Thursday, September 3, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Debbie Challis, From the Harpy Tomb to the Wonders of Ephesus: British Archaeologists in the Ottoman Empire 1840-1880. London: Duckworth, 2008. Pp. xi, 211. ISBN 9780715637579. $33.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Françoise Chircop Rutland, University of Liverpool


[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The title clearly states what Debbie Challis intends to achieve in this publication.

The preface presents this book as an exploration of various Victorian British archaeologists' personal and somewhat contrived accounts of their travels in the Orient. It states that its main focus is the effects that these publications had upon British Victorian interest in archaeology and their perception of the Orient; and the methods by which these adventuring archaeologists would acquire antiquities. This book covers excavations from Lycia, Halicarnassus, Carthage, Cyrene and Ephesus; the archaeological area covered is consistent with the book's title, but it is hard to see how this region alone can adequately represent the interest shown by Victorians in what they included in their perception of the Orient. An introductory map locating the sites mentioned in the main text, or even better a map of the itineraries of each travelling archaeologist for each section, would have been a helpful addition.

The book is split into three main geographical regions--Asia Minor, North Africa and Ionian Greece - preceded by an 'Acknowledgements' section (p. vii), 'Notes on Place Names' section (pp. viii-ix), a 'List of Illustrations' (p. ix), a substantial 'Introduction: Travel, Archaeology and the Ottoman Empire' section (pp. 1-23) and 'Notes' (pp. 179-194), 'Bibliography'(pp. 195-206) and 'Index' (pp. 207-211) sections at the end of the book.

The first section, 'Asia Minor: Lycia and Caria'(pp. 23-76) features sub-sections focusing upon the Lycian Tombs, the Carian Mausoleum and artefacts removed from various locations throughout the Mediterranean to the British Museum.

The second section is concerned with 'North Africa: Carthage and Cyrene' (pp. 77-113) with two subsections focussing upon Dr Nathan Davis's excavations in Tunis: "In Search of Dido" and Robert Murdoch Smith's expedition to Cyrene in Libya: "Bedouins and Ruins".

The third and last section considers 'Ionian Greece: Ephesus and Smaller Excavations' (pp. 114-175) with three subsections focusing on excavations at Ephesus, "Ephesus: The Long Dig"; the Society of Dilettanti's digs in Priene, Rhodes, Sardis--"Dilettante Digs"; and some Cypriot excavations: "Cypriot Excisions".

A handy 'Afterword: Back to the Museum' section (pp. 176-178) at the end provides a guide on how to locate the artefacts mentioned within the British Museum's galleries today.

Archaeologists discussed include Charles Newton, Charles Fellows, Nathan Davis, John Turtle Wood, Austen Henry Layard, George Fredrick Watts, Robert Murdoch Smith, Lt. Edward A Porcher, Richard Popplewell Pullan, George Dennis, Heinrich Schliemann, Robert Hamilton Lang and the truly international Louis Palma di Cesnola. There are also detailed references to others who supported them, or not, as the case may be.

Challis writes with great regard for excavation procedures and the difficulties encountered at the time, these accounts are always delivered from the archaeologists' point of view and invariably invoke the personal, rather than professional, interests and concerns of those involved. An interesting aspect which emerges from Challis's various diary quotes is the nature of the relationships that existed between the archaeologists and the local workmen they employed. These accounts give insight into the nineteenth century British outlook on the 'foreign'.

Challis sets out to explicate the tumultuous cultural backdrop that made the removal of artefacts from their original locations to the highest bidder's locus of choice (here, the British Museum, the ultimate nineteenth century showcase for British archaeology) such a problematic issue today. The main questions addressed deal with the romanticised and privately led practices of collecting and expanding the British Museum's collections by using the diplomatic and military resources of the Empire. She explores these accounts through self-mythologizing narratives of adventures and perils endured by these Victorian travelling archaeologists, which were published to great public acclaim and created heroic characters for themselves and their experiences within Ottoman Imperial territories.

This book includes the archaeologists' personal outlooks regarding the political changes occurring at the time and how they reacted to the realities once immersed within these situations. Finally, Challis explores the development of archaeology into a fully fledged academic discipline emerging from the crucible of intense political competition between Britain and France and their national museums, in juxtaposition with Turkish nationalism blossoming from the terminally ailing Ottoman Empire.

The book is written taking into account the archaeologists' pro-Hellenic and pro-Imperial publications, and includes many quotations that highlight how they presented themselves and their actions. These accounts are interspersed with short descriptions of which major artefacts or monuments were found by the archaeologist/s being discussed and it captures the British Victorian popular romantic notions of travel and intriguing discovery well.

The closing short 'Afterword' section outlines the later cultural and political heritage of this period in British archaeology citing excavations by Arthur Evans, Flinders Petrie and Howard Carter along with literature by T.E. Lawrence and David George Hogarth. The text relies mainly on secondary sources, but primary sources were used as much as possible where appropriate.

To conclude, this book belongs to the genre of popular history and is evidently aimed at those who are enthusiastic about British archaeology and its history during this period but who do not wish to read specialist academic publications; however it does lean towards the academic end of its type. It is presented in an accessible and informal style which holds the reader's attention well, with plenty of well-placed Victorian illustrations which support the themes, style and type suitably, many of which are sourced from the original publications. These invoke the romanticised perception of the Orient projected through the original accounts published for the benefit of an expanding Victorian British readership. On the downside, this does not allow for in-depth scrutiny of any one aspect covered in the book. The Victorian illustrations could have been further supported by modern site or artefact photographs, yet the substantial bibliography and index make this book a good starting point for further research.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Travel, Archaeology and the Ottoman Empire 1
Asia Minor: Lycia and Caria
1. Lycian Tombs 23
2. At the Museum 40
3. The Mausoleum and the Lions 55
North Africa: Carthage and Cyrene
4. In Search of Dido 77
5. Bedouins and Ruins 101
Ionian Greece: Ephesus and Smaller Excavations
6. Ephesus: The Long Dig 114
7. Dilettante Digs 140
8. Cypriot Excursions 160
Afterword 176

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