Hormuzd Rasam, Iraq’s first archaeologist

Hormuzd Rasam is considered the first archaeologist of Iraqi origin, because He was born on October 3, 1826 in the city of Mosul. Rassum devoted much of his life to archaeology, although his work is not as well known to the general public as other eminent archaeologists of his time, such as Austen Henry Laird, who was famous for his excavations in Babylon and Nineveh, and With whom the Iraqi archaeologist collaborated for a long time. Rasam was also responsible for important discoveries from Assyrian and Babylonian times., some of which can now be seen at the British Museum in London. For example, during his excavations Rasam uncovered a large number of cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamian cities such as Nineveh and Sipper.

Hormuzd Rasam has also gone down in history for being the discoverer of some clay tablets in which Apopaea de Gilgamesh, an Akkadian epic tale in verse that is the world’s oldest written narrative poem. It tells the story of this mythical king of Uruk and refers to a devastating flood a thousand years before the biblical story of Noah. Despite doing his job as an archaeologist in his home country, Rasam moved to the United Kingdom, where he acquired British nationality. He also participated in some missions for the government, such as negotiating the release of some British diplomats who had been kidnapped in Ethiopia.

Rasam begins in Nineveh

Hormuzd Rasam was a member of an important Mosul family. His father was a representative of the Chaldean Church in the region and his mother descended from an illustrious lineage from Aleppo in Syria. thank you father Hormuzd met Austen Henry Laird, a British diplomat who was fond of art, literature and archaeology, of whom he was an assistant. Participating in the excavation of the site of Nimrud, one of the ancient capitals of the Assyrian Empire (along with Nineveh, Asura and Babylon). Laird was fascinated by young Rasam’s excellent performance, so he offered him the opportunity to travel to England with him and study at Magdalen College, Oxford. After completing his studies, Rasam returned with Laird on a new campaign in Iraq.and took part in the excavation work of another important Assyrian city: Nineveh.

Hormuzd Rasam was an assistant to the diplomat Austen Henry Laird during the excavations of Nimrud.

Hormuzd Rasam, Iraq's first archaeologist

tablet 11’s Apopaea de Gilgamesh Where floods are mentioned. British Museum, London.

Photo: Cordon Press

Hormuzd Rasam, Iraq's first archaeologist

In one of the reliefs discovered by Rasam in the northern palace of Nineveh, Ashurbanipal is shown hunting lions.

Photo: Cordon Press

Back in England, Laird entered the world of politics and Rasam was hired by the British Museum to continue excavations in Iraq. In 1853, while excavating at Nineveh, Rasam discovered a magnificent group of bas-reliefs in the northern palace, depicting King Ashurbanipal hunting lions, And shortly after he found the remains of this sovereign’s library in the palace of his grandfather Sennacherib, where he found thousands of tablets, a large part of antiquity. Apopaea de Gilgamesh and a terracotta prism with inscriptions describing the history of the reign of Ashurbanipal. All this was sent to the British Museum in London, where it is still on display. As a reward for all these achievements, Rasam was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, Thus his excavation budget was greatly increased, so Rasam was able to extend his work to Babylon.

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become an archaeologist ambassador

Like his mentor Austen Henry Lear, In 1855 Rasam also took his first steps in politics: he was given a position at the British consulate in Aden in Yemen. Rasam quickly rose to the first political resident (government representative with diplomatic functions) and facilitated a series of deals between the British and hitherto hostile local leaders in this role. In 1866 he was assigned a delicate mission: Sent to Abyssinia to negotiate the release of some British nationals (consuls, their allies and various Protestant missionaries) He was taken hostage by Emperor Theodore II of Ethiopia. Theodore’s goal was to solicit military help from the British to deal with the widespread rebellions taking place across the country. The British government then decided to send Rasam as ambassador, with a message from Queen Victoria, hoping to resolve the situation quickly and peacefully. Thus, after more than a year of waiting due to continued rebellion in northern Ethiopia, Rasam finally obtained permission from Emperor Theodore II to enter his kingdom.

Rasam began his diplomatic career for the British government with a position at the British Consulate in Aden, Yemen.

Hormuzd Rasam, Iraq's first archaeologist

Assyrian palaces illustration monuments of nineveh Built by Sir Austen Henry Laird (1853).

Photo: PD

But if at first the conversation seemed to be on the right track, the presence of the traveler, geographer and biblical critic Charles Tilstone Becke significantly complicated the situation. Writing letters from the hostages’ relatives to Theodore II asking for their release caused the emperor to change his mind to the point that Rassum himself was also taken prisoner. After two years of imprisonment, British and Indian troops led by Sir Robert Napier arrived in Ethiopia in 1868 to free the hostages and return them to England. After that incident, Rasam’s reputation was badly damaged as the British press considered his performance completely ineffective throughout the struggle. Despite this, both the Crown and the government defended the archaeologist’s management and became diplomatic to the extent that he was rewarded by Queen Victoria.

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great find

After his important stint in politics, Rasam returned to archeology in 1876 and was appointed by the British Museum to oversee the institution’s excavations in Iraq. His work on the Balawat siteNear Nimrudi This resulted in the discovery of the palace of Shalmaneser III and two large doors covered with bronze bands decorated with bas-reliefs. Currently, the British Museum displays a replica of these doors in one of its rooms, and the bronze bands are spread across several museums such as the Walters in Baltimore, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and the Mosul Museum. But they weren’t Rasam’s only findings in this new phase. In Babylon, in March 1879, archaeologists discovered The so-called cylinder of Cyrus, A clay fragment with a statement in Babylonian Akkadian written in cuneiform by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in which the ruler justified his conquest of Babylon and announced certain measures in favor of his new subjects.

In Babylon, archaeologists discovered the so-called Cyrus’ cylinder, a piece of clay with a deposition in Babylonian Akkadian written in cuneiform by the Persian king Cyrus the Great.

Hormuzd Rasam, Iraq's first archaeologist

The clay cylinder with cuneiform writing is attributed to the Persian king Cyrus the Great.

Photo: Cordon Press

But there is no doubt that Rasam’s most important contribution to the study of Mesopotamia was the discovery In Sippar, in 1880, from a tablet by the Babylonian king Nabu-Apal-Iddina, who identified the place as the sanctuary of the sun god Shamash. Over the next eighteen months, Rasam excavated 170 rooms around the temple and Between 40,000 and 50,000 cylinder seals and engraved tablets were found, including one describing how Nabonidus The temple was excavated in its original cornerstone by Naram-Sin, son of Sargon I, the founder of the Akkadian Empire, 4,200 years ago by the emperor of the Chaldean dynasty of Babylon (Emperor of Babylon who ruled between 555 and 539 BC).

respect is questioned

Hormuzd Rasam’s discoveries in Iraq contributed greatly to drawing world attention to that region of the planet. Rasam received several academic awards for his work. For example, the Italian Royal Academy of Sciences based in Turin awarded him the prestigious Brezza Prize; He was also elected a member of the Royal Geographical Society, the Biblical Archaeological Society and the Victoria Institute. But not all his colleagues shared his enthusiasm. really, Rasam’s findings were questioned by some orientalists. Like Sir Henry Rawlinson, considered “the father of Assyriology”, a key figure in understanding cuneiform writing. Rawlinson argued that he should have received academic credit for the discovery of Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh, at which time, in 1853, he was in charge of British excavations and Rasam was merely a “digger”.

Hormuz Rasam was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Society for Biblical Archeology and the Victoria Institute.

Hormuzd Rasam, Iraq's first archaeologist

Decorative detail of one of the bronze bands that adorn the doors of Balavat.

Photo: Cordon Press

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But this was not the only incident involving Rasam and his work. Renowned orientalist Wallis Budge, curator of the British Museum, also challenged an elderly Rasami Claiming that he had used his Iraqi “relatives” to smuggle antiquities from Nineveh and only sent the “nonsense” to the British Museum. Ultimately, when Rasam confronted Budge in court, he received only a partial apology. nowadays, Their display remains controversial for some archaeologists. That they believe that Rasam carried out “extensive looting” from the year 1880, with which the dispute is still open. However, after his death the Royal Geographical Society wrote: “The death of Mr. Hormuzd Rasam deprives the Royal Geographical Society of one of its oldest and most distinguished members.”

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