Tag Archives: British Empire

Napoleon’s soldiers discover something big

Here we go—we’re zooming ahead another bunch of centuries. I know, I know, we’ve bounced around time like a bb in a boxcar. You still want to find out how we know what ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics say, right? Of course you do.

It’s ad 1799, everybody! England had her trading empire—in Canada, the Middle East and India. Meanwhile, Napoleon Bonaparte was building the French Empire. Napoleon was another of those military geniuses who considered the day wasted that wasn’t spent conquering some country. He was utterly ruthless and would do anything for more power. Napoleon had the idea to establish a military base in Egypt from where he could launch attacks on British forces in the Middle East. One day, on the Nile delta near the town of Rashid (‘Rashid’ was too much of a mouthful so the French soldiers shortened it to ‘Rosette’) Napoleon’s engineers were expanding the foundations of his fort. As they dug, they ran into rubble from old, forgotten walls. A piece of this rubble was a ‘stela’ (STAY-lah): a stone with lettering chiseled into it.

Hang on, though—the lettering was in 3 writing systems: hieroglyphic, Demotic and Ancient Greek. The French officer in charge, Pierre-François Bouchard (pee-AIR frahn-SWAH boo-SHAR), was a smart cookie who recognized right away how important the Rosetta Stone is. He had the soldiers stop digging with their iron shovels and picks and carefully, very gently, tenderly lift the Rosetta Stone out of the sand and wipe it clean with soft cloths. After that he let them go back to shooting cannonballs at the sphinx’ nose. (Kidding! Kidding!—they didn’t really.)
https://www.napoleon-series.org/faq/c_sphinx.html
https://i.imgur.com/U5WvPqO.png
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/47076758582049602/
https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=napoleon+soldiers+egypt+pictures&fr=yhs-trp-001&hspart=trp&hsimp=yhs-

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Crytograms


“A cryptogram is a type of puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text. Generally the cipher used to encrypt the text is simple enough that the cryptogram can be solved by hand. Substitution ciphers where each letter is replaced by a different letter or number are frequently used. To solve the puzzle, one must recover the original lettering. Though once used in more serious applications, they are now mainly printed for entertainment in newspapers and magazines.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptogram

Have you ever solved a cryptogram puzzle? At first it looks pretty difficult. I’ll tell you the secret to solving them: look for the shortest words. Especially words of only one letter—that’ll be either ‘a’ or ‘I.’ Two-letter words will be ‘an, or, to, so, at, of, it, if, is…’ you get the idea. After you solve one or two short words you can more easily guess at the longer ones. If you find ‘a,’ then a 3-letter word ‘A_ _’ may be ‘and, any, are, all’. ‘E’ occurs most often in English, so look for the cypher (the substitute letter) in the puzzle that occurs most often.

If you were a 19th-century British cadet serving in Iran and you wanted to solve the riddle of cuneiform, you’d use that method. Rawlinson was solving a cryptogram. Rawlinson wanted to read the Persian version of Darius’ proclamation. He spoke modern Persian (Farsi). His first step was to look for commonly-used words. For instance, the inscription begins: ‘King Darius proclaims.’ Then Darius repeatedly offers thanks to the god Ahura Mazda. Rawlinson may have started there, and used symbols from those words to figure out the other ones.

https://api.razzlepuzzles.com/cryptogram
https://www.ancient.eu/Darius_I/

Related side note: During World War II, the heroic Englishman Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code used by the Germans to send secret messages. In the biopic The Imitation Game, Turing looked for the words ‘Heil Hitler’ which appeared in every message.
https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-alan-turing-cracked-the-enigma-code
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084970/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

The man who cracked the cuneiform code

Henry Creswicke Rawlinson

Now we skip ahead a couple thousand years to ad 1833. By that time Persia found herself part of a bigger empire: The British Empire, the Raj. Like Darius, the Brits had governors to oversee and manage their conquered nations. British Royal Army officers trained Persian soldiers to maintain peace. Among those British officers was a young cadet named Henry Creswicke Rawlinson. He had an interest in foreign language—I’m telling you, the British Empire was chock full of Englishmen with a flair for languages.* Rawlinson had learned to speak Farsi—the Persian language of the native soldiers. Rawlinson was quartered in the village of Behistun. Carved into a rock looking down on the village was one of Darius’ trilingual proclamations. One day Rawlinson decided to climb that rock and write down, as best as he could manage, all 3 versions of the proclamation.

One version of Darius’ proclamation was written in Old Persian. Since Rawlinson spoke Farsi—modern Persian, he could just about work out what the proclamation said. After he got the Persian part, he could begin the work of translating the other two—and deciphering cuneiform.

* In India, British officers in command of native troops were expected to learn the language of their men. I don’t know how many officers did learn, but it would have been a big achievement. It’s a lot harder to learn a different language when you’re grown up than it is when you’re a kid.

https://www.livius.org/articles/person/darius-the-great/6-organizing-the-empire/
https://www.britannica.com/place/Bisitun#ref99616

Henry Rawlinson and the Mesopotamian Cuneiform


https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Creswicke-Rawlinson
https://royalasiaticsociety.org/sir-henry-creswicke-rawlinson-1810-1895/

The Politics of Persian Language Education in Colonial India


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Indian_Army

Come cheer up, my boys, ’tis to glory we steer

British ship of the line

We watched nations compete for the best ocean trade routes. Trade with the Far East, India and the New World was how nations made money, how they kept themselves alive. And so they protected their trade routes and created monopolies—exclusive ownership of a market. Venice, Spain, Portugal and then England built ships mounted with cannon to enforce their ownership of trade routes. Ship design grew from the charming little caravel to the mighty ship of the line. These military ships, together, are called a navy. By the end of the 1600s naval power was the big instrument for building empires.

Heart of Oak

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Where In The World Is Western Civilization?

mapWhen I talk about the part of the globe that is Western Civilization, I mean from the Tigris/Euphrates valley to the Mediterranean to Europe to the Americas. Western Civ was born in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the southern part of Iraq. Civilization spread westward from there to lands around the Mediterranean Sea: Egypt, Israel and Phoenicia to the city-states of Europe and northward to the British Isles. From there it extended to the New World—the Americas and Australia.

So, Western Civ is made up of many people and cultures. It grew from the first civilization—the Sumerians in Mesopotamia—to the Egyptians; the Jews; the Greeks; the Romans, whose empire split into east and west; the western half of the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire which reorganized itself into separate European countries. Some of those countries in turn created empires mainly by colonizing the New World. The British Empire includes Canada and Australia. The United States of America declared its independence from Britain in ad 1776.

Of course there are other non-western civilizations around the world today and throughout history. This history is simply about Western Civilization. Most important to me are the ideas. How did ancient people develop an alphabet? Whose idea was it to smelt copper and tin together to make bronze? How did they come up with literature that we still read today? How did they figure out how to measure time, or the circumference of the Earth?