“His Majesty…has dispatched a few days ago by the vessel Greenland a group of scholars, who will travel by way of the Mediterranean to Constantinople, and thence through Egypt to Arabia Felix, and subsequently return by way of Syria to Europe; they will on all occasions seek to make new discoveries and observations for the benefit of scholarship…” – Copenhagen Post, 12th January, 1761
Carsten Niebuhr survived malaria, earthquakes, civil wars, bandits, plagues and the deaths of all his colleagues to successfully complete the first modern scientific expedition to the Near East.
Series References and Further Reading:
8 thoughts on “Episode R2 – Arabia Felix”
This Danish expedition is fascinating, and Carsten Niebuhr is an amazing character. I just got hold of and am reading Arabia Felix by Thorkild Hansen. Thanks for including this in the podcast.
Glad you enjoyed it! He's one of my favorite characters – and almost totally unknown! There's much more to his story than I was able to include in the episode, so I'm sure you'll enjoy the book. Take care! – Scott C.
I came back to listen to it again. I love your comment: “Luckily he had no first born son to be killed and the locust …” : ) : )
And well I did to come back to this episode – only this time I noticed Niebuhr had been in the city I live in, Warsaw – wow!!! Pity I was not alive at that time, would have taken a selfie with him ; ).
Take care, thank you : )
He’s a true hero of cuneiform studies!
Oh, and one – more academic – thing. It is interesting to note that the Persians and other inhabitants of the Persian Empire under whoever was the ruler did not actually know nor realise what “Persepolis” was. In the Persian language it is called “Takht-e Jamshid”, meaning the Throne of Jamshid, with Jamshid being a mythical king.
All the inhabitants of Persia aka Iran knew about Takht-e Jamshid came from the national epic “The Book of the Kings” composed by Ferdousi in the 11th century. They were not aware of its origin nor past character nor relation to the Achemenians. The ruins had drifted into the realm of mythology… They also had little information about the Ahemenians themselves.
So – although we now say, Niebuhr visited “Persepolis”, as you said in your episode – being there he was not aware of the place being Persepolis. He probably also called it to himself the Throne of Jamshid, the way local guides must have introduced it to him. Neither he knew this actually WAS Persepolis, nor anybody else from among the living.
Only after the decipherment and other scholarly research did the European scholars realise what the place was. That it was one of the capitals of the ancient Achemenian Empire, the place Dariush and Xerxes had their palaces, the place Alexander the Great is supposed to have burned down. The place that used to be called by the ancient Greeks “The City of the Persians”. And this is how this complex of ruins has started to be called by the European world. In Iran – until this day, it is still called Throne of Jamshid.
All this makes Niebuhr’s interest in Takht-e Jamshid and his input in discovering the true nature and history of the place even more notable and appreciable.
So, it could be said that by discovering Takht-e Jamshid aka Persepolis, their interest in the scirpt and its decipherement as well as by deciphering the Behistun inscription, European scholars have actually given Persia/Iran back its historical, non-mythological past,
That’s very interesting, I didn’t know that. I assumed that the nature of Persepolis was known at the time. Thanks!
A very interesting discussion of Persepolis and its role during the earlier Shahs of the Achaemenid Empire and latest archealogical excavations:
Thanks! “In Our Time” is a wonderful podcast. I very much enjoyed their episode on The Epic of Gilgamesh also.