NIEBUHR, Carsten

NIEBUHR, Carsten. Lüdingworth, Holstein 17.3.1733 — Meldorf, Holstein 26.4.1815. German Traveller and Engineer in Danish Service. Son of a farmer, had little education, but studied privately mathematics, surveying, and Arabic. Selected by Michaëlis he became the geographer of the ill-fated Arabia Felix Expedition sent by the Danish crown (Frederick V). The expedition started in January 1761 going to Egypt (November 1761 to September 1762) and then to Yemen, but its members died one by one in various illnesses (thus e.g. the orientalist von Haven and the botanist P. Forsskål in Yemen). Only three left Mocca and sailed to Bombay in August-September 1763. The painter Baurenfeind died on board and the physician Cramer in Bombay in February 1764. As the only survivor Niebuhr came via Surat and Masqat to Bushir in February 1765, spent in March three weeks at Persepolis drawing ruins and inscriptions, and then continued via Basra–Baghdad–Mosul–Alep– Cyprus–Palaestina–Damascus–Anatolia–Constantinople, and arrived at Copenhagen in November 1767. For a while he lived in Copenhagen publishing his travel account, later back in Germany. He was married and the historian and Prussian diplomat Barthold Georg N. (1776–1831) was his son.

Despite the fate of his companions CN never depressed. He brought with him all collections and papers of them and published them. His own account was one of the most important among the 18th century travel accounts. His exact measurements helped to draw better maps. At Perspepolis he made the first exact copies ever published, in fact the first which where exact enough to allow the decipherment by Grotefend. He also made some bright observations about the nature of this script and published good account of the ruins with exact plans.

The Indian part of his Reisebeschreibung consists of pages 1–80 in Volume II. He had interviewed Hindus and gave an interesting account of the life in Bombay. He gave the first detailed account of Elephanta and thus became an authority in Indian cave architecture.

Publications: Beschreibung von Arabien. Copenhagen 1772; Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländern. Copenhagen 1-2. 1774-78, and as vol. 3. Reisen durch Syrien und Palästina nach Cypern, und durch Kleinasien und die Türkei nach Deutschland und Dänemark. Hamburg 1837 (ed. by J.N. Gloyer and J. Olshausen).

Sources: Windisch 13f.; N.B.G. 38; *A.D.B. 23 briefly; *N.D.B.; *Life by B. Niebuhr 1817 (English 1838); Wikipedia with picture and further references.


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