Empires of the Plain by Lesley Adkins
Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon

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From 1827 Henry Rawlinson, fearless soldier, sportsman and imperial adventurer of the first rank, spent twenty-five years in India, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in the service of the East India Company. During this time he survived the dangers of disease and warfare, including the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War. A gifted linguist, fascinated by history and exploration, he became obsessed with cuneiform, the world's earliest writing. An immense inscription high on a sheer rock face at Bisitun in the mountains of western Iran, carved on the orders of King Darius the Great of Persia over 2,000 years ago, was the key to understanding the many cuneiform scripts and languages. Only Rawlinson had the physical and intellectual skills, courage, self-motivation and opportunity to make the perilous ascent and copy the monument.

Here, Lesley Adkins relates the story of Rawlinson's life and how he triumphed in deciphering the lost languages of Persia and Babylonia, overcoming his brilliant but bitter rival, Edward Hincks. While based in Baghdad, Rawlinson became involved in the very first excavations of the ancient mounds of Mesopotamia, from Nineveh to Babylon, an area that had been fought over by so many powerful empires. His decipherment of the inscriptions resurrected unsuspected civilizations, revealing intriguing details of everyday life and forgotten historical events. By proving to the astonished Victorian public that people and places in the Old Testament really existed (and, furthermore, that documents and chronicles had survived from well before the writing of the Bible), Rawlinson became a celebrity and assured his own place in history.


About Lesley Adkins

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Lesley Adkins, an archaeologist and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, is the author of several reference books as well as The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphs, the account of the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. She lives in Devon, England, and is married to Roy Adkins, also an archaeologist and writer.
Published December 13, 2004 by Thomas Dunne Books. 447 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography, Travel, Self Help, Romance, Parenting & Relationships. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Adkins posits this, rather than Egypt’s Rosetta Stone, as ultimately the most significant cipher in finally unlocking ancient Sumerian languages (Assyrian and Babylonian), including original parables, law codes, and legends traceable thousands of years later in the Judeo-Christian Bible, includin...

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Publishers Weekly

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Over the course of 30 years, punctuated by a breathless succession of military campaigns, political intrigue and instability during which he earned honor and fame, Rawlinson pursued with dogged serenity the deciphering of the cuneiform pictographs.

Oct 11 2004 | Read Full Review of Empires of the Plain: Henry R...

The Sunday Times

Written in three languages, but only one script — cuneiform — it was to prove a far greater challenge to decipher than its Egyptian counterpart.

Jul 27 2003 | Read Full Review of Empires of the Plain: Henry R...

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