Claudius James Rich (Biographical details)

Claudius James Rich (painter/draughtsman; official; academic/intellectual; British; Male; 28 March 1786 - 5 October 1821)

Also known as

Rich, Claudius James


Diplomat; antiquarian and amateur artist; collector. Born Dijon, France, the illegitimate son of Colonel James Cockburn (d. 1809); took the surname of his grandmother Martha Rich and raised with an aunt in Bristol. Granted a military cadetship in the East India Company 1803, soon converted to a writership; later appointed as secretary to the British Consul-General for the Mediterranean in Cairo; then appointed Baghdad Resident at the age of 21. Apparently fluent in Turkish, Arabic and Persian and familiar with Syriac and Chinese as well as French, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. First visited Babylon in December 1811 where he stayed for 10 days and briefly excavated at the Mujelibé as well as re-excavating the Lion of Babylon and putting a trench into the mound of Tell Ibrahim Khalil; collected a small number of objects from this region; after a spell of rest in Europe, the Richs returned to Baghdad from 1816-1821, during which time he employed Karl Bellino as his secretary; journeyed to Mosul in 1820 via Kurdistan; stayed at Mosul for four months and produced the first measured plans of the mound of Kuyunjik. Collected potsherds, small antiquities and inscribed bricks here, and at Nebi Yunus and Nimrud during this time. He also developed an important collection of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Syriac, Armenian, Greek and Carshuni manuscripts which formed the basis of these collections in the British Library. While Resident in Baghdad, Rich hosted a number of passing travellers, including James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855) and Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777-1842) (q.v.). Rich was obliged to leave Baghdad and temporarily close the Residency in spring 1821 owing to a threatened confrontation with Dawud Pasha, the Governor of the Province of Baghdad. Offered a consolatory promotion as Member of Council in the Bombay Government. While his wife continued to Bombay from Bushire, Rich chose to see Persepolis for himself, where he arrived on 22 August, added his name as a graffito to the Gate of All Nations, made limited excavations and hand copies of the inscriptions. He contracted cholera at Shiraz where he died on 5 October that year. He was buried in the Armenian Cathedral of Julfa in Isfahan.

Author of: 'Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon' ('Mines de l'Orient', reprinted London 1815); 'Second memoir on the ruins' (London 1818); 'Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan and on the site of ancient Nineveh' (London 1836); 'Narrative of a journey to Persepolis' (posthumous, edited by Mary Rich).

His surviving collection was purchased in 1825 from his widow, Mary Rich (q.v.), for £7,500 with a special Parliamentary Grant, although a number of seals - some described by James Silk Buckingham ('Travels in Mesopotamia', London 1827, vol. II, pp 405, 407-408) - now appear to be in Vienna or Graz (S. A. Pallis, 'The antiquity of Iraq: a handbook of Assyriology', London 1956, p. 68); his oil portrait by Thomas Phillips RA was presented by her and is loaned by the British Museum Trustees to the British Library, where most of his surviving diaries and papers are kept.


Constance M. Alexander, 'Baghdad in Bygone Ages', London 1928; M.K., "Claudius Rich: Scholar and Pioneer: Review [of C.M. Alexander, 'Baghdad in Bygone Ages', 1928], 'The Geographical Journal' 72/3 (September), 275-77; J.R.F. Thompson, "The Rich manuscripts", 'British Museum Quarterly' 27 (1963/64), 18-23; G.K. Jenkins, "Coins from the collection of C.J. Rich", 'British Museum Quarterly' 28 (1964), 88-95; Yasin Safadi and Julian Reade, "Claudius James Rich: diplomat, archaeologist and collector", temporary exhibition leaflet, London: BM/BL, 1986; J.M. Cordoba, "Una tomba en Isfahan. Claudius James Rich (1786-1821) y los origenes de la Arqueologia en Oriente", 'Isimu' 2 (1999), 47-71; Nicole Chevalier, 'La recherche archéologique française au moyen-orient 1842-1947', Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 2002, p. 47; Simpson, St J.,"From Persepolis to Babylon and Nineveh: the rediscovery of the ancient Near East", 'Enlightenment. Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century' (Sloan, K., ed.), London: British Museum Press, 2003, pp. 192-201, 293-94.