Aurel Stein was born on November 26, 1862 in Pest as the third child of a highly educated bourgeois family. His education was overseen not by his elderly parents, but rather by his uncle on his mother’s side, the eye-specialist Ignác Hirschler, the founder of Hungarian ophthalmology. Thanks to the scholarly network at his disposal, at a very young age, Aurel was able to make contact with the most eminent representatives of Hungarian intellectual life.
He was educated partly in Budapest and partly in Dresden. He received his high school diploma from the Lutheran school of Budapest, then continued his university studies with the support of Hungarian state scholarships in Vienna, Leipzig and Tubingen, mastering fields as diverse as comparative philology, Indology and Iranistics. Aurel Stein obtained his doctoral degree in 1883.
Between 1884 and 1886 he conducted research in Oxford, Cambridge and London. In the meantime, in 1885-86 he came back for his compulsory military training, completing the yearlong volunteers’ course at the Ludovika Academy in Budapest. Unable to obtain a position in Hungarian universities, Aurel Stein left for India where he worked until his death in the fields of education and of archaeology.
His scholarly interest focused from the very beginning on the historical connections between India, Iran, China and the West. His name and work is already inseparable from the history of the Silk Road.
In the first ten years spent in India, Aurel Stein pursued philological activity mainly. His first opus magnum was the critical edition and translation of the Rajatarangini, the 12th-century Kashmirian chronicle by Kalhana. From 1900, however, he focused his attention on archaeology. During the excavations realized between 1900 and 1916 in Central Asia, primarily in Chinese Turkestan, he uncovered the sand-buried settlements of the Silk Road, and collected a rich source material that shed new light on the history, art, religions and languages of this region.
In 1926 he traced the route of Alexander the Great in Northwestern India, and after this he turned his attention to the Western part of the Silk Road. Aurel Stein did excavations in Persia, and he mapped the ancient Roman limes in Iraq, Syria and Transjordan. During the Second World War he continued his research in India.
In 1943 Aurel Stein arrived to Afghanistan, but unfortunately, he never managed to realize his cherished dream of conducting research in the territory of ancient Bactria. Some days after his arrival, exactly a month before his 81th birthday, on October 26, 1943 he died in Kabul.