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Jean-Yves Empereur: A Career in Ruins


“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” How often have we seen these words appear on the big screen, on TV, or in print? But oddly enough, there was one occasion where the resemblance to a fictional character in a Tomb Raider game was perhaps a little too close for comfort. Does the name Jean Yves ring any bells?

An old photo of Jean-Yves Empereur (left) and Lara's friend Jean Yves from The Last Revelation (right)

An old photo of archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur (left) and Lara’s friend Jean Yves from Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (right)

In 2001, the Alexandria-based Egyptologist and archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur filed a complaint against Eidos Interactive for using his likeness in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, which prompted Eidos to issue a public apology through the French newspaper Le Monde and forced them to drop the Jean Yves character from any future game releases. A storm in a teacup, perhaps, but when you consider that the fictional Jean Yves shares Empereur’s given name, nationality, profession, fashion sense *and* also happens to live in Alexandria, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how Empereur had made the connection. Nevertheless, Eidos up kept their end of the bargain and replaced Jean Yves with a new character, Charles Kane, in Tomb Raider: Chronicles. Lara’s friend Jean Yves was never heard from or spoken of again…

But what of the real Jean-Yves?

Jean-Yves Empereur began his illustrious academic career as a student of Classical Literature at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in the early 1970s before going on to complete a PhD in Archaeology in 1977. He spent the next decade as a researcher and then Secretary General of the French Archaeological School in Athens, specializing in the study of Hellenistic trade and commerce and participating in numerous on-land and underwater excavations in Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Empereur first visited Alexandria during a brief stint as a professor of linguistics at Cairo University and his interest in the ancient port city led him to move to Egypt, where he set up the Centre for Alexandrian Studies (Centre d’Études Alexandrines) in 1990.

As the founder and director of France’s official archaeological mission in Alexandria, Empereur became intimately aware of the city’s multicultural past, its significance as a major trading port in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, and how the centuries of Greek, Roman and Islamic rule have shaped the modern-day city. Since much of the ancient city lies up to 10 metres below the modern street level and Alexandria has undergone rapid urban redevelopment over the past couple of decades, Empereur and his team have personally overseen over a dozen rescue excavations across the city and regularly stumble upon centuries-old cisterns. which were once part of the vast network of subterranean canals that supplied the city with fresh water from the Nile.

Jean-Yves Empereur being interviewed on France24 in 2009
(Image credit: France24)

However, Jean-Yves Empereur’s crowning achievement was the discovery of the submerged ruins of ancient Alexandria in the city’s harbour. In 1993, Empereur and a film crew were diving near the fortress of Qaitbay to film a documentary on underwater archaeology when they discovered hundreds of building blocks, columns, obelisks and statues strewn across the sea floor beneath them, dangerously close to the new breakwater that was being laid down in the harbour. Asma el-Bakri, the cinematographer that had accompanied Empereur on the dive, alerted government officials to the discovery and construction was halted long enough for Empereur’s team to conduct a detailed survey of the area and relics, which numbered in their thousands. Subsequent underwater excavations by Empereur and fellow French underwater archaeologist, Franck Goddio, revealed that the ancient city had been destroyed by seismic activity and rising sea levels. Empereur believes that some of the larger building blocks found off the coast may have come from the collapsed Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Even after so many years, Alexandria continues to reveal its secrets, helping Empereur and others to piece together the history of its underwater city.

Today, Empereur is considered one of the leading experts on Alexandrian archaeology and cultural history and he has been frequently commended for his role in safeguarding Alexandria’s cultural heritage and promoting tourism to this often overlooked city. He has made numerous appearances on television, assisted in the production of a number of documentaries on Alexandria, is a renowned researcher for the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique), holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel, and has published over a dozen books in French and English, including Alexandria Rediscovered (1998), Alexandria: Jewel of Egypt (Harry N. Abrams, 2002), and Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future (Thames & Hudson, 2002). With such an impressive resumé, you can see why a certain adventurer may have wanted to exploit his expertise, non? ;)

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About Kelly M (238 Articles)
A Gibraltarian-born writer, blogger, gamer, and archaeology enthusiast with a passion for languages, wildlife conservation, East Asian cultures and all things ancient. Tweets under the username @TRArchaeology.

2 Comments on Jean-Yves Empereur: A Career in Ruins

  1. Excellent article, as always. :) I wouild have thought the real Jean-Yves would have been over the moon to be a video game character. I know I would. But I guess if you’re not a gamer, and you see yourself in pixels, and imagine someone’s getting rich off your likeness–whether or not it’s true–it would tend to make a person suspicious. I loved Jean-Yves in the game, but I guess he was a little dumpy. Maybe the real J-Y thought the portrayal was less than flattering. ;)

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    • I’ve tried but failed to find out why he took offence to the Jean Yves character. Maybe he was afraid his apparent association with a game that portrays archaeologists as tomb raiders would damage his reputation. Or perhaps he didn’t like Eidos using his likeness without permission or paying him likeness rights. Who knows? Either way, this whole incident has now made him a little more well-known throughout the Tomb Raider fandom. ;-)

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