Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Last Word


Egyptian antiquities in international museums amount to millions, with hundreds of thousands in the major museums in France, Italy, Germany, US, Austria and UK. Many were obtained years ago by buying from private sources or through the permit system. In Budge’s time collectors from many different Museums came to Egypt to collect legally or illegally and they wouldn’t take no for an answer. And it was easy. As in Budge’s case, if they couldn’t find what they wanted in the villages or in unofficial ‘digs’, they could simply buy it right off the shelf in local antique shops, which at that time were bulging with real antiquities. If they had problems getting things out of the country they simply used their Consuls, or local agents of their Consuls, to smooth the way diplomatically.

Sir Evelyn Baring the British Consul was of a different cut than the Consuls of other countries. He was determined that his countrymen would abide by the regulations and pay strict attention to the wishes of the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Baring’s goal was to show the Egyptians what “order and good government” could achieve. And the British were to be the proper model to follow, that is, until he met Budge.
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Perhaps Baring would have gotten on better with Budge’s predecessor, Samuel Birch, a scholar who seldom traveled and never went to Egypt, instead he encouraged Egypt to come to him. Hundreds of people brought him coins, scarabs and other souvenirs of their trips out to Egypt to find out what they were. In the process Birch built up a historical framework without acquiring any large collection, and he encouraged people like Petrie to make drawings and impressions of monuments and bring back the small bits, like pottery shards, but major pieces stayed in place in the country. Budge, however was obsessive, he wanted it all.
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Looking back on his second trip to Egypt, I realized that all we have to go by is his own account in his 1920 autobiography, "By Nile and Tigris," in which Budge comes off like the guardian angel of antiquities. But I wonder if we are being setup. There were too many coincidences, too many things that stand out, local dealers and agents, contacts in shipping, telegraphic ‘back channels,’ military and the media, diversionary stories, stealth, safe houses, military transport and cover to conceal “...our operations...”!

A docudrama called “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” produced for TV in 2005 by the History Channel featured Budge’s theft of the Papyrus of Ani. In it Budge is portrayed as someone who improvises and succeeds by chance, someone who muddles through. But as I look back on what he did, it all reads like a well-planned, covert operation, premeditated and carried out with precision. The only hitch was the impoundment of the booty in Luxor. That required a tunnel to be dug by his cohorts in crime into the basement to retrieve it, like something from The Great Escape, with Steve McQueen and James Garner sitting at the bar of the Luxor Hotel making believe nothing is happening as they, along with the Stalag guards, ignore the obvious sounds of shovels digging under their feet!

Is it no wonder that Budge was later suspected of spying for the British Army in the Sudan. No doubt when he was there carried out excavations he was able to provide a wealth of information under cover of his civilian archeologist status. Remember Colin Firth in The English Patient.
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So now he goes off to Baghdad and later comes back to London and glory, and as for the Egyptians, well, if we go by Budge’s account, they got what they deserved. End of story.

But it didn’t end there. Budge boasted about his success, “...and all Luxor rejoiced,” and he also went out of his way to let everyone know that his actions would result in careful and reverent attention being paid to the objects that he had acquired using dubious and illegal methods. He also maintained to the end that he had done no more than what was needed, according to him any and all archeologists would do the same. “The outcry against the archeologists is foolish,” he says, “and the accusations made against him are absurd.” But, as Brian Fagan noted in his book, Rape of the Nile, “Budge flattered himself that he had the moral right on his side and that looting Egyptian sites was entirely legitimate.”

In most cases when Budge was buying things, he never bothered to question the ownership, or determine if they were original finds by the owner of the land or legally bought second-hand or even stolen goods. In one case it is certain that he went ahead and bought an item knowing that it was stolen property. Budge’s methods are clear examples of what Brian Fagan in 1975 called “models of illegal purchase.”

Legal title was the last thing on Budge’s mind. He was more worried about moving the items out of Egypt using his own carefully crafted methods. In the case of the Papyrus of Ani, however, he became involved in things that were completely different from anything he had done previously. Though bought from a local dealer, the Papyrus of Ani was confiscated by the police and thereby became official evidence, so when Budge removed it from a locked basement with the clear intent of smuggling it out of the country, he compounded the crime which was clearly one of theft. He tried to justify his action by bringing support to bear from a third party, into whose mouth he puts what seems like a bit of creative non-fiction.

“I think I can help you, and I will. As you have bought these things which you say are so valuable for the British Museum, and they are to be paid for with public money, they are clearly the property of the British Government, and they must be put into a place of safety as soon as possible.”

It is difficult to think that anyone like Major Hepper would be so unfortunate as to have to speak like that. It sounds very much like he had training in what the Voice of America used to call, “Special English.” The dialogue is just too unreal, even for Budge.
Worse was yet to come. After his first few trips, Customs officers routinely searched him and his luggage whenever he left Egypt. From his own admission Budge had no qualms about cutting up priceless papyri, such as the Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens and the Odes of Bacchylides in order to send them by mail to avoid the law. He cut both priceless documents into sections in order to place them between layers of photographs, and then mailed them after he wrapped them in gaudy colored paper “which the Cairo shopkeepers used for wrapping up the purchases of customers.”

When he “acquired” larger papyri they were cut by Museum staff under his supervision. In1893, Mr. H. Spencer, for example, reported that he had unrolled a total of 400 papyrus rolls in the Museum’s collection, including the Papyrus of Ani, for the purpose of cutting them up and mounting them behind glass. In the 2005 History Channel docudrama, following a scene worthy of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands, James Wasserman notes that Budge unfortunately had the original papyrus cut using the basic “yardstick” method – dividing it into thirty-seven sheets of relatively even length. “The result was to disfigure the flow of the original scroll.”

Carol Andrews in the preface to James Wasserman’s 1994 book The Egyptian Book of the Dead, said, “...the original papyrus roll...for the sake of convenience of storage and display was divided into thirty-seven framed and glassed sheets, varying in length from 52 cm to 76 cm, the norm being between 65 cm and 70 cm. Budge was sometimes influenced in cutting the roll by what he considered a natural break in the frieze of vignettes – even if this led to the text of a chapter being on different sheets. At other times the layout of the text was considered of greater importance, and as a result vignettes have been segmented, some even separated from their relevant chapter. Moreover, as the divisions progressed there came points where, unless the sheets produced were to be abnormally short or long, large-scale vignettes were cut in two.”

She then detailed fifteen of the most damaging examples of this process, a process that was described by James Wasserman in the docudrama as follows, “When he got it back to the British Museum, he cut it into sections that he could work with. He arranged to have it pasted to wooden boards so that it could be translated. From a technological point of view one can almost forgive him, but, on the other hand, he destroyed the integrity of the papyrus forever.”

It’s often said in Budgie’s defense that he wasn’t alone. Many others were taking items out of Egypt illegally. The difference between Budge and all the others is that in his autobiography he brazenly described how he did it. His 900 page book was only matched by the 2,500 page diary of Jonathan Tokeley, a modern day antiquities smuggler whose diary was used to convict a major New York dealer of dealing in stolen antiquities (Rescuing the Past, 2006). It isn’t often that tomb robbers are identified by pointing fingers at themselves, but it does happen.

Clearly Budge had always intended to smuggle these items out and he would go to extraordinary lengths to do so. As we have seen, this is not a bit of ‘hanky panky,’ of the sort when you are given a customs form on your flight back to the States after a heady vacation in Paris, and where it says, “total value of all goods you or any family members traveling with you have purchased or acquired abroad,” you write “none” knowing those bits of jewelry and that special watch you sequestered deep inside your dirty underwear are worth more than the undeclared limit.
It is not even a case of monetary value, because what we are talking about was and still is priceless by any measure. The problem is that Budge knew what he had, and he still acted as if he were just an ordinary bloke who happens across a good deal in an antique shop. For that reason, Budge was called a thief in 2006 by none other than Jonathan Tokeley. If anyone should know a thief of Egyptian antiquities, it would be Tokeley, the notorious British antiquities restorer and smuggler of record, who teamed up with the famous N.Y. antique dealer, Frederick Schultz, to run a multimillion dollar racket in Egyptian antiques.

It is obvious from Tokeley’s Rescuing the Past that he was amazed that a senior official of the British Museum was reduced by circumstances and driven by the collecting frenzy of the 1890’s to commit house breaking, stealing antiquities from the Egyptian Government and dealing in stolen goods. Worse than that, as Tokeley pointed out (and is clearly set out in Budge’s autobiography) was Budge’s open contempt for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. This must have left the Museum with a legacy of scorn that would be difficult to live down, as over a period of twenty-five years Budge would acquire 47,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt, and he thumbed his nose at anyone who lifted an eyebrow.

In his day Budge was forced out of the business by economic pressure, the market became too competitive and officials more alert to smuggling. Also, as Fagan concludes, “much progress has been made in exposing the evils of the international antiquities trade,” but, he cautions, “as long as there is a demand, there will be people to fill it.”

Now with tourism making up such an important part of the Egyptian economy, and the Egyptian national patrimony becoming the lifeblood of the country, they are even more willing to fight for it. So, watch out Budge, they want them back.
© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Budgie steals the book of the dead


Luxor was still a small town when Budge arrived on or about Christmas Eve, 1887. There were only a few decent hotels the best was the Winter Palace, the second largest building in the area after the Luxor Temple. It had just opened in 1886 one year before Budge’s arrival. Since then many famous people have stayed there including the Agha Khan, Empress Eugenie, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, King Juan Carlos, Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery and Agatha Christie. Howard Carter stayed there along with the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the collector of Egyptian antiquities who financed Carter's work, and it was there the announcement was made of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.
In Victorian times a goodly number of foreigners stayed in Luxor for their health, a practice widely recommended by the medical profession in England. Such people were perhaps more apt to choose a residential hotel such as the Luxor Hotel, a place recommended by Cook’s Guide Book of the day because, “the grounds are spacious and shaded, adjoining a farm cultivated to supply visitors with dairy produce, poultry, sheep, and bullocks. A qualified medical gentleman, a clergyman of the Church of England, and an English lady housekeeper reside in the hotel during winter.”

The Luxor Hotel is still standing and today still enjoys a good location. It is within walking distance of the Winter Palace Hotel, the Luxor Temple and the riverside pier. A quick glimpse inside the hotel courtyard reveals a brick building set in a spacious garden. It still prides itself in being one of the first three hotels to open in Luxor, however, it has suffered from the competition. Many other hotels have sprung up in Luxor over the last hundred years. Also the tour boats act as hotels for a great number of tourists, consequently it has come down in the world. But in Budge’s day it was still a major player in the world of accommodation and, as we will see, it had a major role in the theft of one of the most famous artifacts in Egyptian history.

When we left Budge the last time he was not in a good situation. He had been placed under arrest and the police had confiscated many of his antiquities, which were now held in rooms and houses that were sealed, locked and guarded. They were being held as evidence awaiting the arrival of an official of the Egyptian Government, the Head of the Antiquities Service, M. Grébaut.

Among the houses that were sealed and guarded was one small one that abutted on the wall of the garden of the Luxor Hotel. This was the house where Budge had stored his papyri in tin containers along with several items belonging to antique dealers in town, they used the basement as a safe storage place.

When the Luxor dealers saw it sealed up, and guards posted, they first invited the guards to drink cognac with them, then tried to bribe them to go away for an hour. But the guards stoutly refused to drink or to leave their posts. Not to be put off, the dealers held an interview with the manager of the Luxor Hotel. The result of their conversation according to Budge was that, “about sunset a number of gardeners and workmen appeared with their digging tools and baskets, and they dug under that part of the garden wall which was next to the house and right through into the basement of the house."

"They made scarcely any noise, and they cut through the soft, unbaked mud bricks without difficulty. Whilst they were digging I watched the work with the manager it seemed to me that the gardeners were particularly skilled house-breakers, and that they must have had much practice. It appears incredible, but the whole of the digging was carried out without the knowledge of the watchmen on the roof of the house and the sentries outside it. But it seemed unwise to rely overmuch on the silence of our operations, and we therefore arranged to give the police and the soldiers a meal, for they were both hungry and thirsty. M. Pagnon, the proprietor of the hotel, had a substantial supper prepared for them, i.e., half a sheep boiled, with several pounds of rice, and served up in pieces with sliced lemons and raisins on a huge brass tray.”

Budge then tells us that whilst they were eating happily, man after man went into the basement and brought everything out, piece by piece and box by box, and, boasts Budge, “in this way we saved the Papyrus of Ani, and all the rest of my acquisitions from the officials of the Service of Antiquities, and all Luxor rejoiced.”

Budge had won the day and what happened next was a bit of an anticlimax, M. Grébaut arrived in his steamer and tied up, but not in Luxor; he docked about 1¼ miles below Luxor downriver near the ruins at Karnak. The dealers and Budge at this point probably thought that the show was about to begin, certainly there would be some fireworks as soon as Grébaut walked into Luxor and found that the impounded antiquities had been swiped. Everyone waited for all hell to break loose, but it remained quiet all day.

Imagine the suspense. Perhaps the same feeling developed in Luxor as in the movie, High Noon when Gary Cooper, assisted by a drunk, a kid, and his Quaker wife, Grace Kelly, watch the clock tick away. Imagine Budge waiting in the middle of the dusty main street of Luxor, guns well-oiled and strapped to his thighs, the brim of his hat snapped down over his eyes to shade them from the sun as it rose to the zenith...

As it turned out, Grébaut never showed up. Instead, the news came that that he was not well. Budge waited at the hotel with his luggage until he heard the police had arrested two dealer friends. When an officer turned to Budge, presumably to put him in fetters like the rest, he talked his way out of it, “When I asked to see the warrant under which I was arrested he had nothing to produce.” The policeman left, but only after he warned Budge that he might hear more of the matter in Cairo.

Meanwhile the steamer arrived at midnight and Budge went on board with his boxes and baggage. He settled into his cabin for the night and at dawn left Luxor for Asyût. After arriving in Asyût he boarded the train to Cairo hoping to arrive that evening, but the train was late and instead he arrived early in the morning and found that there were no longer any carriages at the station. Budge was stuck once again. There he was with all that precious baggage and no transport,
“As I sat there, practically on the roadside, two British officers out for an early morning ride passed by, and as they did so one of them hailed me in a cheery voice, and asked me why I was sitting there at that time of the morning. I recognized the voice as that of an officer of whom I had seen a great deal the year before in Aswan, and I quickly told him why I was there, and about the contents of my bags and boxes, and my wish to get into the town as soon as possible. After a short talk with his brother officer, whom I had met at General Sir Frederick Stephenson's house in Cairo, my friend dismounted and went to the police, whom I had pointed out to him, and told them to carry my bags and boxes into Cairo for me.”

The Customs Officer posted at the bridge on the outskirts of the city assumed that the police were carrying British Army goods and therefore made no attempt to stop them. Budge’s officer friends dropped him at the Army barracks where he found his old friend Major Hepper, the officer who had helped so much when they were clearing out the tombs in Aswan the previous winter. Hepper listened to the story of Budge’s Luxor experiences with great interest, then, in a reply that stretches the imagination, asked Budge to: “...tell him where the papyri and...tablets were to go, and for whom I had bought them. I told him I had bought them for the British Museum, and that they would be paid for by the British Treasury with public money, and that I was most anxious to get them sent off to the British Museum before I started for Baghdad. In answer he said, 'I think I can help you, and I will. As you have bought these things which you say are so valuable for the British Museum, and they are to be paid for with public money, they are clearly the property of the British Government, and they must be put into a place of safety as soon as possible.'”

Hepper went on to say that he was leaving for Alexandria that afternoon and would take all the tin boxes containing the papyri with him and send them on to the British Museum. So even before Budge left Egypt for Baghdad he learned, perhaps via another friend, one he had made in Alexandria who happened to be the Director of Telegraphs, that the papyri had been received in London.

And so it was done, technically Budge had stolen the Papyrus of Ani along with everything that had been confiscated in Luxor. He later claimed it was all legal, as he had bought the objects and resold them to the Museum at a later date, but he glosses over the fact that he had taken the Papyrus of Ani against the will of the Egyptian Government and the British Consul, in violation of customs regulations and the use of military baggage to which he was not entitled.

How times change, in a recently assembled show (according to the Earth Times website, www.earthtimes.org) the Ruhr Museum looks at the treasure-hunting era before archaeology settled down to become just another academic subject. (“The Great Game: Archaeology and Politics in the Colonial Period,” in Essen, Germany, runs until June 13.) Charlotte Truempler, head of the archaeology department of the new museum, which was inaugurated a month ago, said it was the first show she knew of that had looked at the political implications of turn-of- the-century archaeology. Ulrich Borsdorf, head of the Ruhr Museums notes that archaeology is a highly political matter, which is why today's archaeologists are very careful about what they say and would never dare do anything illegal. Professor Gehrke, effectively the top archaeologist in Germany, agreed. “We are a research institute. We don’t collect things any more. We leave everything in the country where we found it.”

I wonder what Budgie would say to that?

Next post, The Last Word.
© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2010, all rights reserved. (Photos from Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Budgie Finds the Sacred Book and Much More


Budge’s second field trip for the British Museum was to Baghdad in 1887 to inspect an important dig the Museum had at the original site of the Biblical town of Nineveh. Along the way he was told to make a stop in Luxor, in Egypt where it was reported that an important “find” had been made. He landed in Alexandria on December 16th intending to quickly travel to Luxor, there he would buy whatever was intereting and return to the coast in time to catch a steamer and travel on to Baghdad via Basra. He soon found that it would not be that easy. He had worn out his welcome on his first trip. Much of this was due to resentment because he had illegally removed so many artifacts. A wall of defensive resistance was thrown up around him and, almost from the moment he set foot on Egyptian soil, he was under suspicion.

The first inkling of this came when the British Vice Consul in Alexandria read him the Riot Act. He told Budge that as he was an official of the British Museum he was “strictly forbidden by the laws of Egypt...to buy or export any antiquity.” Another warning came a few days later after he arrived in Cairo, where the new Director of Service of Antiquities came personally to his hotel to threatened Budge with arrest and legal prosecution if he attempted to deal with local collectors. Worse yet was the news that a police watch had been put on him. The police were to report his comings and goings in Cairo and to take the names of any antiquity dealers who talked to him.

And it didn’t end there. It was traditional when traveling south in Egypt to take the night train from Cairo along the west bank to the river port of Asyut, and then board the steamer the next day to go upriver to Luxor. But, the minute Budge got on the train in Cairo, he was informed by two fellow passengers, a Frenchman and a Maltese, also collectors, that there were police onboard who had been ordered specifically to watch both them and him.

Well, Budge, now what? The message was loud and clear. A lesser person would have turned tail and gone on to his business in Baghdad. Not Budgie, he stayed on the train where he learned that the Frenchman was on his way south to Amarna a town on the eastern bank where lay the ruins of the capital of the Egyptian Sun King, the Pharaoh Akhenaten; also called “Tell al-Amarna,” this enormous ancient city was built in the late 18th Dynasty (1353 BC). In was here in the ruins of the Library of the Royal Residence where some clay tablets were said to have been found.

None of this was news to Budge who even before he left London had been alerted by letter from one of his new Egyptian friends, a collector he’d met on his first trip. Budge could read cuneiform writing so he knew that, if real, such tablets would be an important find. Normally they were found in profusion in and around excavations near Baghdad the place where he was going after Egypt, but what were they doing here? Here in Egypt where for thousands of years papyrus was the preferred medium of the Pharaoh, cuneiform tablets were completely out of place.

As the train traveled south, stopping at every small station, Budge dozing in his berth had time to work out a plan. Early the next day when the train reached Deir Mawas, the station for Amarna, knowing what he knew of the importance of the tablets, it must have taken great discipline for Budge to sit there and watch the Frenchman get off the train. Budge stayed in his seat and he and the Maltese watched as a police escort got off as well and followed the Frenchman into town.

Budge and the Maltese continued south to Asyut where they boarded the steamer. Several days later they arrived in Luxor. Here the Maltese got off along with the rest of the police leaving Budge who was now free to go on to Aswan. From the steamer dock in Luxor, Budge could see the Temple of Luxor, including its massive pillars and Hypostyle Hall. Striking in its features it is still much smaller in plan than the temple complex just downriver at Karnak.

When I arrived 123 years later in December of this last year, I found that it hadn’t changed much. I arrived on a steamer that was much larger and grander, but the sight was just as breathtaking. My itinerary was different from Budge's although I was also in a hurry, but not because of the police, I was being harried by hundreds of fellow tourists and unmerciful guides.

Budgie’s steamer stayed only a few hours in Luxor, but during that time he looked up a resident collector, a friend, Rev. Chauncey Murch of the American Mission in Luxor. From him and others Budge got detailed descriptions of what was available from the new horde, he also found out who would be the best dealer to go to locally to get what he wanted. He was now set to carry out the next phase of his plan, but first he had to continue on to Aswan to make people believe he had no further interest in Luxor. At Aswan he found most of the Army had left and the town had reverted back to rather a large sleepy Nile village. The steamer stayed there three days then early in the morning started its return to Luxor arriving the same day just as the sun was setting.

On arriving back in Luxor Budge perhaps lingered in his cabin until it was dark enough to walk into town with impunity. The police seemed to have had other things to do as he stopped first at some tinsmiths where he ordered several tin boxes made up. Then he went with a few local collectors who rowed him across the river to a small tomb on the western bank. It was all done quickly and in the dark. Arriving at the site of the tombs he found,

“...a rich store of fine and rare objects, and among them the largest roll of papyrus I had ever seen. The roll was tied round with a thick band of papyrus cord, and was in a perfect state of preservation, and the clay seal which kept together the ends of the cord was unbroken. The roll lay in a rectangular niche in the north wall of the sarcophagus chamber, among a few hard stone amulets. It seemed like sacrilege to break the seal and untie the cord, but when I had copied the name on the seal, I did so, for otherwise it would have been impossible to find out the contents of the papyrus. We unrolled a few feet of the papyrus an inch or so at a time, for it was very brittle, and I was amazed at the beauty and freshness of the colors of the human figures and animals, which, in the dim light of the candles and the heated air of the tomb, seemed to be alive. A glimpse of the Judgment Scene showed that the roll was a large and complete Codex of the Per-em-hru, or ‘Book of the Dead,’ and scores of lines repeated the name of the man for whom this magnificent roll had been written and painted, viz., ‘Ani, the real royal scribe, the registrary of the offerings of all the Gods, overseer of the granaries of the Lords of Abydos, and scribe of the offerings of the Lords of Thebes.’”


When the papyrus was unrolled in London the inscribed portion of it was found to be 78 feet long. That same evening he also found, conveniently stored in niches in the same tomb, a papyrus of the Priestess Anhai, a papyrus codex of the Book of the Dead written by Nu in the 18th Dynasty and a leather roll containing chapters of the Book of the Dead, with beautifully painted vignettes.

Again, Budge is lucky, in one stroke he comes into possession of four rare and extremely valuable objects. And on the following day he acquired eighty-two tablets, his share of the Amarna Letters. He thus completed a collection that few if any had come into within such a short period of time, in just under twelve months he could be ranked with the masters, Belzoni, Salt and Drovetti the principle perpetrators of the Rape of the Nile.

Once he determined that they were authentic, the tablets allowed him to unravel the story of the “Amarna Letters,” correspondence on tablets written in Akkadian from the royal households in Mesopotamia to the 18th Dynasty Pharaohs in Egypt, Amenhotep III and IV. Of the cache of three hundred that had been found by a woman digging for compost near the ruins, all were sold to a neighbor for 10 piastres. Many others surfaced at this time, but they represented exactly what archeologists are always looking for, everyday correspondence, the business of life, true, this was a cut above the ordinary in that royal households were involved, still it was fascinating, one, for example, was a large tablet that contained a list of the dowry items of a Mesopotamian princess who was going to marry a king of Egypt.

On arrival back in Luxor town at dawn, Budge stopped to pick up the tin boxes into which he placed his treasures. While drinking coffee in the house of a friend he learned that police and soldiers had arrived with orders during the night from M. Grébaut, the Director of the Service of Antiquities, to take possession of every house containing antiquities in Luxor. They were told also to arrest the house owners and Budge. He asked to see the warrants for the arrests and was told that they would be produced later. M. Grébaut had failed to reach Luxor because his steamer was stranded.
Since nothing else could be done, they all had breakfast including the guards, after which Budge was allowed to go about his business as long as he did not leave the town. Meanwhile the police took possession of the house, posted watchmen on the roof, a sentry at each corner of the building, sealed them and set guards over them.

It was a done deal, all of Budge’s loot was now locked up. He hadn't counted on any of this, and was forced to sit and wait for his Nemesis to arrive. Apparently the Egyptians were not willing to let him get away with his loot this time without a fight. It was now between Budgie and them as we'll see in the next post...
© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2010, all rights reserved. (Photos from Library of Congress, British Museum, Wikimedia Commons and author's collection.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Budgie and His Giant Suitcases

The most important archeological development in Aswan since the building of the magnificent ancient temples was the dismantling of the same temples in modern times. This was part of an international project aimed to save more than a dozen temples from inundation. The rise in water level was caused by the Aswan High Dam, an impressive dam that sits astride the Nile above a lower dam built by the British in1902. The High dam has a generating capacity of 2,100 megawatts and was begun in 1960 and inaugurated in 1971.

The lake so created (which is called Lake Nasser in Egypt but beyond the border with Sudan the name changes to Lake Nubia) is also impressive, a point driven home when you fly over it on your way to Abu Simbel.

There are two temples at Abu Simbel, the principal one is dedicated to the chief gods of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes by Ramsses II (1250 BC). The second is dedicated to Hathor and honors Ramesses’ beloved wife, Nefertari. As the water rose, flooding the area, a remarkable engineering feat was begun in which both temples were cut apart and reassembled 650 ft. away on higher ground. The main temple is oriented as in the original so that the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the innermost sanctuary.

The temples were discovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer, Johann Burckhardt, but they subsequently proved a disappointment to the collectors and looters of the 1800’s, who were looking for portable goods. In those days well before the advent of the High Dam the temple complexes of the region were in danger of being dismantled by the governer, Mohammed Ali, who was determined to build a modern Egypt and needed building blocks for his new offices and factories. Abu Simbel was left untouched because of its remoteness and being covered with sand, but Ali had little use for any of the other ancient structures and allowed Henry Salt, Giovanni Belzoni and Bernardino Drovetti to divide Egypt between them and plunder systematically.


They were not shy about their motives, which were to fill the European nation’s appetites for new, different and important antiquities, and in the process to make money. In their footsteps came Flinders Petrie with his “science of observation, registration and recording,” whose goal was to understand, and Budgie who took anything left behind and anything else not nailed down to satisfy his passion as a collector.

On his first trip to Egypt in 1887 Budge left off his excavation work in Aswan and made a side trip to Wadi Halfa where he was approached by Col. Holled Smith who had been hard at it on the western bank of the Nile clearing sand from the Temples of the 18th Dynasty Pharaohs, Thutmose II and III (1500-1425 BC). Smith found a door jamb and part of a stele of Thutmose III, a statue of Ka-mesu, one of the ancient viceroys of the Egyptian Sudan, a stele set up by Seti I in the temple of Thutmose II, a stele of another viceroy, Setau, and a stele of Mernetchem, an ancient inspector of the gold mines in the Sudan. All of these were presented by Smith to Budge for the Museum. Later Budge added a group of good Egyptian steles from Akhmim, a rectangular slab of stone with a Greek inscription on each side from Kom Ombo, and many pieces of sculptured stone from some ancient buildings in Philae to this horde.

Toward the end of Budge’s stay in Aswan, it happened that another Army friend, General de Montmorency, received orders to take over command of the Army in Alexandria. As he was packing up his household goods in preparation for the move, he had all of Budge’s collection packed up and crated as well. Budge could then leave Aswan and travel on while the bulk of his goods were sent as military baggage via a special Government barge.

In Luxor, Budge acquired a few more items including a gilded bronze figure of Seth the god of Evil, the first figure of that god ever found, an exquisite ivory amulet of Seneb, a lady who flourished under the 18th Dynasty, on which was cut figures of the Earth-god, Aker, and many other deities, animals and fabulous monsters, the first of its kind acquired by the British Museum. In addition, he bought a remarkable waxen book, with seven tablets and covers with inscriptions of an unknown character, as well as a wooden board inscribed on both sides with thirteen lines from the Iliad, a large handsomely written Demotic papyrus, with Greek dockets, and several smaller Demotic papyri.

Luckily, while he was in Cairo he was able to put all of his new booty into the cases from Aswan as they were passing through. At this point he craftily separated out six cases that he sent to be examined by the Egyptian Antiquity Service. Presumably, as they were less noteworthy pieces, they were quickly expedited and sent on. Budge’s goal was to obtain token clearance while the other eighteen cases remained embedded in de Montmorency’s shipment. We know something of this because it was seen in transit by Flinders Petrie, the noted Egyptologist who was then on a research trip in Egypt. He was astonished to see one ‘case’ that was actually a block weighing ¾ ton, and for which no packing could be found except railway ties. These were spiked together with 6 inch spikes after the item had been draped in canvas and clearly labeled, ‘Military Baggage.’ Petrie thought it was the largest ‘suitcase’ he had ever seen.

The day before Budge left Cairo he was told to stop in and see the Consul, Sir Evelyn Baring, who evidently was highly displeased. Specifically Baring disapproved of Budge’s operations in Egypt and wanted him to stop.
“Mr. Budge, (paraphrasing Budge’s autobiography) I’m at a loss as to how to make this more clear. I strongly object to the exportation of antiquities from Egypt, whether to the British Museum or to any other place, and I order you, not only to cease buying from native dealers, but to return them.”
“Return them?” asked Budge.
“Yes, everything that you have acquired.”
“Sir, I respectfully point out that I have been sent to Egypt at public expense to dig out tombs for the Sirdar, and in return the Trustees expect me to take back to the British Museum the share of the results to which they are entitled. Unfortunately, the tombs which I cleared out contained nothing that I can give to the Trustees in return for my services. Not wanting to return to England empty-handed I’ve taken the opportunity of purchasing a number of objects to fill up gaps in the National Collection.”
“I understand you, sir,” said Baring. “I want you to return them forthwith.”
“I can’t,” said Budge.
“Why not?”
“I’m afraid they’ve already been dispatched to London.”
“My God, sir, you take the cake. But at least there is one thing you will not leave with.”
“What is that, sir?”
“After leaving Aswan you’ve been reported to have got hold of a book of wax tablets inscribed in Greek shorthand. The Antiquities Service knows about this and wants it left here.”
“I’m sorry, that’s also gone. And I’d like to add that I’m not one of your staff. I am an employee of the Museum and I intend to carry out the task the Trustees have set me...”
“Get out, sir!” roared Baring now red in the face.

In all, on his very first collecting trip, Budge brought home to England 1,482 items. What a way to start your career. His second trip to Egypt was a hurried one that he made on route to Baghdad during Christmas week of the following year. On that trip as we’ll see in the next post, he was only allowed a few weeks in Egypt, which meant that he had to be very selective. One goal of his next trip was to follow up on a rumor of important “finds” by private collectors in Luxor. It is on this second trip that he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Next post, Budgie the Keeper and the Luxor Caper.


© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved. (Old Photo of Abu Simbel from Library of Congress)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How Budgie Became a Badger


Still on his first trip to Egypt, and still located in Aswan, Budge continued to amass his collection. By far the most interesting piece found by him on this trip would be missing from the crates he sent out in 1887, this was an item called the Shrine of Philae, which would be shipped later. Budge had uncovered it while carrying out some excavations on the Island of Philae with an officer friend not far from Aswan. The island is about 7 miles upriver above the First Cataract. On it was the famous Temple of Philae that in 1970 had to be moved as the waters of the High Dam rose. In ancient days the island was said by the priests to be the site of the first mound to appear from the Sea of Chaos, the place where the world began. It was also thought by them to be the place from which the Nile originated.

The Temple is dedicated to Isis and today is on Algikia Island, and still the most exquisite temple in Egypt. It is best visited at night when it is lit up. It is easy to get to, a short drive from Aswan then a boat ride in a water taxi brings you to the site. From there you wander from pylon to pylon and even into the sanctuary as directed by a voice overhead, a voice that sounds like the God of creation, Atum. Even though we know it comes from the Sound and Light production, it is awe-inspiring. There we are strolling in the moonlight through the temple in the footsteps of the ancients.

I’m sure that Budge was also impressed, but he was also dead set on coming away from Egypt with something significant. Budge did not think small, the original object of his affection was a 33ft. tall 80 ton red granite Colossus of Ramesses II from a site outside of Cairo. Instead he had to settle on the Philae Shrine, which was itself no trifling matter. It is a temple shrine dedicated to Horus by Ptolemy IX and his wife, Cleopatra IV (not she of Elizabeth Taylor fame). A massive grey piece carved from a single stone about eight feet long, it is an extraordinary item and it took more than the usual effort from Budge to acquire it.

After he found the Shrine on Philae Budge did something entirely out of character, he voluntarily reported the Shrine to the Antiquities Service. Until this time here was a man who was so notoriously sly that within a month of his arrival in Egypt he had had a watch set on him, and he never provide any information unless he was forced to. But now, as if to prove everyone wrong, Budge voluntarily let the Service know about the Shrine.
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Is it possible that, like some men and women through history who come to know the limits of their courage, or the point beyond which they cannot go, physically or mentally, Budge had reached the limit to his audacity?

It would be interesting to know what was going through his mind at that point. I think he realized that the Shrine would be more difficult to handle than anything he had collected to date. Recall, he was still new at this game, going from a few gravestones in December to a major antiquity in January is a leap by any standard. And, because of its obvious historical importance, weight, and perhaps bulk, the Shrine would attract more attention than even he might be able to cope with.
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His next move was a masterstroke. He recalled that even before he had come to Aswan, while he was still in Cairo, he had reminded everyone that the colossal statue of Ramesses II was the property of the British Government. Really? He let everyone know that although it had been found in 1820 by Giovanni Caviglia, an Italian traveler, Muhammad Ali, ruler of Egypt for many years, had offered it to the British Museum. Because of the difficult task of shipping, it had languished until then, but Budge saw no reason to give up the claim.
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The Consul-General in Cairo, Sir Evelyn Baring, told Budge to forget it, he would never consent to the Colossus leaving the country. Budge realizing that perhaps he had lost the Colossus, did not want to lose the Shrine as well, so he decided on a different course of action and planned out a strategy that eventually paid off. And he was to use this strategy again and again in Egypt and elsewhere.

The first part of his plan went as expected. The moment he informed the Service of the find, they sent back a message from Cairo telling him that the Director of Antiquities refused to allow the Shrine to leave the country. Budge then offered to buy it, and was immediately advised to leave the Shrine where it was, it was not for sale! Budge now replied with a warning, telling the Director that it was madness to leave such a precious object sitting exposed in an open mud hole. Then, perhaps as he expected would happen a telegram arrived from of all people his nemesis, Sir Evelyn Baring, who asked Budge if he would abandon all claim to the colossal statue of Ramesses in exchange for the Shrine of Philae!

Since Budge had previously given up all hope of the Ramesses statue, this amounted to a win on his part. Baring’s concern for a clear title probably evolved from a typical case of diplomatic jitters, hindsight and a sudden need to cover yourself against all possibilities can often cause a moment of panic in an embassy. Even if he felt Budge’s claim was specious, Baring wanted to be certain, and so he had to crawl, or in diplomatic parlance, ‘negotiate.’ In effect, Budge had turned the tables on the Antiquities Service and he now had Baring on his knees begging for a clear title to a colossal statue that Baring wanted to keep in Egypt for posterity.

Budge’s revenge had been slow in coming, but it was now at hand, and Budge decided to prolong it by explaining in a long telegram the historical basis for Britain’s claim on the Ramesses statue, how it had been given to the British Nation by Ali, how others had been anxious that it go to the Museum, and how the British Army had collected and spent private funds to retrieve it. Baring must have been livid at the way he now had to sit in his office in Cairo and read this pompous retelling of a twice-told tale from a looter, when everyone already knew what the outcome would be.

Once Budge received assurance from Baring that the Philae Shrine was cleared to be transported to London, he made plans to have it sent, but this would have to be later, since he could not take it out immediately after his first trip. But he did carefully explain to anyone who would listen, how he had been “commanded by the Director and by the British Consul to remove it from Egypt and transport it to the British Museum.”
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In the meantime he also made arrangements to ship illegally thousands of other items he had collected on his own.

Today the Shrine of Philae stands against the wall in the British Museum at the far end of one of the rooms in the Egyptian gallery off the Great Court. It is obviously overshadowed by the Younger Memnon, the Rosetta Stone and other prestigious pieces, but it has its own aura, its own panache, and let’s face it, it is an impressive tribute to the skill of Budge the Collector because after all it is identified as a, “Gift of the Government of Egypt.” Well done, Budge.

And what ever happened to the colossal statue of Ramesses II? It stayed on in Memphis, now Mit Rahina, 12 miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile. Today though reclining (it has no feet) it is in excellent condition. It has been cleaned up and is resting in an open air museum, a proper setting where streams of tourist look in wonder at its polished surface. It turns out to have been an exceptional piece of work from a technical point of view, as noted by Stuart Edelson a writer and sculptor from New York City who worked with stone for over 20 years. “Looking at the supreme craftsmanship that went into the body’s hidden recesses as well as its conspicuous visible areas, it was clear to me that all involved in making this image had the integrity and wisdom worthy of the god the great king was meant to represent.”

He found it difficult to believe ancient craftsmen with hand tools could do such a fine piece of work with a type of stone that likes to chip unpredictably to the terror of the sculptor. He concluded that only a master sculptor could have wrought the, “complex, subtle forms of the human anatomy,” seen in this colossus. A second colossus of Ramesses II did not fare as well. Found on the same site in 1820 in five pieces, it was reassembled in 1955 and moved by Abdel Nasser to Cairo where it was erected in a city square that was renamed Ramesses Square. Fifty years later, suffering from air pollution, it was taken down and moved to Giza where it awaits installation at a site close to the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

Enormously impressive and big in all senses of the word, the Memphis Ramesses Colossus would have been the making of Budge. Yet, the acquisition of the Philae Shrine proved that our man at the Museum still had a few tricks up his sleeve. It also suggests from his attitude throughout this adventure and elsewhere that he was less like a budgie, a small parrot-like Australian bird, and more like a badger, an animal that never backs off and when challenged bites and holds on tenaciously.
A badger will only let go when it wants to, and it cannot be dislodged, as the dislocation of its jaw is all but impossible because of its anatomy. They are fierce, small animals capable of fighting off wolves, coyotes, bears, porcupines and even venomous snakes. And, if all else fails, some badgers emit a foul stink that will put off almost any aggressor. It seems almost impossible to protect yourself from such a beast. In some countries it is the custom to put eggshells inside the top of one’s boots when walking through badger territory, as badgers are believed to bite down until they hear a crunch, then they stop.

In the case of the Egyptian officials of Budge’s day that might have been their only protection, wait for the crunch and hope for the best.

Next Post, Budgie leaves Aswan with some giant suitcases.

© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved. (Photos of the Colossus and the Temple of Philae in daylight from Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budgie the Keeper Raids the City of the Dead


The novelist Amelia Edwards in 1873 on a visit to Aswan describes the way the town looked in Budge’s time: “It was nearly dark when we reached Aswan. The cafés were all alight and astir. There were smoking and coffee-drinking going on outside; there were sounds of music and laughter within. A large private house on the opposite side of the road was being decorated, as if for some festive occasion. Flags were flying from the roof, and two men were busy putting up a gaily-painted inscription over the doorway. Asking, as was natural, if there was a marriage or a fantasia afoot, it was not a little startling to be told that these were signs of mourning, and that the master of the house had died during the interval that elapsed between our riding out and riding back again. In Egypt, where the worship of ancestry and the preservation of the body were once among the most sacred duties of the living, they now make short work with their dead. He was to be buried, they said, to-morrow morning, three hours after sunrise (Amelia Edwards, A Thousand Miles up the Nile).”

Most likely the deceased would have been buried in the Fatimid Cemetery, a grid of tombs and mausoleums that is still a prominent feature of Aswan. It is a smaller version of the City of the Dead, the four mile long cemetery found in Cairo where people live and work amongst the dead presumably some of whom are ancestors. The smaller version in Aswan seemed deserted, if there were residents they were probably there as ghosts and almost certainly there are some who are still looking for Budge to account for what he did.

In Budge’s day he knew that the early Muslim dwellers in the remote south of Egypt considered a pilgrimage to Aswan as meritorious as a pilgrimage to Mecca, and the bodies of the illustrious dead were brought and buried in Aswan from all parts of Egypt. Thus there were graves of importance in the old Arab cemetery, which lay near the ancient granite quarries in the hills. These were marked by large rectangular tablets of sandstone, similar to the Egyptian steles, on which the names of the deceased, the dates of their death and passages from the Koran were cut using characters in the oldest Arabic calligraphic style, called Kufic. Many of these memorial stones were historically quite valuable.

On arrival in Aswan in December of 1886, Budge asked about the stones and he tells us that they were for sale. Buying old gravestones might put some people off, not Budge, who informs us that, the “notables” or headmen, “were quite willing for me to have as many as I wanted, provided I took them out of Egypt to a place where they would be preserved and respected.” Budge then selected 14 of the oldest and best and one evening he and one of his officer friends went out to the graveyard with camels and brought them back into the Army camp in Aswan where he was staying. On the following morning he packed them in strong wooden boxes.

What is difficult to believe is that such exacting and noble conditions would have been set down by the village “notables,” regarding the future disposition of the communities’ gravestones, especially the “oldest and best.” But, similar expressions of concern show up often enough in Budge’s autobiography, and they always require a stretch of the imagination. Not only do we have villagers with antiquarian mind sets identical to those of Bond Street auction houses, but we also have Budge and his friend going out at night to pick them up. Presumably they did that because if they were spotted during the day some of the villagers in the region might have forcefully objected.

Would they have objected? Here I interject a recent experience 123 years almost to the day of Budge’s visit to an Arab cemetery; I passed such a cemetery, not in Aswan but not far from there. I was in a car with a driver and a Muslim guide and, as I showed much interest in Arab cemeteries, the guide suggested we stop and look at one, which we did.

It happened that the one we visited was fenced, but the gate was not locked. It was tied closed with a bit of wire and as we entered and wandered around looking at the stones, I asked if I could photograph some. The guide, who up to that point had refused me nothing, said, “Of course.”
But as I made ready to take some snaps a man dressed in black robe and keffiyeh, the Arab head scarf, came rushing up to us and berated my guide, who indicated hastily to me that it might be best if we left. I scurried after him all the while trying to indicate by sign language that I was sorry for my transgression. The caretaker let us go with a few harsh words in Arabic, leaving us in no doubt about his feelings. It was definitely not the kind of thing I would want to do again.

In Budge’s case, regardless of whether “notables” gave permission or not, and based on my own experience, I would think that the removal of gravestones would be a crime akin to grave robbing. Even in Budge’s home town, in his day and ours, I’m certain that taking gravestones from an ancient graveyard in Cornwall would land you in jail, and if the mayor “sold” them to you, he’d join you as well.


Of course, once Mustafa Shakir, the man from the Antiquities Service who had been sent to Aswan to watch Budge, heard about this, he demanded that Budge give them up. But how much pressure could Mustafa bring to bear against a friend of Gen. Grenfell, the Sirdar, or any Englishman living in the middle of a British Army camp? Budge was safe and he knew it, his reaction now was to collect in earnest!

The stones were special, done in antique script, and considered quite a find. He claimed it was legal, i.e. he negotiated with the head man and paid for them. But then, why did he take an Army officer friend and several camels to retrieve them in the dead of night? Why not go there in the light of day? That was not Budge’s way, which is why he quickly gained a reputation for acquiring beautiful antiques using shady methods.

In the next post, Budgie becomes a Badger.


© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved (Photo of column from Wikimedia Common)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Budgie Finds the Mother Lode and Begins to Feed

In December 1886, Budge left Cairo in the company of Gen. Grenfell and his staff. They went by rail to a port further upriver and there boarded a new and splendid passenger steamer, the Prince Abbas, this was the first of a new line of large passenger steamers that Thomas Cook had brought to the Nile. Cook’s son, John, was on board to personally direct her maiden voyage.
Budge tells us that John was called the “King of Egypt,” as he seemed bent on commandeering all tourism and transport needs on the Nile. The steamer made stops at Luxor then Edfu and Kom Ombo as they made their way to Aswan. Just before arriving in Aswan, the crew dressed the steamer with many hundreds of the gaudy flags which according to Budge, “...were so dear to the heart of the Egyptian...on arrival a large crowd of natives ran along the river bank waving flags, and shouting and beating little drums with appalling vigor. We steamed on quite slowly, accompanied by an awful noise from the bank, and as we neared the town we saw that almost every building in the town was decorated with flags.”

The town was occupied by a considerable number of British troops, for whom Cook and Sons had provided transport. They had made an enormous effort to get the British Army troops there in order to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum, an effort that though heroic was a logistical nightmare reported around the world. With Gordon’s death in 1885, the troops were being slowly withdrawn to Cairo and Alexandria.

The British Tommy may have had no regrets at leaving behind a wind-swept village of mud huts, but the Cooks with their steamers and ability to organize a new item they called a “package tour” thought of Aswan as a paradise. They were determined to open it to tourism and show the world exactly where Aswan was, and they were right, it prospered so well that by the 21st Century, once the High Dam had become a reality, and once local business development had gone forward, Aswan, after Cairo and Luxor, was the most popular place on the river.

Not long after this Cook established the Cataract Hotel and posted an ad in The Egyptian Gazette, as of 11 December 1899 he promised that the new hotel could accommodate 60 guests in, "Every modern comfort. Large and small apartment rooms, library, billiard room, fireplaces in halls, salons and the main rooms. Electrical lights running all night...”

What did it look like? If you saw the 1978 movie Death on the Nile, which starred Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis, you saw the sumptuous ball room and dining room of the hotel.

In Budge’s time the principal exports of Aswan were dates and cut stone, though some items came on camel from all over Africa and passed through here, ostrich feathers, ivory, tamarind, skins were found then and now in the local markets. Other than the Hotel and the tour boats, large and small, the dominant features of Aswan were its date palms and bare land in open tracts on both river banks. These features persisted until later years when the town became important economically because of the Aswan Dam.
As predicted by John Cook, Aswan did develop into a tourist stop, though for many years it was a place where almost all provisions had to be brought in from elsewhere. The same steamship that carried Budge was still in service in 1910 as we see in a story in the New York Times: "Out of the deathless stillness came a sharp whistle from the distance, and the sleepy town at once woke up. Arab curio merchants got out their ancient wares for the inspection of the tourist, the gangway was fitted to the old barge that served as a landing stage, and everything was in readiness as Cook’s steamboat Prince Abbas came chugging her way around the bend with the Reis standing in his gold braided frock coat and his long tasseled tarbush on the bridge. “Allah Kerim” (“God is great,") the Reis exclaimed in his native tongue when the boat had been made fast and tourists were streaming ashore in their white suits, with helmets and green veils on their way to the bazaars (The Guileful Dragoman, April 3, 1910 N.Y. Times)."

I arrived in Aswan on the modern equivalent of the Prince Abbas, the Royal Lily, a vessel the size of a small city block. We tied up by lashing our gigantic ship to three other “city blocks,” and immediately released a horde of tourists who joined the mass of hundreds streaming into Aswan every day from other tour ships. They lined the Corniche along the river, and as we stepped ashore we saw there were many other tour boats so lashed.


Our tour guides kept us to a tight schedule and moved us quickly through the city and the main sights. In 1886 Budge was not so fortunate, it took him several days to get organized. His largest concern was the lack of housing and no store or kiosk to buy food. Luckily, the Army took him in and made him a temporary member of the Officers’ mess. They also provided him with a hut inside their camp.


He was thus protected from prying eyes, which he soon learned were focussed on him. The Antiquities Service in Cairo had sent a man there specifically to watch him, Mustafa Shakir.

Mustapha would warn anyone who would listen that Budge seemed poised to make off with any artifact not nailed down. They obviously knew their man because Budge soon had a stream of dealers coming to his hut, but his close alliance to the military meant that Mustafa couldn’t touch him.

In Egypt the material used most often for building in ancient days was limestone, but the Pharaohs also had need for the red, gray and black granite from the quarries of Aswan. Scarcely a mile from the town are the famous granite quarries of Syene from which was hewn the stone for most of the famous obelisks and other granite monoliths. The area is laced with quarries and stonemason yards where many monuments were carved before sending them downriver to the temple cities where building programs were in progress throughout the ages. The quarries also are of great interest since they are strewn with monuments steles and obelisks half done. In this way they show the process by which blocks, pillars and columns were quarried. There is even a 130 ft. obelisk lying there that is twice as large as any Egyptian obelisk ever erected.

Its weight is estimated at over a thousand tons, and it was cut
on all sides save one when cracks appeared and the project was given up. The bottom side of the obelisk is still attached to bedrock so the process used can be seen in a row of holes that was bored along the length of the proposed obelisk into which wooden wedges were driven. Water was then poured on the wedges and the swelling cracked the stone and separate it from the surrounding mass of rock.

Mustafa, the man sent to watch Budge, realizing that he could not go up against the Army, tried to scare off local dealers by spreading the word that Budge was absolutely unscrupulous, a swindler, a rogue and a lawbreaker and that he was intent on “stripping Egypt of its monuments.” Perhaps this only served to whet their appetites, it certainly did nothing to stop Budge, who was determined to take advantage of his luck.

On his first trip to Egypt, as he rode into Cairo, Budge had described the Pyramids as two huge breasts. Unconsciously he perhaps saw himself feeding from the “Mother of the World,” as that city was called in A Thousand and One Nights. Now in Aswan he had landed in the mother lode, the place where Pharaohs for centuries had cut and shaped the major monuments of Egypt.
As did the Pharaohs before him, Budge decided to help himself and drink deeply...
The next post brings trouble as we run for our lives from an Arab cemetery!

© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cairo, Budgie Looks Over His Shoulder

Budge was first brought out to Egypt to help dig out some tombs in Aswan. On the way to Aswan in December, 1886, he passed through Cairo in order to hook up with the head of the Aswan dig, Gen. Francis Grenfell. Grenfell was an ardent archeologist who also happened to be in charge of the military in Egypt, or “Sirdar.” Grenfell took Budge to Aswan and helped him immensely by sending back his artifacts in military baggage, thus avoiding customs inspection. Lucky Budge. Budge quickly realized the value of such friends. From then on he would stick to the Military like a lamprey on a lake trout, the ultimate parasite.

As Budge neared Cairo for the first time, he wrote, “...I caught a glimpse of the two larger of the Pyramids of Giza, standing out like a pair of twin breasts against the red light of the western sun. Then the minarets of the citadel appeared in slender beauty, and then many more minarets and domes of mosques, and then, having passed through luxuriant gardens and plantations, we ran into the old Railway Station.”

He went directly to Shepheard’s Hotel, favorite hotel with expatriates and tourists. Originally opened in the early 1840s, it was famed for its grandeur and opulence. Tourists staying there were fascinated by the use of hand clapping to call attendants, a practice encouraged by the management to further maintain the aura of mystery and romance, but being replaced elsewhere by the electric bell.

When I arrived in Cairo, one hundred and twenty three years almost to the day that Budge saw those twin breasts for the first time, I stayed at the Windsor Hotel an old hotel not far from the RR station. When it came to accommodation the Windsor suited me better than Shepheard’s, which is now a convention hotel bearing little resemblance to the original. I did stop in at Shepheard’s for drinks at the Bar, not that Budge would have gone in there, he was a teetotaler.

The two hotels were jointly owned, the Windsor was an annex to Shepheard’s, but prior to that it was the British Officer’s Club in Cairo. In the famous scene in Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole as Lawrence visits a terrific ‘club’ in 'Cairo' filled with 'officers,' but it happens to be the lobby and lower level of the Hotel Alfonso in Seville! The Windsor would never do for such a lavish movie. Its lounge is small and less seemly with mounted animal heads on the walls, the remains of small animals shot years ago on desert hunting forays by British officers.


Expatriates from all over the city still gather at the Windsor for drinks in the evening, and the staff are very polite and prompt. It is renowned for its cold beer and snacks, the babaganoush there is world class. Also they offer free internet. On the whole the Windsor is charming but seedy, just the way I like it.

Shepheard’s was destroyed by fire in January 1952 during the uprising in Egypt that led to the July 23 Revolution. At that time British interests were targeted, airline offices, hotels, cinemas, bars and department stores, in all 700 buildings were destroyed, but the Windsor was spared and survived intact.

In Budge’s time not everyone agreed with the military digging out tombs in Aswan, and Budge soon found that the British Consul General didn’t like either him or Grenfell. When Budge went around to pay a courtesy call and present letters of introduction he got an earful. “He was civil to me,” says Budge, “but gave me to understand, with the frankness of which he was such a master, that he was not prepared to support any scheme of excavations by any agent of the Trustees of the British Museum, whether working on their behalf or that of anyone else. He thought that excavations made in Egypt by a British official were likely to ‘complicate political relationships,’ and that the occupation of Egypt by the British ought not to be made an excuse for filching antiquities from the country, whether to England or anywhere else. He spoke with some irritation...and...politely but firmly got me out of his room.”

Budge, as we would expect, shrugged off this warning and went on to Aswan with Grenfell to reap a great horde of artifacts, the famous 24 cases that he promptly sent back to England.

The following year on his second trip he stayed at Hotel Royal in Cairo, but this time he had less time to spare. He was there to follow up on the rumors of a great find at Luxor. He kept a low profile after being warned in Alexandria and he seems to have given up paying courtesy calls, but he didn’t escape being observed. By now everyone knew him, they also knew he was in town and they knew why. The newly appointed Head of Antiquities, Eugene Grébaut, was even having his hotel watched. In addition, it was common knowledge that Grébaut had gotten hold of a Government steamer, a former pleasure yacht of the Pasha, so that he could actively patrol the river to prevent people like Budge from taking advantage of the new ‘finds’ at Luxor. Worse yet, when Budge left Cairo the next day, his fellow passengers on the river boat told him that the police were on board watching his every move.

Budge decided to change his plan, he would take the steamer upriver to Aswan, stopping at Amarna and passing Luxor on the way. Acting as if he were a tourist, who had seen it all, he would stay on board at Luxor and try to shake off his escort. Once he got to Aswan and the coast was clear, he would double back to Luxor.

Budge had crossed the line between the world of museum curators and learned scholars in search of the truth of history, and that of the world of looters and thieves. His conversion from saint to sinner happened the moment he decided it was quite natural and normal for a trusted representative of one of the world’s most respected institutions, to look over his shoulder as he walked along the deck of the steamer bound for Aswan, or to glance around as he opened his cabin door before he slipped inside. From that moment on, Budgie was a man possessed.

© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Budge Returns for More

Arriving home, Budge was lauded by the Trustees of the British Museum and the Head of his Department. His star was rising as he had just taken his first trip abroad, ever, and as a result the Museum was in possession of twenty-four crates of antiquities that cost them less than £200. Was it possible to do better than that?

They decided to give Budge more slack and sent him out to Bagdad to inspect a Museum “dig.” He was told to stop briefly along the way in Egypt where it was rumored there had been an important “find” of papyri made in Upper Egypt. Little did he know that this would be the most important trip of his life.

He landed in Alexandria in December, 1887, after a rough voyage and immediately made the rounds, looking up important people in the telegraph office, shipping lines, newspapers, antique collectors and the military. By now he realized the importance of having good connections.

But not everyone was happy with his effort to date, Charles Cookson, the British Consul in Alexandria singled him out as a looter. He bluntly told Budge that if he had any idea of taking home any important new “finds” from Luxor to forget it. He was to “...desist wholly from attempting to buy and export antiquities, which was strictly forbidden by the laws of Egypt.”

Budge of course brushed this aside and went on to acquire a collection on his second trip the likes of which were never equaled again until the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. From his arrival on December 16th, until he left on January 21st, within a space of 26 days he purloined three rare documents, hundreds of antiquities, including the Amarna Tablets and, best of all, a copy of the Book of the Dead called the Papyrus of Ani, a 78ft. long roll of papyrus, which he described as, “...the largest, the most perfect, the best preserved, and the best illuminated of all the papyri which date from the second half of the 18th Dynasty (about B.C.1500 to 1400).”

Today the Egyptian Government has mounted an active campaign to retrieve as many of these antiquities as they can. However, museums and collectors claim it would be folly to return such things to Egypt as they do not yet have the facilities or technical staff to cope; they are not “ready” for the responsibility. Yet one look at what has been put in place in Alexandria shows the absurdity of this notion.

I was invited to visit the document restoration lab at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a spectacular new building in glass and white stone, built on the same ground where the Great Library of Alexandria stood in the time of the Ptolemys, in 332 BC, not long after Alexander the Great founded the city.

Located in the Nile Delta, Alexandria was then surrounded by papyrus swamps from which came the raw material for millions of scrolls used worldwide for thousands of years as a source of paper. It was also a plant worshipped by Pharaoh.

The Ptolemys used papyrus from the swamps to fulfill their goal of housing a collection of every known book. In those days that meant scrolls made from papyrus. They intended that Alexandria would become the intellectual center of the world, and in the process they would make money. They kept hundreds of scribes busy, as the Library sent out lists that led to exchanges and more additions and a thriving business flourished in exporting books.

Today the New Library emulates the original as a place of study, a venue for conferences, a site for art and science initiatives and as a cultural showplace for the city. A modern architectural marvel with open stacks and a stream of visitors, and hundreds of thousands of books, and it still has space on its shelves.

While I was there I made the argument that in addition to restoration they should consider an idea put forward by Hassan Ragab, an old friend of mine who passed away in 2004. He suggested that hundreds of scrolls could be reproduced to stock a small section of the New Library. Scroll books of the ancients could be re-created using rolls of modern papyrus paper now produced in Cairo, and this would provide visitors with a feeling of what the Great Library was like in the old days. The star of the show of course would be a 78ft. replica of the Book of the Dead the most valuable item yet stolen by Budge.

I argued that even if you are not a fan of replicas, the idea of a 78ft. illustrated papyrus scroll must excite people, after all Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript of On the Road (a 127ft. scroll) is presently the star of a successful worldwide exhibition.

What makes a 78ft modern papyrus scroll even more attractive is the fact that it would be intact. Budge, after he stole the original in Luxor, cut the 3,500 year old document into 37 pieces for ease of handling!

Next post, On to Cairo!


© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On A Sacred Mission


Budge’s first glimpse of Egypt was from the Suez Canal, he did not come through Alexandria until he had finished his first trip and was on his way out. By then he had made his trip up the Nile to Aswan, and in a little more than two months had seen everything he ever wanted to see. He had discovered that the earlier “Rape of the Nile” by Belzoni, Henry Salt and Drovetti had merely scratched the surface. To the practiced eye there was much more to be gained. In his autobiography he describes the wealth of artifacts lying about in Egypt in the 1880’s all being picked over by amateur collectors and Government antiquities agents, but there was a host of wondrous things remaining.

In order to mine this treasure house in a systematic manner, and with an easy conscience, he wrapped himself in a cloak of righteousness, proclaiming it his sacred duty to rescue the lot, leaving the authorities to fester in their own ignorance. Imagine his indignation then when he finally reached Alexandria on his way back to England in February, 1887, and was confronted by the authorities. The effrontery of them! The enjoyment of his visit to Alexandria was “...marred by the attempts made by the Service of Antiquities to prevent the export of my cases...”

He soon recovered his position and was able to fend them off. He had foreseen such difficulties and he had wisely made friends among top military figures in order to prevent such nonsense. If anyone could protect him and his loot it was General de Montmorency, now in charge of the Egyptian Army in Alexandria, who was himself an avid collector and would take Budge’s side against the British Consul-General in Egypt who demanded in writing the return of all antiquities before Budge left.

Budge prevailed, and one day he and the General stood on the quay and were able to watch as his twenty-four cases left the harbor “...under the care of a friendly officer...” bound for England and the British Museum.

The plan of Alexandria resembles a large open umbrella, the top of which is the curved island of Pharos that once held an imposing lighthouse, the seventh wonder of the world. The sides of the umbrella curve east and west providing a harbor on either side, with a a broad bit of land running down the middle, like an umbrella shaft, a causeway dating from the time of Alexander. This is the principle land connection to the mainland. To the left of the shaft is the commercial harbor, vessels enter here after skirting the breakwater and unload at piers near the railway terminus and the entrance to the Mahmoudya Canal. To the right is the picturesque Corniche and the Great Harbor. I can see this from the balcony of my hotel where I am presented with a breathtaking scene. The calm glittering surface of the sea, Mediterranean blue, is framed by the dead white breakwater and reef that continues out from the Corniche and almost encircles the bay. Below I also see wooden fishing boats and small craft many painted blue and white bobbing in the water. I suddenly see why they are the colors of ancient Greece. Some of the boats even look old enough to have been there when Budge loaded his cases of loot onboard a homeward bound vessel.

Until now the chief attractions of the city have been the museum, the Catacombs, the remains of Temple of the Serapium and the temple library, and Pompei’s Piller (in fact, erected in honor of Diocletian). I tour these sights as did Budge and come away with the impression that, as someone once said, “Alexandria is Alexander’s best monument.” The cosmopolitan backwater of Budge’s day with its population of a quarter of a million Europeans, has expanded to five million and has evolved into a young, vibrant modern city, with a new interest in antiquities driven by the recent underwater finds from the harbor.

What did Budge see when he made his tour of the town and the catacombs as I did. First he did his tour under the guidance of an expert, and he included “...several good collections of Alexandrian antiquities in the hands of private collectors.” In other words, he put his time to good use, and in this way he “...learned to know the general characteristics of late Ptolemaic and Roman sculpture, and sepulchral buildings, and the main features of funerary archaeology of the late period.”

Never wasting a minute, Budge came to learn more about what to look for in the way of antiques in Egypt so that when he returned on his next trip he would be primed to clean out the place.


© Copyright J. Gaudet, 2009, all rights reserved.