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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Budgie the Keeper

A world-class looter

Simon Mackenzie, writing in the British Journal of Criminology in May, 2005, on Law, Regulation and the Illicit Antiquities Market, remarked that looting is a cultural construction: the definition of the action depends upon prevailing sentiment. Lord Elgin of Parthenon marbles fame, and Sir E. A. Wallis Budge were, “British adventurers, rescuers of relics from the unreliable care of native populations to some, and culturally insensitive looters to others. It is safe to say that more people view them as the latter in 2004 than did so in their day.”

Who was this Budge? And how did he come to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Lord Elgin? It turns out that Budge was curator of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum (also called “the Keeper of the collection”) between 1894 and 1924, translator of the Book of the Dead, and excavator and collector of a great number of other papyri from Egypt and beyond. He was a vastly prolific writer, knew many languages and was a great deal more slippery than Elgin. During his tenure he acquired over 46,000 items for the British Museum, using fair means and foul.

“Budgie,” as he was called by his friends, made his first and most famous forays into Egypt in 1886 and 1887, arriving both times during the Christmas vacation. On his first trip he had been sent out to help dig out tombs in Aswan, but he soon caught the “collectors’ itch” and within the course of a few months acquired 1,482 items.

The second trip he made, 1887-1888, was for the sole purpose of collecting rare objects, in pursuit of which he went briefly to Amarna, Aswan, Karnak and Luxor, then on to Suez where his trip ended. By which time he had acquired (some say stolen) the Book of the Dead of Ani, as well as three other rare documents and again hundreds of antiquities, including the Amarna Tablets!

An English-language paper, the Egyptian Gazette, edited and owned by British expatriates, in 1903 said: “We are afraid the Egyptian Government cannot deal effectively with such collectors as Dr. Budge and his like in any direct way, but only through making the tasks which they set the poor natives most difficult and unpleasant to carry out. The only means of dealing with Dr. Budge is to arouse scientific public opinion in England against him and his methods.” This is indeed a harsh judgment, especially coming from foreign nationals in Egypt and directed against one of their own. Their judgment is chilling, asking the people of England to stop him because no one else could!

I thought it would be exciting to go out to Egypt and see the places Budge visited, walk perhaps on the same ground as he, and in the process I could comment on how Budgie’s looting affected the Egyptians of his time, as well as today.

The first stop on my travels would be Alexandria. Appropriately, I would arrive during the Christmas vacation, one hundred and twenty three years later and travel by train as he did to Cairo and from there to Aswan and return.

© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved