment of antiquarian societies. These societies consisted of individuals who contributed a lot to the field through their expertise. Hence, these societies had a huge impact on the development of antiquarianism. These societies provided a platform for scholars to discuss and share their findings on historical relics, monuments, and archaeological discoveries. For example, the Society of Antiquaries of London, founded in 1707 and granted a charter by King George II in 1751, played a significant role in fostering antiquarian scholarship.

In addition to the London society, other regional and national antiquarian societies emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, founded in 1780, managed a national antiquarian museum in Edinburgh. The American Antiquarian Society, established in 1812, became a repository and research library for early American printed materials. These societies played a crucial role in developing the field as they were open to reassessing their methods and approaches.

Antiquarianism in the 19th Century: Antiquarianism’s Impact on Modern Disciplines

By the end of the 19th century, antiquarianism had evolved into specialised academic disciplines, such as archaeology, art history, numismatics, sigillography, philology, literary studies, and diplomatics. These disciplines emerged as different branches of study, each providing unique understanding on the past.

After the emergence of scientific disciplines that look into the past, such as archaeology, the place for antiquarianism declined. The term ‘antiquarian or antiquarianism was often considered negatively in the academic world. In particular, it is considered in antiquarianism to overemphasise unimportant historical data. But it remains the foundation for our studies into understanding the past.

Summary of the history of Antiquarianism

In summary, starting with the mere curiosity of the past and the materials left from the past, antiquarianism came a long way through time. The collection of touchable objects and recording them, as well as the collection of manuscripts and keeping their copies continuously over centuries, were taken as guiding lights to go into the past. Meanwhile, the other materials attracted attention for their aesthetic beauty. Then, in the late renaissance, the materials became the better half for literature to guide us into the past. With the antiquarian societies, approaches and methods of dealing with antiquities were re-evaluated, and scientific disciplines such as archaeology were born.

Pioneers and All-time Notable Figures in Antiquarianism

Since you know how antiquarianism emerged, originated, rose, and evolved, it is best now that you look into the people involved in this. In this section of this article, we will briefly study the pioneers and all-time notable figures in antiquarianism.

Pioneers in Antiquarianism

1. John Leland: King Henry VIII appointed John Leland (1503–1552) as Royal Antiquary. John Leland was one of the earliest English antiquarians. He conducted quality surveys of England’s monastic libraries and historical sites. He made a remarkable contribution to the preservation of ancient manuscripts and the documentation of historical landmarks.

2. William Camden: William Camden (1551–1623) was the author of the prominent work “Britannia,” which is like an encyclopaedia about the topography, history, and antiquities of Britain. And it was well detailed and comprehensive. This work of his paved the foundation for modern historical geography and antiquarian studies.

3. John Aubrey: John Aubrey (1626-1697) was a polymath who collected and preserved information about famous people, folklore, and archaeological sites. He composed his book “Brief Lives” which is still a good source of historical narratives.

4. Elias Ashmole: Elias Ashmole (1617–1692), who was a collector and scholar, donated his vast collection of manuscripts and other aniquities to the University of Oxford. His donation was the foundation for the famous Ashmolean Museum, which is one of the oldest public museums in the world.

5. William Dugdale: William Dugdale (1605–1686) made important research and documentation. His work contributes greatly to the historiography of Britain. Even today, scholars in the history and archaeology disciplines consider his works, including “Monasticon Anglicanum” and “The Antiquities of Warwickshire,” as significant references for mediaeval history.

Notable Antiquarians of All Time

1. Richard Carew: Richard Carew (1555–1620) was an English antiquary. He is most famous for his publications on the history and geography of Cornwall. His work, “Survey of Cornwall,”  still serves as an important source for studies on the history of Cornwall, England.

2. Robert Cotton: Robert Cotton (1571–1641) made a large collection of manuscripts, historical records, and antiquities. His library, known as the Cotton Library, became an important place for historical researchers.

3. Thomas Hearne: Thomas Hearne (1678–1735) was a scholar and editor. He edited and published manuscripts from the past. Due to his lifetime of antiquary, many of the valuable manuscripts were preserved. 

4. Olaus Wormius: Olaus Wormius (1588–1654) was a Danish physician and antiquary. He contributed to the study of runic inscriptions and ancient manuscripts. His work pioneered studies on the history of Scandinavia.

5. Hans Sloane: Hans Sloane (1660–1753) was a physician and collector. His vast collection was the foundation for the British Museum. So, as is obvious, his passion for antiques and natural history left an everlasting legacy.

These pioneers and all-time notable figures are mentioned here with the rest of the hundreds of anitquarians and their work created and made antiquarianism what it is.

Characteristics of Antiquarianism; The Key Features of Antiquarianism

When it comes to antiquarianism, it is possible that things are a little confusing to understand. We have archaeology, which studies the past through archaeological remains. And then we have history, which examines the past. Therefore, in order to differentiate antiquarianism from archaeology or history, people usually ask questions such as, ‘Were antiquarians interested in the context of ancient objects? In this situation, the best thing to do is examine the characteristics or key features of antiquarianism.

And also, to better understand antiquarianism, we can examine its characteristics. And you already have a basic knowledge of its characteristics, as we discussed its history. You may have noticed that the characteristics tend to change, be replaced, or evolve over time. Therefore, here in this section, the focus will be on addressing both the all-time characteristics of antiquarianism and the characteristics that are unique to its historical phases.

Therefore, we should look at both the all-time overall characteristics as well as the characteristics that are unique to its historical phases. Examining the unique features of its historical phases will show us the development of antiquarianism. Here we can identify three phases of its history, such as:

  1. Antiquarianism before archaeology emerged, or initial antiquarianism in the Renaissance
  2. Antiquarianism at the time archaeology emerged
  3. Antiquarianism after archaeology emerged, or antiquarianism today

The unique characteristics of each as well as their overall characteristics will let us understand antiquarianism better. Also, it will help us differentiate the field from archaeology or history.

Characteristics of Antiquarianism Before Archaeology Emerged, or Initial Antiquarianism in the Renaisssance

1. Antiquities as art: One of the main characteristics of antiquarianism before the emergence of archaeology was its focus on antiquities for their artistic value. Rather than considering them as links to the past, antiquarians considered them works of art. Their historical value is also considered, but only for their value as art. Later on, this trend changed, and again, the true historical value was considered.

2. Antiquities as wealth: At first, in the Renaissance era, antiquities were a sign of wealth. Owning rare antiques became a luxurious lifestyle indicator.

3. The competition for antiquities: Since antiquities were considered art and an indicator of wealth, there was a competition to acquire them. This competition was only for fulfilling the above two considerations rather than for the purpose of studying.

4. Unorganised Excavations: People who engaged in the competition of acquiring antiquities conducted unsystematic, unorganised excavations to dig up the hidden antiques. This trend of digging the earth for antiquities spread rapidly.

5. Dilettantes and dilettantism: As a result of the above characteristics of antiquarianism, elites in society entered the competition more than anyone else. They did not have any knowledge of or interest in studying history. Instead, they focused on the artistic value and the indication of wealth and competitively collected as much as possible. They conducted excavations only, focusing on the possession of antiquities.

6. Display Cabinets: One of the main characteristics that is important to consider is the practice of displaying antiquities on cabinets. In this era, the dilettantes, or antiquarians, displayed their collections of antiques as they considered them indicators of wealth. This can be the root of today’s museum concepts.

8. Destructive Nature: As you may already know, an excavation is considered destruction, even if it is an archaeological excavation. So, the level of destruction caused by unorganised excavations is not so hard to understand. Since the excavators only cared about finding and unearthing antiquities, they damaged the setting of the archaeological deposit and even the antiques themselves. Most of the fragile antiques were shattered into pieces due to the competition that rose with antiquarianism.

9. Intergration with Colonialism: With colonisation that took place after the 15th century, emperors had the chance to explore the rest of the world outside of Europe. Among them, the antiquarians, or dilettantes, rushed to discover the antiques that were hidden in those colonies. Soon, they started excavations and unearthed the indigenous antiquities. Then they shipped those antiquities into their mother countries. Likewise, the effects of antiquarianism continued and spread over the rest of the world with colonialism.

Characteristics of Antiquarianism that were Unique to the Time Archaeology Emerged

The antiquarianism that emerged in the Renaissance evolved as it became more prevalent as a field. It went through slow, gradual, as well as rapid, radical changes over the years. By the time archaeology emerged in the 17th century, antiquarianism had some unique characteristics compared to its original version. These characteristics were the foundation for archaeology to build on.

1. Establishment of Antiquarian Societies: Since antiquarianism has been a popular field of interest for centuries, it has produced its finest individuals. Then, the royals and the individuals who believed that history could be unfolded through antiques wanted to work more organised. Instead of dilettantes or dilettantism, they promoted studying the past through antiques. This way, instead of acting on personal interests, antiquarians began to act on collective decisions to deal with antiquities.

2. Revival of Passion for Learning History: Antiquarianism, in its first appearance, was focused on the artistic value of antiques, as mentioned earlier. But, with time, antiquarians began to look again into their past as well as their artistic value. especially the antiquarian societies, which revived the study of the past through antiquities. Since antiquarianism had produced experts in the field by then, the study of the past through antiques was more advanced and common than it was before the Renaissance era. This changed the perspective towards antiquities, adding historical value to them. This shift in perspective laid the groundwork for the emergence of archaeology, and the changes happened because of archaeology.

3. Focus on material data: As a result of the scientific revolution that took place in the 17th century, antiquarians began to argue their methods and approaches. Earlier, the antiquarians who studied the past focused on traditional literature to unfold history. But with this new approach, their focus was on material evidence to uncover the past. As it is obvious, this contributed to the emergence of archaeology.

4. Introduction of Organised Excavations: The characteristic of conducting careless excavation changed. Instead, the excavation in this version of antiquarianism was more organised, expecting to reduce the damage caused to antiquities. This feature marked one of the key reasons for archaeological excavation to be systematic work.

5. Display Cabinets: Before this era, individuals displays their antiquity collections as art and as an indicator of wealth. The antiquarian societies in this time, adopted this practice of displaying in cabinets. They kept the antiquities they recovered and discovered in state own and society own cabinets for public display. This practice is what led to the museums in archaeology.

7. Intergration with Colonialism: Antiquarianism in this phase also had advantages of colonialism. They conducted expeditions into newly discovered continents in search of antiques and lost civilisations.

8. Voice Against Looting: Until this phase, antiquarians, especially the dilettantes, looted the antiquities they discovered in distant areas of regions. With colonialism, they looted antiques from their original lands and shipped them back to their motherlands and displayed them in cabinets. The voice against this looting began to rise during this time, urging the responsibles to display those antiquities in their original lands. This later became more powerful with the idea of national heritage.

Characteristics of Antiquarianism After Archaeology Emerged; Today

Antiquarianism, after the emergence of archaeology, became different from its former versions. Starting with the 18th century until today, it shows some unique characteristics indicating its evolution over time.

1. Interdisciplinary Approach: Antiquarianism, after the emergence of archaeology or antiquarianism today, adopts an interdisciplinary approach. Since antiquarianism gave birth to fields such as archaeology, art history, numismatics, philology, and literary studies, they now collaborate.

2. Overlapping with New Disciplines: Antiquarianism, after the emergence of archaeology, often overlaps with newly formed disciplines of historical research. It overlaps with a few branches of archaeology, art history, and literary studies. Yet, the field still continues.

3. The Continuation of Preservation and Cataloguing of Antiquities: As you already know, antiquarianism before the Middle Ages focused on preservation and cataloguing antiquities. During the Renaissance, dilettantism undermined this practice. But, by the time archaeology emerged, this practice had risen again and continues today in antiquarian societies around the world. They recover lost manuscripts, preserve them, and are still contributing.

4. Emergence of Genealogy: In the early modern period, antiquarianism was closely associated with genealogy. Many antiquarians were also professional heralds who engaged in researching noble lineages and verifying their true origins. This interest in lineage contributed to the development of genealogy as a scholarly discipline. And during the Renaissance era, the popular competition of antiquarianism as art undermined this field. Then, after the emergence of archaeology, this rose again.

5. Declination of Significance Due to Similar Disciplines: Since many scientific disciplines, such as archaeology, emerged from antiquarianism, antiquarianism itself as a subject has declined over time. Today, it carries a negative sense of historical research in the academic world. That is because of its unnecessary focus on factual but unimportant details and lack of study of historical context. Today, antiquarianism is more likely stuck with the preservation of manuscripts and antiquity collections. The studies that it carries out often depend on scientific studies.

All-time Overall Characteristics of Antiquarianism

Here are some of the overall characteristics of antiquarianism:

1. Focus on Material Culture: The interest of antiquarianism is on material culture. That includes ancient objects, art, architecture, and monuments. Although during times such as the Renaissance, the main focus changed, they always studied these antiques as art as well as links to the past. This interest and study are driven by the mere fascination of the past and material remnants of the past.

2. Focus on Regional and Local Entities: Antiquaries frequently engage in regional or local studies. They engage in recording landscapes, landmarks, and historical monuments within specific geographic units. This localised approach allows for a deeper exploration of regional history and cultural heritage rather than providing a large-scale understanding of the human past.

3. Preservation of Manuscripts: Antiquarianism always shows a special interest in ancient manuscripts. They collected old manuscripts, kept records of them, and made copies of them. that resulted in the preservation of those manuscripts.

In summary, antiquarianism shows unique features in each phase of its journey of evolution, as well as holding some unique features all the time.

Contributions of Antiquarianism; Importance of Antiquarianism

The importance or contribution of antiquarianism is evident as follows:

1. Recovered classical knowledge that led to the Renaissance

Antiquarians have always had a passion for the past. So, they always tried to recover the manuscripts of the past. Because of that, they eventually recovered the knowledge from the past. The most famous example of that is the Renaissance itself. The antiquarians in the Renaissance and the late Middle Ages collected antiques from classical Greece and Rome. They preserved the texts among those antiques and provided access to that lost knowledge. This effort to revive classical knowledge laid the groundwork for the revival of classical arts, literature, and philosophy, known as the Renaissance itself.

2. Preserved Ancient Knowledge and Manuscripts

Even after the Renaissance, antiquarians were the ones who preserved ancient manuscripts. Their careful work in transcribing, copying, and preserving these documents helped safeguard them for the future. Otherwise, they would have been lost or forgotten. These manuscripts provide us with ancient knowledge as well as historical narratives of the past.

3. Revived Ancient Architecture

Antiquarianism had a huge impact on architecture and urban planning during the Renaissance. The study of ancient buildings and architectural styles led to the incorporation of classical elements into new construction. This architectural revival, known as the Renaissance style, transformed European cities and left an indelible mark on the history of art and design.

4. Nurtured cultural identity and nationalism

Antiquarianism and nationalism share a close bond. Scholars and collectors saw the study of their nation’s antiquities as a means to connect with their cultural roots and establish their national identity. This interest in the heritage of their own lands fueled the growth of national museums and the preservation of historical monuments.

5. Contributed to the Development of Humanism and Education

The Renaissance period embraced humanism, a movement that celebrated human potential and achievements than religious perspectives of human creation. Antiquarians, as proponents of this movement, viewed the study of antiquities as a means to educate and enlighten society. Their efforts to catalogue and make knowledge about historical artefacts available contributed to the spread of humanistic ideals and education.

6. Laid the Groundwork for Museums and Museum Collections

Antiquarians established impressive collections of ancient coins, manuscripts, sculptures, and curiosities. These collections became repositories of knowledge and sources of inspiration for scholars, artists, and thinkers of the era. They also paved the way for the development of modern museums.

7. Started the Study of the Past through Material Remains

Antiquarianism was the first organised field of interest to study the past through material remains. Though antiquarians did not study the past of human societies through material remains, they studied the past of antiquities. They shared the fascination of the past, and they made a mark by identifying the link between antiques and the past. And with time, antiquarianism began to study the antiquities to gain insights into the past. This was the foundation for archaeology, which is the scientific discipline of studying the past. Otherwise, the study of the past would have become no more than a folk tale constructed based on stories written in the manuscripts. Therefore, the most important contribution of antiquarianism, from my point of view, is its contribution to historical research through material remains.

Pros and Cons of Antiquarianism

Antiquarianism not only had a positive impact, but it also had a negative impact. So it is important to look at the pros and cons, or advantages and disadvantages, of antiquarianism.

Pros or Advantages of Antiquarianism

Pros or advantages of antiquarianism is as same as what we discussed under the importance or contributions of antiquarianism. However, this includes, preservation of manuscripts, revival of ancient knowledge, recording and collecting possible rare details and antiquities.

Cons or Disadvantages of Antiquarianism: Negative Impact of Antiquarianism

1. No Focus on the Historical Context of Antiquities: Antiquarianism focuses on the past of antiques only. It does not focus on the historical context. It only describes the antique itself, rather than diving into the past through it. That reduces the chance of a deeper understanding of the past.

2. Insight into the past is always, if not in most cases, is fragmented: Antiquarianism’s narrow focus on specific artefacts or periods may result in fragmented historical knowledge. That means antiquarianism cannot provide us with a complete understanding of the past.

3. Looting of Antiquities: Specifically in the renaissance era, The fierce competition for antiquities led to looting for them. That caused damage not only to antiquities but also to cultural heritage. Especially during colonialism, antiquarians looted ancient cultural heritage from all around the world. That resulted in the original lands and the indigenous people being left with only ruins and destruction, while colonials had their value.

4. Destruction from Unorganised Excavations: During the Renaissance era, there was fierce competition for antiquities, leading to looting, ransacking, and despoiling of historical sites. The unorganised and impatient excavations of antiquities caused significant damage to valuable historical remnants. It became evident that a more systematic and methodological approach was essential to preserving and studying these artefacts effectively.

5. Inefficiency when compared with archaeology: Since antiquarianism doesn’t have scientific approaches like archaeology does, historical research can be inefficient.

Since antiquarianism and archaeology are related to each other, many people ask questions about them. Some ask what antiquarianism is in archaeology or, What is antiquarianism in archaeology? Some ask, What is the difference between archaeology and antiquarianism? All of these questions show the confusion regarding archaeology and antiquarianism. Here, I hope to provide an adequate answer to all of them.

Archaeology vs. Antiquarianism: The Difference Between Archaeology and Antiquarianism

While both antiquarianism and archaeology share an interest in the past, they differ significantly in their approaches and objectives.

1. Purpose: Antiquarianism is a field of interest driven by a fascination with antiquities and cultural heritage, often for aesthetic or personal reasons. But archaeology is a scientific discipline that focuses on studying past human culture, behaviour, and cognition through material remains left from the past.

2. Methodology: Archaeology employs systematic scientific methods to excavate, analyse, and interpret material culture. Antiquarianism may lack this systematic approach and scientific precision.

3. Interdisciplinary Nature: Archaeology is inherently interdisciplinary, integrating scientific techniques and theories from multiple fields. Antiquarianism tends to be more humanistic and literary in its approach.

4. Preservation vs. Investigation: Antiquarianism focuses on preservation and appreciation of the past. But archaeology seeks to investigate, reconstruct, and analyse the human past.

5. Material Data: Both antiquarianism and archaeology deal with material remains from the past. Antiquarianism focuses on cultural materials that humans crafted and sometimes the natural remains of the past, such as shells and ivory. But the range of archaeology is vast. In archaeology, we study materials that are directly connected with past human culture or indicate past human culture. Antiquarianism does not focus on material evidence such as garbage pits, post holes, wear and tear marks on a road, etc., but in archaeology a wide variety of material remains such as artefacts, ecofacts, features, and structures are studied.

Examples of Antiquarianism

Here are a few examples of antiquarianism out of hundreds, if not thousands.

1. John Aubrey’s Monumenta Britannica: In the 17th century, John Aubrey, an English antiquary, created “Monumenta Britannica,” a ollection of inscriptions, drawings, and descriptions of ancient monuments and artefacts found in Britain. His work established the framework for the systematic documentation of historical remains.

2. Petrarch’s Manuscript Collection: The Italian scholar Petrarch (1304–1374) collected ancient manuscripts, coins, and inscriptions, considering them valuable relics of the classical past. His extensive collection is a prime example of early antiquarianism.

3. The Ashmolean Museum: The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, is one of the oldest public museums in the world. Elias Ashmole founded it in the late 17th century. It began as an archive for Ashmole’s collection of fascinations, including antiquities, coins, and natural specimens.

4. The Dering Roll: Dering Roll is a mediaeval English roll of arms that continues since the late 13th century. It documents the coats of arms of 324 knights. It provides information about mediaeval heraldry and chivalry and is an example of the early interest in preserving historical records.

5. Paul-Émile Botta’s Collection: Botta was a French archaeologist in the 19th century who discovered the winged bull statues from Assyria. And this artefact was looted in Europe, marking the artefact looting that happened with antiquarianism under the colonials.

6. Ancient Coin Collections: Many collectors, such as the Medici family in Renaissance Italy, created vast collections of ancient coins, considering them both valuable currency and historical artifacts. These collections paved the way for numismatics, a branch of antiquarianism.


Antiquarianism was a passion for antiques, considering them art, which evolved into a study of old and rare objects and their histories. First, it was a mere fascination with objects and monuments from the past. Then the fascination turned into collecting those material remains. Recording and describing them came later. Then looking for their past emerged. Next, the focus was on manuscripts. That led to the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, antiques were art and a form of indicator of wealth. Then dilettantism rose. Opposed to that, antiquarian societies and archaeology emerged. However, throughout all those thousands of years, antiquarianism brought the historical record into what we practice today. It helped us understand the past. And most importantly, it brought about the Renaissance, which changed the whole world.