Ancient Arabia: Languages and Cultures

W.J. Bankes' journey to Petra in 1818

bankesPlease note: The Ancient Arabia Languages and Cultures (AALC) project was a one year project funded by the University of Oxford's John Fell Fund, and came to an end in 2011. This website acts as a historical record of the project, and is no longer actively updated.

William John Bankes (1786-1855) was one of a number of gifted and scholarly Europeans who explored the Near East in the early nineteenth century. He spent most of the years 1815-1819 in the region, visiting Sinai, Egypt, Nubia, Syria (i.e. the area covered by modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel), Greece, Constantinople, the southern and western coastlands of Asia Minor, and Cyprus. His most celebrated discoveries include a tablet showing a list of the kings of Egypt from the Temple of Ramesses II, which is now on display at The British Museum, and he was the first to suggest that the cartouches in Egyptian inscriptions might contain the names of rulers. During his travels, he made meticulous copies of thousands of inscriptions (many of which have since disappeared), in Greek, Latin, Egyptian, hieroglyphic Luwian, Nabataean, Palmyrene, Hebrew and Arabic, and planned with great accuracy many of the monuments he discovered.

This transcript of Bankes' Journal of the journey from Jerusalem to Petra and subsequently north through Transjordan in 1818 was Norman Lewis' last contribution to scholarship, made when he was already in his late eighties. Norman Lewis was the acknowledged authority on Bankes, and in particular his travels in Sinai, Transjordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. Patricia Usick worked extensively on the records of his travels in Egypt and Nubia which are housed at the Bristish Museum. This work had not been published at the time of Norman's death in January 2010 and his family have kindly allowed it to be made available on the AALC website, where it is accompanied by photographs of the original Journal taken by Michael Macdonald. We are most grateful to the National Trust, which owns the original documents, and the Dorset History Centre which houses them, for permission to make these photographs available here.

Photographs of Bankes' handwritten journal of his visit to Petra in 1818

Transcript of Bankes' Journal and accompanying notes and commentary

Further reading:

W.J. Bankes and the Identification of the Nabataean Script (N.N. Lewis and M.C.A. Macdonald)

A Chronological list of Narratives of Journeys to Petra between 1812 and 1914 (N.N. Lewis)

William John Bankes. Travaux en Syrie d'un voyageur oublié (N.N. Lewis, A. Sartre-Fauriat, M. Sartre)

Annie Sartre-Fauriat: Les voyages dans le Hauran (Syrie du Sud) de W. J. Bankes (1816 et 1818), (Ausonius Mémoires n° 11-BAH, n° 169), Bordeaux-Beyrouth, 2005

Further information about the life and work of Norman N. Lewis can be found in the 10-year bibliography of ASTENE members