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Born in Finale Emilia in Modena, Italy of Italian Jewish origin, at the age of seventeen Ventura enrolled as a volunteer in the militia of the Kingdom of Italy and later served with Napoleon's imperial army where he reached the rank of colonel of infantry. After the Waterloo and the final downfall of Napoleon he returned to his home; but in 1817, yet known by the local authorities for his revolutionaries and Napoleonic sympathies owing to a dispute between him and a local member of the reactionary Ducal police, he was obliged to leave the country.
Learning that Persia was seeking the services of European soldiers, he obtained an officer's commission, and helped to instruct the forces of the shah in European methods of warfare. He soon attained the rank of colonel. On the death of the shah in 1822, Ventura offered his services to his successor, 'Abbas Mirza. In the latter's service, however, were a number of English officers who were decidedly hostile to the French, with whom they classed Ventura on account of his having fought under Napoleon; and through their intrigues Ventura was dismissed.
A rebellion having arisen in Afghanistan, Ventura conducted successfully several campaigns of a difficult nature, and greatly enlarged the boundaries of the kingdom of Lahore.
Together with Allard, Paolo Di Avitabile and Claude August Court, Ventura formed the group of European mercenary officers responsible for the modernizing of the Sikh army, and the training and command of the Fauj-i-Khas, the European model brigade, with Ventura as its commander.
"...Jean Baptiste Ventura... reorganised the infantry into a formidable army including Gurkhas, Pathans, Biharis and Ooriyas."
He is also described as "the baron of the Fauj-i-Khas".
Ventura was highly thought of by the Maharajah, and in addition to the rank of General, he was also appointed kazi and Governor of Lahore. He rose rapidly in the Darbar and virtually became the Commander In Chief of the Darbar forces.
Ventura married an Indian (or a local Armenian according other sources) lady, by whom he had a daughter; but he was always desirous of returning to his native country. In 1837 he went on a diplomatic mission to Paris and London, but was recalled to Lahore before he had time to visit his family in Europe.
He spent his spare time in Peshawar exhuming Bactrian Greek and Kushan coins from Buddhist stupas in the Khyber Pass, making numerous excavations then sending the findings on to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta.
In France he presented King Louis Philippe with a set of ancient Greek coins which he had unearthed, and which were evidences of the march through that country of Alexander the Great.
In his later years he lost a part of his large fortune in unsuccessful commercial enterprises. According to Flaminio Servi, Ventura received baptism toward the end of his life.
He died on 3 April 1858 in Lardenne (near Toulouse, France).
- Balboni, Maria Pia; “Ventura. Dal ghetto del Finale alla corte di Lahore”, Biblioteca Nuova serie, Pagine VIII-212, Aedes Muratoriana, Modena, 1993;
- Notizie Storiche e Biografiche del Generale Rubino Ventura, Finalese, Esposte da un Suo Concittadino, Finale (Emilia), 1882;
- F. Servi, in Corriere Israelitico, x. 47 et seq.;
- idem, in Vessillo Israelitico, xxxi. 308 et seq.;