James Theodore Bent bigraphy, stories - Archaeologists

James Theodore Bent : biography

30 March 1852 - 5 May 1897

James Theodore Bent (30 March 1852 – 5 May 1897) was an English explorer, archaeologist and author.


James Theodore Bent was the son of James Bent of Baildon House, near Bradford, Yorkshire, where he was born. He was educated at Repton School and Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1875. In 1877 he married Mabel, daughter of R. W. Hall-Dare of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, and she became his companion in all his travels. He went abroad every year and became thoroughly acquainted with Italy and Greece. In 1879 he published a book on the republic of San Marino, entitled A Freak of Freedom, and was made a citizen of San Marino; in the following year appeared Genoa: How the Republic Rose and Fell, and in 188x a Life of Giuseppe Garibaldi. He spent considerable time in the Aegean archipelago, of which he wrote in The Cyclades: or Life among the Insular Greeks (1885).

Archaeological research

From this period Bent devoted himself particularly to archaeological research. The years 1885-1888 were given up to investigations in Asia Minor, his discoveries and conclusions being communicated to the Journal of Hellenic Studies and other magazines and reviews. In 1889 he undertook excavations in the Bahrein Islands of the Persian Gulf, and found evidence that they had been a primitive home of the Phoenician race. After an expedition in 1890 to Cilicia Trachea, where he obtained a valuable collection of inscriptions, Bent spent a year in South Africa, with the object, by investigation of some of the ruins in Mashonaland, of throwing light on the vexed question of their origin and on the early history of East Africa. He made the first detailed examination of the Great Zimbabwe. Bent described his work in The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892). In 1893 he investigated the ruins of Axum and other places in northern Ethiopia, which had previously made known in part by the researches of Henry Salt and others. His book The Sacred City of the Ethiopians (1893) gives an account of this expedition.

Bent now visited at considerable risk the almost unknown Hadramut country (1893–1894), and during this and later journeys in southern Arabia he studied the ancient history of the country, its physical features and actual condition. On the Dhofar coast in 1894-1895 he visited ruins which he identified with the Abyssapolis of the frankincense merchants. In 1895 1896 he examined part of the African coast of the Red Sea, finding there the ruins of a very ancient gold-mine and traces of what he considered Sabean influence. While on another journey in South Arabia and Socotra (1896–1897), Bent was seized with malarial fever, and died in London on 5 May 1897, a few days after his return.Bent explored the island of Socotra with Ernest Bennett, Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. See The Island of Socotra, J. Theodore Bent, Nineteenth Century, June 1897, (published posthumously).

Mrs Bent, who had contributed by her skill as a photographer and in other ways to the success of her husband's journeys, published in 1900 Southern Arabia, Soudan and Sakotra, which she recorded the results of their last expedition into those regions. The conclusions at which Bent arrived as to the Semitic origin of the ruins in Mashonaland have not been accepted by archaeologists, but the value of his pioneer work is undeniable.


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