Michel Fourmont (1690–1746) was a French antiquarian and -a so called- classical scholar, Catholic priest and traveller. A member of the Académie des Inscriptions, he was one of the scholars sent by Louis XV to the eastern Mediterranean to collect inscriptions and manuscripts.[1] He is now best remembered for having presented as genuine some forged inscriptions.


His father was Étienne Fourmont of Herblay in the Paris region, a surgeon and official; Étienne Fourmont (1683–1745) was his brother. He became a Catholic priest, and an orientalist pupil of his brother in Paris[2]

Fourmont became a private tutor, and was given the Chair of Syriac at the Collège royal in 1720.[3] He was admitted as an associate of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1724.[4]

In 1728 Fourmont was sent by Louis XV to Constantinople and Greece, leaving in 1729 with François Sevin.[5] They were under instructions from Jean-Paul Bignon to search out surviving Byzantine manuscripts,[6] and the journey was supported by the Comte de Maurepas, for the greater glory of French scholarship.[7]

While Sevin tried networking in Constantinople, Fourmont travelled in Greece and around the Aegean Sea. His first goal was manuscripts, and he built up good contacts in Athens. He collected hundreds of inscriptions, and ran a dig at ancient Sparta.[7]

Fourmont confesses in a letter sent to Count Maurepas that he copied 1,500 ancient inscriptions (300 in Sparta) and brags about destroying them in order to avoid access to the information by any future travellers.[citation needed] In his letter Fourmont writes:

“For more than 30 days, 40 to 60 workers are, destroying the city of Sparta. I am still left with four towers to destroy. At the moment I am engaged with the destruction of the last ancient monuments of Sparta. You understand how happy I am. Mantinia, Stimfalia, Tegea, Nemea and Olympia are also worth annihilating. I have travelled extensively looking for ancient cities of this country and I have destroyed some of them. Among them are Trizina, Ermioni, Tiryns: half of the acropolis of Argos, Fliasia and Fenesia. For six weeks I have been busy with the total destruction of Sparta: destroying walls, temples and not leaving one stone on its place making the site unrecognisable in the future so that I can make it famous again.In this way I will give glory to my expeditions. Is that not something?”

In another part of his letter he writes about Sparta:

“‘Sparta is the fifth city I have destroyed. I am now working on the demolition of the deeper foundation of the temple of Apollo. I would destroy more temples if I was allowed to do so. The tower, I completely demolished.”

About the ancient city of Trizina:

“I have destroyed all that was left from the fortress and the temples”

He then states:

“I do not know of any travellers before me that dared to destroy towers and other large buildings”

Fourmont is responsible for the anhillition of ancient Sparta, Trizina and Ermioni. According to information provided by Fourmont, he paid 1,200 days of labour for the destruction of monuments. If Fourmont had not been called back to France he would have also destroyed ancient Olympia as planned.[citation needed]

Back in France, Fourmont published only a short report.[7] He was elected a member of the Royal Society on 4 November 1742.[8] His claims about the discovery of inscriptions at Sparta were fraudulent, as was uncovered in 1791 and since he destroyed the original inscriptions. Fourmont's posthumous reputation then collapsed.[9]


In 1791 Richard Payne Knight published An Analytical Essay on the Greek Alphabet, in which he argued that Fourmont himself was the author of forged inscriptions in his collection. A controversy began.[10] Fourmont's collection of inscriptions was transcribed in 1815 by Immanuel Bekker.[11] The collection of 26 from Amyclae, about which doubts had been raised, were shown to be forgeries by August Böckh. All his published work was then invalidated; but there remained a substantially larger collection of unpublished material.[12]


  1. ^ Susan Bracken; Andrea M. Gáldy; Adriana Turpin (11 September 2013). Collecting East and West. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 19 note 7. ISBN 978-1-4438-5259-3.
  2. ^ Cécile Leung (1 January 2002). Etienne Fourmont (1683-1745). Leuven University Press. pp. 22, 24. ISBN 978-90-5867-248-3.
  3. ^ Christie, Richard Copley (1902). "Selected Essays and Papers. Edited with a memoir by William A. Shaw". Internet Archive. Longmans. Green & Co. p. 67. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  4. ^ "Fourmont (le jeune) Michel, Le comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  5. ^ Gábor Klaniczay; Otto Gécser; Michael Werner (September 2011). Multiple Antiquities - Multiple Modernities: Ancient Histories in Nineteenth Century European Cultures. Campus Verlag. pp. 300–1. ISBN 978-3-593-39101-4.
  6. ^ David Le Roy (2004). The Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece. Getty Publications. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-89236-669-9.
  7. ^ a b c Christopher Drew Armstrong (15 April 2013). Julien-David Leroy and the Making of Architectural History. Routledge. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-135-76396-1.
  8. ^ "Royal Society, DServe Archive Persons Show, Fourmont; Michel (1690 - 1746)". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  9. ^ Richard Stoneman (4 January 2011). Land of Lost Gods: The Search for Classical Greece. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-84885-423-9.
  10. ^ Notes and Queries. Oxford University Press. 1872. p. 369.
  11. ^ John Edwin Sandys (1964). A History of Classical Scholarship ...: From the sixth century B.C. to the end of the Middle Ages. 1. CUP Archive. p. 86. GGKEY:WR14Z6EDD45.
  12. ^ John Edwin Sandys (1964). A History of Classical Scholarship ...: From the sixth century B.C. to the end of the Middle Ages. 1. CUP Archive. p. 99 with note 2. GGKEY:WR14Z6EDD45.