Edith Porada was the daughter of a wealthy Austrian landowning family. She graduated from the University of Vienna in 1935, having written her dissertation on ancient glyptic art. She went to Paris to study at the Louvre, and in 1938 emigrated to the USA. She taught art history and archeology at Queens College in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1958, rising to the rank of full professor in 1964. She became famous as an authority on ancient Near Eastern art history and archaeology and the world's leading expert on ancient cylinder seals.
She was honorary curator of Seals and Tablets at the J.P. Morgan Library from 1956 onward. Prof. Porada led a 1968 Columbia expedition to Cyprus that startled the archeological world when she discovered a lead weight that provided evidence for a close commercial tie between Cyprus and the Greek islands in the Late Bronze Age.
She was much in demand as a public speaker and published several classic works, including The Art of Ancient Iran (1965).