Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon

Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon

5.0 1
by Lesley Adkins
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions


From 1827 Henry Rawlinson, fearless soldier, sportsman and imperial adventurer of the first rank, spent twenty-five years in India, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in the service of the East India Company. During this time he survived the dangers of disease and warfare, including the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War. A gifted linguist, fascinated by history and… See more details below

Overview


From 1827 Henry Rawlinson, fearless soldier, sportsman and imperial adventurer of the first rank, spent twenty-five years in India, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in the service of the East India Company. During this time he survived the dangers of disease and warfare, including the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War. A gifted linguist, fascinated by history and exploration, he became obsessed with cuneiform, the world's earliest writing. An immense inscription high on a sheer rock face at Bisitun in the mountains of western Iran, carved on the orders of King Darius the Great of Persia over 2,000 years ago, was the key to understanding the many cuneiform scripts and languages. Only Rawlinson had the physical and intellectual skills, courage, self-motivation and opportunity to make the perilous ascent and copy the monument.

Here, Lesley Adkins relates the story of Rawlinson's life and how he triumphed in deciphering the lost languages of Persia and Babylonia, overcoming his brilliant but bitter rival, Edward Hincks. While based in Baghdad, Rawlinson became involved in the very first excavations of the ancient mounds of Mesopotamia, from Nineveh to Babylon, an area that had been fought over by so many powerful empires. His decipherment of the inscriptions resurrected unsuspected civilizations, revealing intriguing details of everyday life and forgotten historical events. By proving to the astonished Victorian public that people and places in the Old Testament really existed (and, furthermore, that documents and chronicles had survived from well before the writing of the Bible), Rawlinson became a celebrity and assured his own place in history.


Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What Francois Champollion was to Egyptian hieroglyphics, Henry Rawlinson was to Babylonian cuneiform. In 1833 Rawlinson was a brash, courageous and talented young British military officer and amateur philologist posted in Persia. He eagerly-and at great personal risk-devoted himself to the first comprehensive study of the famed cuneiform inscriptions at Bisitun, which covered a remote cliff face as large as a football field, having been commissioned circa 515 B.C. by Darius I of Persia as a personal monument. Over the course of 30 years, punctuated by a breathless succession of military campaigns, political intrigue and instability during which he earned honor and fame, Rawlinson pursued with dogged serenity the deciphering of the cuneiform pictographs. He benefited from the similarly dedicated efforts of a small fraternity of like-minded scholars(though competitive rivalries would embitter the fraternity). Adkins, a British author of several books on archeology and antiquity, admits this biography is limited. Rawlinson the man never comes to life. What must have been a fascinating and even passionate pursuit is only dimly illuminated. Dedicated philologists may rejoice, but for readers seeking a more human story, the man who solved the enigma of cuneiform remains undeciphered. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW, 3 maps. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky. (Dec. 13) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The deciphering of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing is a relatively well-known achievement, but the decoding of cuneiform writing is far less known and all the more remarkable because it was made possible by a trilingual inscription including no known language. Adkins, who has authored numerous archaeology books, explores the early life of Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-95), whom the great Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer called one of cuneiform's holy triad (with Irish Assyriologist Edward Hincks and French philologist Jules Oppert). In 1827, Rawlinson went to India as a young soldier with the British East India Company, where he learned Hindi, Sanskrit, and Persian. His experiences in the Anglo-Afghan War, Persia, and Iraq under Ottoman rule all resonate with today's headlines. While in Persia, Rawlinson first encountered the Bisitun inscriptions. Using his knowledge of Sanskrit and Persian, he began to crack the cuneiform code, a quest already taken up by other scholars in Britain, France, and Germany; the international race was on! Adkins brings to life the intellectual rivalries by quoting journals and letters. Recommended for public and academic libraries. (Illustrations not seen.)-Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Pierce, FL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A surprisingly action-packed biography of the soldier, adventurer, athlete, scholar, and diplomat whose exploits in deciphering cuneiform scripts literally forced a revelation of the originality and depth of ancient Mesopotamian cultures onto a skeptical Western world. Never mind that Sir Henry Rawlinson (1810-95) was essentially James Bond in the flesh a century before Ian Fleming was born. His ultimate impact, British reference-book author Adkins reminds us, was to finally wither the precept universally held in mid-19th-century that if Adam spoke to Eve it was in Hebrew, "the language that was spoken in Paradise." An English schoolboy who once fretted that his grasp of Greek and Latin might clutter his mind, Rawlinson signed on in his teens as a subaltern in a regiment of native troops in colonial India, where he learned the required fluent Hindustani, then studied Persian. Posted with troops under his command to offer military aid and curry favor for the Empire with the Persian Shah, Rawlinson was eventually able in his spare time to range from Baghdad (then under Turkish rule) to indulge in what became his obsession: inspecting antiquities. His focus narrowed to the cuneiform inscriptions often carved into monuments of apparent great age, as well as pressed into clay tablets littered in mounds of ancient habitation all over the Middle East. At great personal risk, he climbed a sheer rock wall at Bisitun in Persia and, balanced on a rickety ladder, meticulously copied a cuneiform inscription ordained by King Darius in 520 b.c. proclaiming his greatness in three different languages. Adkins posits this, rather than Egypt's Rosetta Stone, as ultimately the most significant cipher infinally unlocking ancient Sumerian languages (Assyrian and Babylonian), including original parables, law codes, and legends traceable thousands of years later in the Judeo-Christian Bible, including stories of Genesis and the Flood. Well-told story of a life dedicated to scholarship, with great adventures and derring-do an unexpected bonus.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466838383
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
12/13/2004
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
448
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author


Lesley Adkins, an archaeologist and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, is the author of several reference books as well as The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphs, the account of the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. She lives in Devon, England, and is married to Roy Adkins, also an archaeologist and writer.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >