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Paul-Émile Botta (6 December 1802 – 29 March 1870) was an Italian-born French scientist who served as Consul in Mosul (then in the Ottoman Empire, now in Iraq) from 1842, and who discovered the ruins of the ancient Assyrian capital of Dur-Sharrukin.

Paul-Émile Botta
WP Paul-Émile Botta.jpg
Born(1802-12-06)December 6, 1802
Turin, Italy
DiedMarch 29, 1870(1870-03-29) (aged 67)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorHenri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville


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.[1]

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.[2] After visiting the Hawaiian Islands they reached China on December 27, 1828. In late July, 1829, the Heros returned to Le Havre.[1]

On January 5, 1830 Botta 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.[1] In 1836 Botta was sent to Yemen to collect plants on behalf of the Paris Natural History Museum.[3]

The French Government appointed Botta at Consul at Mosul in 1842. While there he discovered the ruins of the ancient Assyrian capital of Dur-Sharrukin, and on his return to France in 1845 brought with him many artifacts from it. This achievement earned him a spectacular reputation as an Orientalist.

In 1848 after the French Revolution of 1848, Botta became French consul in Jerusalem, and, after his failed diplomatic mission in Constantinople in 1847, he was consul in Tripoli from 1855 to 1868. Due to his bad health he returned to France. He died on March 29, 1870 in Achères, France[4]


Botta's discoveriesEdit

Lamassu. Bas-relief from the m wall, k door, of king Sargon II's palace at Dur-Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), c. 713–716 BC. (From Botta's excavations in 1843–1844).

Before Botta left Paris to take up his duties as Consul in Mosul, he had several interviews with Julius von 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 the Nabī Yūnus (Prophet Jonah) mound, where Rich had seen much ancient building and sculpture, and acquired many antiquities. However, the Pasha of Mosul, and the authorities of the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah (located on the mound), 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.

In no very hopeful spirit Botta sent two or three men to dig at Khorsabad on March 20, 1843, and three days later they came upon the top of a wall, one side of which was covered with sculptured alabaster bas-reliefs. A week's work showed Botta that he had discovered the remains of a huge Assyrian palace, containing a large number of chambers and corridors, all the walls of which were lined with slabs bearing sculptured representations of gods and kings, and battles, and religious ceremonies. Side by side with these representations were long inscriptions in the cuneiform character. Botta wrote: "What can all this mean? Who built this structure? In what century did he live? To what nation did he belong? Are these walls telling me their tales of joy and woe? Is this beautiful cuneiformed character a language? I know not. I can read their glory and their victories in their figures, but their story, their age, their blood, is to me a mystery. Their remains mark the fall of a glorious and a brilliant past, but of a past known not to a living man."

Botta sent despatch after despatch to his patron Mohl, and, thinking that he had discovered Nineveh, he announced to him that "Ninive est retrouvé". It was not Nineveh that he had discovered, but rather Dur-Sharrukin, the capital of Assyria in the time of Sargon II (B.C. 721-705) -- in fact Sargon's palace itself. The French government, highly gratified at the surprising success of its consul, supplied him with ample means for further research as well as the artist Eugène Flandin to document Botta's discoveries. In 1845, having completely cleared out Khorsabad, he returned to France with a magnificent collection of Assyrian sculptures and cuneiform inscriptions. The Louvre's Assyrian display opened to the public in the presence of King Louis-Phillipe on May 1, 1847. Botta's discoveries aroused the whole archaeological and historical world with enthusiasm. A tremendous impulse was given to the study of the Orient.

Subsequent workEdit

In 1855, Victor Place, Botta's successor tried to send finds from Kish, Dur-Sharrukin, Nimrud and from Assurbanipal's palace in Niniveh, 235 cases all in all, from Mosul down the Tigris and the Shatt al-Arab to Basra, where they were to be loaded on a ship bound to Paris. One barge and four rafts were used, the rafts transported two human headed winged bulls and two winged Genii as well as other works of art. All the vessels were overloaded, and during the journey they were attacked several times by "Arab pirates". On March 21 or March 23, after passing the toll station at Zejeyyak (Zecheiya), the barge was rammed by pirates and sunk, "one and a half hours downriver from Al-Qurna", on the left bank of the river.

One raft, laden with a winged bull, later sank in the middle of the Shatt al-Arab near Kout el Fiengoui. Only two rafts reached Basra. The finds which were brought to Europe are in the Louvre and the British Museum today.

Several attempts to recover the boats during 1855 failed. Among the lost artifacts is, for example, the famous relief depicting the sack of the Urartian town of Musasir during Sargons's 8th campaign. Other parts of Dur-Sharrukin, near to sites explored by Botta and Place, would later be excavated by Edward Chiera during 1928 - 1929.

Work in other fieldsEdit


  1. ^ a b c Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr. (1984). "Paul-Emile Botta, Visitor to Hawai'i in 1828". Hawaiian Journal of History. 18. Hawaii Historical Society. pp. 13–38. hdl:10524/353.
  2. ^ Alfons L. Korn (1984). "Shadows of Destiny: A French Navigator's View of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its Government in 1828". Hawaiian Journal of History. 17. Hawaii Historical Society. pp. 1–39. hdl:10524/272. 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
  3. ^ (in French) Charlotte Radt, « Contribution à l'histoire ethnobotanique d'une plante stimulante : le Kat. Le Kat au Yemen (Note Préliminaire) », Journal d'agriculture tropicale et de botanique appliquée, vol. 16, n°2-5, Février-mars-avril-mai 1969, p. 234-235 et 239 read on line
  4. ^ (in French) André Parrot, « Centenaire de la fondation du "Musée Assyrien", au Musée du Louvre », Syria, t. 25, no 3-4, 1946, p. 173-184 [1].
  5. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Botta", p. 33).

Further readingEdit

  • Paul-Émile Botta and Eugène Flandin, Les Monuments de Ninive (Paris 1849-1859)
  • Glyn Daniel, A short history of archaeology (London, Thames and Hudson 1981).
  • Maurice Pillet [fr], Khorsabad. Les découvertes de V. Place en Assyrie, (Paris 1918).
  • Paul-Émile Botta (October–December 1831). "Observations sur les habitants des îles Sandwich". Nouvelles Annales des Voyages et des Sciences Geographiques. 52. pp. 129–148. (French)
  • Charles Franklin Carter (1930). "Duhaut-Cilly's Account of California in the Years 1827-28". California History Magazine. 8 (2 and 3). California Historical Society. pp. 8–130 to 8–166 and 8–215 to 8–250. (translation of French)

External linksEdit

  Media related to Paul-Émile Botta at Wikimedia Commons