Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet

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Maj.-Gen. Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, 1st Baronet CB (5 April 1810 – 5 March 1895) was a British politician and Orientalist, sometimes described as the Father of Assyriology.


Early life

He was born at Chadlington, Oxfordshire, the second son of Abram Tyack Rawlinson, and elder brother of the historian, George Rawlinson.

Army Service

In 1827 he went to India as a cadet under the British East India Company. After six years with his regiment as subaltern, during which time he had become proficient in the Persian language, he was sent to Persia in company with other British officers to drill and reorganize the Shah's troops. It was at this time that he was first attracted to the study of inscriptions, more particularly those in the hitherto undeciphered cuneiform character. In the course of the two years during which he was in its immediate neighbourhood he transcribed as much as he was able of the great cuneiform inscription at Behistun. This trilingual inscription dated to the 5th century B.C. and the Medes and Persian ruler Darius the Great. Friction between the Persian court and the British government ended in the departure of the British officers.

Political career

Rawlinson was appointed political agent at Kandahar in 1840. In that capacity he served for three years, his political labours being as meritorious as was his gallantry during various engagements in the course of the Afghan War; for these he was rewarded by the distinction of Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1844.

Serendipitously, he became known personally to the governor-general, which resulted in his appointment as political agent in Ottoman Arabia. Thus he settled in Baghdad, where he devoted himself to cuneiform studies. He was now able, with considerable difficulty and at no small personal risk, to make a complete transcript of the Behistun inscription, which he was also successful in deciphering and interpreting. Having collected a large amount of invaluable information on this and kindred topics, in addition to much geographical knowledge gained in the prosecution of various explorations (including visits with Sir Austen Henry Layard to the ruins of Nineveh), he returned to England on leave of absence in 1849.

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