Paul-Émile Botta bigraphy, stories - French archaeologist

Paul-Émile Botta : biography

December 6, 1802 - March 29, 1870

Paul-Émile Botta (6 December 1802 – 29 March 1870) was a French scientist who served as Consul in Mosul (then in the Ottoman Empire, now in Iraq) from 1842.


He was born Paolo Emiliano Botta in Turin, Italy, on December 6, 1802. His father was Italian historian Carlo Giuseppe Guglielmo Botta (1766–1837). In 1820 they moved to Paris where he studied under Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville.

Voyage around the world

Botta was selected to be naturalist on a voyage around the world. Although he had no formal medical training, he also served as the ship surgeon. Le Heros under Captain Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly (1790–1849) left Le Havre April 8, 1826 and sailed south through the Atlantic Ocean, stopping in Rio de Janeiro and around Cape Horn. They traveled up the coast stopping at Callao, Mexico, and Alta California. Jean Baptiste Rives (1793–1833), the former secretary of the Kingdom of Hawaii, had convinced investors from the family of Jacques Laffitte to finance the voyage to promote trade to California and Hawaii, but Rives disappeared along with some of the cargo. Translation from French of Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly, Voyage autour du monde, principalement à la California et aux Îles Sandwich, pendant les années 1826, 1827, 1828, et 1829 After visiting the Hawaiian Islands they reached China on December 27, 1828. In late July, 1829, the Heros returned to Le Havre.

On January 5, 1830 he defended his doctor's thesis. In 1831 he sailed to Cairo where he met Benjamin Disraeli. Some historians think the French traveler Marigny in Disraeli's novel Contarini Fleming was based on Botta. In 1836 Botta was sent to Yemen to collect plants on behalf of the Paris Natural History Museum.

Middle East

The credit of beginning archaeological research at Kuyunjik belongs to Botta, whom the French Government appointed Consul at Mosul in 1841-2. Before he left Paris to take up his duties he had several interviews with Julius Mohl, the eminent Orientalist, who pointed out to him that Mosul was the centre of a district of great historical and archaeological importance, and urged him to make good use of the splendid opportunity which he would enjoy for collecting antiquities, and even for making excavations on his own account. Mohl had read Claudius Rich's works, and realized clearly that the author had found the exact site of the ruins of Nineveh, and he felt that priceless archaeological treasures lay buried there and it was said that Botta's appointment as Consul at Mosul was due entirely to the influence and activity of Mohl, who persuaded the Government and the learned Societies of Paris that a French Consul at Mosul could do what a British Consul at Baghdad had done, i.e., make large collections of Oriental manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, etc.

Botta arrived in Mosul early in 1842, and tried to collect antiquities, but there was very little to be had, and Botta himself laments that Rich had swept up and carried off everything. He then turned his attention to excavating, and was anxious to make his first attempt at Nabi Yunus, where Rich had seen so much ancient building and sculpture, and acquired so many antiquities. But the Pasha of Mosul and the authorities of the Mosque of Jonah would not allow any part of that mound to be disturbed.

Botta decided to begin work at Kuyunjik. He started digging in December, 1842, and worked steadily for six weeks, but the results he obtained were few, and besides inscribed bricks and some small and unimportant objects, he found nothing. He carried on his excavations at his own expense, and as his means were small he began to wonder if it were worth while continuing the work. Whilst his men were digging they were watched by many people from the town and country round about, and they all wondered at the care with which every brick and fragment of alabaster were set aside to be kept. One day, when Botta was examining a number of such fragments, a Christian from the village of Khorsabad, by trade a dyer, asked him why he preserved such things. When the dyer heard that he was digging for alabaster slabs with figures sculptured upon them, he told Botta that he ought to come to his village, where they frequently dug up such things.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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