Sue Young Histories

Archibald Henry Sayce (1846-1933)

July 05, 2013

Archibald Henry Sayce
(1846-1933)Archibald Henry Sayce (1846-1933) ‘… was a pioneer British Assyriologist and linguist, who held a chair as Professor of Assyriology at the University of Oxford from 1891 to 1919…’

Sayce translated a Babylonian tablet of medical lore which was considered at the time as a homeopathic recipe ‘… Compound together and drink the seed of the reed and dates in palm wine. Drink bitters diossolved in palm wine…(Arthur Selwyn-Brown, The physician throughout the ages: a record of the doctor from the earliest historical period—embracing a general survey of the practice of medicine—the social history of the doctor—with medical chronology and biographies of outstanding physicians, Volume 1, (Capehart-Brown, 1938). Page 30)‘.

Sayce sent James John Garth Wilkinson a ‘… warm expression of approval… (Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co 1911, reprinted by General Books Page 51)’ on the publication of his book _Oannes according to Berosus. A study in the church of the ancients; a study in the Church of the Ancients (_James John Garth Wilkinson, Oannes according to Berosus. A study in the church of the ancients; a study in the Church of the Ancients, (James Speirs, London 1888, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2003).

Sayce is listed in both of James John Garth Wilkinson’s address books at Queens College, Oxford, and a Ms. Sayce is also listed in the 1895 address book at 23 Chepstow Villas, Bayswater (Swedenborg Archive Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson dated 1895. _See also Swedenborg Archive _Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson ‘Where is it’ dated 1.10.1892).

Sayce was a close friend of Florence Blakiston Attwood Mathews, the second daughter of James John Garth Wilkinson, and her husband Benjamin Attwood Mathews, who spent a good deal of time in Egypt with Sayce (Clement John WilkinsonJames John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co 1911, reprinted by General Books Page 51), and they also invited him to their home in Pontrilas Court, Herefordshire:

‘… *The Ovid is just what I want. My daughter Mrs. Attwood Mathews, is delighted to have it. Professor Sayce, the Assyriologist, whom my people have been with in Egypt this year, likes your Secret of the Nile. And my daughter asks you to send her two copies of it for which she remits. I wish you were here in this interesting Egyptian house. Sayce is coming here on Sept 4… *(Swedenborg Archives K125 [15] letter dated 14.9.1893 from Garth Wilkinson to John Thomson)…’

From ‘… Archibald Sayce was born in Shirehampton, Bristol, to a family of Shropshire descent. A delicate child who suffered from tuberculosis and got a late start, he soon caught up with a private tutor and was reading Homer in Greek at ten. He attended The Queen’s College, Oxford, becoming a fellow in 1869.

In 1874 Sayce published a long paper, “The Astronomy and Astrology of the Babylonians” in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology vol. 3, part 1), with transcriptions and translations of the relevant cuneiform texts, that was one of the first articles to recognise and translate astronomical cuneiform texts.

In 1879 Rev. Sayce linked the reliefs near Magnesia on the Maeander in western Anatolia to those of the site at Yazilikaya in the Turkish plateau, and recognised that they belonged to an unidentified pre-Greek culture.

In 1876, he deciphered one of the hieroglyphics inscribed on stones at Hamath in Syria, by deducing that the profile of a man stood for “I”. In 1880, he deciphered another hieroglyphic which he recognized as the governing prefix that identified divinity. He had suspected for some time that Boghazkoy was the capital of the Hittites because some hieroglyphic scripts found at Aleppo and Hamath in northern Syria were matched to the script on a monument at Boghazkoy.

_In 1882, in a lecture to the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London, he announced that the Hittites, far from being a small Canaanite tribe who dealt with the kings of the northernKingdom of Israel, were the people of a “lost Hittite empire,” which Egyptian texts were then bringing to light. He and William Wright identified the ruins at Boghazkoy with Hattusa, the capital of a Hittite Empire that stretched from the Aegean Sea to the banks of the Euphrates, centuries before the age of the Old Testament patriarchs. _

Sayce concluded that the Hittite hieroglyphic system was predominantly a syllabary, that is, its symbols stood for a phonetic syllable. There were too many different signs for a system that was alphabetical and yet there were too few for it to be a set of ideographs. That very sign standing for the divinity had appeared on the stones of Hamath and other places, always in the form of a prefix of an indecipherable group of hieroglyphics naming the deities. This led Sayce to conclude that by finding the name of one of these deities with the help of another language endowed with similar pronunciation, one might analyze the conversion of the aforesaid name in Hittite hieroglyphics. Also, he stated that the keys to be obtained through that process might in turn be applied to other parts of a Hittite inscription where the same sign were to occur.

Sayce dreamed of finding a bilingual Rosetta Stone. In 1880, he found a clue on a writing that spoke of an ancient silver disk discovered in Istanbul. It was a small-sized relic resembling a seal. In its centre, the figure of a warrior wearing a short robe, cape, helmet and upward-toe-capped boots (a Hittite apparel, no doubt) lay. The frieze around the warrior contained a cuneiform inscription in Hurrian dialect. Sayce supposed that the cuneiform inscription on the seal and the Hittite characters contained in its inner circle expressed one only meaning. Therefore, he was facing a bilingual text.

Working with a plaster impression, Sayce translated the cuneiform text of a seal “Tarritktimme, king of the country of Erme” (Walters Gallery, Baltimore). By late 1886, only seven signs had been deciphered out of the totality of signs belonging to the hieroglyphic system. __Later, after Sayce had turned his attention to Egyptology, archives were discovered at Hattusa that unlocked the language spoken there.

Lectures were his favourite vehicle for publication. He published in 1887 his Hibbert lectures on Babylonian religion; in 1902 his Gifford lectures on Egyptian and Babylonian religion; and in 1907 his Rhind lectures.

Rev. Sayce was working at El Kab in Egypt with Somers Clarke in the 1900s. In his seasonal winter digs in Egypt he always hired a well-furnished boat on the Nile to accommodate his travelling library, which also enabled him to offer tea to visiting Egyptologists like the young American James Henry Breasted and his wife…