NIEBUHR, Carsten

NIEBUHR, Carsten. Lüdingworth near Cuxhaven 17.3.1733 — Meldorf, Holstein 26.4.1815. German Traveller and Engineer in Danish Service. Son of Barthold N. (d. 1749), a free farmer, and Caecilie von Duhn. Father’s death interrupted school, but studied privately mathematics, surveying, and Arabic, then at Göttingen. Selected by J. D. 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 civil servant (Landschreiber) in Danish Holstein. He married 1773 Christiane Sophie Blumenberg, one daughter and one son, the historian and Prussian diplomat Barthold Georg N. (1776–1831)..

Despite the fate of his companions Niebuhr 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 Persepolis 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 early authority in Indian cave architecture.

Publications: Beschreibung von Arabien. 48+431 p. Copenhagen 1772.

– Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländern. 1-2. Copenhagen 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); before 1800 1-2. were also translated into Dutch, French, Swedish and English.

Det tyrkiske Riges politiske og militaire Forfatning. 162 p. Copenhagen 1790 (transl. of two German articles).

Sources: N.B.G. 38; *C.E. Carstens, A.D.B. 23, 1886, 661f.; R. Hansen, N.D.B. 19, 1999, 217-219; *Life by B. Niebuhr 1817 (English 1838); J.B. Simonsen in D. Thomas & Cl. Chesworth (eds.), Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History. Vol. 17. Great Britain, the Netherlands and Scandinavia (1800–1914). Leiden & Boston 2021, 561-569; J. Wiesehöfer, Literature of Travel and Explor. 2, 2003, 857-859; Windisch 13f.; Wikipedia with picture and further references.

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