Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cyrus Cylinder & Its Discoverer - Hormuzd Rassam

Cyrus the Great & Cyrus Cylinder Series:
» Cyrus the Great (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - His Religion & Inspiration
» Cyrus the Great - Pasargadae, Capital (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Information Sources
» Cyrus the Great - Xenophon's Cyropaedia (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Hebrew Bible Quotes
» Cyrus Cylinder
» Cyrus Cylinder & its Discoverer Hormuzd Rassam
» Cyrus Cylinder - its Remarkable Discovery
» Cyrus Cylinder - Contents (Eduljee)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Rogers)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Finkel)
» Cyrus' Edict & the Chinese Cuneiform Bones
» Cyrus Cylinder - Talk by Neil MacGregor

Hormuzd Rassam in traditional wear (1854?).
Image credit: Wikipedia
Hormuzd Rassam - the Person
The person often credited with the discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder in 1879 is a man named Hormuzd Rassam. Rassam lived from 1826 to 1910. His native town Mosul - the city that gave its name to the muslin cloth - lies on the east bank of the upper Tigris River in Northern Iraq, on the frontier of Kurdish lands, and 18 km south of the ancient Assyrian capital Nineveh's ruins.

[This writer’s note: The name ‘Hormuzd’ intrigued me. I thought there might be a Kurdish and possibly a Zoroastrian connection here. Instead, what I discovered was that Hormuzd Rassam was (according to some sources) born a Catholic Christian and that his ethnicity is listed as Assyrian. His father Anton Rassam was the archdeacon of Mosul’s Assyrian Church of the East. Assyrian Christians claim to be ethnically different from the Kurds. Their origins are stated in the literature as Semitic-Chaldean (i.e. Caldani assumed to mean Chaldea which is usually identified with a nation in the south of today's Iraq. However, there was according to Xenophon another Chaldea - perhaps a similar sounding nation. This Chaldea was a mountainous nation neighbouring the Aryan Kurds and Armenia). I do wonder why Rassam was given so purely a Zoroastrian-Aryan name like Hormuzd (which is the Middle Persian Zoroastrian word for God). In a speech Hormuzd made in England he describes 'Ormuzd' as the Zoroastrian word for God but ignores the connection with his name. In any event,moving along in this narrative, the London Quarterly Review of 1869 (pp. 169) informs us that, “Dissatisfied with the faith in which he had been born, he (Rassam) left the Roman Catholic Church to join those who appeared to him the most free from its errors – the Nestorians, an ancient sect who have not been altogether inappropriately termed the Protestants of Asia.” Another report has him becoming an Anglican/Episcopalian (perhaps when he began to reside in England). Hormuzd is reputed to have stated, “I will sacrifice myself for England and worship for ever the pure religion of Great Britain... I would rather be a chimney-sweeper in England than a Pasha in Turkey.”]

Hormuzd Rassam’s elder brother, Christian Rassam (who had migrated to Europe when he was still young and was there brought up as a Protestant) joined the Euphrates Expedition under Col. Chesney. As a reward for his services Christian was appointed British Vice-Consul at Mosul in 1839.

The Mounds of Nimrud near Mosul
The mounds of Nimrud near Mosul. A drawing by Austen Henry Layard.
Artist's concept of the palace complex at Nimrud. Drawing by James Ferguson for Austen Layard.
This was the time when the Middle East had become fertile ground for archaeologists. Austen Henry Layard (1817-94) while travelling through the Middle East was fascinated by a large tell (a mound in the middle of a plain) near the town of Mosul, known locally as Nimrud. In 1845, the British ambassador at Constantinople, Sir Stratford Canning, agreed to pay the costs of a tentative excavation of the tell and Layard returned to Mosul in November 1845 to start his first archaeological expedition. He hired Hormuzd, who was then 20 years old, as a paymaster at the dig-site.

Hormuzd Rassam's Character & the Launch of His Career
A lost world begins to emerge from the excavations
by Frederick Cooper
Within hours of starting the excavations, Layard’s team began to uncover walls panelled with stone slabs. In 1846, Sir Canning arranged for the British Museum to take over financial responsibility for the dig. As work progressed, Layard became so impressed by Hormuzd’s hard work, ability and character, that he asked Hormuzd to assist him in all his dealings with the workers at the dig-site. In a report to the British Museum, Layard wrote: “To his unwearied exertions, and his faithful and punctual discharge of all the duties imposed upon him, to his inexhaustible good humour, combined with necessary firmness, to his complete knowledge of the Arab character, and the attachment which even the wildest of those with whom we were brought in contact regarded him, the Trustees of the British Museum owe not only most of the success of those researches, but the economy with which I was enabled to carry them on. Without him it would have been impossible to accomplish half of what has been done with the means placed at my disposal.”

The London Quarterly Review informs us that, “By his (Hormuzd’s) singular tact, judgement and temper, he soon acquired the most extraordinary influence, not only over those engaged in the works, but over the wild Bedouins and Kurds and their sheiks and chiefs who roamed over the surrounding plains. The name of ‘Hormuzd’ by which he was generally called, was known throughout the desert. The wandering Arabs would come to him to settle their disputes and to arbitrate between them. So great was the confidence which they felt in his justice and discrimination that even the most delicate family questions, such as domestic quarrels, and divorces and reconciliations between husband and wife were submitted to his decision, and Kurdish and Arab ladies looked to him as their protector and friend.”

Studies in England & the Second Layard Expedition
Excavating Nineveh palace. Watercolour by  F.C. Cooper who worked with
Austen Layard and Rassam at Kuyunjik in 1849-50.
From M.T. Larsen's Conquest of Assyria
Layard and Hormuzd became friends, so much so, that Layard invited Hormuzd to live with him as a guest. Layard also assisted Hormuzd in travelling to England to study at Oxford’s Magdalen College. Hormuzd had been there for 18 months when Layard asked him to join a second two-year expedition to Iraq. The work of this expedition commenced in 1849.

Hormuzd Rassam Becomes Superintendent (Director) & Archaeologist
When Layard decided to embark upon a political career and retire from archaeology, the Trustees of the British Museum requested Hormuzd to direct the Iraqi excavations at Nimrud and Kuyunjik.

Dispute with the French
At Nineveh a dispute over whether the British or French had the right to dig there resulted in Rassam exploring the mound at night. It was during his tenure as director (1852–1854) that he discovered the palace of Ashurbanipal including the palace library, the Assyrian ‘lion-hunt’ sculpture and other famed artifacts. These included clay tablets that George Smith would translate as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Hormuzd Rassam Becomes a Diplomat, Magistrate & Civil Servant
Upon completion of his assignment with the British Museum, Hormuzd returned to England where he came to the notice of the East India Company’s directors who offered him a post as the company’s official interpreter at Aden. The London Quarterly Review states, “He was not long in acquiring the same influence over the wild tribes living around that settlement that he had exercised over the Bedouins of Mesopotamia. He was able to effect a complete change in the relations between them and the English garrison. Before his arrival, they were in a chronic state of war. No European ventured to leave the walls, and our troops were in frequent danger of being cut off even from the wells supplied water to the place. Mr. Rassam opened communications with the Arab chiefs, and succeeded in establishing a direct intercourse with them. Not only was peace made and maintained by his influence, but he was able to conduct Major-General Coghlan, then Political Resident or Governor of Aden, on a visit to the tribes and sheikhs who had been most hostile to the English, and through a country which had previously been closed against Europeans.”

Hormuzd rose to the position of Assistant Political Resident, a position equivalent to that of Lieutenant Governor and performed the duties of magistrate as well. He mediated a dispute between the sultans of Muscat and Zanzibar and was honoured for his accomplishments by the Government of British India.

The Ethiopian (Abyssinian) Saga 
Henry Stern proselytizing in Ethiopia.
In 1866, the British assigned Hormuzd Rassam as Queen Victoria’s special envoy, in an attempt to resolve an international crisis that had resulted when the King of Ethiopia, Tewodros II, imprisoned two missionaries with the London Jews’ Society: an indiscreet Henry Stern and with his assistant a Mr. Rosenthal. The London Jews’ Society promoted Christianity among Jews and Stern had written a book describing the Ethiopian king’s mother was a low-class vendor - this at a time when the king had claimed descent from the biblical royal dynasty of Solomon.

The king’s ire was compounded because Britain and other European powers had ignored his letters for assistance from them in consolidating his power and he felt slighted by Lord John Russell of the British Foreign Office. When the British Consul Charles Duncan Cameron and other Europeans interceded on behalf of the hostages, they were taken captive as well.

In giving Hormuzd his assignment to try and find a successful resolution to the crisis, Hormuzd was also given the most stringent instructions by the Foreign Office that he was not to take any step that would make him a hostage of the king, thereby making an already complicated situation worse. In addition, some of the hostages themselves had sent out the most solemn warnings that no European should enter Ethiopian territory without the consent of Tewodros.

Hormuzd Rassam being received by King Tewodros II in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1868.
When Hormuzd finally received the king’s consent, he travelled to the king’s mountain stronghold Magdala, some four hundred miles inland from the Red Sea coast. There, he met with the Tewodros, gained his trust and respect, and eventually secured the release of the hostages.

Tewodros II's mountain bastion, Magdala
The British supporters of the hostages had in the meantime become impatient and had obtained the services of a Dr. Beke who arrived in Ethiopia at the very time the hostages were being liberated. On learning that the captives had been released, Beke turned back. There is some suggestion that the king’s advisers felt Beke had access to a large amount of funds and that monies could be procured for the release of the hostages. The mixture of intemperate comments by the hostages and their supporters, together with the extreme volatility of a paranoid king was explosive. Hormuzd was placed in chains and the hostages were once again imprisoned.

The hostages. Hormuzd (second from the left)
is sitting with his shackles over his thigh.
However, their situation was not desperate. After an initial close confinement in one hut, they were given separate quarters. They could also sit down to meals with tablecloths and napkins.

Despite Hormuzd being a prisoner the Ethiopians took full advantage of his dispute resolution skills. The London Quarterly Review adds, “Mr. Rassam appears to have shown the same tact in establishing an influence over the Ethiopians and in inspiring them with entire confidence in himself as he had shown in former days in his dealings with the wild tribes of Arabia. The commandant and principal chief of Magdala, on his deathbed appointed the envoy (Hormuzd) as the guardian of his property and of his wife and children, and the dying Metropolitan of the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Church requested him to be his executor. He was constantly called in to settle disputes between rival chiefs, and even to arrange the more delicate relations between husband and wife. The Ethiopians, like the Arabs, had complete reliance upon his justice and good sense, and the captive in chains soon became judge and counsellor amongst his guards and jailors.

“During the greater part of the time of his captivity at Magdala Mr. Rassam kept up, by letters and messages, the most friendly correspondence with the King, who still professed a strong personal affection for him. He was treated, by the royal orders, with as much honour and consideration as possible. The chiefs and guards who were placed over him did their utmost to lighten the indignity and discomfort of his imprisonment. By their friendly connivance, if not active assistance, he was able to keep up a regular communication with the coast, and thus to send letters to Europe, and to obtain supplies of money and provisions. He frequently interrupts his narrative to bear witness to the singular trustworthiness and fidelity of the Ethiopians, both chiefs and people, who, under circumstances of great peril, undertook to carry his letters and to bring large sums of money to him, always discharging the tasks he confided to them with courage, punctuality, and honesty. He states that in many cases the services rendered to him by the chiefs were entirely unrequited.”

The British Abyssinian Expedition of 1868
Britannia smiting the sub-human King Tewodros II
dressed in a Western costume. The cartoon exemplifies
the demeaning and racist manner in which
Africans and other Easterners were portrayed.
The confinement of Hormuzd and the other hostages persisted for two years until Hormuzd and the others were freed on April 18, 1868 by a force of British and Indian troops under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Napier of the Bombay Army (who became Lord or Baron Napier of Magdala after he successfully stormed the Ethiopian monarch’s stronghold at Magdala and secured the release of the hostages). As the British forces broke down the doors to Tewodros’ sanctuary, the king shot himself. Hormuzd was with him at the time and identified the king’s body to the invading troops.

Napier’s expeditionary contingent had consisted of 13,000-15,000 British and Indian soldiers, 26,000 camp followers, 36,000 horses mules camels and donkeys, 44 elephants, two locomotives, 82,000 tons of coal, 400 miles of telegraph cable, and lots of heavy artillery – all of this against a king who was not supported by his own chiefs and who could at best muster a poorly equipped defence force of 10,000 men. British casualties amounted to 2 killed and 18 wounded. The Ethiopians lost 700 killed and 1,400 wounded. The expedition cost the British treasury £9,000,000 – an enormous sum in those days, but it served to demonstrate British resolve and might – a message to any other ruler who might seek to challenge British authority.

Victorious British leaving Magdala
Hormuzd Rassam in 1869
(likely upon his return from Ethiopia).
Oil painting by Arthur Ackland Hunt
After Napier has secured his victory, he allowed his troops to loot and burn Magdala, including its churches. The fortress was dynamited as the troops began their march back to the coast from where they sailed home. Napier himself secured a considerable treasure including Tewodros II's crowns, a huge number of both royal and ecclesiastic robes, vestments, crosses, chalices, swords and shields, many embroidered or decorated with gold or silver, the great Imperial silver negarit war drum, manuscripts and valuable religious artifacts such as tabots. Today, these artifacts lie dispersed in private collections, museums and libraries throughout Europe.

Scapegoat & Prejudice
Throughout Hormuzd’s captivity and even after his release, the press were merciless. Without cause, they made Hormuzd the scapegoat for all the ills that that befallen his mission. The editorials portrayed Hormuzd as weak and ineffective. It was also unfortunate that a latent prejudice against all ‘colonials’ which constantly simmered under the surface, now erupted and added to the abuse heaped upon the hapless oriental gentleman and wannabe Englishman. His reputation was close to ruins.

Regarding the racism and prejudice shown towards Hormuzd and the Ethiopians by some in the British press and public, The London Quarterly Review notes, “Mr. Rassam speaks from a wide and varied experience. He has lived long with the wildest of Eastern men, and has found that even amongst them there is no lack of virtues and good qualities, if they are only ‘treated with proper consideration.’ The misfortune is, that they are rarely so treated by those who look upon them as inferior beings, to be used with insolence, and even with brutality. It is to be hoped that this unhappy and unchristian prejudice may in time pass away, and that the day is not far distant when the Englishman in the East may no longer look upon every man whose skin is somewhat darker than his own as ‘a nigger’ without the feelings or qualities of a human being. We may, perhaps, learn something from the poor Abyssinians; for Mr. Rassam observes, ‘Even when some amongst his own countrymen shunned the disgraced missionary (Mr. Stern), his Ethiopian friends still clung to him, despite the risk which they incurred by their sympathy.’”

In 1879, Sir Henry Rawlinson wrote a paper diminishing Hormuzd's role in discovering the Cyrus Cylinder. David Damrosch in his What Is World Literature? (Princeton, 2003, p. 48), writes,“Rassam’s decisive role was often minimised or denied outright – most likely, as Layard later wrote to a friend, ‘because he is a ‘nigger’ and because Rawlinson as is his habit, appropriated to himself the credit of Rassam’s discoveries’. An 1856 article in the Illustrated London News written before the Ethiopian crisis states, that Layard must have been pleased to find ‘an oriental – generally indifferent to all works of art – so thoroughly interested in the undertaking and impregnated with English energy to carry his individual labours to a successful conclusion.’ The article goes on to praise Rassam for performing so well even though he was a ‘foreigner in an Englishman’s position.’” This is an example of the latent racism we spoke about earlier. It is condescending and patronizing to say the least.

Mission of Inquiry - the Russo-Turkish War
While the press may have destroyed his public reputation, those in government understood Hormuzd Rassam's abilities. Queen Victoria presented him with a purse of £5,000 – a substantial sum in those days - as a recognition of the services he provided as her envoy. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, he was given a mission of inquiry to report on the condition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Christian communities of Asia Minor and Armenia.

Marriage & Family
Daughter Theresa Rassam
a singer with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
On June 8, 1869, a year after his return to England he took up residence at in Brighton. That year, at the age of 43, Hormuzd married a woman of Irish descent, Anne Eliza Price. Together, they had seven children. His eldest daughter, Theresa Rassam, named after Hormuzd’s mother, was born in 1871. She grew to become a woman of striking appearance and a singer with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.

Another daughter, Annie Ferida Rassam, was born in 1878. Once again, we are intrigued with the choice of names. ‘Ferida’ may perhaps be a version of the common Zoroastrian-Iranian name ‘Farida’. In 1914, Annie Ferida is reputed to have secretly given birth out of wedlock to a baby girl in a French private hospital. The suspected father of the child was a 'Sir Wallinger', a member of the British Secret Service stationed in Paris and the reputed literary prototype of the spy-master in Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden: Or the British Agent, a collection of short stories about Colonel R (Somerset Maugham had been recruited to work for John Wallinger as a British agent in Switzerland who was later knighted). Wallinger’s assignment was to monitor anti-British Indian nationalists and their German connections at the start of the First World War. Annie Ferida's newborn baby named Jeanne Ferida Rassam, was adopted by a French couple. Annie Ferida returned to Brighton few months later.

Hormuzd's youngest daughter, Nora, was born when he was 61 years old. She was married in 1909, a year before Hormuzd passed away.

Return to Iraq - Discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder in Babylon
The Babylon excavation site. The Cyrus cylinder was found in the site marked E, the tell or mound of Amran
which was later named the Esagila, the Marduk Temple complex.
A greying Hormuzd Rassam
In 1876, the British Museum reassigned Hormuzd to lead an archaeological expedition in Iraq.

Hormuzd Rassam’s old friend and mentor, Austen Henry Layard and advanced in his political career to became Britain’s ambassador to the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which at that time ruled Iraq or Mesopotamia as it was then known. In 1877, Layard helped obtain a royal decree called a firman from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The firman, which was valid for a year, authorized the British through Hormuzd to continue the earlier excavations that Layard had begun (having at that time found nothing of archaeological significance). In 1878, Layard procured another firman for a period of two years. This one authorized Hormuzd to “pack and dispatch to England any antiquities found.” A representative of the Sultan was instructed to be present at the dig to examine the objects as they were uncovered.

Hormuzd left England on October 8, 1878 and arrived in Mosul on November 16, 1878. He immediately started work of the Kouyunjik (Nineveh), Nimrod and Kala-Shirgat sites despite a debilitating fever that stayed with him for two months. During this second trip to Iraq, Hormuzd conducted excavations at Babylon, Borsippa, Sippar, at sites in Syria, and around Lake Van (now in Turkey) as well. While excavating a small site of Balawat, he discovered bronze bands that he concluded had decorated a series of gates. Hormuzd’s findings regarding the bands were disputed for many years until more recent excavations confirmed his conclusions.

The Babylon and Borsippa excavations started In 1879. He left Mosul by raft on January 30 and arrived in Baghdad five days later. From there he proceeded overland and eventually arrived in Babylon via Hillah likely sometime in February. The Cyrus cylinder was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in March 1879.

Recognition & Award
For his accomplishments during his four-year archaeological assignment in Iraq, the Royal Academy of Sciences at Turin awarded him the Brazza prize which was accompanied by a purse of 12,000 Fr. He also became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and the Victoria Institute.

Hormuzd Rassam in his closing years
In 1882, Hormuzd returned to England and began writing on his Assyro-Babylonian explorations.

Hormuzd Rassam's publications include:

  • The British Mission to Theodore, King of Abyssinia, (1869),
  • An article Biblical Nationalities, Past and Present (1883),
  • The Garden of Eden and Biblical Sages (1893) and,
  • Asshur and the Land of Nimrod (1897).

Closing Years
In 1901 or 1902, Hormuzd Rassam and his family moved to Westbourne Villas in Hove, and then to Steyning where he passed away on September 16, 1910 at the age of 84.

Hormuzd Rassam lies buried in the Brighton Cemetery.

Cyrus the Great & Cyrus Cylinder Series:
» Cyrus the Great (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - His Religion & Inspiration
» Cyrus the Great - Pasargadae, Capital (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Information Sources
» Cyrus the Great - Xenophon's Cyropaedia (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Hebrew Bible Quotes
» Cyrus Cylinder
» Cyrus Cylinder & its Discoverer Hormuzd Rassam
» Cyrus Cylinder - its Remarkable Discovery
» Cyrus Cylinder - Contents (Eduljee)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Rogers)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Finkel)
» Cyrus' Edict & the Chinese Cuneiform Bones
» Cyrus Cylinder - Talk by Neil MacGregor

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