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The Middle East as Seen Through Foreign Eyes

Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century

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Carsten Niehbuhr, Explorer, in Native Dress (Carsten Niebuhr opdagelsesrejsende)

Carsten Niehbuhr, Explorer, in Native Dress (Carsten Niebuhr opdagelsesrejsende)

Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815 CE) joined an expedition of discovery sent by the Danish king Frederik V to Egypt, Syria, and South Arabia in 1761. He was the expedition’s surveyor and cartographer, and also its only survivor. After continuing from Arabia to western India, he returned through Iran, Palestine, and Cyprus. When he returned to Denmark in 1768, he brought back not only his own maps and surveys and his deceased colleagues’ records on botany and natural history, but also detailed descriptions of geography, society, and monuments. He also made and published the first accurate copies of cuneiform inscriptions from Persepolis. These became the basis for the first steps in the decipherment of the cuneiform scripts that eventually revealed thousands of years of ancient Near Eastern history.

Niebuhr’s portrayal here does not reflect the hardships that he experienced. The contrast between his serene confidence in the foreground and the brutal scene in the background reflects the publisher’s notions about his audience’s mixture of fascination and fear about the East.

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