Hormuzd Rassam

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Hormuzd Rassam (1826 – 16 September 1910) was a native Assyrian Assyriologist, British diplomat and traveller who made a number of important discoveries, including the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world's oldest literature. Even though he became a British citizen later in his life he can be accepted to be the first known Assyrian, Ottoman and Middle Eastern archaeologist.



Rassam, an ethnic Assyrian, was born in Mosul, then part of the Ottoman Empire, (now modern Iraq) into a Chaldean Catholic and Assyrian Church of the East family. His father Anton Rassam was from Mosul and was archdeacon in the Assyrian Church of the East; his mother Theresa was daughter of Ishaak Halabee of Aleppo, Syria.[1] When he was 20 years old, he was hired by British archaeologist A.H. Layard as a pay master at a nearby dig site. Layard, who was in Mosul on his first expedition (1845–1847), 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 Oxford (Magdalen College), where he stayed for 18 months before accompanying Layard on his second expedition to Iraq (1849–1851).

Layard then began a political career, and Rassam continued field work (1852–1854) at Nimrud and Kuyunjik, where he made a number of important and independent discoveries, including clay tablets that would later be deciphered by George Smith as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world's oldest-known example of written literature.

Rassam then returned to England and, with the help of his friend Layard, started a new career in government with a posting to the British Consulate in Aden. In 1866, an international crisis erupted in Ethiopia when British missionaries were taken hostage by Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia. 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, but due to rebellions in Tigray was forced to follow a circuitous route taking him to Kassala, then to Metemma, along the western shore of Lake Tana to finally meet with Emperor Tewodros in northern Gojjam. At first his embassy seemed promising, as the Emperor established him at Qorata, a village on the south-eastern shores of Lake Tana, and sent him numerous gifts, as well as having the British consul Charles Duncan Cameron, the missionary Henry Stern, and the other hostages sent to his encampment. However, the monarch suddenly changed his attitude towards Rassam and he, too, was to become Tewodros' prisoner and was held for two years until English and Indian troops under Robert Napier in the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia resolved the standoff by defeating the warlord and his army.[2] Rassam's reputation was damaged because he was unfairly portrayed as weak and ineffectual in dealing with the warlord, in large part due to systemic Victorian prejudices against "Orientals".[3]

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