Niebuhr's Description of Arabia

Niebuhr, Carsten. Description de l'Arabie, faite sur des observations propres et des avis recueillis dans les lieux mêmes.

Amsterdam & Utrecht, S. J. Baalde / J. van Schoonhoven & Co., 1774.

4to. XLII, 372 pp. With engraved title (in counted prelims.), 25 engraved plates (8 folding, including large engraved map of the Yemen, in partial colour) and a folding table. Contemporary half calf with giltstamped red morocco label over marbled green boards. Marbled endpapers.


Second French edition, translated from the German ("Beschreibung von Arabien") by F. L. Mourier. Includes Niebuhr's famous map of the Yemen and Arabic specimens from the Qur'an, with added hand colouring to indicate vowel sounds. "L'on voit [...] sur la IV et V planche, une feuille copiée d'un Korân, qui est écrit sur du parchemin et conservé comme un grand thresor dans la collection de livres faites par l'Académie Dsjamea el ashar à Kahira, parce qu'on croit, que le Calife Omar l'a écrit de sa propre main. Mais quand Omar ne l'auroit pas écrit, cette feuille est toujours très ancienne et par là-même remarquable" (Chauvin).

This is the famous account of the Royal Danish Expedition (1761-67) to the Middle East, Egypt, Persia and India, the first scientific expedition to this area. Niebuhr's "work on Arabia was the first European attempt at a complete account of Arabia, its people and their way of life. He amassed a vast quantity of factual information which he relates in a simple unrhetorical fashion, distinguishing clearly between things observed personally and things learned from others. The expedition, which lasted six years, was sponsored by the Danish king, and included the brilliant Swedish scientist, Peter Forsskal, who died while in Yemen" (Cat. Sotheby‘s, 13 Oct 98, lot 1010). Of the five scientists, Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815) was the sole survivor, and his work represents an important contribution to the study of the Middle East. His map of the Yemen, the first exact map of the area ever, remained the standard for the next 200 years. "Niebuhr's comprehensive description [...] was the best and most authentic of the day. Many subsequent travellers have acknowledged their debt to him, and only on a few minor points have they shown him to be in error. He was scientifically and philosophically minded, cautious and steady, and hardly the man to masquerade in Mekkah or wander with the Bedouins, but few contributed more solidly to the study of Arabia" (Atabey).

Binding a little rubbed, spine professionally repaired. A good, wide-margined copy in a contemporary binding from the library of the French historian, archaeologist, numismatist, and orientalist Victor Langlois (1829-69) with his cancelled ownership handwritten to the flyleaf.

Chauvin X, p. 57, no. 128; XII, p. 288, no. 1206. Howgego I, N24 (p. 752). Weber II, 548. Gay 3589. Nyon 21017. Grenoble 25621. Cf. Macro, Bibliography of the Arabian Peninsula, 1699. Carter, Robert A. Sea of Pearls, p. 116. Carter, Robert A. Sea of Pearls, p. 116.