Skip to content

Young Layard of Nineveh

A. H. Layard, by William Brockedon

A. H. Layard, by William Brockedon

Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894) is famous for discovering and excavating the palaces of the Assyrian kings. Undertaken between 1845 and 1851, this achievement made him celebrated as one of archaeology’s great pioneers, a man who brought to public notice a civilization few knew very much about before. The autobiographical materials presented here describe his earlier life in England and on the continent — and especially the years of his original journey eastward and his dramatic adventures among the Bakhtiari of the Zagros Mountains (1849-1842). The excerpts below are from Volumes I and II of his Autobiography and Letters, 1903, and from the 1894 edition of his Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia.

Born in England in 1817, Layard spent much of his boyhood in Florence. The family arrived in Italy in 1820. Young Layard’s formal schooling both in England and on the Continent was somewhat patchy, and it was his father who seems to have taught him most about art and literature. In Italy he played as a boy with the children of the English poet Walter Savage Landor.

Landor, literature, and The Arabian Nights

They were allowed to run wild, nearly barefooted, and in peasant’s dress, amongst the contadini (peasantry). Almost before they could lisp, Landor began to teach them ancient Greek. They were not sent to school, and the only time at which they were subjected to any kind of discipline was when his ungovernable temper was excited by something which they may have done to displease him, when he treated them very harshly. It is not surprising that this mode of bringing up his family should have led to much unhappiness. As it is well known, he left his wife soon after the time to which I am referring, and led a solitary and querulous life in England, until shortly before his death, when he returned to Florence, and was, I believe reconciled to her and his children.

Although my father had shunned personal intercourse with Landor, he greatly admired some of his writings and the vigour and purity of his English. He made me read the “Imaginary Conversations,” and learn passages from them. I took great delight in them; but they produced one effect which my father little contemplated: I imbibed from them those radical and democratic opinions which I sturdily professed even when a boy. The grand figure and powerful head of Walter Savage Landor, his sonorous voice, when he impressed upon me the beauty of the old Greek language, and the importance of its acquisition in order to speak and write good English, as he was often in the habit of doing, are still present to my memory. Many years after he addressed an Ode to me, which is published amongst his poetical works.

I profited little from my schooling at Signor Rellini’s Istituto, except that I obtained there that acquaintance with the Italian language which in after days was a source of so much pleasure, and of so much use to me. For such general knowledge as I acquired, and for the development of a taste for Literature and the Arts, I was indebted to my father. He was fond of reading, and possessed a small, but not ill-selected library. His favourite authors were those of the Elizabethan age. He taught me to appreciate and enjoy the plays of Shakespeare and Spenser’s “Faerie Queene.” Occasionally he read aloud to me passages from the plays of Ben Jonson, and other dramatists of the time, whose works he did not think it desirable to place in my childish hands. He admired the style of Hume, whose “History of England” I read with him. He was also fond of reciting the verses of “Peter Pindar” with me.

I had my own favourite books in which I was allowed freely to indulge. Before I had reached my thirteenth year, I had read all the novels of Walter Scott then published. But the work in which I took the greatest delight was the “Arabian Nights.” I was accustomed to spend hours stretched upon the floor, under a great gilded Florentine table, poring over this enchanting volume. My imagination became so much excited by it that I thought and dreamt of little else but “jins” and “ghouls” and fairies and lovely princesses, until I believed in their existence, and even fell in love with a real living damsel. I was deeply smitten with the pretty sister of one of my school-fellows. I fancied I had a rival in an English boy of my own age. We quarreled in consequence, and as we were both taking lessons of a fencing master, we determined to settle our differences in mortal combat with foils without the buttons. How we were prevented carrying out our bloody intentions I now forget.

My admiration for the “Arabian Nights” has never left me. I can read them even now with almost as much delight as I read them when a boy. They have had no little influence upon my life and career; for to them I attribute that love of travel and adventure which took me to the East, and led me to the discovery of the ruins of Nineveh. They give the truest, the most lively, and the most interesting picture of manners and customs which still existed amongst Turks, Persians and Arabs when I first mixed with them, but which are now fast passing away before
European civilization and encroachments. (Autobiography, v. I, 25-27)

Intellectual influences in London

Returning to the land of his birth, where his father died not long after, Layard joined his uncle’s law firm in London at the age of 16. His aunt kept a salon attended by distinguished artists and men of letters — one of them a friend of Goethe. Wordsworth was also frequently among the guests.

The person who exercised the greatest influence upon my future career was Mr Henry Crabb Robinson. I had made his acquaintance at Paris in August 1835, when on a tour in France and Switzerland with Mr Brockeden. With Stansfield, the painter, he joined company and travelled with us, took a friendly interest in me, and invited me to call upon him on my return to England at his chambers in the Temple, where he was in the habit of receiving many literary men of eminence. He had been the friend of Goethe and Wieland. He was so good a German scholar that the former said of him that “not only did he speak good German, but made good German.”

He was amongst the first Englishmen who cultivated the language, and made known to his countrymen the principal works of the most eminent German authors. His conversational powers were considerable. Having read and seen much, he possessed a large store of anecdote, and told his stories well. His experience of the world was large. He had lived during his youth in Germany and was a correspondent of the Times newspaper when Napoleon invaded that country. He used to narrate, with much effect, how he narrowly escaped falling into the hands of the French authorities, who would have shot him on account of the letters, which were very hostile to the Emperor…

It was Mr Robinson’s habit to have his friends to breakfast, especially on Sunday mornings. I received a general invitation to these breakfasts, of which I was delighted to avail myself. I soon became a welcome and almost a necessary guest on these occasions as I was useful in helping him to entertain his company. These meetings became a source of great pleasure and instruction to me. I frequently met at them some of the most eminent literary men of the day—amongst them Wordsworth, with whom Mr Robinson was very intimate. They had travelled together on the Continent, and he was accustomed to pay frequent visits to the poet at his residence at Rydal Mount. He was an ardent and enthusiastic admirer of Wordsworth’s poetry, which he read aloud with great animation and effect. He gave me a love for it which has not left me.

The poet himself, with his venerable and stately appearance, inspired me with the greatest respect and admiration. He was very kind to me, allowed me to talk to him freely about his works and on other subjects and even made at my suggestion a translation of one of Michael Angelo’s sonnets of which I was very fond. I have still in my possession the slip of paper upon which I wrote down this translation as he dictated it to me. It was afterwards published with some variations…

Mr Robinson was a Unitarian and what was then called “a philosophical Radical.” He introduced me to Mr Fox, the celebrated Unitarian preacher, who then had a chapel in the city which I frequently attended. The eloquence and powerful rhetoric of this remarkable man were a great attraction to me. His discourses and the conversation of my friend Mr Crabb Robinson rapidly undermined the religious opinions in which I had been brought up, and I soon became as independent in my religious as I had already become in my political opinions.

My uncle, who was supposed to look after me, and to exercise a moral control over me, was little pleased with either, as they both differed so entirely from his own. Being a Tory of the old school and a strict Churchman, he was bound to look upon them with feelings approaching to horror. He was afterwards wont to accuse Mr Crabb Robinson of having unsettled my mind, and of having encouraged in me pursuits and tastes entirely opposed to the serious study of the law, and which led me to abandon it for a life of travel and adventure. The charge was perhaps well founded. I have no reason to regret that it was so. (Autobiography, v. I, 54-56)

Italian society and politics

In the 1830s Layard made a number of visits to the Continent — travelling in Italy, mixing in Italian society, and befriending Cavour and the Carbonari. He particularly remembered the Contessa Galateri, ‘well-known in Turin Society’ for her beauty and accomplishments.

Although the education of women was, up to a very recent period, sorely neglected in Italy, and their intellects had been as little attended to as their morals, an accomplished and highly-cultivated Italian lady—and I have known many such—has always appeared to me the most perfect type of her sex. The Galateris were acquainted with, or allied to, the principal families in Piedmont. During our excursion (i.e., in 1835-36) we spent much of our time in country houses, and in the most agreeable society. We were a merry party, committing all manner of extravagances, singing, dancing, serenading by night on the water, and making expeditions in the hills.

We spent a very pleasant week in rambling about the mountains, and then paid visits to country houses, amongst them to the villa of the Cavours, where Camille de Cavour was then staying. Italian countryhouse life, with its freedom and complete absence of conventionality, has always had a great charm for me. The society was delightful. We everywhere met handsome and accomplished women. We had concerts, and I played more than once on the flute in Masses performed at church ceremonies…

During my visit to Turin I had made the acquaintance of several young men who were active members of the Liberal party, and were consequently suspected by the Government, against whose policy they were in open opposition… I believe that Camille de Cavour then took no direct share in it, although he had been persecuted and imprisoned on account of his Liberal opinions. I never saw him at any of the secret meetings at which I was present.

One of the young men whose acquaintance I had thus formed, a certain Signor Soffietti, who was a zealous member of one of these secret associations, had given me a letter and some papers to be delivered to a Piedmontese political refugee living at Lyons. I stopped there a couple of days to see him. There were many other fugitives from Piedmont and other parts of the Peninsula living in the city, who were in correspondence with the promoters of the insurrectionary movements in Italy, and who were known as “Carbonari,” the name then given to the members of the secret revolutionary societies which were conspiring against the Austrian rule in Italy.

Their agents had on many occasions been guilty of acts of bloody vengeance upon the oppressors of their country, which had brought them to the scaffold. I was presented, as a friend of Italian liberty, to several of these youthful conspirators at a secret meeting to which I was invited, having been previously warned that such meetings were strictly prohibited by the French authorities, and that, if we were discovered, we should all pass into the hands of the police, and probably find ourselves in prison. My enthusiasm in the cause induced me, however, to run the risk, although I remember being well pleased when I found myself safe back in my hotel.

Although these young men were as conspirators odious to, and persecuted by, all Continental Governments, they were, for the most part, honest and sincere patriots in the truest sense of the word—ready to make every sacrifice, even that of life, for the freedom and independence of their country, and for what they believed to be its welfare. They lived in the greatest poverty; had renounced all worldly advantages; and had, in numerous instances, even cast off the dearest of ties—those of the family—when their relations disapproved, or feared to be compromised by, their proceedings… To their indomitable courage and perseverance, and to their readiness to sacrifice even life for their country, Italy owes her freedom and her regeneration. I little thought that it was under the lead of the young man whose acquaintance I had made at Turin that this great work was to be accomplished. (Autobiography, v. I, 78-92)

Travelling east — Montenegro

Wearying of the routine in his uncle’s London law office, where he was employed copying documents, Layard (22) joined Edward Ledwich Mitford (32) on a journey to Turkey and the Middle East.  Ledwich was to continue overland to India. For Layard it was the beginning of his association with Mesopotamia and the long-buried remains of ancient Nineveh.

It chanced that Mr Edward Ledwich Mitford, a young Englishman who had been connected with a mercantile house at Mogador in Morocco, and who had made some interesting excursions through little known parts of that dangerous country, desired to establish himself in Ceylon as a coffee-planter. Like myself, he wished to leave England as soon as possible; but being of an adventurous disposition, and dreading the sea, he had formed a plan for going to Ceylon by land through Europe, Central Asia, and India. He proposed to me that we should perform the journey together.

I was much struck by this grand idea. It coincided entirely with my love of travel and adventure, and, if carried out, would enable me to visit many of the most interesting parts of the East, and to realize the dreams that had haunted me from my childhood, when I had spent so many happy hours over the “Arabian Nights.” I willingly accepted his proposal. And it was agreed that we should leave England without delay. (Autobiography, v. I, 102)

All our preparations having been at length completed, I bade farewell to my mother, who had come to London to see the last of me, and on the 10th July (1839) we left London by a steamer for Ostend. As we passed down the Thames I laboured under various emotions. I had an unknown future before me. My chances of success in the new career I had chosen for myself were doubtful. My plans were, after all, vague and somewhat wild. If I failed in the object of my journey, and the means of supporting myself were wanting, what was to become of me?

But notwithstanding these doubts and considerations, I experienced a happy sensation of relief at leaving England and abandoning a pursuit which was odious to me. I was now independent, and no more exposed to the vexatious interference and control to which I had hitherto been subjected, and greatly resented. I was of sanguine and hopeful temperament; I had robust health and much energy, and courage and determination enough to grapple with any dangers and difficulties that I might have to encounter. I was consequently in no way dismayed by the prospect before me, but was fully prepared for the consequences, whatever they might be, of the step that I had taken.

In leaving England I had nothing to regret except the separation from my mother. Had I remained, I should in all probability have passed through life in the obscure position of a respectable lawyer, unless some opening, which could not have been foreseen, might have enabled me to distinguish myself in some other career. (Autobiography, v. I, 108-109)

A visit to the capital city of Cetinje. At Cetinje Layard stayed with the Vladika, the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro who was head of government. The Vladika’s reform program, intended to introduce his subjects to Western Civilization, appeared to be faltering.

We remained several days at Cetinje, passing most of our time with the Vladika, with whom I had much conversation as to the condition of his people, and as to his attempts to civilise and educate them. He had procured a billiard-table from Trieste, and was fond of the game. We played several times together. On one occasion whilst we were so engaged, a loud noise of shouting and of firing of guns was heard from without. It proceeded from a party of Montenegrin warriors who had returned from a successful raid in the Turkish territory of Scutari (Albania), and, accompanied by a crowd of idlers, were making a triumphal entry into the village.

They carried in a cloth, held up between them, several heads which they had severed from the bodies of their victims. Amongst these were those apparently of mere children. Covered with gore, they were a hideous and ghastly spectacle. They were duly deposited at the feet of the Prince and then added to those which were displayed on the round tower near the convent.

I could not conceal from the Vladika my disgust at what I had witnessed, and expressed my astonishment that, with the desire he had expressed to me of civilising his people, he permitted them to commit acts so revolting to humanity and so much opposed to the feelings and habits of all Christian nations. He replied that he must readily admit that the practice of cutting off and exposing the heads of the slain was shocking and barbarous, but it was an ancient custom of the Montenegrins in their struggles with the Turks, the secular and bloodthirsty enemies of their race and faith, and who also practiced the same loathsome habit.

He was compelled, he went on to explain to me, to tolerate, if not to countenance, this barbarous practice which he condemned on every account, because it was necessary to maintain the warlike spirit of his people… They were few in number compared with their enemy, and unless they were always prepared to defend their mountain strongholds, they would soon be conquered and exterminated… There was nothing he dreaded more, he said, than a lengthened peace, for if the Montenegrins were once to sleep with a sense of security, and were no longer in a state of continual warfare, they would soon be conquered.

It was for these reasons, he declared, that it would be unwise on his part to make any attempt for the present to put a stop to a practice which encouraged his people in their hatred to the Turks, and in their determination to perish rather than allow the Moslems to obtain a footing in their mountains. (Autobiography, v. I, 132-133)

Law and order in Montenegro. A poet and a man committed to reform, Montenegro’s leader discussed with Layard his plans for the Balkan nation. He was busily building schools, and planned to appoint Serbians to staff and manage them.

The Vladika had introduced, for immediate purposes, some new laws, but he was then occupied in framing a new code better adapted to improve the civilisation of his subjects. He explained to me how hitherto human life had been too lightly esteemed amongst the Montenegrins. Injuries and insult were readily avenged by the death of the offender, and quarrels were of frequent occurrence; murders were constantly committed.

In the past the murderer had been only punished by a fine in money paid to the family of the victim; now he was punished by death, the criminal being taken to his own village, and there shot by his own kith and kin. Women when convicted were stoned to death also in their native villages. He made to me the almost incredible statement that previous to the enactment of this new law the feuds ending fatally between individuals and between villages were so frequent, that there were years in which as many as 600 deaths occurred, and that there were never less than 300. For the previous two years the average was 400, and in each case the murderer had been condemned and executed. (The estimated population of Montenegro at the time was around 100,000. RS)

Punishments were now inflicted for robbery, theft, and other crimes; this formerly was rarely the case. The result was that public order and security had been, His Eminence maintained, established to a great extent in his dominions, although he did not deny that there was yet much to be done. He was, however, engaged in framing a complete code of laws, which he hoped would have the effect of placing Montenegro on an equality in these respects with European states. But in order to accomplish this fully, it was necessary to educate its population, and with this object he was engaged in building schoolrooms in different parts of the principality, which would be opened within a year, and placed under the direction of schoolmasters from Servia, as there were no Montenegrins yet capable of undertaking their management.

He declared that his subjects, although ignorant and occupied with little else but war, looked with anxiety and interest to the successful result of his efforts to introduce civilisation amongst them, and that he had every hope that in a few years a great change for the better would have taken place in their habits and condition. He greatly extolled the independence of character and love of liberty of his people. The Austrians and Russians, he declared, were slaves, the Montenegrins free men who would not tolerate arbitrary or despotic rule. They were all equal… (Autobiography, v. I, 134-135)

Character and conduct of the Montenegrins

I was much struck with the superior intelligence and liberal views of the Vladika. It was certainly remarkable that so young a man, brought up in the prejudices of a wild and barbarous people — hostile to all change and improvement, excessively tenacious of their ancient national habits and traditions, and cut off from the rest of mankind by implacable enemies and almost impassable mountains — should have developed the qualities which he possessed. I could not but admit that he deserved the reputation which he enjoyed amongst those who had known him during his travels.

At the time of my visit to him the Montenegrins had the character of being a tribe of robbers, marauders, and assassins, brave and ready to die in defence of the freedom which they had maintained in their mountain fastnesses, but bloodthirsty and treacherous. They were not altogether undeserving of their reputation. Their constant and frequently unprovoked raids upon their neighbours’ territories for the purpose of plunder, or to gratify their religious fanaticism by slaughtering the infidels, were accompanied by acts of ferocious cruelty, which had long rendered the name of Montenegrin odious and dreaded by Mussulmans and Christians alike.

Secure in their inaccessible mountains, excellent marksmen, awaiting their enemies behind rocks, brave and ready to die rather than lose their freedom, they were able to resist for generations the numerous attempts made by the Ottomans and Austrians to punish and subdue them. When, as in more than one instance, the Turks were obtaining advantages over them which might have led to their subjection, they received the powerful support of Russia, who for political objects of her own, and out of sympathy for people of her own race and faith, was always ready to step in for their defence, and to menace the Porte with her displeasure if it ventured to take advantage of the successes which its troops might have achieved over the mountaineers.

The Mussulman inhabitants of the districts adjacent to the Black Mountain were consequently compelled to submit to the depredations and excesses of their restless and barbarous neighbours. Their villages were burnt, their women and children barbarously mutilated and slain, and a harvest of heads periodically carried off as trophies by their invaders. (Autobiography, v. I, 136-137)

In the vicinity of Tarsus, on the Mediterrranean. After calling at Constantinople, and crossing Anatolia, the travelers descended from the Taurus Mountains to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey at Selefkeh, on their way to Aleppo and Jerusalem.

Our path was carried through a valley along the bank of the Calycadnus, a broad and clear stream, now called by the natives the Ghiok Su — “blue water.” The mountains on either side were thickly wooded. As the night came on we saw on all sides the fires of an encampment of the Ourouks. Although Iapandé, which we reached after dark, had only three or four houses, it contained the travellers’ oda (guest-house), which was rarely, if ever, absent from a Turkish village. There we installed ourselves, and were hospitably supplied with the best supper that the village could produce.

The evening meal, served to us by the kindly villagers in the room reserved for their guests, usually consisted of a very palatable soup, small lumps of boiled mutton, an omelet, a pilaf, and large flat cakes of unleavened bread. Sometimes, however, there was no meat to be obtained, as the inhabitants themselves did not often enjoy what was to them a luxury. I need scarcely say that we were never given wine or any spirituous liquor in a Mussulman house, whilst strong raki was usually presented to us by Christians, nor had we any provision of such things with us. We drank nothing but water and the usual sour milk which is found in most Turkish cottages in the interior. Fresh milk is considered unwholesome by all Easterns, and is rarely, if ever, drunk.

According to the custom of the country, nothing is paid for food, which is furnished by the community gratuitously to a stranger, but it was our invariable habit to give a small sum for the Odabashi, or owner, or man in charge of the guest-house. Sometimes we were, in addition, supplied with coverlets, which now that the weather was cold — we were in the month of November — were very acceptable, and we slept on the mattresses covered with European chintz, which formed a kind of low divan round the room, the floor of which was covered with mats. The principal drawback upon these otherwise pleasant nights’ quarters were the fleas and other vermin. We were, however, free from their attacks in our “Levinge” sheets, and they diminished and finally disappeared as the cold weather came on.

Before the supper was brought in upon a polished metal tray, the chief men of the village would sit with us. They retired when we ate and returned after we had finished our meal, leaving us when we desired to retire to rest, which we did very early, as we were generally fatigued with our long day’s ride. I still look back to those evenings pleasantly spent in conversing with these simple and kindly people, and in obtaining information as to their country habits, and customs. I thus learnt to appreciate the many virtues and excellent qualities of the pure Turkish race, and to form that high opinion which I have never had reason to change of the character of the true Osmanlu, before he is corrupted by the temptations and vices of official life and of power and by intercourse with Europeans and the Europeanised Turks of the capital. (Autobiography, v. I, 192-193)

After arriving at Selefkeh (ancient Cilician Seleucia) and crossing the Calycadnus by a Greek or Roman bridge, they explored the nearby country.

We wandered about during the remainder of the day in search of ruins. We found the remains of two temples with many columns of white marble still standing, and of a theatre with porticoes and adjacent edifices; architectural ornaments of exquisite delicacy of work and beauty of design; numerous capitals and shafts of columns of a florid Corinthian order scattered about the town, and built into the walls of houses — I counted no less than fifteen of the latter in the yard of our khan (guest-house) — an extensive excavation in the rock below the castle, about 150 feet long, 75 broad, and 40 deep, with arches of solid masonry round the sides, the bottom reached by stairs formed of large blocks of stone; many excavated tombs in the surrounding rocks, with the troughs similar to those we had met with in such abundance in Phrygia; sarcophagi used as reservoirs for fountains, with remains of inscriptions, some of the Christian era; and on all sides traces and foundations of ancient buildings.

About two miles from Selefkeh, in a valley wooded with larch, I found an aqueduct of which fifteen arches in two tiers, nine in the lower and six in the upper, still remained. The view which it commanded was of marvelous Southern beauty — the fine old castle and the ruins of the ancient city backed by the lofty serrated range of Taurus, the small plain with its luxuriant vegetation, beyond the blue Mediterranean, in the extreme distance Cyprus faintly visible. Scenery of this exquisite loveliness abounds along the Karamanian coast which we had reached.

After passing two hamlets (beyond Selefkeh on the way to Tarsus) we came upon the remains of the Roman town of Poccile Petra. They were of considerable extent, and almost concealed by dwarf oaks and myrtles in full flower. The scene was altogether one of surpassing beauty. The ruins occupied a small valley opening upon the sea. Amongst them rose the remains of more than one temple, a triumphal arch, with an inscription stating that the town had been founded by one Flurianus, in the reign of Emperor Valentinian. A beautiful structure of white marble, with a vaulted ceiling and entirely open on one side, stood at a short distance from the town, probably a tomb, as around it were sarcophagi and troughs cut in the rock, from which the lids had been forcibly removed, many of them bearing the traces of inscriptions in Greek characters.

As we continued along the coast we passed many ruins, some apparently of small temples, others of tombs and the remains of buildings. During the day we had seen in the distance to the east the mountains of Syria rising majestically from the sea. As we forced our way through myrtle and olive bushes and marshy ground, game of many descriptions rose in all directions — francolins (the black partridge), partridges, quails, snipe, ducks, widgeon, and various kinds of water-fowl.

The sun went down in all its glory, lighting up this beautiful coast and the distant mountains of Taurus and Syria, and turning the blue Mediterranean into a sheet of purple and gold. In the distance, close to the coast, rose the picturesque castle of Korgos, built upon a small island. I never saw anything more lovely, nor had I ever enjoyed so many delightful sensations as our day’s ride afforded me. I have never forgotten it. The beauty of the distant mountains, the richness of the vegetation, the utter loneliness and desolation of the country, the wonderful remains of ancient civilization, the graceful elegance of the monuments, the picturesque aspect of the ruins, the blue motionless sea reflecting every object, with here and there a white sail, all combined to form a scene which it would be difficult to equal and impossible to surpass. (Autobiography, v. I, 197-200)

Jerusalem and Petra

Although the British consul in Jerusalem strongly warned against it, because of the menace of marauding Bedouin, Layard was determined to visit Petra. The following narrative combines material from his Autobiography and Letters with excerpts from the more complete account provided in the Early Adventures.

I had determined to visit Petra and some of the more important sites and ruins on the other side of Jordan. The authority of the Egyptian Government had not been established to the east of that river… The country was consequently unsafe for travelers, and the British Consul, and such Europeans as I had met in Jerusalem, declared that I could not attempt to pass through it without running the greatest risk. Parties of Bedouin marauders were said to be scouring the plains, and the scanty Arab population of Moab and Petra was said to be treacherous, fanatical, and hostile to Europeans.

Wherever I might go I should find myself in the midst of robbers and assassins. It would be impossible to reach Petra without either engaging the services of an Arab Sheikh of local influence and of power, who could conduct me in safety through the tribes on my route, for which I should have to pay a handsome backshish, or without a large military escort, which the Egyptian authorities would be unable to afford me…

The difficulties and dangers of this expedition which I meditated appeared to be so great, and the warnings of the Consul and others were so serious and urgent, that my companion, Mr Mitford, considered it prudent not to run them. I was determined, however, not to be baffled. We agreed to part for the time, and to meet again at Aleppo, to which place he would proceed leisurely by way of Damascus, after prolonging for some time his stay in Jerusalem. I was to make the best of my way to that place through the desert. (Autobiography, v. I, 279-281)

The journey described in Layard’s Early Adventures was an unending succession of fraught encounters with Bedouin tribesmen, one of them taking place soon after he reached Petra. Layard was accompanied by a personal servant, Antonio, and two youthful Arabs, Awad and Musa.

On the following morning we entered the Wady Musa, or Valley of Moses, and in an hour and a half I found myself amid the ruins of Petra. Everywhere around me were remains of ancient buildings of all descriptions, whilst in the high rocks which formed the boundaries of the valley were innumerable excavated dwellings and tombs. As I had intended to visit the ruins leisurely, I did not stop to examine them but, passing through them on my camel, ascended to a spacious rock-cut tomb, in front of which was a small platform covered with grass. There I made up my mind to pitch my tent.

I dismounted and spread my carpet. I had scarcely done so when a swarm of half-clad Arabs, with disheveled locks and savage looks, issued from the excavated chambers and gathered round me. I asked for some bread and milk, which were brought to me, and Antonio prepared my breakfast, the Arabs watching all our movements. Their appearance was far from reassuring, and my guides were evidently anxious as to their intentions. They were known to be treacherous and bloodthirsty, and a traveler had rarely, if ever, ventured among them without the protection of some powerful chief or without a sufficient guard.

They remained standing round me in silence, until they perceived that I was about to rise from my carpet with the object of visiting the ruins in the valley. Then one of them advanced and demanded of me in the name of the tribe a considerable sum of money, which, he said, was due to it from all travelers who entered its territory. I refused to submit to the exaction, alleging that I was under the protection of Sheikh Abu-Dhaouk. I was ready, I added, to pay for any provisions that might be furnished to me, or for any service of which I might be in need.

This answer gave rise to loud outcries on the part of the assembled Arabs. They began by abusing my two guides, whom they accused of having conducted me to Wady Musa without having first obtained the permission of their sheikh. A violent altercation ensued, which nearly led to bloodshed, as swords were drawn on both sides. An attempt was made to seize my effects, and I was told that I should not be allowed to leave the place until I had paid the sum demanded of me. As I still absolutely refused to do so, one, more bold and insolent than the rest, advanced towards me with his drawn sword, which he flourished in my face. I raised my gun, determined to sell my life dearly if there was an intention to murder me. Another Arab suddenly possessed himself of Musa’s gun, which he had imprudently laid on the ground whilst unloading camels….

In the first place, I thought it right to resist this attempt to blackmail a traveller; and, in the second, had I been even disposed to yield, I had not enough money with me to give what was asked. I therefore directed Musa and Awad to reload the camels and to prepare to accompany me. Seeing that I was determined to carry out my intention of visiting the ruins without their permission, the Arabs formed a circle round me, threatening to prevent me from doing so by force, gesticulating and screeching at the top of their voices. With their ferocious countenances, their flashing eyes and white teeth set in faces blackened by sun and dirt, and their naked limbs exposed by their short shirts and tattered Arab cloaks, they had the appearance of desperate cut-throats ready for any deed of violence. (Early Adventures, 14-17)

At this juncture the Sheikh of Wady Musa made his appearance.

Having somewhat calmed his excited tribesmen and obtained silence, the Sheikh of Wady Musa inquired into the cause of the disturbance. Having been told it, he announced that he had a right, as chief of the tribe in whose territory the ruins were situated, to the sum originally demanded, and that unless I paid it he would not permit me to visit them. He was a truculent and insolent fellow, tall, and with a very savage countenance; rather better dressed than his followers, and armed with a long gun and pistols, whilst they only carried swords and spears.

I repeated my resolution not to submit to this imposition, and warned him that if any injury befell me he would be held personally responsible by Ibrahim Pasha, who had given ample proof that he could punish those who defied his authority. Abu-Dhaouk, moreover, I said, was a hostage for my safety. I then rose from my carpet and, directing Awad and Musa to follow me with the camels, which they were loading, prepared to begin my examination of the ruins.

The sheikh, seeing that I was not to be intimidated, and fearing the consequences should any violence be offered to me or to my guides which might lead to a blood-feud between his tribe and that of Abu-Dhaouk, ordered his men to stand back, and I went on my way without further interference. As I descended into the valley he called out to me by way of benediction, ‘As a dog you came, as a dog you go away.’ I gave him the usual Arab salutation in return, and threw him a piece of money in payment for the bread and milk which had been brought to me on my arrival. This return for hospitality would have been resented as an insult by a true Bedouin, but he picked up the silver coin, and as I left I saw him crouching down on his hams surrounded by his Arabs, evidently discussing the manner in which I ought to be dealt with.

Awad and Musa were a good deal alarmed at my reception, and feared that the sheikh and his followers would find some means of avenging themselves upon me. They urged me, therefore, to leave the valley as soon as possible. But I was convinced that, notwithstanding the chief’s threats, he would not venture to rob or injure me… I was determined, as I had come so far to visit the ruins of Petra, to examine its principal monuments leisurely, and I spent the whole day in doing so. I was not molested, but I observed Arabs watching all my movements…

The scenery of Petra made a deep impression upon me, from its extreme desolation and its savage character. The rocks of friable limestone, worn by the weather into forms of endless variety some of which could scarcely be distinguished from the remains of ancient buildings; the solitary columns rising here and there amidst the shapeless heaps of masonry; the gigantic flights of steps, cut in the rocks, leading to the tombs; the absence of all vegetation to relieve the solemn monotony of the brown barren soil; the mountains rising abruptly on all sides; the silence and solitude, scarcely disturbed by the wild Arab lurking among the fragments of pediments, fallen cornices and architraves which encumber the narrow valley, render the ruins of Petra unlike those of any other ancient city in the world.

The most striking feature at Petra is the immense number of excavations in the mountain-sides. It is astonishing that a people should, with infinite labour, have carved the living rock into temples, theatres, public and private buildings, and tombs, and have thus constructed a city on the borders of the desert, in a waterless, inhospitable region, destitute of all that is necessary for the sustenance of man — a fit dwelling-place for the wild and savage robber tribes than now seek shelter in its remains. (Early Adventures, 17-19)

Though he survived the journey south of the Dead Sea, and made it back to Damascus, Layard admits in his Autobiography that the venture was foolhardy. He was in fact lucky to come out alive.

Consul Young and my other European acquaintances considered me guilty of unjustifiable foolhardiness in undertaking so dangerous a journey under such conditions, and foretold that all manner of mishaps were certain to befall me, the least of which would be that I should be stripped to the skin and have to find the way back to Jerusalem naked and barefooted.

They were right, and had I had a little experience of Arabs and of travelling in the desert, I should have listened to their warning. But I had romantic ideas about Bedouin hospitality, and believed that if I trusted to it, and placed myself unreservedly in the power of the Bedouin tribes, trusting to their respect for their guests, I should incur no danger. I did not know that the Arab tribes who inhabit the country to the south and east of the Dead Sea differ much from the Bedouins of the desert, of whom I had read in the travels of Burkhardt, and that they fully deserved the evil reputation which they had acquired at Jerusalem. (Autobiography, v. I, 282)

From Mosul to Baghdad

Layard and Mitford crossed on horseback from Aleppo to Mosul, then travelled by raft down the Tigris to Baghdad. En route, Layard’s imagination was fired by scenes along the way — his mind turning romantically back to The Arabian Nights.

The Tigris was now swollen by the melting of the snow in the great range of mountains in which it takes its source. During the usual floods of spring, which generally last for about two months, the inhabitants of the banks use its rapid stream for the conveyance of their merchandise and other produce by raft to Baghdad. These rafts, which are frequently of large size, are made of the inflated skins of sheep and goats, which are fastened together by willow twigs. Upon these are laid reeds and planks, on which the goods to be conveyed are piled. They are guided by one or two men, and, when large, by more with paddles. When they arrive at their destination they are, after being unladen, broken up. The wood finds a ready sale — the skins are brought back for further use.

When travelers use these rafts, as they frequently do, they have wooden bedsteads placed upon them, which, formed into a kind of hut by being arched over with canes covered with felt, afford a pleasant shelter from the sun during the day, and from the cold air during the night. We determined to avail ourselves of this comfortable means of conveyance to Baghdad, and to sell our horses. I sold my mare — although greatly out of condition after her long journey — for about the same price as I had paid for her…

Our raft was about twelve feet long and eight feet wide, and was made up of fifty skins, the price of a raft being regulated according to their number. On the planks and reeds which were laid across them were placed two bedsteads such as I have described. One boatman only was required to guide our craft. He seated himself on his hams on a board, with paddle in hand, which he used to keep the raft in the centre of the stream, or to impel it to the bank in case we desired to land. We shot rapidly down the current in the middle of the river, which had overflowed its banks to a considerable distance, and were soon out of sight of Mosul.

Late in the afternoon we perceived the great conical mound of Nimroud, which I had before seen from Hammun Ali, rising in the distance. We were carried over the remains of a very ancient dam, probably of Assyrian times, over which the river dashed in foaming waves. Our pilot skillfully guided his raft, which bent and heaved as if it were about to break up and deposit us in the stream through the perilous rapids. We then glided swiftly and calmly onwards, the huge Assyrian mounds gradually disappearing in the evening twilight. During the night we continued our voyage, our boatman apparently not sleeping, and in the morning when we woke, found ourselves floating past the barren, precipitous Hamrin Hills, through the lower ridge of which, soon losing itself in the desert, the Tigris forces its way. We swept by many ancient mounds and ruins, with the walls and foundations of buildings exposed where the banks had been washed away by the impetuous stream.

We reached the ruin of Tekrit, inhabited by Arabs, in the afternoon. Here we had to wait for about an hour to change our boatman, and to refill the skins of the raft, from which the air had escaped. We then resumed our voyage, and the next day, having floated onward all night, came in sight, about noon, of the first grove of palms on the Tigris, and the first that I had ever seen. Amongst these tall and graceful trees, and beneath their shade, were clusters of orange, citron, and pomegranate trees, in the full blossom of spring. A gentle breeze wafted a delicious odour over the river, with the cooing of innumerable turtle-doves. The creaking of the water-wheels, worked by oxen, and the cries of the Arabs on the banks added life and animation to the scene. I thought that I had never seen anything so truly beautiful, and all my “Arabian Nights’” dreams were almost more than realized.

I know of no more enchanting and enjoyable mode of travelling than that of floating leisurely down the Tigris on a raft, landing ever and anon to examine some ruin of the Assyrian or early Arabian time, to shoot game, which abounds in endless variety on its banks, or to cook our daily food. It is a perfect condition of gentle idleness and repose, especially in the spring. The weather was delightful — the days not too hot, the nights balmy and still. We were warned that there were Arabs on the banks who would rob us and plunder us of our raft if we ventured to land, or would fire upon us if we refused to approach the shore. But we saw none of them. (Autobiography, v. I, 322-325)

Baghdad 1840

There was a reason why they were not attacked — a ferocious penalty for robbery had until recently been imposed in Baghdad, although Layard was not to find this out until later. After they had arrived in the city a small house was put at the travellers’ disposal by the Political Resident or Agent of the East India Company at Baghdad, Colonel Taylor, a scholarly man who had previously seen service in the Indian army.

In the society of Englishmen and native gentlemen my time in Baghdad passed most agreeably and too quickly. I still look back to those days with pleasure and regret. Nor was it spent unprofitably. Upon the advice of Colonel Taylor I engaged a moonshee (writer/secretary) to give me lessons in Persian, and I was able to acquire sufficient of that language to be of great assistance in my subsequent wanderings in Persia. Colonel Taylor himself was a most accomplished and profound Eastern scholar, with a rare acquaintance with Arabic literature, and abounding in general knowledge.

He possessed a choice and valuable collection of Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and especially of the works of the early Arabian geographers, which threw light upon the ancient geography and history of Babylonia and Assyria and the regions subsequently ruled by the Caliphs… Colonel Taylor was as modest and retiring as he was learned and accomplished. He published little or nothing, and when he died in England his great and rare knowledge died with him.

The residency was a vast building, divided, as I have said, into two parts, the Divan Khaneh, and the enderun or harem. The Colonel entertained his guests in the Divan Khaneh, the rooms of which were handsome and spacious. His table was spread for every meal with the most profuse hospitality, and there were places for all the English in Baghdad, who were welcome to it whenever they thought fit to dine or breakfast with him and his family. The service was performed by a crowd of Arabian and Indian servants in their native costumes, moving noiselessly about with naked feet, and attending promptly and well to the wants of the guests.

At breakfast, the Indian non-commissioned officer in command of the guard of Sepoys always appeared, and after drawing himself up in military fashion and giving the prescribed salute, announced in Hindustani that “all was well.” When the meal was ended, an army of attendants brought in kalleons, the Persian hookah, or waterpipe, of silver and exquisite enamel, one for each person at the table, except, of course, the ladies. (Autobiography, v. I, 339-340)

The condition of Baghdad. Layard describes the misgovernment of Baghdad under the Sultanate, and visits a typical local Governor, or Pasha, of the time. He contrasts what he knows about the city under the Caliphate and its appearance under Ottoman rule.

Much as I had been struck with the appearance of Baghdad as we had floated to it through groves of palms and orange and citron trees, with the gilded domes of Kausiman, and the many cupolas covered with bright enameled tiles of the city itself rising above them and glittering in the sun, so much the more was I disappointed when I found myself in its narrow and dirty streets. More than one quarter was nothing but a heap of ruins without inhabitants.

Even in the part occupied by the better class of the population, the houses, some of considerable size, were for the most part falling into decay. The exteriors, like those of the houses of Damascus, were of sun-dried bricks without ornament or window. It was only after passing through a long, tortuous, vaulted entrance that the extent of the interior and the beauty of its painted and sculptured decorations, fast falling into decay and perishing, were perceived. The streets had consequently a mean and poverty-stricken appearance, which was not altogether warranted by the condition of the inhabitants.

The mosques, with their beautiful domes and their elegant minarets, were falling to ruins. No attempts were made to repair and maintain them. The ample revenue which had once been applied to these purposes, and came from the bequests of pious persons, and from other sources, had now passed into the hands of the Turkish Government, and no part of them was applied to the object for which they had been intended. Of the great edifices, the palaces, the colleges, the caravanserais, the baths, and other public edifices which had once adorned Baghdad, scarcely anything remained… The city of the Caliphs had become a desolation and a waste.

The only part of Baghdad which retained any animation and life was the bazaar; long, gloomy, narrow streets, covered with awnings of matting to keep out the rays of the sun, and lined on either side with shops or booths, with raised platforms in front, on which were seated cross-legged their owners, patiently waiting, smoking their narguilés (hookahs) and sipping their coffee, until a customer might ask for their wares. At constant intervals were the coffee-shops, within and in front of which sat on low stools a mingled crowd of Mussulmans and Christians, inhabitants of the town and Arabs from the country, some playing at draughts or chess, or at a game in which beans were moved backwards and forwards in cups cut into a board, and passers-by occasionally stopping to offer advice and to suggest a move.

These bazaars were always crowded from daybreak to nightfall, after which they were entirely deserted except by solitary watchmen and the usual street dog. I often passed through them in the night, and was always impressed by their gloomy, weird, and silent aspect after the busy and noisy scene that I had witnessed during the day, when Arabs, Kurds, Persians, Indians, and men of every colour and clime hustled each other, and the place resounded with their discordant cries. Then, a horseman could with difficulty make his way through the crowd; and the mounted officers of the Pasha, and the Bedouin on his mare, with his long spear tufted with ostrich feathers, were assailed with loud or muttered curses as they attempted to force their way through the dense mass of human beings. (Autobiography, v. I, 342-343)

New Turkish regime no better. Under the old Turkish system, Pashas or Governors were “almost independent of any control.” They sometimes made improvements, but their discipline was harsh. In 1840 things were changing. Now the worst kind of officials were being sent from Constantinople to govern the provinces — men driven by no higher motive than personal gain from extortion and bribery.

The last of the semi-independent Governors in Baghdad had been one Daoud Pasha, a man of energy, and of sufficient intelligence to take some interest in the prosperity of the province. He had introduced the cultivation of sugar, and had found other means of giving employment to the population. By measures of great severity and cruelty he maintained order in his Pashalic. In his time robbers were rare, the Bedouins were kept in check, and the roads were secure; he was the last who had inflicted upon evil-doers the horrible punishment of impalement.

He was in the habit of placing them on the stakes at the two ends of the bridge of boats across the river, and on either side of it, as a warning to those who visited the city and had to pass between them. Dr Ross had recently seen four culprits thus exposed, one of whom was said to have lived for several days in excruciating agonies.

Daoud’s successor, one Ali Pasha, was one of those officials brought up in the Porte, who, after the abolition of the old system, were generally sent from Constantinople to govern the provinces. He was an ignorant, narrow-minded, idle, and corpulent Turk, with a thin varnish of civilization, and an affectation of European manners which distinguished the new school of Turkish statesmen and public functionaries… He thought of little else than of making money wherewith to bribe persons of influence at Constantinople, in order to retain his government for as long a period as possible. He took no interest whatever in the prosperity of the province or the welfare of its population…

In company with Mitford I called upon him. We were mounted on Arab horses with splendid trappings embroidered with gold, specially provided by the Pasha himself. We were preceded by several cawasses (armed bodyguards) on horseback in picturesque costume, carrying silver-headed maces, and by runners with staves of the same metal. A guard of Sepoys and a number of attendants on foot completed the procession. We had to force our way through the crowded bazaar, scattering the buyers and sellers, the Arabs with their vegetables and other produce of their fields, the women with their baskets of fruit and bowls of sour curds, to the right and to the left…

We ascended a flight of steps, and were ushered into a beautiful apartment, the walls and ceilings of which were adorned with exquisite designs and carved trellis work in wood, and inlaid with ivory and small mirrors. It was a chamber quite worthy of Haroun al Reshid in his prime.

The Pasha was standing ready to receive us, and after the usual ceremonies and salutations, sank down again upon the low, luxurious divan, inviting us at the same time to sit upon the chairs which had been prepared for us. He was disgustingly obese, and his appearance was rendered even more repulsive than it would otherwise have been by his costume. Unaccustomed to the heat of Baghdad, and suffering, as he informed us, greatly from it, he wore nothing but a light jacket of white linen and a pair of shalways or baggy trousers of wide dimensions, was without shoes or stockings, and his naked chest was fully exposed.

Masses of fat hung upon him. Such was the type of many Turkish functionaries, men who took no exercise, rarely left their divans and their long pipes, gorged themselves twice a day with the most fattening dishes, and thought of little but the delights of the harem. His head was small and close shaven; he constantly removed his fez to mop it with his handkerchief. His countenance was insipid, stupid, and sensual, and his small eyes and the few straggling white hairs on his chin, which served for a beard, showed that he was of real Tartar descent.

Pipes — the cherry and jessamine sticks were then still in use — and coffee were brought to us. Our conversation was limited to the usual compliments and to the stereotyped questions and answers which passed on such occasions between Turkish Pashas and European travellers. Our audience was soon brought to a close, and we took our leave, returning to the Residency.  When one saw the kind of men to whom the government and welfare of the Sultan’s subjects were confided, the condition of his Empire, the signs of poverty, misery, and decay which surrounded one on all sides, could scarcely be a matter for surprise. (Autobiography, v. I, 344-349)

In Persia: seeking permission from the ‘Matamet’ in Isfahan

It was known that there were ancient ruins in the southern Zagros mountains, those of the city of Susa among them. Because it was across the Persian border Layard needed permission to enter the region. To obtain it from the regional governor, the ‘Matamet’ — a eunuch by the name of Manuchar Khan — he made his way from Hamadan to Isfahan, a violent storm striking his party en route.

I soon got wet to the skin. Except when the vivid flashes of lightning, accompanied by deafening peals of thunder, showed us surrounding objects, we were in total darkness. When the storm had ceased and we had wandered about for some time, distant lights and the barking of dogs directed us to the village of which we were in search. After scrambling through ditches and wading through water-courses, we found ourselves at the gate of a ruined khan (guest-house) where some men were gathered round a bright fire.

They were strolling shoemakers, who were on their way to Isfahan, and had taken up their quarters for the night in a vaulted passage which had afforded them shelter from the storm. Upon the fire they had kindled was a large caldron of savoury broth, which was boiling merrily. The long ride had given me an appetite, and I seated myself without ceremony in the group, and began to help myself without waiting for an invitation.

The shoemakers, although good Mussulmans, made no objection to my dipping my own spoon into the mess with them. Seeing that my clothes were soaked by the rain, and that I was suffering from ague, they very civilly left me alone in the recess in which they had established themselves, and I was able to dry myself by their fire and to spread my carpet for the night by the side of its embers.

Next day we entered upon the great plain in which Isfahan is situated, and I soon came to a broad, well-beaten track, which proved the highway from Hamadan to that city. After following it for a short distance I was so exhausted by a severe attack of fever, and by the dysentery which had greatly weakened me, that I was obliged to dismount on arriving at a small village called Tehrun, and to take a little rest. After the shivering fit had passed I resumed my journey, but being again overtaken by a heavy thunderstorm, I took refuge in a flour-mill which was fortunately hard by.

The gardens amongst which I had entered before arriving at Tehrun reach in an almost uninterrupted line to Isfahan. They produce fruit and vegetables of all kinds, especially melons of exquisite flavour, which have an unrivalled reputation throughout Persia… The many horsemen, and men and women carrying loads of produce, whom I passed on the road showed me that I was approaching Isfahan; but nothing could be seen of the city, which was completely buried in trees. By constantly asking my way I managed to reach, through the labyrinth of walls which enclose the gardens and melon beds, the Armenian quarter of Julfa…

Mr Edward Burgess, an English merchant from Tabreez, who was at Isfahan on business, hearing that I had arrived, came to see me and offered to be of use to me. He proposed that we should present outselves to the governor, Manuchar Khan, or, as he was usually called, ‘the Matamet’, to whom he was personally known. (Early Adventures, 112-114)

Layard now had his first meeting with Manuchar Khan, the much-feared Persian governor of Isfahan who was determined to humble the Bakhtiari and to put its leader in chains. Manuchar Khan, the ‘Matamet’, would have a lot to do with Layard’s fate in the next two years.

The Matamet himself sat on a chair, at a large open window, in a beautifully ornamented room at the upper end of the court. Those who had business with him, or whom he summoned, advanced with repeated bows, and then stood humbly before him as if awestruck by his presence, the sleeves of their robes, usually loose and open, closely buttoned up, and their hands joint in front — an immemorial attitude of respect in the East. (A footnote adds that ‘the attendants of the Assyrian King are thus represented in the sculptures from Nineveh.’)

In the ‘hauz’, or pond of fresh water in the centre of the court, were bundles of long switches from the pomegranate tree, soaking to be ready for use for the bastinado, which the Matamet was in the habit of administering freely and indifferently to high and low. In a corner was the pole with two loops of cord to raise the feet of the victim, who writhes on the ground and screams for mercy. This barbarous punishment was then employed in Persia for all manner of offences and crimes, the number of strokes administered varying according to the guilt or obstinacy of the culprit.

It was also constantly resorted to as a form of torture to extract confessions. The pomegranate switches, when soaked for some time, become lithe and flexible. The pain and injury which they inflicted were very great, and were sometimes even followed by death. Under ordinary circumstances the sufferer was unable to use his feet for some time, and frequently lost the nails of his toes. The bastinado was inflicted upon men of the highest rank — governors of provinces, and even prime ministers — who had, justly or unjustly, incurred the displeasure of the Shah.

Manuchar Khan, the Matamet, was a eunuch. He was a Georgian, born of Christian parents, and had been purchased in his childhood as a slave, had been brought up as a Mussulman, and reduced to his unhappy condition. Like many of his kind, he was employed when young in the public serve, and had by his remarkable abilities risen to the highest posts. Considered the best administrator in the kingdom, he had been sent to govern the great province of Isfahan, which included within its limits the wild and lawless tribes of the Lurs and the Bakhtiari, generally in rebellion, and the semi-independent Arab population of the plains between the Luristan Mountains and the Euphrates.

He was hated and feared for his cruelty; but it was generally admitted that he ruled justly, that he protected the weak from oppression by the strong, and that where he was able to enforce his authority life and property were secure. He was known for the ingenuity with which he had invented new forms of punishment and torture to strike terror into evil-doers, and to make examples of those who dared to resist his authority or that of his master the Shah, thus justifying the reproach addressed to beings of his class, of insensibility to human suffering.

One of his modes of dealing with criminals was what he termed ‘planting vines.’ A hole having been dug in the ground, men were thrust headlong into it and then covered with earth, their legs being allowed to protrude to represent what he facetiously called ‘the vines.’ I was told that he had ordered a horse-stealer to have all his teeth drawn, which were driven into the soles of his feet as if he were being shod. His head was then put into a nose-bag filled with hay, and he was thus left to die. A tower still existed near Shiraz which he had built of three hundred living men belonging to the Mamesenni, a tribe inhabiting the mountains to the north of Shiraz, which had rebelled against the Shah.

They were laid in layers of ten, mortar being spread between each layer, and the heads of the unhappy victims being left free. Some of them were said to have been kept alive for several days by being fed by their friends, a life of torture being thus prolonged. At that time few nations, however barbarous, equaled — none probably exceeded — the Persian in the shocking cruelty, ingenuity, and indifference with which death or torture was inflicted. (Early Adventures, 115-117)

Among the Bakhtiari

After the Matamet gave his permission to visit this part of Persia, Layard was delayed for five weeks: the men who were to accompany him into the world of the Bakhtiari tribes were in no hurry to leave Isfahan. During this period he familiarized himself with the Persian language and acquired the Bakhtiari costume he wore over the months to come.

The day after my interview with the Matamet I succeeded, after some trouble, in finding Shefi’a Khan, who had promised to introduce me to Ali Naghi Khan, the brother of the principal chief of the Bakhtiari tribes. They both lodged in the upper story of a half-ruined building forming part of one of the ancient royal palaces. The entrance was crowded with their retainers — tall, handsome, but fierce-looking men, in very ragged clothes. They wore the common white felt skull-cap, sometimes embroidered at the edge with coloured wools when worn by a chief, their heads being closely shaven after the Persian fashion, with the exception of two locks, called ‘zulf,’ one on each side of the face.

The Bakhtiari usually twist round their skull-caps, in the form of a turban, a long piece of coarse linen of a brown colour, with stripes of black and white, called a ‘lung,’ one end of which is allowed to fall down the back, whilst the other forms a topknot. In other respects they wear the usual Persian dress, but made of very coarse materials, and, as a protection against rain and cold, an outer, loose-fitting coat of felt reaching to the elbows and a little belong the knees. Their shoes of cotton twist, called ‘giveh,’ and their stockings of coloured wools, are made by their women.

A long matchlock — neither flint-locks nor percussion-caps were then known to the Persian tribes — is rarely out of their hands. Hanging to a leather belt round their waist, they carry a variety of objects for loading and cleaning their guns — a kind of bottle with a long neck, made of buffalo-hide, to contain coarse gunpowder; a small curved iron flask, opening with a spring, to hold the finer gunpowder for priming; a variety of metal picks and instruments; a mould for casting bullets; pouches of embroidered leather for balls and wadding; and an iron ramrod to load the long pistol always thrust into their girdles. I have thus minutely described the Bakhtiari dress as I adopted it when I left Isfahan, and wore it during my residence with the tribe.

The five weeks that I passed in Isfahan were not unprofitably or unpleasantly spent. I continued to study the Persian language, which I began to speak with some fluency. I frequently visited the mosques (into which, however, I could not, as a Christian, enter), and the principal buildings and monuments of this former capital of the Persian kingdom now deserted by the court for Tehran. I was delighted with the beauty of some of these mosques, with their domes and walls covered with tiles, enameled with the most elegant designs in the most brilliant colours, and their ample courts with refreshing fountains and splendid trees.

I was equally astonished at the magnificence of the palaces of Shah Abbas and other Persian kings, with their spacious gardens, their stately avenues, and their fountains and artificial streams of running water, then deserted and fast falling to ruins. It was not difficult to picture to oneself what they must once have been. Wall-pictures representing the deeds of Rustem and other heroes of the ‘Shah-Nemeh,’ events from Persian history, incidents of the chase and scenes of carouse and revelry, with musicians and dancing boys and girls, were still to be seen in the deserted rooms and corridors, the ceilings of which were profusely decorated with elegant arabesques… In the halls, the pavements, the paneling of the walls, and the fountains, were of rare marbles inlaid with mosaic… These gorgeous ruins — desolate and deserted — afforded the most striking proof of the luxury and splendour of the Persian court in former times…

But the most characteristic and curious scenes of Persian life were those I witnessed in the house of a Lur chief who had left his native mountains and had established himself in Isfahan, professing to be a ‘sufi,’ or free-thinker. He invited me more than once to dinner, and I was present at some of those orgies in which Persians of his class were too apt to indulge. On these occasions he would take his guests into the ‘enderun,’ or women’s apartments, in which he was safe from intrusion and less liable to cause public scandal. They were served liberally with arak and sweetmeats, whilst dancing girls performed before them.

Many of these girls were strikingly handsome — some were celebrated for their beauty. Their costume consisted of loose silk jackets of some gay colour, entirely open in front so as to show the naked figure to the waist; ample silk ‘shalwars,’ or trousers, so full that they could scarcely be distinguished from petticoats, and embroidered skullcaps. Long braided tresses descended to their heels, and they had the usual ‘zulfs,’ or ringlets, on both sides of the face. The soles of their feet, the palms of their hands, and their finger- and toenails were stained dark red, or rather brown, with henna. Their eyebrows were coloured black, and made to meet; their eyes, which were generally large and dark, were rendered more brilliant and expressive by the use of ‘kohl.’

Their movements were not wanting in grace; their postures, however, were frequently extravagant, and more like gymnastic exercises than dancing. Bending themselves backwards, they would almost bring their heads and their heels together. Such dances are commonly represented in Persian paintings, which have now become well known out of Persia. The musicians were women who played on guitars and dulcimers. These orgies usually ended by the guests getting very drunk, and falling asleep on the carpets, where they remained until sufficiently sober to return to their homes in the morning. (Early Adventures, 118-125)

Living with the Bakhtiari. Given the reputation of the Bakhtiari for treachery, cruelty, and murder, Layard pondered how he would manage life among them. After some days of difficult travel over mountain trails he arrived at Kala Tul, the fortress of their chieftain Mehemet Taki Khan.

As I rode along I could abandon myself to my reflections, which were of a very mixed kind. I was much elated by the prospect of being able to visit a country hitherto unexplored by Europeans, and in which I had been led to suppose I should find important ancient monuments and inscriptions. It would have been impossible to have undertaken the journey under better auspices. Shefi’a Khan seemed well disposed towards me. I had every reason to believe that during our intercourse at Isfahan I had gained his friendship, by various little services which I was able to render him.

As he had earlier served for a short time in a regiment of regular troops organized by English officers in the Persian service, and had thus acquired some knowledge of Europeans, he did not look upon them, as ignorant Persians did in those days, as altogether unclean animals, with whom no intercourse was permitted to good Mussulmans. His wild and lawless followers were kind and friendly to me, and I had no cause to mistrust them. But the Bakhtiari bear the very worst reputation in Persia. They are looked upon as a race of robbers — treacherous, cruel, and bloodthirsty. Their very name is held in fear and detestation by the timid inhabitants of the districts which are exposed to their depredations. I had been repeatedly warned that I ran the greatest peril in placing myself in their hands, and that although I might possibly succeed in entering their mountains, the chances of getting out of them again were but few.

However, I was very hopeful and very confident that my good fortune would not desert me, and that by tact and prudence I should succeed in coming safely out of my adventure. I determined at the same time to conform in all things to the manners, habits, and customs of the people with whom I was about to mix, to avoid offending their religious feelings and prejudices, and to be especially careful not to do anything which might give them reason to suspect that I was a spy, or had any other object in visiting their country than that of gratifying my curiosity and of exploring ancient remains. Accordingly I abstained from making notes or taking observations with my compass except when I could do so unobserved. Whilst associating with my companions on intimate terms, and conversing freely with them, I abstained from touching their food and their drinking vessels unless invited to do so, and from showing too much curiosity and asking too many questions about their country, its resources, and the roads through it.

On waking one morning I found that my quilt had been stolen. This was a severe loss, for, although the weather was still mild during the day, the nights were cold, as it was now the 3rd of October. I was not the only sufferer from the thievish propensities of our hosts. We had another most fatiguing days’ journey, scrambling over stony and almost inaccessible mountain ridges, or forcing our way through the thickets of myrtle, oleander, and tamarisk which clothe the banks of the Karun in this part of its course. The mountain slopes were clothed with a kind of heath or heather in full bloom, bearing flowers of the brightest rose colour.

Two tracks led to Kala Tul — the castle of Tul — where Mehemet Taki Khan was then residing. One track followed the course of the river and crossed the plain of Mal-Emir, the other took a direct line across the mountains. We passed through a hamlet called Sheikhun, surrounded by pomegranate trees in full fruit, but deserted at this time of the year by its inhabitants, who were living higher up on the mountain side. The chief of Sheikhun, who received Shefi’a Khan and his followers with the warmest expressions of friendship, embracing them all round, was an immediate retainer of the great Bakhtiari chief. As he could not persuade them to pass the night in his encampment, he insisted that they should remain to breakfast. He slew a sheep for them, and brought us a great bowl of sour milk and delicious honeycombs.

We reached our night’s quarters after a most toilsome and dangerous climb. We had now entered the district of Munghast, and had reached a high elevation. The air was keen and piercing, and I had good reason to lament during a bitterly cold night the loss of my wadded quilt… After scrambling and crawling down a most precipitous descent — men and horses appearing to those below them as if piled up one upon the other — we came to a narrow ravine formed by a torrent now dry. Making our way over the loose stones and boulders in its bed, we issued into a small plain, and saw, high up on a mound at a short distance from us, the castle of Tul — the end of our long and weary journey. (Early Adventures, 131-144)

In the Fortress of Kala Tul. The chieftain Mehemet Taki Khan was away when Layard arrived at his castle, so he was formally received by the Khan’s first wife, Khatun-jan Khanum. She told him that her son was gravely ill with fever, and when the boy’s illness worsened she urgently sent for her husband to return. Together, the Khan and his wife implored Layard to try and effect a cure.

My reputation as a Frank (i.e., European) physician had preceded me, and I had scarcely arrived at the castle when I was surrounded by men and women asking for medicines. They were principally suffering from intermittent fevers, which prevail in all parts of the mountains during the autumn. Shortly afterwards the chief’s principal wife sent to ask me to see her son, who, I was told, was dangerously ill, and I was taken to a large booth constructed of boughs of trees, in which she was living. It was spread with the finest carpets, and was spacious enough to contain a quantity of household effects heaped up in different parts of it.

The lady sat unveiled in a corner, watching over her child, a boy of ten years of age, and about her stood several young women, her attendants. She was a tall, graceful woman, still young and singularly handsome, dressed in the Persian fashion, with a quantity of hair falling in tresses down her back from under the purple silk kerchief bound round her forehead. As I entered she rose to meet me, and I was at once captivated by her sweet and kindly expression.

She welcomed me in the name of her husband to Kala Tul, and then described to me how her son had been ill for some time from fever, and how two noted practitioners of native medicine had been sent for from a great distance to prescribe for him, but had failed to effect a cure. She entreated me, with tears, to save the boy, as he was her eldest son, and greatly beloved by his father. I found the child very weak from a severe attack of intermittent fever. I had suffered so much myself during my wanderings from this malady that I had acquired some experience in its treatment. I promised the mother some medicine and told her how it was to be administered… The condition of the boy, however, became so alarming that his father was sent for.

The guests at the castle, myself included, came down to meet him. Mehemet Taki Khan was a man of about fifty years of age, of middle height, somewhat corpulent, and of a very commanding presence. His otherwise handsome countenance was disfigured by a wound received in war from an iron mace, which had broken the bridge of his nose. He had a sympathetic, pleasing voice, a most winning smile,and a merry laugh. He was in the dress which the Bakhtiari chiefs usually wore on a journey, or when on a raid or warlike expedition — a tight-fitting cloth tunic reaching to about the knees, over a long silk robe, the skirts of which were thrust into capacious trousers, fastened round the ankles by broad embroidered bands.

His arms consisted of a gun, with a barrel of the rarest Damascene work, and a stock beautifully inlaid with ivory and gold; a curved sword, or scimitar, of the finest Khorrassan steel — its handle and sheath of silver and gold; a jeweled dagger of great price, and a long, highly ornamented pistol thrust in the ‘kesh-kemer,’ or belt, round his waist, to which were hung his powder-flasks, leather pouches for holding bullets, and various objects used for priming and loading his gun, all of the choicest description… His saddle was also richly decorated, and under the girths was passed, on one side, a second sword, and on the other an iron inlaid mace, such as Persian horsemen use in battle. Mehemet Taki Khan was justly proud of his arms, which were renowned throughout Khuzistan. He had a very noble air, and was the very beau-idéal of a great feudal chief.

Although tribal politics in Asia are notoriously tainted with, if not founded upon, treachery and deceit, Mehemet Taki Khan had the reputation of being a generous and merciful enemy, and a trustworthy, just, and humane man, and his followers were devotedly attached to him. He could neither read nor write, but he was exceedingly intelligent, and especially fond of poetry. He was sincerely anxious to promote the good of his people and the prosperity of his country by maintaining peace, by securing the safety of the roads through his territories, and by opening his mountains to trade.

He had scarcely entered the enderun of the castle, to which his wife had removed, than he sent for me. I found him sobbing and in deep distress. His wife and her women were making that mournful wail which denotes that some great misfortune has happened or is impending. The child was believed to be at the point of death. The father appealed to me in heartrending terms, offering me gifts of horses and anything that I might desire if I would only save the life of his son. The skilful native physicians he had summoned could do nothing more for the boy, and his only hope was in me.

The child was in a high fever, which I hoped might yield to Dover’s powder and quinine. I administered a dose of the former at once, and prepared to pass the night in watching its effect. I was naturally in great anxiety as to the result. If the boy recovered I had every reason to hope that I should secure the gratitude of his father, and be able to carry out my plan of visiting the ruins and monuments which were said to exist in the Bakhtiari Mountains, and which it was the main object of my journey to reach. If, on the other hand, he were to die, his death would be laid at my door, and the consequence might prove very serious, as I should be accused by my rivals, the native physicians, of having poisoned the child.

About midnight, to my great relief, he broke out into a violent perspiration, which all the native remedies hitherto given him had failed to produce. On the following day he was better. I began to administer the quinine, and in a short time he was pronounced out of danger, and on the way to complete recovery. (Early Adventures, 147-152)

The success of his medical treatment secured Layard’s position, not simply as a guest, but as a treasured member of the tribe and even of the household itself. He was provided with new clothes, mothered, and invited to marry the most beautiful woman in the enderun — providing he converted to Islam first.

The gratitude of the father and mother knew no bounds, for the affection among these mountaineers for their children is very great. They insisted that I should in future live in the enderun, and a room was assigned to me. Mehemet Taki Khan made me accept a horse, as mine had not recovered from the effects of the journey over the mountains. But what I most needed was linen and clothes. These were supplied to me by his wife. I was indeed sadly in want of my second shirt. I had been compelled, after I had been robbed of it, to hide myself in the rushes on the bank of a stream to wash the one I wore, and to wait without it until it had been dried by the sun. My Persian clothes, of European cotton print, were in the shabbiest condition, and beyond repair. The Khatun’s women soon made for me all that I was in want of.

Khatun-jan Khanum — ‘Lady of my soul’ — was the principal wife of Mehemet Taki Khan, and the mother of his three children. There were two other ladies who ranked as wives of the chief, but who were on a very different footing from the Khanum, whose apartment her husband regularly shared. She was one of the best and kindest women I ever knew. She treated me with the affection of a mother, nursing me when I was suffering from attacks of fever, which were frequent and severe, and during which I was frequently delirious for several hours. She took charge of the little money that I possessed, as she feared that in my wanderings in search of ruins and inscriptions I might be exposed to great danger if it were known that I carried it with me. She acted as my banker, and gave me what I needed for immediate use, which was very little indeed, as there was nothing to buy, all that I required being furnished to me by her husband and herself.

Neither she nor her women, nor indeed any of the wives and female relatives of the chief and his brothers, ever veiled themselves before me. I was in the habit of passing the evening listening to the Khanum’s stories about the tribes. The chief was frequently present and took part in the conversation. I was even permitted, contrary to the etiquette of the harem, to eat with her, and Mehemet Taki Khan would jokingly taunt me with introducing European customs into the enderun, as it was not proper for even the husband to sit at the same tray with his wife, although in private. The other wives of the Khan, who were young and not ill-looking, never sat in his presence unless invited to do so, taking their places among the waiting-women of the Khanum, who was always treated with the greatest respect and consideration by her husband, and by her partners in his affections.

Khanumi, Khatun-jan’s sister, who was some years younger than herself, was the beauty of Kala Tul. Indeed, it was said that there was not a more lovely woman in the tribe, and she deserved her reputation. Her features were of esxquisite delicacy, her eyes large, black, and almond-shaped, her hair of the darkest hue. She was intelligent and lively, and a great favourite with all the inmates of the enderun. The chief and the Khanum would often tell me that if I would become a Mussulman and live with them they would give her to me for a wife. The inducement was great, but the temptation was resisted. (Early Adventures, 152-154)

A favorite amusement of the chief was to exercise his horses to the chase, by bringing them up to a rudely stuffed lion which was kept for the purpose in the castle. They were thus accustomed to the sight and smell of this animal, which is frequently found in the valleys and plains of Khuzistan, and often hunted by the Bakhtiari. I often accompanied the Khan’s brother, Au Kerim, who was an ardent sportsman, and other young chiefs, with their hawks and their greyhounds, on hunting expeditions. The plain of Tul and the neighbouring valleys abounded with a large red-legged partridge, and the duroj, or francolin. Hawks, trained to hunt with the large, long-haired Persian, and the more high-bred Arab, greyhound, were used for the capture of hares and gazelles.

At sunset attendants bearing trays on their heads appeared in the lamerdoun (guest’s quarters within the castle). The dinner consisted of the usual pillaus, with the addition of kibabs, stewed fowls, roast game, and several kinds of sweet dishes. After dinner coffee was handed round in the Arab fashion, kaleôns were smoked, and some of the guests played at backgammon, whilst others conversed or read or recited poetry until it was time to sleep, when every one spread his carpet upon the floor and settled himself for the night.

I usually dined in the enderun. Mehemet Taki Khan was fond of talking with me about England and her institutions and European inventions. He took a very enlightened view of such matters, was eager to induce the wild inhabitants of his mountains to engage in peaceful pursuits, and was very desirous that the country should be opened to commerce. These conversations generally took place in the evening in the inner court, where his favourite horses were tethered, and where he would sit amongst them on his carpet. But he was also in the habit of questioning me on those subjects when we were seated at the entrance to the castle, surrounded by the elders and principal men of the tribe.

He would make me describe to them railways and various modern discoveries, and explain to them the European sciences of astronomy, geology, and others unknown to his people. As they were at variance with the teachings of the Koran, he would direct a mullah to argue the matter with me and to endeavour to confound me. The learned man was generally satisfied with a simple denial of what I had stated, quoting in support of it some verse from the holy volume. But this did not satisfy the chief, who was anxious for knowledge. He would make me describe the wigs worn by judges and barristers in England, and then, with a jovial laugh, would exclaim, ‘You see that to make a cadi (judge) in England it only requires two horses’ tails!’

He had some difficulty in understanding why I had left my home to incur the privations and dangers of a journey through wild and inhospitable regions. He could scarcely believe that I had been impelled to do so by the love of adventure, and by a curiosity to visit new countries and to explore ancient remains…

The Bakhtiari are probably the descendants of the tribes which inhabited the mountains they still occupy from the remotest antiquity. They are believed to be of pure Iranian or Persian blood. They are a splendid race, far surpassing in moral, as well as in physical, qualities the inhabitants of the towns and plains of Persia — the men tall, finely featured, and well built; the women of singular beauty, of graceful form, and when young almost as fair as Englishwomen. If the men have, for the most part, a savage and somewhat forbidding expression, it arises from the mode of life they have led from time immemorial. They are constantly at war, either among themselves or with the Persian Government, against which they are in chronic rebellion.

In addition, they are arrant robbers and freebooters, living upon the plunder of their neighbours and of caravans, or of the pusillanimous population of the plains, amongst which they are in the habit of carrying forays with impunity. But notwithstanding the fierce and truculent appearance of the men, I have never seen together finer specimens of the human race than in a Bakhtiari encampment. (Early Adventures, 160-162)

Mehemet Taki Khan

I frequently witnessed whilst in Mehemet Taki Khan’s camp the effect which poetry had upon men who knew no pity and who were ready to take human life upon the smallest provocation or for the lowest greed. It might be supposed that such men were insensible to all feelings and emotions except those excited by hatred of their enemies, cupidity, or revenge. Yet they would stand until late in the night in a circle round Mehemet Taki Khan as he sat on his carpet before a blazing fire which cast a lurid light upon their ferocious countenances — rather those of demons than of human beings — to listen with the utmost eagerness to Shefi’a Khan, who, seated by the side of the chief, would recite, with a loud voice and in a kind of chant, episodes from the ‘Shah-Nameh,’ describing the deeds of Rustem, the mythical Persian hero, or the loves of Khosrau and Shirin.

Or sometimes one of those poets or minstrels who wander from encampment to encampment among the tribes would sing, with quavering voice the odes of Hafiz or Saadi, or improvise verses in honour of the great chieftain, relating how he had overcome his enemies in battle and in single combat, and had risen to be the head of the Bakhtiari by his valour, his wisdom, his justice, and his charity to the poor. The excitement of these ruthless warriors then knew no bounds. When the wonderful exploits of Rustem were described — how with one blow of his sword he cut horse and rider in two, or alone vanquished legions of enemies — their savage countenances became even more savage.

They would shout and yell, draw their swords, and challenge imaginary foes. When the death of some favourite hero was the poet’s theme, they would weep, beat their breasts, and utter a doleful wail, heaping curses upon the head of him who had caused it. But when they listened to the moving tale of the loves of Khosrau and his mistress, they would heave the deepest sighs — the tears running down their cheeks — and follow the verses with a running accompaniment of ‘Wai! Wai!’

Such was probably the effect of the Homeric ballads when recited or sung of old in the camps of the Greeks, or when they marched to combat. Such a scene as I have described must be witnessed to fully understand the effect of poetry upon a warlike and emotional race.

Mehemet Taki Khan himself was as susceptible to it as his wild followers. I have seen him, when we were sitting together of an evening in the enderun at Kala Tul, sob like a child as he recited or listened to some favourite verses. When I expressed to him my surprise that he, who had seen so much of war and bloodshed, and had himself slain so many enemies, should be thus moved to tears by poetry, he replied, ‘Ya, Sahib! I cannot help it. They burn my heart!’ (Early Adventures, 211-213)

A fugitive from the Matamet

Manuchar Khan — the ‘Matamet’ or Persian Governor of Isfahan — was determined to subdue the Bakhtiari and break the power of their chieftain Mehemet Taki Khan. He demanded a huge payment in taxes, and when this demand was ignored, marched with a military force toward the mountains. Separated from Mehemet Taki Khan, and trying to rejoin him, Layard became a fugitive in Arab country threatened by the Persian army, where whole tribal groups were confusedly on the run.

The plains between the rivers Karun and Jerrahi were now a parched and dreary waste with occasional remains of ancient cultivation, and of former habitations, marked by low mounds strewed with bricks and potsherds. The heat was intense and I had to ride about thirty miles, the owner of the mule walking by my side. It was evening before we found ourselves at Kareiba, a large village of huts built of reeds and mats, on the banks of the Jerrahi. I dismounted at the ‘musif’ of the sheikh, who was a Seyyid (a purported descendant of the Prophet).

Before daybreak on the following morning a messenger arrived from Thamer, the chief of the Cha’b Arabs upon whose territories I had now entered, with orders for the sheikh to abandon the village at once, and to move with its inhabitants and their property to the neighbourhood of Fellahiyah. Similar orders were sent to the Arab settlements higher up the river. It was reported that Mehemet Taki Khan had crossed the Jerrahi on the previous night, about three miles above Kareiba, and that the Matamet had already left Shuster (modern Shustar) with a large force in his pursuit. But my host, the Seyyid, pretended to be entirely ignorant on the subject, and maintained that not only had the Bakhtiari chief not entered the Cha’ country, but that he had turned back to the mountains.

The village now became a scene of great confusion and excitement. The men and women began to pull down the huts, and to bind together the reeds of which they were constructed in order to make rafts on which to float down with their families and their property to Fellahiya. Domestic utensils, such as caldrons, cooking-pots, and iron plates for baking bread, with quilts, carpets, sacks of corn and rice, and the poultry, which had been in the meanwhile captured by the naked children, were piled upon them. The herdsmen were collecting their cattle and their flocks. All were screaming at the top of their voices, and sometimes the men, ceasing from their work, and joining hands, would dance in a circle, shouting their war-song.

Already rafts similarly loaded began to float past the village, the orders of the Cha’b sheikh having been promptly obeyed by the Arabs on the upper part of the river. The inhabitants of Kareiba showed great activity in making their preparations, and early in the afternoon they had for the most part already departed on their rafts, and the village was nearly deserted. Those that remained were in great alarm, expecting every moment that the Matamet’s irregular cavalry would sweep down upon them. (Early Adventures, 239-240)

Dykes are destroyed to flood the country and obstruct the Persian advance

The country between Kareiba and Fellahiyah had been placed under water by destroying the dykes and embankments of the river and of the canals, so that it was impassable by horsemen, and I could go no farther. Everyone was too much occupied with his own affairs to attend to a guest and a stranger. The ‘musif’ had been pulled down, and the owner could with difficulty prevail upon his women to prepare for me a mess of boiled millet and sour curds, which was barely sufficient to satisfy my hunger after a long fast.

Rafts, with their loads of men, women, and children, and their miscellaneous cargoes of domestic furniture, provisions, and poultry, were leaving one by one. My guide informed me that, although he had engaged to accompany me to Fellahiyah, he could not, as the waters were out, reach that place. As he could not remain in the deserted village, he declared that he must make his way back at once with his mule, and, mounting the beast, started off at a brisk trot across the plain.

At sunset the sheikh was ready to leave, his wives, children, and property having been already placed in a large flat-bottomed wicker boat, coated with bitumen — the only one belonging to the village. As there was plenty of room in it, I expected that he would allow me to accompany him; but when I asked him for a passage he curtly refused to permit an infidel Christian to be with his women and to pollute his vessel. Then, turning sulkily away, he got into it himself and pushed it into the middle of the stream. He was the last to leave the village, which was now completely abandoned by its inhabitants, and I was left standing alone on the river-bank.

The only course left to me was to follow the example of the Arabs, and to make a raft for myself. As the moon would not rise for some time, I spread my carpet on some reeds and mats which I had collected together, hoping to get a little sleep, as I was much fatigued. But I was soon surrounded by hungry dogs which had been left behind and were howling piteously. It was with difficulty that I could keep them off with a long stick. The discordant cries of hundreds of jackals, seeking for offal amongst the remains of the huts, added to the frightful chorus.

It was not impossible that lions, which are found in the jungle and brushwood on the banks of the rivers in this part of Khuzistan and other beasts of prey, might be attracted to the spot. But what I had more reason to fear than the dogs and wild animals were the bands of horsemen, and especially the Bowi Arabs, who were scouring the plain in all directions in search of plunder. Had I been discovered by them, I should at least have been stripped to the skin and left to my fate, if nothing worse had befallen me.

My position was by no means a pleasant one. I sat for some time in the darkness, keeping off the dogs and waiting for the moon. When she rose I gathered together all the canes and reeds that I could find. There was no want of them, and I had soon collected a sufficient number to make, with one or two tent poles which had been left behind, a raft sufficiently large to bear me. I had no difficulty in binding them together with withes and twisted straw taken from the roofs of the huts, as I had seen the Arabs do.

At length my raft was ready. I placed myself upon it, with a tent pole to guide it, and pushing it from the bank trusted myself to the sluggish stream. The dogs followed me, barking and howling, until a deep watercourse stopped them. I floated along gently, keeping as well as I could in the centre of the river.

The river-banks presented a scene of extraordinary bustle and excitement. They were thickly inhabited, and there seemed to be an endless succession of reed huts upon them. These their owners were now busy in destroying for the purpose of making rafts. The whole population was engaged in this occupation and in driving herds of buffaloes and camels and flocks of sheep through the mud and water, and swimming them across the stream and the numerous canals for irrigation which were derived from it on both sides.

Some were floating across the river on inflated sheepskins, carrying their children on their shoulders and bundles on their heads. Even the women and girls, divesting themselves of their long blue shirts — their only garment — were helping to convey their goods and chattels to the opposite side of the river, which was considered safer from the hostile incursions of marauding horsemen than the western bank. There was a general flight. Everywhere men sent by the Cha’b chief were breaking down the dams in order to flood the country. The crops which were ripe had been set on fire, and on all sides clouds of smoke rose into the clear sky. A thickly peopled and highly cultivated region was thus utterly devastated in a few hours.

I passed unobserved among the numberless rafts, and unnoticed by the Arabs on the banks. At length I came to an extensive grove of palm-trees…  extending for about two miles where the inhabitants seemed to consider themselves secure from attack, as they were not, like those on the upper part of the river, removing their property. The stream, which had been much reduced in size by the numerous watercourses for irrigation derived from it, passed through the centre of a court. I perceived on both sides rows of Arabs seated on carpets. Attendants were hurrying about with little coffee cups, and with water-pipes, formed of the shell of the cocoa-nut, such as are usually smoked by Arabs.

Pushing my raft to the bank, I landed, and was informed that I was in the ‘musif’ of Sheikh Thamer, the chief of the great Arab tribe of Cha’b. The sheikh himself was seated, with some of his guests, at the upper end of the enclosure. When I presented myself to him, he invited me to be seated, making room for me by his side. In answer to his question whence I came and where I was going, I explained to him that I was an English traveller coming from Shuster on account of the disturbed state of the country.

The sheikh was known to be untrustworthy and treacherous, and to have upon his head the blood of more than one relation, whom he had murdered in order to attain the chieftainship. But he was very generous to seyyids and mullas, who, in consequence, flocked to Fellahiyah and condoned his evil deeds. When we were seated I informed the sheikh that the object of my coming to Fellahiyah was to see Mehemet Taki Khan, who, I had reason to know, had taken refuge in his territories. He called Allah to witness that Mehemet Taki Khan had thought of taking refuge with him, but he had turned back towards the mountains, and had probably reached a place of safety in them. I was convinced that Sheikh Thamer was not telling me the truth; but, finding that it was useless to press him further, I returned to the ‘musif’, determined to remain there until I could discover where Mehemet Taki Khan was concealed.

I spread my carpet in that part of it which was reserved for visitors of distinction. In the evening I was not a little surprised to see my old friend Mirza Koma, the governor of Behbahan, enter the ‘musif,’ accompanied by one Muhammaed Ali Khan, the chief of the Noui tribe, whom I also knew. They had arrived in Fellahiyah accompanied by about fifty horsemen. The whole party, covered with mud and showing evident signs of having suffered great privations, had a wretched and forlorn appearance. Their horses, too seemed to be nearly starved and could scarcely walk. The Mirza was glad to see me, and after supper related to me what had occurred since we parted at Behbahan, how he had been betrayed, like Mehemet Tai Khan, by the Persians, his son made prisoner, and his town taken and sacked, and how he had escaped with a few followers to Fellahiyah.

On my condoling with him upon his misfortunes, he replied with his usual good humour, ‘God is great! This is the fifth time that I have been driven from Behbahan, a fugitive, without wife or family, and naked. When those dogs of Persians have stripped the flesh off the bone they will leave it to me to gnaw.’

It was late before the inmates of the ‘musif’ could compose themselves to sleep, for Arabs never tire of chattering. I had not slept the previous night, and the events of the day had added not a little to my fatigue. I was not sorry when I could stretch myself upon my carpet, to take the rest of which I was so greatly in need. I sank at once into a profound sleep. (Early Adventures, 239-247)

With the whole countryside in disorder, and Mehemet Taki Khan now a prisoner of the Persians, anarchy prevailed. Both the Bakhtiari and the Arabs, “without a chief whom they respected, and who was able to maintain some authority over them, were fighting among themselves, and were plundering and maltreating the peaceable inhabitants of the province.” In these circumstances Layard and one of Taki Khan’s younger brothers, Au Kerim, fell into the hands of a Bahmehi chief certain to betray them — Khalyl Khan.

Caught as we were in a trap, and surrounded by Khalyl Khan’s retainers, had we sought to defend ourselves, and blood had flowed, we should have been instantly cut to pieces. There was nothing to be done but to submit… I was in the hands of lawless men, who might have considered it their duty to murder a European and an infidel, and who were as fanatical as they were ignorant. I therefore took my saddle-bags, which contained a few things that were precious to me — my medicines, my compass, and my note-books — and followed Au Kerim into the enderun.

We were no sooner within the room than the door was closed upon us and bolted from the outside. Au Kerim then denounced Khalyl Khan in the strongest terms that his vocabulary could afford, but in a low voice lest he should be overheard, for there are some insults which, among the Lurs, can only be washed out with blood… Although our host was known to be capable of any villainy, Au Kerim believed that Khalyl Khan would probably only take our horses and a little property, and leave us to shift for ourselves in his inhospitable mountains, and that having robbed us, and after recovering from his nightly debauch, our treacherous host would allow us to continue on our way.

Knowing the bloodthirsty and savage character of the Bahmehi, I did not feel the same confidence as my companion as to our fate. I was labouring under too much anxiety, and overwhelmed by too many thoughts to be able to sleep. To be murdered in cold blood by a barbarian, far away from all help or sympathy, the place and cause of one’s death to be probably forever unknown, and the author of it to escape with impunity, was a fate which could not be contemplated with indifference.

We could hear the voices of the chief and his companions in the adjoining room, and the sounds of wild Lur music. They were evidently carousing. Khalyl Khan had the reputation of being given to arak and wine — a rare vice among the mountain tribes. At length all was quiet, and the carousers had apparently retired to rest.

Escape and flight

It was some time after midnight when we were disturbed by the withdrawal of the bolt of the door. Au Kerim sprang to his feet, and I followed his example, not knowing who was about to enter and with what intent. The chief’s wife, whom we had seen in the afternoon after our arrival, stepped stealthily into the room. She denounced her husband to Au Kerim, in a whisper, as a ruffian who had no respect for the ties of family or the duties of hospitality. She would not, she said, have the blood of a kinsman upon her head, and she had come to release the guest whom he had treacherously seized.

The gate of the castle was open. Khalyl Khan, after his debauch, was fast asleep, and Au Kerim could take his horse and depart, and God be with him! Then, addressing me, she said, ‘What have we to do with you, a stranger, and what have you done to us that we should do you harm? Go with him, and let not your blood be also upon our heads’

Our arms were still in the guest room. We took them and went down, with as little noise as possible, to the yard, where our horses, with their saddles on, had been tethered for the night. The chief’s wife accompanied us to the gate, which had not been closed, and wishing us again ‘God speed,’ left us when we had passed through it… As soon as we were out of the gate we led our horses down a precipitous descent away from the village. We proceeded as cautiously and noiselessly as possible, and when we were at a short distance from the foot of the mound we descended the mountainside over rocks, loose stones, and bushes, as fast as we could.

It was with great difficulty that we could drag our horses to the foot of the high mountain range. A stony, hilly country, at this time of the year uninhabited — the tribes being in the summer pastures, with their flocks and herds — still separated us from the plain of Behbahan. We were at some distance from the castle when, about midday, we perceived that we were being pursued by a party of horsemen. Au Kerim, who was mounted on a high-bred Arab mare, put her to full speed. Khatun-jan Khanum had lent me one of Mehemet Taki Khan’s horses, which was strong and fast, and I was able to keep up with my companion. Both our animals were tired, and the heat on these bare and rocky hills, reflecting the burning rays of the sun, was intense.

We were following a long, narrow valley, through which ran the Tab, a small stream, one of the confluents of the river Jerrahi. It wound through the flat alluvial land formed by the various changes in its course. We could, therefore, gallop our horses, and were gaining on our pursuers, when Au Kerim’s mare stumbled and fell, throwing her rider over her head. I was a little behind him, and when I came up to him he was on the ground evidently in much pain and unable to rise. His mare had run away.

I was about to dismount to help him, but he entreated me to leave him, and to fly as fast as my horse could carry me, as I could not be of any use to him, and he would be unable to protect me. He advised me to strike into the hills as soon as I could do so, and to conceal myself in some ravine during the rest of the day. I saw that I could be of no assistance to him, and to remain with him would have been to risk my life unnecessarily. The horsemen who were in pursuit, and were rapidly approaching us, were too numerous to admit of the possibility of resistance. With a heavy heart and a sad presentiment of the fate which awaited him, I urged on my horse, and following his advice, turned into the hills by a track which led through a narrow defile.

After awhile, seeing that I was not followed, I endeavoured to discover some sheltered spot well hidden in the hills, where I could find water and grass for my horse and shade for myself, as the midday heat and scorching rays of the sun were almost beyond endurance. I had not slept for nearly thirty-six hours, and had eaten nothing since the previous night. I was suffering from excruciating thirst, and I dreaded lest an attack of the intermittent fever, which had never left me, might come on, and that I should be delirious and helpless.

My horse, greatly distressed from want of food and water, could scarcely carry me any longer. I was in despair, not knowing what to do or which way to turn, when I happily came to a retired place where there was an abundant spring, shaded by a few stunted konar trees. The soil around produced an ample supply of grass. I owed this welcome discovery to my horse, which suddenly began to neigh and to sniff the air — a sign that water was near. I gave it the rein, and it turned immediately to the spot, which was so well concealed that I should not probably have found it but for the instinct of the animal.

I was beyond measure thankful when I found myself in this oasis and was able to take some rest. Fortunately I still had some think cakes of unleavened bread and a few dried figs, which Khatun-jan Khanum had crammed into my saddle-bags. As my small stock of provisions would not suffice for long, and as I could not foresee when I might reach tents in which I could safely trust myself, I ate sparingly. My horse had made a rush at the springs. After it had drunk sufficiently I tethered it in the grass, and, stretching myself in the shade of a tree, fell at once asleep. (Early Adventures, 270-275)

With the exception of an occasional hyena or jackal I did not see a single living creature until, on the third morning, I perceived in the distance some flocks which I conjectured must belong to the Gunduzlu. A shepherd informed me that I was at no great distance from the tents of Lufti Aga. I rode to them and received a warm welcome from him. He informed me that the Matamet (Manuchar Khan) had returned to Shuster, that Mehemet Taki Khan was kept by him in chains, and that Ali Naghi Khan had been made prisoner and sent to Tehran. The heat, he said, had for the present stopped all military operations…

When I related my adventures to my Bakhtiari and Shusteri friends, they declared that I must have been under the special protection of Hazret Ali, as without it no single horseman could have passed through the country which I had traversed without being murdered by robbers or devoured by lions.

It was not until long after this that I learnt the fate of my unfortunate friend, Au Kerim. He had been captured by Khalyl Khan and his horsemen, who were our pursuers. The Bahmehi chief, fearing that if he were to put his kinsman to death there would be a perpetual blood-feud between him and the Bakhtiari, had given over his prisoner to Ali Riza Khan, Mehemet Taki Khan’s rival, who the Matamet had appointed chief of the tribes in his stead. There was ‘blood’ between the two chiefs and their families. Ali Riza Khan told Au Kerim to prepare for death. The unhappy youth covered his face with his hands and was immediately shot dead.

Had I fallen into the hands of Khalyl Khan I might have shared the same fate. The death of Au Kerim caused me sincere grief. Of all the brothers of Mehemet Taki Khan he was the one who possessed the most estimable qualities, and for whom I entertained the greatest friendship. (Early Adventures, 279-280)

Between Basra and Baghdad
Layard’s continuing loyalty to Mehemet Taki Khan led the Persian authorities to order his arrest. Escaping from detention in the city of Shuster Layard then made his way back to Baghdad. On the final stage of his journey between Basra and Baghdad he was accompanied by two other men, one of them a postal courier.

We were in the plain of Babylon, and were approaching the site of that mighty city… The Euphrates having overflowed its banks, and no attempt having been made by the Turkish Government to retain it in its original bed, a vast tract of country once populous and highly cultivated had been covered with water. The great marsh thus formed extended from above Hillah, an Arab town built on the site of Babylon, to below the junction of the Euphrates and the Tigris, at Korna.

The local Seyyid killed a sheep for us, believing me to be an officer in the service of the Pasha of Baghdad, and the Agayl not considering it desirable to undeceive him, as we were still in danger of being stopped and robbed. He would not allow us to continue our journey before daylight, as several lions, he declared, had been seen and heard skulking round the place during the previous night. I wished to brave the danger, which, I was convinced, was much exaggerated, if it existed at all, and to avoid what I considered a more serious peril, the burning rays of the midday sun; but my companion refused to stir, and it was not until dawn that we resumed our journey.

We stopped in the afternoon in a small village at a short distance from Hillah, on learning that a large party of Shammar Arabs were plundering the country in all directions and that horsemen had been seen during the day on the road to that place. This great Bedouin tribe was then at war with the Pasha of Baghdad, and was committing depredations in this part of the province. In the night we were alarmed by an attack upon the village. There was a great deal of firing; the men chanted their war-song, and the women made that piercing, quavering noise called the ‘tahlel,’ or ‘kel,’ by striking their open mouths with the palm of their hands, yelling at the same moment. After some time the enemy — whether Bedouins, or more probably thieves seeking to rob the date trees — retired, and I returned to my carpet, which I had spread on the roof of a house.

Before daylight some travellers, who had walked from Hillah, arrived and told us that they had found the road clear of Bedouins. We consequently started at once for that place, which was only four miles distant. On arriving there, I stopped at a coffee-house, to obtain some refreshment, whilst the postman went to find a brother Agayl, in order to inform himself of the state of the country between the town and Baghdad. He was advised to proceed at once… and after we had eaten some kibabs and rice in a cook-shop in the bazaar we mounted our horses. We soon left behind us the palm groves and the great mounds which cover the palaces of ancient Babylon, and found ourselves on the broad and well-beaten caravan track leading to Baghdad.

Parties of irregular horse were stationed at the caravanserais which have been built at regular distances on the much-frequented road between Hillah and Baghdad. Their officers assured us that the road was safe, as the Bedouins had retired to the desert, pursued by the Pasha’s troops. We had passed the third of these great buildings, when we saw in the distance, amidst a cloud of dust, a number of horsemen galloping towards us. Members of the Shammar tribe, they were soon upon us. One or two galloping at full speed towards me, brought their mares up on their haunches when their long quivering spears were almost within a few inches of my body.

In an instant, and before I had time to make myself known, the Agayl and I were thrown from our horses. When I fell my ‘keffiyeh’ (Arab head-dress) dropped off, and exposed a red ‘tarbush,’ or fez, which I had put on under it to protect my head from the sun. One of the Arabs cried out that I was a ‘Toork,’ and a man who had dismounted, seizing hold of me as I lay upon the ground, drew a knife and endeavoured to kneel upon my chest. I struggled, thinking that he intended to cut my throat, and called out to one of the party who, mounted upon a fine mare, appeared to be a sheikh, that I was not a ‘Toork,’ but an Englishman.

He ordered the man to release me, and then told me to get up. He was a handsome young man, with a pleasing expression, the most brilliant and restless eyes, the whitest teeth, which he constantly displayed, and long tresses of braided hair falling from under his ‘keffiyeh.’ Looking at me for a moment he exclaimed ‘Billah! He tells the truth. He is the English “hakim” (doctor) of Baghdad, and he is my friend, and the English are the friends of our tribe.’ Then, addressing himself to me, he asked me why I was there alone and without the protection of Sofuk, the great sheikh of the Shammar, who was known to be at war with that ‘dog, the son of a dog,’ the Pasha of Baghdad, and to have defeated his troops and occupied his country.

It was evident that he either took me for Dr Ross, of Baghdad, who had more than once visited the celebrated chief of the Shammar, and was well known to the tribe, or that he desired to protect me, and had invented an excuse for doing so. I endeavoured to explain to him that I was travelling to Baghdad, and that I was accompanying the Agayl, who was employed by the English ‘balios’ (consuls), in conveying letters, and had consequently never been molested by the Bedouins, and that, as an Englishman, I had no fear of the Shammar, who, I knew, were the friends of the English, and that I placed myself under his protection. He replied that it was fortunate that I had met with him, as he was a kinsman of Sofuk. Had I been a ‘Toork,’ my life would have been forfeited, as there was blood between the Shammar and the Osmanli.

He then bade me continue my journey. But in the meanwhile his followers had torn open the letter-bags, and had scattered their contents upon the ground. They had also robbed the Agayl of the greater part of his clothing, and had emptied my saddle-bags, taking my watch and compass and a few silver pieces which I possessed. They appeared to be but little under the control of the young sheikh. I appealed to him to restore my property. He ordered the men who had plundered me to do so, but after high words had passed between them they not only refused, but compelled me to give them my ‘zibboun,’ or long Arab gown, my ‘keffiyeh,’ and my shoes and stockings, leaving me only my ‘tarbush,’ Arab shirt, and ‘abba.’ They then took possession of our horses, the young chief being unable or unwilling to interfere further in our behalf.

We were left standing alone, almost stripped to the skin. I, however, considered myself fortunate in having escaped with my life. Had it not been for the interposition of the sheikh and for my having been taken for Dr Ross, I should unquestionably have been put to death for a Turk. The Agayl, who had not recovered from his fright, declared that he had only feared for me, as these dogs of Shammar, although they had robbed him, would not have dared to murder him, and have thus caused a blood-feud between the two tribes. But as for me, he said, they would have cut my throat as they would have cut the throat of a sheep.

We then began to collect the letters as fast as we were able. The day was rapidly drawing to a close, and in my utterly destitute condition I was anxious to lose no time in reaching Baghdad. We were still some hours distant from the city. Not being accustomed to walk with bare feet, I suffered the greatest pain and inconvenience from the want of shoes and stockings. The ground was so heated by the sun that it burnt the soles of my feet, which soon began to swell, blister, and bleed. My companion, who had gone barefooted from his birth, did not suffer as I did, and took compassion upon me.

Notwithstanding the great suffering I experienced, I hurried on as fast as I could, fearing lest I should not arrive at Baghdad before the sun rose. It was the beginning of September, and the summer heat had not yet diminished. I felt that I should die of thirst and fatigue if I had to cross the plain before us during the day, and I hoped that we might reach the city before morning. But the night was not to pass without a further adventure. We were suddenly stopped by two Arabs on foot, armed with short, heavy clubs. They demanded our clothes, and as we had no means of resistance, I was compelled to surrender my ‘tarbush’ and my ‘abba’, for which one of the thieves generously gave me his own ragged cloak in exchange. My head was now bare, and as it had been shaved in order to complete my disguise, I had an additional motive for wishing to avoid the scorching rays of a Mesopotamian sun.

At the gates of Baghdad

My thirst during the night was almost more than I could bear. Only once I was able to quench it. Under the walls of the last caravanserai we found a small caravan preparing to depart for Hillah. With it were one or two Agayls who were known to my companion. They offered me a skin filled with ‘leben,’ or sour milk, and I drank until I could drink no longer. Thus refreshed, notwithstanding the tortures that I had suffered from my feet, I felt fresh courage to continue our journey.

As the dawn drew near I could distinguish, with a joy and thankfulness that I cannot describe, the long line of palm groves which cover the banks of the Tigris above and below Baghdad. We soon reached the river, and as it was necessary to cross it, the Agayl went in search of a boatman whom he knew. He shortly returned with a ‘kufa,’ a circular boat made of reeds overlaid with bitumen, the owner of which quickly ferried us to the opposite bank. We landed in a garden outside the city walls, and near one of the gates. It was still closed and would not be opened until sunrise. I sank down on the ground, overcome with fatigue and pain.

A crowd of men and women bringing the produce of their gardens, laden on donkeys, to the bazaars, were waiting for the moment when they were to be admitted. At length the sun rose and the gate was thrown open. Two cawasses (servants) of the British Residency, in their gold-embroidered uniforms, came out, driving before them with their courbashes (whips) the Arabs who were outside, to make way for a party of mounted European ladies and gentlemen. I was the same party that, on my previous visit to Baghdad, I had almost daily accompanied on their morning rides.

The passed close to me, but did not recognize me in the dirty Arab in rags crouched near the entrance, nor, clothed as I was, could I venture to make myself known to them. But at a little distance behind them came Dr Ross. I called to him, and he turned towards me in the utmost surprise, scarcely believing his senses when he saw me without cover to my bare head, with naked feet, and in my tattered ‘abba.’

Very few words sufficed to explain my position. He ordered a ‘syce,’ or groom, who was following him, to give me his horse, and helping me to mount, which I had much difficulty in doing, took me to his house. (Early Adventures, 307-312)

Layard’s letters home were few and far between. Months elapsed between his joining the Bakhtiari and his writing about his experiences when he finally got back to Baghdad. Included in his Autobiography and Letters is a communiqué briefly summarizing several months of adventuring that he sent to his mother on his return.

Baghdad, 24th January 1842

I regret that I have been unable to make drawings; the state of the country would not allow me to do so, and indeed it was very seldom that I was able to make a note, or to take a bearing by the compass. During my last trip I discovered other sculptures and the sites of several ancient cities.

I luckily escaped very well, having only been plundered once, although the journey was a very dangerous one, and, succeeded in visiting every spot of any interest that, during my former excursion in Khuzistan, I had left unexamined. I found my poor friend Mehemet Taki Khan still in chains, with his family in a most distressing state. One of his brothers, with whom I had spent many happy hours, had been cruelly murdered, and on entering Shuster one of the first things I saw was the head of an old friend rotting in the Bazaar!

The number of persons that have perished in this province is scarcely credible. I visited the great robber Baktiyari chief, who received me very civilly in his celebrated mountain stronghold, and, contrary to my expectations, gave me every opportunity of visiting the country. I had the honour of being introduced to all his wives (he has twelve), and of getting well drunk with him on some Shiraz wine. In fact, we were sworn friends, and I only regretted that time would not allow me to join him in a few plundering expeditions, and other parties of pleasure, which he very kindly offered to bring about for my amusement.

I also spent a few days with the Wali of Luristan, who received me with much kindness and treated me with great hospitality. The only two Englishmen who had ever ventured into this country, Captain Grant and Mr Fotheringham, had been murdered by the predecessor of the present Wali, and, as Major Rawlinson had strongly warned any European against attempting to enter the country, I was somewhat anxious as to the result of my journey.

I am now, however, so well acquainted with this curious people that I had little difficulty in forming a friendship with him. The only scoundrel that ill-treated me was the Sheikh of the Beni Lam Arabs… Whilst among the tribe I was daily in the greatest danger, and had I not luckily been in company with a Seyyid, a descendant of the Prophet, I scarcely know how I should have succeeded in passing through the country. As it was, I was attacked, and robbed of the little money that I possessed. The Matamet, the commander of the Persian troops, had also left orders at Shushter to have me arrested; but I dared the Governor to do so, and remained in the town and travelled about the country without noticing his threats or remonstrances.

I have avoided living with the Colonel or any of the residents here, although I dine with them every day, and have taken a small house to myself, where I sit alone and am busily occupied during the day, writing and putting my notes in something like order. I have every reason to be most grateful to Colonel Taylor, who is a most amiable and worthy man. It would be well for England if every city in the world had such a Resident.

During the thirty years he has resided here it is impossible to describe the mode in which he has established the English name and character. A few days back we celebrated the birth of the Prince of Wales with great éclat. The steamer on the river was dressed with flags and fired a Royal Salute. In the evening the Resident’s house was illuminated, and the street hung with lamps. Who a few years back would have anticipated this? (Autobiography and Letters, V. 2, 12-13)

In Constantinople, 1842-45

Layard’s hard-won knowledge of the situation on the Turko-Persian border came to the attention of the British Ambassador in Constantinople, and he was eventually made an unpaid attaché at the Embassy. He also engaged in risky after-hours escapades in the company of another member of the Embassy staff — a Mr Alison — on one occasion secretly visiting a Princess of the Sultan’s Imperial family in the seclusion of her private apartments.

Mr Alison was in every respect a most delightful and entertaining companion, and, as we had the same tastes and pursuits, we agreed very well together. His perfect knowledge of the Turkish language and character were of great use in our frequent walks in Stamboul and our excursions in the neighbourhood of the city. Many were the adventures we had together, some amusing, some not without risk and danger. One of these adventures may be worth relating.

We were in the habit of going on Friday afternoons to the ‘Sweet Waters of Asia’ (a district of the city, RS) to look at the gay and picturesque groups of Turkish women, who assembled there on that day in spring, and, seated on the grass with their children, enjoyed a kind of picnic, smoking their narguilés, drinking sherbet, and eating sweetmeats. We were returning from one of these excursions in Mr Alison’s caique, which was rowed by three of the most stalwart and skilful Turkish caiquijis on the Bosphorus, when we perceived some ladies in very bright-coloured ferigis (cloaks), evidently of high rank, standing on the marble steps of an imperial kiosk, built on the water’s edge, and about to enter an eight-oared boat.

We stopped for a time to observe them. One, who was the most richly dressed of the party, stepped into the caique followed by the others, who were evidently her attendants, and, seeing that we were looking at her, cautiously lowered her veil, and showed her face, which appeared to us, from the glimpse we obtained of it, surpassingly lovely, and made a sign which we interpreted as an invitation to follow her.

Accordingly, when her caique left the stairs of the kiosk, we directed our boatmen to keep as near to it as they prudently could. As it had a larger number of rowers than ours, we had some difficulty in keeping up with it, especially as our caiquijis were evidently unwilling to continue the pursuit, and did not row their best. When we came to the spot where the Golden Horn meets the two streams — one coming from the ‘Sweet Waters,’ the other from the direction of the sacred suburb of Ayoub — the lady’s caique turned into the latter. We were about to follow, when our caique struck against something, and a dead body rose to the surface of the water close to us.

Our boatmen now threw down their oars, and refused to go any further. The appearance of the corpse was an evil omen, warning them, they said, against taking any part in an adventure, which might have grave consequences both to us and to them. The ladies, they declared, belonged evidently to the harem of a person of high rank, and if we were caught by the police, or were seen following them, we might incur the greatest possible danger. As they could not be persuaded to continue the chase, we had to return home much disappointed.

The following morning a Turkish woman, closely veiled, called at Mr Alison’s house, when I chanced to be there, and requested to speak with him. Having assured herself that no one except ourselves was present or could hear what she had to say, she told us that she had been sent by the lady, whom we had seen and followed on the previous day, to invite us to visit her. She refused to disclose the name of her mistress or to say who she was. If, she said, we would go to a garden wicket in a street in the Ayoub quarter which she described, at a certain hour on the following day, we would be admitted and the lady would receive us. She then left us.

Although the adventure was not without peril, and it was even possible that a trap might be laid for us, we determined to run the risk. The following day we accordingly went to Ayoub at the appointed hour. We had no difficulty in finding the wicket the messenger had described, in a narrow, solitary street in an out-of-the way part of the quarter. The gate was at once opened by a woman, and we entered it, apparently unobserved. She led us across a garden to a large kiosk of old Turkish architecture, with broad, overhanging eaves. We were ushered into a large hall, the walls and ceiling of which were sumptuously and most exquisitely decorated with gilding and painted ornaments in the Oriental style, whilst the ceiling was inlaid with pieces of looking-glass, which produced a rich and lovely effect. Such in those days, before Turkish taste was corrupted by European influence, were the decorations seen in the palaces of the Ottoman nobles.

On a very low divan at the further end of this hall was seated a lady, whom we recognised at once as the one we had seen at the ‘Sweet Waters.’ We had not been deceived by the glimpse she had allowed us to obtain of her face, when she furtively lowered her veil as she stepped into her boat. She was young and singularly beautiful, with the large almond-shaped eyes, the delicate and regular features, and the clear, brilliant complexion, somewhat too pale perhaps for perfect beauty, peculiar to Turkish women of mixed Circassian descent. She was splendidly clad in the dress then worn by wealthy Turkish ladies, before it was rendered vulgar and unbecoming by the introduction of French fashions. Round about her stood a number of girls, all richly clad, and for the most part exceedingly pretty, who were evidently her attendants.

She invited us to be seated on the divan beside her, and entered at once into conversation. She asked numerous questions upon all manner of subjects, politics included, said that she knew who we were, and that, seeing that we had observed her at the ‘Sweet Waters’, she had resolved to make our acquaintance, but that she had been imprudent in inviting us to follow her and was glad that we turned back when we did. She then ordered narguilés, coffee and sweetmeats to be brought, which were handed to us by some of her damsels, she herself partaking of them with us.

We were soon engaged in a very lively discourse. The ladies were delighted with Alison, who spoke their language perfectly, and laughed uproariously at his jokes and anecdotes. No one knew better how to entertain and amuse Orientals than he did. After we had talked for some time, the lady directed some of her attendants to play on the usual Turkish instruments, and others to dance, which they did very gracefully. But the dance soon degenerated into a kind of romp in which all the girls took part — pelting each other with comfits, and tumbling over each other on the floor and divans amidst shouts of laughter, to the great amusement of their mistress, who encouraged them in their somewhat boisterous play.

After we had passed nearly two hours very agreeably with our fascinating hostess and her ladies, we thought it time to withdraw. When we took leave of her, she made us promise that we would repeat our visit, telling us that she would send the same messenger as she had already employed to communicate with us, to let us know when she would receive us. We were taken through the garden to the same wicket by which we had been admitted, and issued, by the small street into which it opened, into the main thoroughfare of Ayoub.

In those days this sacred quarter of the Turkish capital, which contains the tombs of the first Mussulman martyrs who fell before Constantinople, was rarely visited by Europeans, who were exposed in it to insult and molestation from its fanatical inhabitants, chiefly Mullas and Softas, or students of the religious law. We were glad, therefore, to ecape from it unobserved, and to regain our caique, which we had left at some distance in the Golden Horn.

The lady, whose acquaintance we had thus made, had given us no clue as to who she might be; nor would the attendant who admitted us to the garden answer any questions on the subject. She was evidently of high rank, from her distinguished manners, the richness of her dress, and the luxury in which she lived. Our curiosity was greatly excited, and we determined to satisfy it. With this object we sent for an old Italian woman, generally known as ‘La Guiseppina,’ with whom we were well acquainted, and who kept a small hotel in Pera. She had access to most Turkish harems, and was much employed by Turkish ladies in executing commissions for them.

We informed her of our adventure, and described the lady and the house in which she had received us. ‘La Guiseppina’ undertook to discover our mysterious beauty and to communicate with her, and to return with the information we required before the end of the day. According to her promise she reappeared after a few hours, but with a face pale with terror. The lady, she declared, belonged to the Palace, and was, she had reason to believe, a sister of the Sultan. She implored us not to persist in the adventure, or to meet the lady again under any circumstances. If we were found with her, our lives would unquestionably, she said, be forfeited, and even if a suspicion arose that we had visited her, the consequences to us might be most serious.

We were quite ready to follow the advice of ‘La Guiseppina’, as the scandal of an exposure — to say nothing of the danger we might run — would have been very great, especially in the case of Alison who held a high diplomatic post. We, therefore, determined not to repeat our visit to our lovely friend. She continued for some time to send her messenger to reproach us for not having fulfilled our promise to see her again, and to appoint a time for meeting her. But we persisted in our resolution not to expose her or ourselves to further risk.

This Princess — for the lady was, no doubt, the Sultan’s sister — subsequently made herself notorious by not wearing a yashmak, or veil, and by throwing off many of the restraints placed upon Turkish women, and especially upon members of the Imperial family and harem, who were not then permitted to appear in public without precautions being taken to prevent any man from approaching them, and to maintain for them the strictest privacy. She was accustomed to appear at the ‘Sweet Waters’ and other places of public resort without concealing her features, and even to mix with the crowd.

Europeans were led to believe that the Princess was a ‘strong-minded’ person who was seeking to reform the condition of women in Turkey, and who was herself setting an example of freedom and independence of the restraints placed upon her sex which would soon be followed by others. But the Mussulmans were much scandalised by proceedings contrary to their religion and their customs, and the Sultan was soon compelled to interfere to put an end to them. The Princess was ordered not to appear any more in public, and, when it was necessary for her to do so, to wear the thickest of yashmaks. She disappeared from the scene, her vagaries were soon forgotten, and I do not know what became of her. (Autobiography, V. II, 145-150)

The educational work of American missionaries

During the winter of 1843-44 I passed most of my time at the Embassy — working for Sir Stratford Canning and obtaining political information for him, corresponding with the Morning Chronicle, and continuing my studies in the Turkish, Hebrew, and Chaldean languages.

I was anxious to promote the establishment of schools amongst the indigent Christian and Jewish populations of the Turkish capital — a matter in which Lady Canning took a very lively interest. We were able to open some schools in the poorest quarters of the city, and eventually one was founded for the education of children of the better classes without distinction of faith, it being meant for Christians and Mohammedans alike. To conduct it Lady Canning obtained the services of two ladies from England, the Misses Walsh, who managed the establishment very creditably and successfully, and devoted themselves to the work.

Later on, the Sultan generously presented Sir Stratford Canning with a large house in the main street of Pera, which belonged to the Turkish Government or to the Imperial domain, and to which this school, previously existing in a bad and inconvenient locality, was transferred. In it the children of many of the English engineers, who were then employed in the Turkish Arsenal and elsewhere, as well as those of Ionian and Maltese families and of Greeks and Armenians, received a fairly good education.

At that time the only schools in Constantinople where children could obtain anything like a European education were under the direction of the Jesuits, and of the American Missionaries. The former, who succeeded in making many converts, principally among the Armenians, were under the protection of the French Government, and were used by it for political purposes and to spread the influence and promote the interests of France. The American Missionaries, who had no political objects in view, and who did not profess to make converts to the Protestant faith, although the instruction they gave often led indirectly to that result, were a most zealous, devoted, and learned body of men.

They had spread themselves over the greater part of the Ottoman Empire in Europe and Asia, and in parts of Persia — especially in the provinces occupied by the Nestorians — and everywhere opened schools for the instruction of the native Christians. I was intimately acquainted with many of them, in Constantinople and elsewhere in Turkey, and received much kindness from them. After long struggling against the opposition and persecution they incurred, chiefly from the native Christians, and notably from the Greek and Armenian clergy, who were jealous of their influence and hostile to the spread of knowledge amongst those whom it was their interest to maintain in complete ignorance, the labours of the American Missionaries were rewarded by no inconsiderable success.

To them may be attributed in a great measure the movements which have since taken place in European Turkey, and in Armenia, in favour of national independence and against the rule of the Turks. Most of the leaders of the Bulgarians in their struggle against the Porte were educated in the American College, known from its founder as ‘The Robert College,’ a vast and commodious edifice, situated near the village of Bebek, and commanding one of the most beautiful and extensive views over the Bosphorus and its shores. There they acquired their knowledge of the institutions, laws, and customs of civilised countries, and those principles of political freedom which they sought to carry out in the rising against the Turkish rule, which led, many years after the time of which I am writing, to the independence of the Bulgarian race.

Another important result of the endeavours of the American Missionaries to establish schools amongst the native Christians was that, whilst it excited the jealousy and hostility of the Greek and Armenian clergy, it compelled them to make efforts to spread education amongst their own flocks, and so to prevent their having recourse to the teaching of foreigners, who were looked upon as heretics, and who were accused of the design of making converts to the Protestant faith.

Nothing has contributed more to the improvement of the Christian races throughout the Ottoman Empire in an educational, and perhaps a political, point of view, than these early efforts of the American Missionaries to open schools and to disseminate knowledge amongst those populations by means of translations of standard works of all kinds, and by teaching the elements of science in their various establishments.

They were amply supplied with money from the United States — chiefly, I believe, through the Board of Foreign Missions. Braving the climate, and the persecution and ill-treatment to which they were not infrequently subjected, they established themselves in the most remote and least frequented parts of the Turkish Empire, where they lived with their families — not forgetting the comforts of their native land, especially rocking-chairs and pumpkin-pie. I frequently, in the course of my wanderings, partook of their hospitality, and always received a warm welcome from them. Several whom I knew fell victims to their devotion, and to the hardships, exposure, and vexations to which they were subjected. (Autobiography, V. 2, 120-122)

Posted in Civilization, People.

Tagged with , , , .