NIEBUHR, Carsten (1733-1815)
Kopenhagen : Nicolaus Möller, 1774-1778. First German edition. Two volumes, quarto, in contemporary matching full vellum bindings, spines with titles and ownership initials in blind (first volume with short tear to vellum at head of spine), all edges stained red, front paste-down of first volume with original bookseller's label imprinted Aus dem Antiquarischen Magazin des Universitäts Buchhandlung in Kiel, volume 1. title with vignette engraving, dedication and contents with engraved head- and tailpieces, table of plates, large folding frontispiece map of Terra Yemen with the expedition's tracks hand-coloured in brown and green, pp XVI, 505, with LXXII plates (many folding); volume 2. title with vignette engraving, contents with engraved head- and tailpieces, table of plates with engraved headpiece, pp , 479, with LII engraved plates (many folding); complete with all plates, as called for, a fine set in an attractive contemporary binding. Text in German Fraktur.
This highly important and superbly illustrated account of the Danish expedition to Egypt, Arabia and Syria in 1761-67, compiled by the only surviving expedition member, the cartographer and mathematician Carsten Niebuhr, was first published in Danish in 1772. Niebuhr's work is one of the highpoints of eighteenth century travel and exploration literature, valued for the accuracy of both its textual and visual content, which provided a significant contribution to European knowledge of what was, at the time, a part of the world that was little-known or understood in the West. The expedition was mounted by Frederick V and departed from Denmark in January, 1761. Scientific in nature, its main objectives were to gather information on the geography, ethnology, natural history and antiquities of the region. From Alexandria the expedition travelled down the Nile and journeyed across to Sinai, then sailed to Jeddah and journeyed overland to Mocha. Here, early in 1763, the expedition lost its philiologist, von Haven, and naturalist, Forsskål. By the time the expedition reached Bombay, Niebuhr was the only member left alive. After remaining in Bombay for over a year, Niebuhr commenced his return journey, by way of Muscat, Shiraz, Persepolis, Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Nineveh and Aleppo. He then visited Cyprus and Palestine, before travelling overland to Constantinople, finally reaching Copenhagen in November 1767. Niebuhr's astonishingly accurate copies of the cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis and Behistun, reproduced in this work, were the most crucial step in the decipherment of the cuneiform scripts, and his account and sketches of ancient Mesopotamian sites provided the impetus for the birth of the new science of Assyriology.
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