Hormuzd Rassam (1826 – 16 September 1910) (Syriac: ܗܪܡܙܕ
ܪܣܐܡ), was an Assyriologist who made a number of important
archaeological discoveries from 1877 to 1882, including the clay
tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world's oldest
literature. He is accepted as the first-known Ottoman and Middle
Eastern archaeologist. He was known to be Christian. Later in life, he
emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he was naturalized as a British
citizen, settling in Brighton. He represented the government as a
diplomat, helping to free British diplomats from captivity in
1.1 Early life
1.2 Early archaeological career
1.3 Diplomatic career
1.4 Later archaeological career
1.5 Archaeological reputation
1.6 Published works
2 Personal life
3 See also
6 External links
Hormuzd Rassam was an Iraqi
Christian born in
Mosul in Upper
Mesopotamia (now modern northern Iraq), then part of the Ottoman
Empire. His parents were Christians, members of the Chaldean Catholic
Church. His father, Anton Rassam, was from Mosul, and was
archdeacon in the Assyrian Church of the East; his mother Theresa was
a daughter of Isaak Halabee of Aleppo, also then within the Ottoman
Empire. Hormuzd's brother was British Vice-Consul in Mosul,
which was how he obtained his start with Layard.
Early archaeological career
At the age of 20 in 1846, Rassam was hired by British archaeologist
Austen Henry Layard
Austen Henry Layard as a pay master at Nimrud, a nearby Assyrian
excavation site. Layard, who was in
Mosul on his first expedition
(1845–47), was impressed by the hard-working Rassam and took him
under his wing; they would remain friends for life. Layard provided an
opportunity for Rassam to travel to
England and study at Magdalen
College, Oxford. He studied there for 18 months before accompanying
Layard on his second expedition to
Layard left archeology to begin a political career. Rassam continued
field work (1852–54) at
Nimrud and Nineveh, where he made a number
of important and independent discoveries. These included the clay
tablets that would later be deciphered by George Smith as the Epic of
Gilgamesh, the world's oldest written narrative poem. The tablets'
description of a flood myth written 1000 years prior to the earliest
record of the Biblical story of Noah, caused much debate at the time
about the Biblical narrative of ancient history.
Rassam returned to England. With the help of Layard, he began a new
career in government with a posting to the British Consulate in Aden,
quickly rising to the post of First Political Resident and
facilitating a number of agreements between the British and formerly
hostile local community leaders. In 1866, an international crisis
Ethiopia when British missionaries were taken hostage by
Emperor Tewodros II.
England decided to send Rassam as an ambassador
with a message from
Queen Victoria in the hope of resolving the
situation peacefully. After being delayed for about a year in Massawa,
Rassam at last received permission from the Emperor to enter his
realm. Due to rebellions in Tigray Province, Rassam was forced to
follow a circuitous route taking him to Kassala, then to
the western shore of
Lake Tana before finally meeting with Emperor
Tewodros in northern Gojjam. At first his effort seemed promising, as
the Emperor established him at Qorata, a village on the south-eastern
shores of Lake Tana, and sent him numerous gifts. The emperor sent the
British consul Charles Duncan Cameron, the missionary Henry Aaron
Stern, and the other hostages to his encampment.
Rassam (far left) with the other captives of Tewodros II
However, about this time Charles Tilstone Beke, arrived at Massawa,
and forwarded letters from the hostages' families to Tewodros asking
for their release. At the least Beke's actions only made Tewodros
suspicious. Rassam, writing in his memoirs of the incident, is more
direct: "I date the change in the King's conduct towards me, and the
misfortunes which eventually befell the members of the Mission and the
old captives, from this day." The monarch suddenly changed his
mind, and made Rassam a prisoner as well. The British hostages were
held for two years until English and Indian troops under Robert
Napier, 1st Baron Napier of Magdala in the 1868 British Expedition to
Abyssinia resolved the standoff by defeating the warlord and his
army. Rassam's reputation was damaged in newspaper accounts because
he was unfairly portrayed as ineffectual in dealing with the emperor.
This reflected Victorian prejudices of the time against
"Orientals". However, Rassam did have supporters, both in the press
and especially in Government amongst both Liberal and Tory ministers.
In 1869, the London Quarterly Review received Rassam's memoir of the
Abyssinian crisis positively, acknowledged Rassam's qualifications for
the mission and defended his actions under difficult circumstances:
[I]t will remove any doubts that may still exist as to the origin of
his mission, the wisdom of the selection of its chief, and the manner
in which a task of extraordinary difficulty, delicacy, and danger was
performed...it [is] shown by Mr. Rassam that two successive
Governments should have expressed their entire approval of his conduct
Lord Stanley has done, that he is above party of a public officer who
has been unjustly attacked and condemned; and in a letter to Mr.
Rassam, laid before Parliament, he expressed the high sense
entertained by Her Majesty's Government of his conduct during the
difficult and arduous period of his employment under the Foreign
Office, and declared that he had acted throughout for the best, and
that his prudence, discretion, and good management seem to have tended
greatly to preserve the peace. [and secured] prisoners in the most
serious risk... This ample recognition of his services, coming from so
high and impartial a quarter, ought to afford ample compensation to
Ram for the injustice and cruelty - we might almost say malignity - of
the attacks made upon his personal character and his public conduct,
both in Parliament and the press, when he was in captivity and unable
to reply or to defend himself.
Queen Victoria presented him with a purse of £5,000 for services
rendered as her envoy in the crisis.
Rassam resumed his archaeological work, but did undertake other tasks
for the British government in later years. During the Russo-Turkish
War (1877–78), he undertook a mission of inquiry to report on the
condition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek
Christian communities of
Anatolia and Armenia.
Later archaeological career
From 1877 to 1882, while undertaking four expeditions on behalf of the
British Museum, Rassam made some important discoveries. Numerous finds
of significance were transported to the Museum, thanks to an agreement
made with the Ottoman Sultan by Rassam's old colleague Austen Henry
Layard, now Ambassador at Constantinople, allowing Rassam to return
and continue their earlier excavations and to "pack and dispatch to
England any antiquities [he] found … provided, however, there were
no duplicates." A representative of the Sultan was instructed to be
present at the dig to examine the objects as they were uncovered.
Assyria his chief finds were the Ashurnasirpal temple in Nimrud
(Calah), the cylinder of
Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, and two of the
unique and historically important bronze strips from the Balawat
Gates. He identified the famous
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Hanging Gardens of Babylon with the
mound known as Babil. He excavated a palace of
Nebuchadnezzar II at
In March 1879 at the site of the
Esagila in Babylon, Rassam found the
Cyrus Cylinder, the famous declaration of
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great that was
issued in 539 BCE to commemorate the Achaemenid Empire's conquest of
At Abu Habba in 1881, Rassam discovered the temple of the sun at
Sippar. There he found a Cylinder of Nabonidus and the stone tablet of
Nabu-apla-iddina of Babylon with its ritual bas-relief and
inscription. Besides these, he discovered some 50,000 clay tablets
containing the temple accounts.
After 1882, Rassam lived mainly at Brighton, England. He wrote about
Assyro-Babylonian exploration, the ancient
Christian peoples of the
Near East, and current religious controversies in England.
Rassam's discoveries attracted worldwide attention. The Italian Royal
Academy of Sciences at
Turin awarded him the Brazza prize of 12,000
francs for the four years from 1879 to 1882. He was elected as a
fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Society of Biblical
Archaeology, and the Victoria Institute.
Sir Henry Rawlinson, the "Father of Assyriology", was a linguist who
was a key figure in the deciphering of cuneiform, also one of the
trustees of the
British Museum at the time of Rassam's later
excavations. He had been British Consul in Baghdad at the time of
Rassam's original excavations at Nineveh, and had been placed in
charge of the British excavations in 1853. Rawlinson alleged that
he should receive the credit for the discovery of Ashurbanipal's
palace himself. Rassam, he wrote, was just a "digger" who had overseen
the work. In Rassam's defence, Layard wrote that he was, "one of the
honestest and most straightforward fellows I ever knew, and one whose
services have never been acknowledged".
Rassam believed that the credit for some of his other discoveries had
been taken by senior
British Museum staff. In 1893 Rassam had sued the
British Museum keeper
E. A. Wallis Budge
E. A. Wallis Budge in the British courts for
both slander and libel. Budge had written that Rassam had used "his
relatives" to smuggle antiquities out of
Nineveh and had only sent
"rubbish" to the British Museum. The elderly Rassam was upset by these
accusations. When he challenged Budge in court, he received a partial
apology that a later court considered "ungentlemanly". Rassam was
fully supported by the courts. Later archaeological evidence found
in relation to artefacts such as the
Balawat Gates at Dur-Sharrukin
support Rassam's account of the dispute. By the end of his life,
Rassam's reputation and achievements were once again receiving greater
recognition, at least amidst his professional colleagues; in their
obituary for Rassam, the
Royal Geographical Society
Royal Geographical Society wrote: "The death
of Mr Hormuzd Rassam... deprives the
Royal Geographical Society
Royal Geographical Society of one
of its older and more distinguished Fellows..."
However, a modern account of the archaeology says that Layard leaving
Rassam in charge of his excavations when he left in 1851 was "not
perhaps the wisest choice, since Rassam continued, even into the
1880s, an extensive and essentially unrecorded simultaneous looting of
a large number of sites not only in
Assyria but in Babylonia, at a
times when other excavators were beginning to act more responsibly.
The British Mission to Theodore, King of Abyssinia (1869), memoir
Biblical Nationalities, Past and Present, article in Transactions of
the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Vol.3, 8, pp. 358–385
The Garden of Eden and Biblical Sages (1895)
Asshur and the Land of Nimrod (1897).
Rassam married Anne Eliza Price, an Englishwoman. They had seven
children together. His eldest daughter, Theresa Rassam, born in 1871,
became a professional singer who performed with the D'Oyly Carte Opera
Company. He died on September 8, 1910, and was buried in Hove
Cemetery. A number of personal effects relating to his career,
including the chains he had worn in captivity in Ethiopia, were
donated to Hove Museum, and were on display there until the 1950s,
according to the recollections of his great-grandson, Cornelius
Cavendish. Other items in the Museum's possession relating to Rassam
were at that time requested for the collections of the British
His daughter Annie Ferida Rassam, born in 1878, later secretly gave
birth on September 10, 1914 to an illegitimate daughter in Paris. She
named her Jeanne Ferida Rassam. The presumed father was said to be
'Sir Wallinger', a name that might refer to either of two brothers,
John Arnold Wallinger or his brother Ernest Wallinger, who were
both undertaking work for the British secret services in Paris. Jeanne
Ferida Rassam was adopted by a French couple, Sir and Mme. Courthial.
Annie Ferida Rassam returned to
Brighton few months later.
List of Assyrians
Epic of Gilgamesh
Assyrian Church of the East
^ Reade, Julian (1993). "
Hormuzd Rassam and His Discoveries". Iraq.
British Institute for the Study of Iraq. 55: 39–62.
Hormuzd Rassam Assyrian
Archaeologist 1826-1910". Assyrian
Information Medium Exchange. Archived from the original on 29 April
2007. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
^ a b c Oates, 6
^ Alan Moorehead, The Blue Nile, revised edition (New York: Harper and
Row, 1972), pp. 232f
^ Hormuzd Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King
of Abyssinia (London, 1869), vol. 2 p. 22.
^ Rassam described his experiences in
Ethiopia in his memoir, Hormuz
Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King of
Abyssinia. London, 1869. In two volumes.
^ Damrosch, David (2006). The Buried Book.
^ "THE QUARTERLY REVIEW.Art. I. Narrative of the British Mission to
Theodore King of Abyssinia; with notices of the country traversed from
Massowahy through the Sudan, the Amhdra and back to Annesley Bay,
Distant from Madgdala. By Hormuzd Rassam, F.R.G.S., First Political
Aden in charge of the Mission. 2 vols. London, 1869." The
Quarterly Review, 1869. London: Forgotten Books: 299–327. 1869.
Archived from the original on 2015-04-02.
^ Rassam (1897), p. 223
^ a b Goodspeed, George Stephen (1902). Chapter 2, "The Excavations in
Babylonia and Assyria", A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians,
New York. Charles Scribner's Sons, Accessed April 4, 2011.
^ Adamson, Daniel Silas (22 March 2015). "The men who uncovered
Assyria". BBC News Magazine. London. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
^ del Mar, Alexander (18 September 1910). "Discoveries at Nineveh".
New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
^ "Obituary: Hormudz Rassam". The Geographical Journal. London: The
Royal Geographical Society. 37 (1). January 1911. Retrieved 22 March
^ Profile of Theresa Rassam's career with D'Oyly Carte
^ Keld, Julia (Apr 21, 2013). "Hormuzd Rassam". Find A Grave.
Retrieved 22 March 2015.
^ Sansbury, Carolyn; Cavendish, Cornelius. "A hostage in Abyssinia".
www.cmpcaonline.org.uk. Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance.
Retrieved 22 March 2015.
^ Sansbury, Carolyn (December 2011). "More news of the Rassams at 7
Powis Square . . . and a French connection" (PDF). CMPCA News.
Brighton,UK: Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance. Retrieved 22
Hormuzd Rassam, Assyrian
Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King of
Abyssinia (1869) at Google Books.
David Damrosch (2006). The Buried Book. ISBN 0-8050-8029-5
Chapters 3 and 4 are an essential revised biography of Rassam's life.
Mogens T Larsen (1997), The Conquest of Assyria.
Oates, D. and J. Oates, Nimrud, An Assyrian Imperial City Revealed,
2001, London: British School of
Archaeology in Iraq, full PDF (332
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rassam, Hormuzd".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
"Rassam, Hormuzd". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. 1907.
ISNI: 0000 0001 2100 4586