SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Early European Travellers

Alexander the Great and Valerian – the Roman Emperor defeated and captured by Shapur in 259CE – may not really count as early European travellers. However, their memory certainly lived on in the nineteenth century, when others started to venture into the lands of the famously “predatory” Bakhtiari.

These Victorian travellers included Rawlinson (of cuneiform fame) and Stocqueler in the 1830s; and Layard and Baron de Bode in the 1840s. Later on, in the 1890s, there was a rush of interest, with visits (and ‘academic’ books or papers) including from Isabella Bird Bishop, Lieutenant Colonel Sawyer and Curzon. At the same time HFB Lynch was the chief proponent of the commercial prospects of a river, and later road, route from the Persian Gulf to Isfahan. The Bakhtiari/Zagros route was shorter in measured kilometres, and also avoided “both Ottoman territory and Ottoman officials”, compared to the 'standard' routes.

This section shows images of, and from:

  • Henry Layard – who later ‘discovered’ and excavated Nineveh;
  • Isabella Bird Bishop, who acted as cover for the military spy, Lieutenant Colonel Sawyer;
  • Those specifically interested in the commercial prospects of first, the Karun River, and later, the Road Concession: especially Ainsworth and Curzon, as well as HFB Lynch;
  • DL Lorimer – the Vice Consul of Arabistan, who not only played an important part in negotiations over oil but also recorded the popular verse of the Bakhtiari;
  • Elisabeth Macbean Ross – the ‘Lady Doctor of Bakhtiari Land’;

Visiting archaeologists are touched on in the Archaeological Remains section.

To complement this section, Christina Lorimer, DL Lorimer’s great-niece, has contributed a short commentary about her forebear – exploring the 'Orientalism' of the time and suggesting that this can be seen both in the context of the times, and also with a more in-depth understanding of the individuals involved.

This section has been especially difficult to get full copyright release for – as so many images are from old books or other sources. Any information about, or from, hitherto unknown copyright holders would be gratefully welcomed.