Johann Ludwig Burckhardt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Jean Louis Burckhardt
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.png
Born (1784-11-24)November 24, 1784
Lausanne, Vaud
Died October 15, 1817(1817-10-15) (aged 32)
Cairo, Egypt Eyalet
Nationality Swiss
Occupation traveler, geographer, orientalist

Jean Louis (also known as John Lewis, Johann Ludwig) Burckhardt (November 24, 1784 – October 15, 1817) was a Swiss traveller, geographer, and orientalist. He wrote his letters in French and signed Louis. He is best known for rediscovering the ruins of the city of Petra in Jordan.


Youth and early travels[edit]

Burckhardt was born in Lausanne.

After studying in Leipzig and at the University of Göttingen he visited England in the summer of 1806, carrying a letter of introduction from the naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach to Sir Joseph Banks, who, with the other members of the African Association, accepted his offer in 1809 to launch an expedition to discover the source of the Niger river. Upon acceptance Burckhardt planned to travel to the Levant in order to study Arabic, in the belief that his journey to Africa would be facilitated if he was accepted as a Muslim.

As preparation Burckhardt briefly studied Arabic at the University of Cambridge,[1] and prepared for his rigorous career as an explorer by hiking bareheaded through the English countryside during a heatwave, subsisting on vegetables and water, and sleeping on the bare ground.

Burckhardt left England in March 1809 for Malta, then proceeded the following autumn, to Aleppo, Syria in order to perfect his Arabic and study Islamic Law.

In order to obtain a better knowledge of oriental life he disguised himself as a Muslim, and took the name of Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah. There is some indication that he converted to Islam,[2] although his family denies this.[citation needed]

After two years passed in the Levant he had thoroughly mastered Arabic, and had acquired such accurate knowledge of the Qur'an, and of the commentaries upon its religion and laws, that after a critical examination the most learned Muslims entertained no doubt of his being really what he professed to be, a learned doctor of their law.

Discoveries and death[edit]

During his residence in Syria, Burckhardt visited Palmyra, Damascus, and Lebanon, and made a series of other exploratory trips in the region. One of these trips, in what is now Jordan, resulted in his discovery of the extensive and unique ruins of Al Khazneh in Petra which had been undiscovered for nearly a millennium. Unsatisfied with the magnitude of this discovery he was determined to carry on with his original aim to uncover the source of the Niger river. Thus in 1812 he went to Cairo with the intention of joining a caravan to Fezzan, in Libya.

Burckhardt temporarily abandoned this goal to travel up the Nile as far as Dar Mahass; and then, finding it impossible to penetrate westward, he made a journey through the Nubian desert in the guise of a poor Syrian merchant, passing by Berber and Shendi to Suakin, on the Red Sea, and then made the pilgrimage to Mecca by way of Jidda. At Mecca he stayed three months and afterwards visited Medina.

After enduring privations and sufferings of the severest kind, he returned to Cairo in June 1815 in a state of great exhaustion; but in the spring of 1816 he travelled to Mount Sinai, returned to Cairo in June, and there again made preparations for his intended journey to Fezzan. Several hindrances prevented his pursuing this intention, and finally, in April 1817, when the long-expected caravan prepared to depart, he was seized by dysentery[3] and died on 15 October. He had from time to time carefully transmitted to England his journals and notes, and a copious series of letters, so very few details of his journeys have been lost. He bequeathed his collection of 800 volumes of oriental manuscripts to the library of Cambridge University.

Discovery of Hittite or Anatolian hieroglyphs[edit]

In early 19th century, Burckhardt was the first to discover Hittite or Luwian hieroglyphic script at Hama in Syria.[4] These hieroglyphs are now generally known as 'Anatolian'.

In popular culture[edit]

Burckhardt was portrayed by Thomas Lockyer in the 2005 BBC docudrama Egypt.


His works were posthumously published by the African Association in the following order:


  1. ^ "Burckhardt, John Louis (BRKT809JL)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Catherine Cossy (2013-01-27). "A Real-Life Indiana Jones Who Converted To Islam And Discovered An Ancient City". Catherine Cossy. LE TEMPS. p. 1. Retrieved January 28, 2013. 
  3. ^ New International Encyclopedia
  4. ^ The Decipherment of Hittite James Norman (Schmidt), Ancestral Voices: Decoding Ancient Languages, Four Winds Press, New York, 1975.


External links[edit]