July 18, 2016

Akbar the Great Mogul, 1542-1605

Akbar the Great Mogul, 1542‒1605 is a biography of Akbar I (reigned, 1556‒1605), the third and greatest of the Mughal emperors of India. The author, Vincent Arthur Smith, was an Irish-born historian and antiquary who served in the Indian Civil Service before turning to full-time research and scholarship. After assuming the throne while still a youth, Akbar succeeded in consolidating and enlarging the Mughal Empire. He instituted reforms of the tax structure, the organization and control of the military, and the religious establishment and its relationship to the state. He was also a patron of culture and the arts, and he had a keen interest in religion and the possible sources of religious knowledge. The book traces Akbar’s ancestry and early years; his accession to the throne and his regency under Bayram Khan; his many conquests, including Bihar, the Afghan kingdom of Bengal, Malwa, Gujarat, Kashmir, Sind, parts of Orissa, and parts of the Deccan Plateau; and his annexation of other territories through diplomacy, including Baluchistan and Kandahar. The book devotes considerable attention to Akbar’s religious beliefs and interests. On several occasions Akbar requested that the Portuguese authorities in Goa send priests to his court to teach him about Christianity, and the book recounts the stories of the three Jesuit missions organized in response to these requests. By origin a Sunni Muslim, Akbar also sought to learn from Shiʻite scholars, Sufi mystics, and Hindus, Jains, and Parsis. The last four chapters of the book are not chronological but deal with the Akbar’s personal characteristics, civil and military institutions in the empire, the social and economic conditions of the people, and literature and art. The book contains a detailed chronology of the life and reign of Akbar and an annotated bibliography. Also included are maps and illustrations. Maps of India in 1561 and India in 1605 show the extent of Akbar’s conquests, and sketch maps illustrate his main military campaigns.

Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855

Israel Joseph Benjamin (1818–64) was a Jewish lumber trader from Falticeni, Moldavia (present-day Romania), who at the age of 25 set out to find the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Fashioning himself “The Second Benjamin” after the 12th-century Jewish traveler from Spain, Benjamin of Tudela, he spent five years visiting Jewish communities in what are today Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Afghanistan, India, Singapore, China, and Egypt. After a brief return to Europe, he spent another three years in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. He recorded the first five years of travels in a book that appeared in French in 1856 as Cinq années de voyage en orient 1846-1851 (Five years of travel in the Orient, 1846-1851). He combined his accounts of both sets of travels in an expanded book in German, published in 1858, under the title Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika von 1846 bis 1855 (Eight years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855). Translations into English and Hebrew followed in 1859. Benjamin describes the economic and social conditions in the Jewish communities he visited; he also recounts many traditions and local legends. Several chapters draw general conclusions about the state of the Jewish communities in different regions. Presented here is the English edition, which in the copy held by the Library of Congress is bound together with the French, German, and Hebrew editions.

An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India

Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779–1859) was an administrator with the East India Company who in 1808 was sent by the British Indian authorities on a mission to Afghanistan for the purpose of concluding an agreement with the Afghan ruler, Shah Shuja Durrani. Suspicious of British intentions and engaged in a domestic power struggle, Shah Shuja refused to allow Elphinstone and his party to proceed beyond Peshawar (in present-day Pakistan), which was then part of the Durrani Empire. Elphinstone remained in Peshawar for several months, where he met with Shah Shuja and gathered information about Afghanistan from a variety of sources, including merchants, travelers, and Islamic teachers. The result was a detailed report to the East India Company, which Elphinstone later expanded into An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India, published in 1815. The book is arranged logically and systematically. Following an introduction describing the mission of 1808‒9, it contains books on geography; the inhabitants of Afghanistan and their customs and way of life; the Afghan tribes; the provinces; and the royal government of Kabul. Appendices cover the history of the kingdom from the founding of the Durrani monarchy; the narrative of a Mr. Durie, a half-English, half-Indian compounder of medicines, of his journey across Afghanistan; an account of neighboring countries, including Kafiristan (a region in eastern Afghanistan conquered in 1896, present-day Nuristan Province); an extract from the memoir of Lieutenant Macartney, the surveyor in Elphinstone’s party who drew up a detailed map of Afghanistan; and a vocabulary of Pushto words. The book includes colored plates that portray Afghans of different ethnic groups and a very large fold-out map. An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul became a standard work, relied upon for decades by the British and other Europeans as a source of information about Afghanistan. Elphinstone went on to serve in a variety of posts in British India and to write other books, including History of India: The Hindu and Mohametan Periods (1841).

Ariana Antiqua: A Descriptive Account of the Antiquities and Coins of Afghanistan

Ariana Antiqua is an important early scholarly treatment of ancient coins and other antiquities discovered in Afghanistan and adjacent regions of present-day Pakistan. Much of the work focuses on the discoveries of Charles Masson (1800‒53), a British traveler and explorer who in the 1830s, working in the vicinity of Kabul and Peshawar, amassed a collection of more than 80,000 silver, gold, and bronze coins while in the service of the East India Company. The book was compiled and for the most part written by H.H. Wilson, professor of Sanskrit at Oxford. Chapter one is an account of numismatic and antiquarian research in Afghanistan up to the late 1830s. Chapter two is a narrative by Masson about his study of topes (dome-shaped monuments used as Buddhist or Jainist reliquaries or commemorative shrines, more generally known as stupas) and sepulchral monuments in Afghanistan. Chapter three is a study of references to “Ariana,” the name that ancient Greek authors, such as Eratosthenes and Strabo, gave to Afghanistan. Chapter four is a treatment of all of the dynasties that ruled Afghanistan from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to the first Islamic invasion of India in the 12th century.  The book contains plates with illustrations of topes, antiquities, and coins and a reconstruction of the Arianian alphabet, as well as a large foldout “Map of Ariana Antiqua: The Countries between Persia and India as Known to the Ancients with the Marches of Alexander,” with Greek place-names supplied by Wilson.

The Russians at Merv and Herat, and Their Power of Invading India

The Russians at Merv and Herat, and Their Power of Invading India is an account of Russian policy in Central Asia and of possible Russian intentions toward Afghanistan and India in the late 19th century, written from a British perspective. Topics covered include writings by Russian military officers on Central Asia and India; the analysis by the Russian general staff of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80); the journeys by Russian diplomat Pavel M. Lessar from Ashgabad (present-day Ashqabat, Turkmenistan) to Sarakhs (in present-day Iran) and from Sarakhs to Herat, Afghanistan; Russian railroad construction in Central Asia; Russia’s buildup of naval power in the Caspian Sea; and the development of the oil industry in Baku (present-day Azerbaijan). The book predicts that in a future crisis with Great Britain, Russia, unlike in previous crises or during the Crimean War, almost certainly would strike at British India. The author, Charles Thomas Marvin (1854–90), was a writer and one-time Foreign Office staff member who had lived many years in Russia, initially with his father, who was employed in Saint Petersburg, and later as a correspondent for a British newspaper. The book draws on interviews that Marvin conducted in 1882 with leading Russian military and political leaders, and contains translations of long excerpts from relevant Russian books and reports. It includes drawings by Russian artists, which, the author asserts, “are the first illustrations of Merv and the Turcoman region that have yet appeared in this country.” The book contains three appendices, including a long essay on the Russian navy that is only partly related to the main subject of the work.    

Ruhainah, the Maid of Herat: A Story of Afghan Life

Ruhainah, the Maid of Herat: A Story of Afghan Life is an historical novel, closely based on events in Afghanistan during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42). The heroine of the book, Ruhainah, is a former slave girl from Kashmir in the harem of a powerful Afghan chieftain who after the chieftain’s death marries Bertrand Bernard, a fictional British officer modeled on a real person. The author, Thomas Patrick Hughes (1838–1911), was an Anglican deacon, originally from Shropshire, England, who spent nearly 20 years at the Church Missionary Society (CMS) mission at Peshawar (in present-day Pakistan), Northwest Frontier Province, British India. Hughes mastered Persian, Pushto, Arabic, and Urdu and became deeply interested in the language and culture of the villagers in the region of Peshawar. His accomplishments included building an Anglican church in Peshawar, establishing a library, and gathering a collection of Pushto manuscripts that he bequeathed to the British Museum. Hughes departed India for England in March 1884 and, unable to find a suitable position in the Church of England, immigrated with his wife and family to the United States in May of the following year. He published Ruhainah, the Maid of Herat during his first year in the United States, originally under the pen name Evan Stanton. Although it was hardly an accomplished work of literature, the book was popular and went through several editions. Presented here is an edition of 1896, published under Hughes’s own name. Hughes also produced a major scholarly work, The Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopedia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies and Customs, Together with the Technical and Theological Terms of the Muslim Religion, which was first published in 1885 and appeared in numerous later editions in many countries around the world.