Proceedings (Extract) of XII International Congress of Orientalists, Rome, October 1899



In the evening of 3rd October 1899, delegates to the XII International Congress of Orientalists assembled in the Great Hall of the University of Rome, to elect the presidents for each of the Sessions, to discuss the format and elect speakers at the opening ceremony the following day. In addition to scholars and academics from Italy, the host nation, participants came from the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Hungary, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Montenegro, Norway, Paraguay, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America. Each country was represented by national museums, universities and academies.

The Congress was formally inaugurated at 10 am on 4th October in the Great Hall of the Campidoglio, Rome’s smallest but most sacred hill and Italy’s seat of power through the centuries. Guido Baccelli, Education Minister, delivered a message, in Latin and Italian, from King Umberto I, patron of the Congress:(1)

' …The significant discoveries of a century drawing to a close, have allowed us to get closer to those peoples which, isolated from humankind, had closed their doors to progress, thus sealing their fate to eternal stagnation. After many efforts, modern civilisation has won over these peoples, forcing them to open their doors and to submit to the inescapable laws of human co-operation, so that everybody can share the triumphs and achievements attained by others. Human civilisation sailed from the shores of the Indian Ocean, gradually spread to Central Asia, Egypt, Greece and to the rest of Europe, now travels back, enriched, towards those regions on the way to civilisation, to reign supreme in the known world. However, it is your knowledge, delegates, that knowledge you so lovingly cultivate, that knowledge of things oriental which is the bright star, radiating its brilliance to reach the farthest corners of the globe and bring these peoples out of their centuries-old darkness. Ex Oriente Lux [Light comes from the East].'
Fig 1: Poster from vol.1 of the Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists.

Fig 1: Poster from vol.1 of the Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists. The Congress, originally scheduled from 1-12 October, was inaugurated on 4th October with an opening message from King Umberto I of Italy, delivered by Guido Baccelli, Minister for Education, and concluded on 15th October with a farewell banquet. (Notice Ex Oriente Lux (Light comes from the East) in the aureole of the coach driver). A copy of the Rome Proceedings is stored in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

The next message was delivered in French by Count Angelo de Gubernatis(2), President of the organising committee:(3)

'After two years of feverish organisation, the shiny beacon entrusted to our care by the Paris Congress [1897], comes to life again in Rome, with a new brightness and new momentum for more travels around the world … In the splendours of the Campidoglio in Rome, we should mark this magnificent day with an albo lapillo(4), where East meets West to exchange friendly words …'.

The following inaugural messages were delivered by senior delegates of countries I have selected for Silk Road explorations.

ármin Augustus Vámbéry (1832–1913), Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of Budapest, addressed the audience in Italian, recalling early Italian explorers to Asia, from Marco Polo (ca. 1254–1324) to Odorico da Pordenone (1265–1331)(5).

Émile Sénart (1847–1928)(6), Head of the French Silk Road Committee, expressed his government’s continued interest in oriental studies, testified by the creation, shortly after the 1897 Paris Congress, of faculties for the study of Aramaic, Sudanese and Siamese. Sénart also announced the creation of the Mission archéologique permanente d'Indo-Chine, under the patronage of a French institute dedicated to epigraphical studies.(7)

Sir Raymond West (1832–1911), Vice-President of the Royal Asiatic Society of Britain, delivered his inaugural speech in English, referring to the common ties that bind Italy and Britain through the writings of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley and Byron.(8)

Sir Charles Lyall (1845–1920), Secretary of the India Office in London, delivered his speech in French, expressing hope that the Government of India would gain further knowledge from the Rome Congress, to better direct the impending archaeological excavations in India, following the creation of the International Committee for the India Exploration Fund.(9)

Irènée Nauphal, Secretary of State for the Government of Russia, addressed the audience in French, comparing the slow, heavy, risk-averse, camel-driven East, and the energetic, light, steam-powered West, galloping on a future powered by electricity:(10)

'The East is the substance and the West is the form; the East is the theory and the West is the tangible; these two sides of civilisation can and should complement each other. The East sows the seeds, but the West has the task of making it bear fruit'.

There is no mention in the Proceedings of a national representative for Germany delivering an inaugural speech.

For each of the 12 Sessions of the Congress, one or more presidents, and a secretary, were elected, grouped by language and geographical definition, as follows:(11)

Session VII on Central Asia was chaired by: Ignác Kúnos (1860–1945) from Budapest University; ármin Vámbéry, mentioned earlier; Vasile Vasilievic Radloff (1837–1918) from the St. Petersburg Museum of Ethnography and Anthropology and member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences; and Otto Donner (1835–1909), Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Languages at Helsinki University.

The Committee set a maximum of five papers per sitting, with 20-minute contributed talks and an additional 15 minutes for discussion. Speakers had to prepare a summary of their papers in about 20 lines of text, preferably in French, for submission to the Session secretary immediately before or immediately after each presentation.(12)

The Congress Proceedings (Figures 2–3) are in three volumes, published in April 1902 (vol. 1) and March 1903 (vols. 2 and 3). Vol. 1 provides inaugural speeches, list of attendees and participating institutions, summaries of contributed talks in French, Italian, Latin or German, and an Appendix in English by Augustus Rudolf Hoernle (1841–1918) titled A note on the British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities. Vols. 2 and 3 consist of full-length essays in the original language (mostly in English, French, German or Italian) summarised in vol. 1. Pagination is in Roman numerals for vol. 1, and in Arabic numerals for vols. 2 and 3 and for Hoernle's Appendix in vol. 1.

The spelling variation encountered in the Proceedings reflects the style used by scholars in their individual papers. I have adopted a consistent spelling, indicating with the [sic] convention the version printed in the Proceedings. In this essay, square brackets indicate explanations, identifications or missing vowels/words, to facilitate understanding.

The following abbreviations will be used:
PXIIICO-V1 (1902) Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists, Vol. 1
PXIIICO-V2 (1903) Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists, Vol. 2

This essay deals primarily with the translation and analysis of sections of vols. 1 and 2 on Silk Road topics, with particular emphasis on Russia, Finland, Great Britain/Government of India, Germany, France and Hungary. It is limited by my knowledge of the subject and not necessarily by the Proceedings of the Congress. Translation from Italian or French is by Lia Genovese, author of this essay.

I will now illustrate presentations at the Rome Congress by speakers of these nations. Background information on scholars and institutions is provided to better place their activities in context; it is my own research and does not form part of the Proceedings.

Finnish and Russian Delegation

The Russian and Finnish(13) delegation consisted of influential academics working in close collaboration with other European scholars. It included two Silk Road explorers: Dmitriy Klementz (1848–1914) and Otto Donner. With the exception of two scholars from Helsinki University — Eemil Nestor Setälä (1864–1935), Professor of Finnish language and Literature, and Otto Donner mentioned earlier — all Russian delegates represented institutions in St. Petersburg: Dmitriy Klementz, Senior Curator, Museum of Ethnography and Anthropology at the Imperial Academy of Sciences; Vasile Radloff, mentioned earlier; Carl Gustav Heinrich Salemann (1849–1916), Imperial Academy of Sciences; Sergey Fedorovich de Oldenburg (1863–1934), School of Oriental Languages.

En route to the Rome Congress, Klementz, Radloff and Salemann travelled via Berlin, where they met German linguists and scholars, including Albert Grünwedel (1856–1935), Director of the Indian section of the National Ethnological Museum. This meeting played a crucial role in Grünwedel's planning for the first German expedition of 1902, by confirming that Turfan, on the northern trail of the Silk Road, was less affected by treasure-hunters. Albert von Le Coq (1860–1930), Director at the National Ethnological Museum in Berlin, states 'It was Sven Hedin who proved by his intrepid and epoch-making journeys in Eastern Turkestan that it was possible to cross the country uninjured'.(14) (15) (16)

In the Congress Proceedings, Dmitriy Klementz is not credited with any presentations about his discoveries in Turfan in 1898. As we shall see later, this task fell on his Russian colleagues responsible for studying, cataloguing and analysing his findings.

Vasile Radloff was one of the presidents of Session VII on Central Asia. His work on the language of the Osmanli Turks was known to European scholars, and particularly to ármin Vámbéry and Ignác Kúnos, the two Hungarian scholars who shared Radloff's passion for this branch of linguistics.

In Rome on 11th October, Radloff detailed his work on the recent Russian expedition to Turfan:(17)

'Dr. Radloff … gave an account of his work on the manuscripts, books and inscriptions discovered by Klementz during the expedition to Turfan. All these texts are extremely important because they belong largely to the Buddhist past of the Uighurs, mostly unknown until now. The other documents uncovered by Clementz [sic] consist of business contracts, extremely important testimony of the openness with which the Uighurs conducted their trade dealings'.

Radloff's presentation was greeted with enthusiasm.

Otto Donner was one of the presidents of Session VII on Central Asia, a position that suited him well, having visited the region in 1898. In his book Resa i Central Asien 1898, he describes his journey through Bokhara, Samarkand, Tashkent and Urumchi. In August 1898, he reached Turfan.(18)

In Rome on 9th October, at one of the sittings devoted to Central Asia, Donner presented a paper in German(19) on Ural-Altaic languages(20). This presentation was followed by a group discussion on diacritical marks and vowel harmony, involving Vasile Radloff, Otto Donner, Georg Huth (1867–1906, lecturer in Central Asian languages at the University of Berlin), and Eemil Setälä.(21)

Carl Salemann was one of the presidents of the Iran group of Session VI. He was an accomplished linguist, and had already worked on some of the manuscripts uncovered in 1893 during the expedition to Turfan, led by Vsevolod Ivanovich Roborovskiy (1856–1910) and Petr Kozlov (1863–1935).

At the Rome Congress, Salemann presented a number of publications he had authored or edited between 1890 and 1897, on Persian and Hebrew grammar and language.(22)

As an expert in oriental languages, Sergey de Oldenburg dealt with the manuscripts and scrolls acquired by Nikolai Petrovsky (1837–1908), the Russian consul-general to Kashgar from 1882 to 1902.

At the Rome Congress, de Oldenburg was confirmed as a member of the International Committee for the India Exploration Fund. On 10th October(23), in the absence of Max Müller (1823–1900)(24), de Oldenburg presented two projects prepared by the Japanese Buddhist scholars Junjiro Takakusu and Bunyu Nanjio(25). The first work, which awaited funds for publication, consisted of a Chinese-Sanskrit and Sanskrit-Chinese dictionary. The second project, titled A great work for the study of Sanskrit in Japan, covered the last thirteen centuries of Buddhist history in Japan, in 1,000 volumes, which the two Japanese scholars were copying in their entirety. Émile Sénart acknowledged the importance of the projects undertaken by the Japanese scholars. Max Müller, and Georg Bühler (1837–1898)(26) had deciphered and translated a Sanskrit manuscript found at the famous Hō-riu-ji temple in Nara, Japan, dating back to 552 CE.

British/Government of India Delegation

In addition to Sir Raymond West and Sir Charles Lyall mentioned earlier, the British delegation included Augustus Rudolf Hoernle, former Director of the Muslim University of Calcutta and President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta.

Sir Charles Lyall was one of the presidents of Session IX, devoted to the literature, history and archaeology of Islam. He supported Hoernle’s interest in manuscripts from Eastern Turkestan. In his Note on the British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities presented at the Rome Congress, Hoernle pays homage to Sir Charles:(27)

'… At my suggestion, which was strongly supported by Sir Charles J. Lyall, the Government of India, in 1893, issued the necessary instructions to their Political Officers; and in response to these a large collection of epigraphical and other antiquities has been brought together, selected specimens of which I have been commissioned to show to the Congress.'

In Rome on 5th October, Sir Charles presented a paper by George A. Grierson (1851–1941)(28) for the Linguistic Survey of India, Essays on Kaçmiri grammar — London and Calcutta, 1899. Grierson's paper also covered samples of languages and dialects spoken on the northwest frontier of British India, including little-known dialects from valleys between Kashmir and the Pamirs.(29)

Hoernle was born in India and received his education in Europe. He had a life-long interest in Indo-Aryan languages, which he pursued with equal vigour when he retired to Oxford, in England, a few months before the Rome Congress.

In Rome, Hoernle co-chaired with Émile Sénart Session VI on India and Iran. On 5th October, Hoernle presented an annotated translation by Aurel Stein (1862–1943), titled Kalhana's Rajatarangini, or Chronicle of the kings of Kashmir, Vol. II Book III, an Indian legend published in London in 1899.(30) Hoernle proposed a vote of thanks to the University of the Punjab and the Government of Kashmir for their assistance in this project.

On 11th October, Hoernle presented a Note on the British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities:(31)

'The starting-point of the British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities was the discovery in 1890 of the Bower and Weber Manuscripts. It [the discovery] drew my attention to Eastern Turkestan as a promising field for epigraphical exploration … The collection consists of (1) Manuscripts and Xylographs, (2) Coins and Seals (3) Terra-cottas and Pottery, and (4) Figures of stone, metal or wood, and miscellaneous objects. The larger portion of these objects has been procured by Mr. George Macartney in Kashghar; the remainder, by Captain Stuart H. Godfrey(32)… in Kashmīr … The manuscripts comprised in the collection … will be referred to … as the 'Macartney MSS.' the 'Godfrey MSS.', 'Talbot MSS'.'

The long itinerary of the Bower, Weber and Macartney manuscripts is detailed in Hoernle's Note, which I have summarised below. Some of the individuals involved in these manuscripts — George Macartney (1867–1945) and Munshī Ahmad Dīn, for example — would play a pivotal role, often unwittingly, in the forgeries at the hands of Islam Akhun, an intelligent and enterprising native of Khotan.

The Bower, Weber and Macartney manuscripts were found by native treasure-seekers in 1889 in a ruined tower near Kucha33), visited by Lieutenant Hamilton Bower (1858–1940) in January or February 1890, while investigating the murder of Andrew Dalgleish on behalf of the British colonial government. The treasure-seekers handed the manuscripts to the chief qāzī (a religious judge in an Islamic popular court) of the town, where a few days later they were seen by Hājī Ghulām Qādir. At this juncture, the Bower, Weber and Macartney manuscripts follow three different routes.

Bower purchased the homonymous manuscript from Hājī Ghulām Qādir. Written on birch-bark, it is not a single manuscript, but a collection of seven manuscripts totalling 51 folios, bound in the form of the Indian pothī, written in the Gupta script of Northern India in the fourth to sixth centuries CE, in a language defined as 'ungrammatical' or 'mixed Sanskrit', meaning a mixture of literary and popular Sanskrit.(34) In the May 1893 edition of the Archaeological Survey of India, Hoernle published Part I (Plates I to V), of the Bower manuscript, with facsimile leaves, Nagari transcript, romanised transliteration and English translation with notes. In Hoernle’s words, it was ' …an extensive recast of the first tentative translation published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LX, Part I, for 1891'(35) . Bower published specimens of the manuscript in the Geographical Journal, vol. V, in 1895. A complete edition was published in the New Imperial Series of the Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vol. XLII, ' …accompanied by a full English translation, explanatory notes, and photo-etched facsimiles of all the leaves'.(36) The manuscript was returned to Colonel Bower in 1898, who later sold it to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The other scrolls still in Hājī Ghulām Qādir's possession — subsequently known as the Weber and Macartney manuscripts — travelled together but only up to a point. They were sent by Hājī Ghulām Qādir to his younger brother Dildār Khān in Yarkand, who took them to Leh (Ladakh) in 1891, where he gave a portion of them to Munshī Ahmad Dīn.(37) The latter presented this portion to Rev. F. Weber, a Moravian missionary, who in turn transmitted it to Hoernle in Calcutta, where it became known as the Weber manuscript, consisting of fragments of nine different books. Hoernle purchased it from Weber and published it in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. LXII in 1893.(38)

It is still 1891, Dildār Khān is in Leh and holds one last manuscript, the one with the longest journey. From Leh he took this scroll to Aligarh, also in India, where he left it with a friend, a certain Faiz Muhammad Khān. On a subsequent visit to Aligarh in 1895, Dildār Khān retook it from his friend, brought it back to Turkestan, and presented it to George Macartney, the British representative in Kashgar from 1890 to 1918, who forwarded it to the Foreign Office in Simla in 1896. The Foreign Office sent it to Hoernle in Calcutta, who named it the Macartney manuscript, and published specimens of it in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. LXVI in 1897.(39)

In his Note to the Rome Congress, Hoernle said about the rest of the manuscripts:(40)

'What became of the rest of the manuscripts in the Qāzī’s house is not exactly known. It is probable that Andijiani merchants in Kuchar, who are Russian subjects, must have got hold of some of them and transmitted them to Mr. Petrovsky, the Russian Consul-General in Kashghar. The latter forwarded them to St. Petersburg, where specimens of them were published in 1893 by Dr. S. von [sic] Oldenburg in the Journal of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society, vol. viii. As late as 1894, 'ten manuscripts' were reported by Dildār Khān, on the information of his brother in Kuchar, to be in the possession of a certain Yūsuf Beg. Unfortunately the negotiations, set on foot by Mr. Macartney for the purchase of these manuscripts, fell through, owing to the Beg’s denial of possession, from fear of the Chinese authorities. It is believed that subsequently Mr. Petrovsky succeeded in purchasing them. If this [is] correct, they should now be in St. Petersburg.'

Hoernle's Note was presented at the Rome Congress in 1899, and it is telling that locals such as Yūsuf Beg were already fearful of Chinese consequences for dealing in ancient manuscripts. Notwithstanding this fact, for the next quarter of a century Central Asia, with Turfan and Khotan in particular, became the battleground for wholesale explorations.

In the same Note Hoernle provided further details on the British Asian antiquities:(41)

'With the exception of a few coins and seals, which came from Samarkand, Tashkend, and other places in Western Turkestan, the whole of the antiquities included in the collection came from the neighbourhood of two places in Eastern Turkestan. These are Kuchar and Khotan…. Fifteen of such places, nearly all being the sites of ancient towns buried under the sand of the desert, are now known, situated at distances from about five to 150 miles distant from Khotan, mostly to the north and north-west of it. With the exception of two, they are all known only from the information of native treasure-seekers. Two of them, however have been verified by European visitors: these are Borazan and Aq Safil. The former was visited by Messrs. Högberg and Bäcklund, Swedish Missionaries in Kashghar, in 1897, and by Mr. Macartney in the spring of the same year. It was also visited by Dr. Sven Hedin in January, 1896, as related in his book Through Asia (p. 759 ff.). It lies about five miles west of the Khotan Chinese city … Dr. Sven Hedin, in the book above-mentioned, has given a full descriptions of the place. Aq Safil … lies about twenty miles north-east of Khotan, just within the Takla Makan desert. It was visited by Messrs. Högberg and Bäcklund in the summer of 1897. Their description of the place has been included by me in my Report on the British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities (Part I, Introduction, p. xiv ff.) '
' …Directly or indirectly the whole of the antiquities have been obtained from native treasure-seekers. The Weber MSS. and some of the Godfrey MSS. were presented to those two gentlemen; the rest has been purchased, some for trifling amounts of money. As a consequence, with the exceptions of one case, practically nothing is known as to [the] exact circumstances of the discovery of any of the objects. All that is known is that they are said to have been found or dug out in sand-buried sites.'

It is from the next section of his Note that consequences are still felt:(42)

'A very full account of the xylographs, comprised in the British Collection, has been already published by me, with numerous photo-etched specimens, in the first part of my Official Report, printed as an Extra Number of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1899 … The total number of block-prints in the collection is forty-five The[y] may be divided into nine sets, from the number of the different kinds of letters used in printing them.'(43)
'In outward appearance they resemble the manuscript books made after the European fashion … The paper commonly used in them is of a kind of which a very coarse variety is still manufactured in Khotan at the present time … All these books are clearly printed from wooden blocks of type, of which there must have been a large number of various sizes … The fact that these xylographs are forthcoming in such comparatively large numbers, and contain so many as yet unknown and unintelligible scripts, naturally raises the question of their genuineness … the manuscripts … were the earliest to be obtained, and they ceased to be forthcoming any more soon after the xylographs began to appear … in the case of at least two of the groups of xylographs a theory of forgery is even more difficult to understand and believe than that of their genuineness '

It is impossible to read the above sentences without sharing Hoernle's residual misgivings about the authenticity of the block-prints, even after publishing Part I of his Official Report earlier that year. Part of him could not dismiss these doubts, because he concludes this section of his Note as follows:(44)

'The conclusions to which I have come, but which must not be understood to be given as final, are these. It is probable 1) that some ancient blocks of type have been discovered; 2) that some books printed from those blocks have also been found; 3) that when the find of these genuine books (as well as manuscripts) became exhausted, but the demand for them by European inquirers continued, fresh reprints were made from the old blocks more or less in imitation of the genuine books, and perhaps even new blocks were cut.'
'Besides these there is a great variety of small objects — arrow-heads, clasps, spurs, buttons, &c. — the antiquity of some of which is very doubtful.'(45)

The notion of forgery was ever-present in Hoernle's thoughts, and one can sympathise with the dilemma facing many academics: risking a scholarly reputation either by casting doubt on an unknown artefact, or by attaching authenticity to it. Aurel Stein had always nursed misgivings about these block-prints, and at the end of his first expedition confronted Islam Akhun, who had suffered first-hand the draconian long arm of the local law on at least two occasions.(46) When Stein met Akhun on 25th April 1901, a collection of artificially discoloured paper, covered with impressions of the same elaborate 'unknown characters' bought in Kashgar by George Macartney and Nikolai Petrovsky, was found in his house. Any final doubts over the authenticity of these block-prints quickly evaporated. At first, Akhun protested his innocence about the forgeries, but eventually recounted the entire process of fabrication of these forged manuscripts. Stein decided not to press charges, citing:(47)

' …the extenuating circumstances connected with the way in which encouragement had been afforded to the fraud by undiscriminating purchasers.'

Back in the UK to catalogue his finds in the summer of 1901, Stein told Hoernle he had unmasked Islam Akhun. In Part II of his Report on the British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities published in 1901 as an Extra Number of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. LXX, Hoernle acknowledged that the manuscripts were forgeries. There is no suggestion that Hoernle rushed Part II of his Official Report soon after the devastating news from Stein. It was already being worked on, as can be inferred from his Note to the Rome Congress in 1899, about some unknown scripts:(48)

' …Some others will accompany Part II of my forthcoming Official Report '

Hoernle's final contribution at the Rome Congress was at a general session on 13th October, when he presented 22 photographs of recent discoveries from Eastern Turkestan. Eleven of the photographs detailed manuscripts, while the other 11 showed samples of terracottas, pottery, seals, gems and figures of stone and metal.(49) Presenting in Rome, he noted that:(50)

'Most of the Chinese coins belong to the periods of the Thang and Sung dynasties, in the eight and tenth to twelfth centuries A.D. There are, however, also a number of very ancient coins, among them one unique, of the first and second centuries A.D., of the period of the first Chinese conquest of Eastern Turkestan'

German Delegation

In addition to Georg Huth, mentioned earlier, the German delegation included Émil Kautzsch (1842–1910), University of Halle; Karl Arendt (1838–1902), Lecturer in Chinese and Oriental Languages at the University of Berlin; Frédéric Hirth, University of Munich and member of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin; Ernst Leumann (1859–1931), Professor of Sanskrit and other Indian Languages at Strasbourg University.

As well as lecturer in Central Asiatic languages at Berlin University, Georg Huth was Assistant to the renowned scholar Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Müller (1863–1930). Huth had extensive contacts with scholars and Silk Road explorers from Russian institutions. The Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg funded his trip to Siberia in 1897 to study Central Asian languages.

In Rome on 10th October, at one of the sittings devoted to Central Asia and chaired by Otto Donner, Huth presented a paper in German on travels to the land of the Tungus.(51) A group discussion followed by this presentation, and included Otto Donner and Vasile Radloff, the latter stressing the importance for in-depth studies of the Tungus people and the threat of rapid extinction they faced.(52)

Huth's Silk Road presentation on 11th October is summarised in just two lines of text in the Rome Congress Proceedings. He spoke on Turfan, its location, and the objects found therein, which are both Buddhist and Islamic in nature.(53)

Émil Kautzsch was one of the presidents of Session VIII on Semitic Languages. In Rome on 14th October, he announced Hamburg as the host city of the XIII Congress in 1902.(54)

Karl Arendt's presentation in Rome on 14th October detailed a yearly periodical produced in Berlin, titled Séminaire des langues orientales, divided into three stand-alone sections: (1) literature and languages of the Far East; (2) languages of the Semitic group, Turkish and culture of Islam; (3) peoples and languages of modern Africa.(55)

At the last sitting of the IV Session on 10th October, Arendt presented a paper titled Has Chinese a grammar, and, if so, is it worth being studied? on various aspects of Chinese grammar and structure, and the benefits of a consistent and committed study.(56) Arendt aimed at progressing the study of the Chinese language, arguing:

'It is true that the old system of Abel Rémusat(57) can no more be sustained; it is true that some of the laws of the position of words which were formerly believed to govern the Chinese language, have been found to be incorrect; but does this prove what the adherents of the theory against which I am speaking maintain for their part? … error may be often a necessary step on the way which leads towards truth'

In Rome, Frédéric Hirth was one of the presidents of Session IV, on China, Japan and Korea. On 9th October, he made a presentation on 'magic' (Chinese) metallic mirrors, on display at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Hirth mentioned the relationship between Greek and Chinese art, established in the context of the kingdom of Bactria.(58) These mirrors, produced shortly after vine was introduced to China, are adorned with grapes and vine leaves, and are frequently celebrated in Chinese poetry. Karl Arendt proposed an analysis of some mysterious text engraved on one of these mirrors, and Hirth's ingenious interpretation was greeted with much applause.(59)

The Paris Congress of Orientalists in 1897 had empowered a Committee to establish a common system for the romanisation of Chinese phonetics. The Committee’s report was discussed at a session on 9th October chaired by Frédéric Hirth, but was adjourned owing to extended coverage. When it resumed the following day, numerous objections were received, particularly about the content of the Committee's report, for which two proposals were adopted: Art. 1: the IV Session of the XII Congress of Orientalists proposed that each country should devise its own system for the romanisation of Chinese sounds, for inclusion in an international manual. Art. 2: after obtaining the approval of the Closing Session of the XII Congress, this proposal to be brought to the attention of the country representatives.(60)

Hirth's other contribution at the Rome Congress consisted of a paper on 11th October, in German, titled Die Ahnentafel Attila's.(61)

Ernst Leumann had received from his colleagues in St. Petersburg a fragment obtained by Nikolai Petrovsky, the Russian consular agent in Kashgar. In Rome, on 11th October, Leumann presented his work on this fragment:(62)

'the fragment can be transcribed, because its script derives from an Indian alphabet, but it cannot be translated because the language is totally unknown. Fortunately, some of the words are in Buddhist Sanskrit with numbered verses, and we hope one day to locate the Sanskrit original, or a version in Tibetan or Chinese. In the meantime, we have approached experts in Central Asian languages, who can probably identify by means of comparative philology the transcription submitted by Mr. Leumann '

Rudolf Hoernle, chairing the Session, enquired about the format of the essay, to which Leumann replied that the format had not yet been established. Sergey de Oldenburg, from the Russian delegation, custodians of the fragment, added that publication would likely take place the following year.

This fragment in an unknown language in St. Petersburg is connected with Rudolf Hoernle’s work on similar manuscripts from Central Asia. In his Note to the Rome Congress, under the heading MSS. in the form of Indian Pōthī, Hoernle mentions fragments in unknown languages keeping his Russian colleagues busy:(63)

'Dr. von [sic] Oldenburg has published a description and specimens in vols. vii and viii of the Journal of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society. They consist of fragments of ten different books. Among them I may particularly mention one (No. 8) which again gives the story of the Mahāyaksa Mānibhadra; and this book (as well as Nos. 7-9, and 10) is written in the Central Asian variety of the Gupta script. All are composed in Sanskrit, except No. 10 (in vol. vii of the Russian Journal), which is in the unknown language interspersed with Sanskrit. The Central Asian variety of the Gupta, which was at first unintelligible, was deciphered by myself in 1892, and its alphabet published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. lxii, plate iv. The unknown language, interspersed with Sanskrit, still remains unintelligible … In view of the possibility of this story of Mānibhadra serving as a key to the unlocking of the secret of the unknown language, it appears most desirable that the whole manuscript of fifty leaves should be published after the manner of the Bowen [sic] MSS.'

The fact that the fragment came from St. Petersburg and Leumann was Professor of Sanskrit at Strasbourg University is further testimony of the active co-operation between Russian and German scholars. Furthermore, Hoernle was aware that de Oldenburg had published his findings in the Journal of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society. I have discounted the notion of the fragment being one of Islam Akhun’s forgeries for the following reasons.(64) Firstly, Islam Akhun's forgeries consisted of manuscripts and, later, block-prints, not fragments. Secondly, the fact itself that Leumann had identified words in liturgical Sanskrit suggests a partial decipherment and translation. Thirdly, the fragment bore numbered verses, a form of sophistication not found in Akhun’s forgeries. Fourthly, as a Sanskrit scholar, Leumann would have been eminently placed to decipher a fragment bearing ' … words … in Buddhist Sanskrit with numbered verses'. Lastly, a degree of confidence is derived from the knowledge that in 1892 Hoernle had deciphered the Central Asian variety of this unknown script, an accomplishment impossible with any of Islam Akhun’s 'old books' in 'unknown characters'.

French Delegation

The French delegation comprised two scholars of outstanding achievements, especially in the field of linguistics. The delegates were: Émile Sénart already mentioned,(65) and Édouard Chavannes (1865-1918) from the Collège de France.

Together with Rudolf Hoernle, Émile Sénart co-chaired Session VI devoted to India and Iran. At the Congress, he delivered a number of presentations, and assumed responsibility for presenting the Proceedings of the XI Congress of Orientalists.(66)

In Rome, Sénart was confirmed as a member of the International Committee to oversee and monitor the India Exploration Fund, as was also Sergey de Oldenburg. The French scholar returned to the Committee for the India Exploration Fund on 5th October, by proposing to replace Sir Alfred Lyall (absent) with Sir Charles Lyall, Georg Bühler (deceased) with Leopold von Schröder (1851–1920)(67) and other members with appropriate substitutes(68). At the general session on 14th October, Sènart gave a lengthy presentation titled Rapport au nom de la Commission chargée de la formation de l’Association International pour l'exploration archèologique de l'Inde:(69)

'Shortly after the XI Congress, a memorandum signed not only by the Committee members but also by some distinguished Indologists … was forwarded to the Government of India by Lord Reay(70) and Sir Alfred Lyall … to bring to their attention the vote expressed at the Congress … how the Fund would operate and in order to elicit approval … Sir Charles Lyall brought to the [XII, Rome] Congress two documents: a Government of India dispatch dated 14th July 1898, and a related letter of 8th November of the same year signed by the Secretary of State for India. From these documents we learn that the projects put forward by the XI Congress were approved, on two conditions:
1. That no exploration be undertaken without the prior consent of the Government of India.
2. That all archaeological and historical artefacts uncovered as part of explorations financed by the Fund remain the property of the Government'

At the Rome Congress, Sénart also commented on the importance of recent discoveries in Central Asia, and the success encountered by Rudolf Hoernle and Vasile Radloff, adding that texts of similar provenance existed at the Bibliothèque de l'Institut in Paris, obtained through the generosity of Captain Godfrey. The French scholar acknowledged Otto Donner's contribution in publishing inscriptions discovered in Turfan. Sénart concluded his presentation by praising Dmitriy Klementz with the following words, in acknowledgement of his Turfan achievements:(71)

'I believe I speak for many in this audience, in proposing that this Congress should respectfully approach the Russian government and its institutions of learning, to crown the important and rich efforts of Mr. Clementz [sic], by sending to Central Asia an expedition equipped for a longer stay … to assemble … the largest possible sample of documents of all kinds, archaeological artefacts, epigraphical and palaeographic evidence'

Mr. Sénart's proposal was approved.

Édouard Chavannes was a respected linguist and translator of ancient texts, mentioned in Otto Donner's book on the 1898 journey to Central Asia. For Aurel Stein's first expedition to Khotan in 1900, Chavannes carried out a complete translation and analysis of documents attesting to Tibetan incursions into Chinese Turkestan, and Tibetan control of Turfan and the adjoining region, in the last quarter of the 8th century CE. Co-operation between the two scholars continued, and Stein relied on Chavannes for the interpretation of Chinese records acquired on Stein's first expedition.

The collaboration between Hoernle and French scholars of his time was long and fruitful. In his Manuscript Remains of Buddhist Literature found in E. Turkestan, Hoernle credited Édouard Chavannes for work on the fragments of Buddhist manuscripts, and praised Sylvain Lévy (1863–1935), another distinguished French scholar, for work on the fragments in Kuchean.(72)

On 14th October in Rome, a delegate presented a note written by Sylvain Lévy(73) on the journey to India by Wang Hiuen-tsé, a Chinese general who in 647 CE took over northern Bihar (India) in retaliation for the Indian pillage of the Chinese mission to the court of king Harsha. Lévy had discovered some pages from the general's diaries, believed lost. After this presentation, Édouard Chavannes provided his translation of two inscriptions reported by Wang Hiuen-tsé, dated 28 February 645 and 14 March 645 respectively, the first one from the Gridhrakûta and the second one at the foot of the Bodhidruma.(74)

Hungarian Delegation

If we take into account that Hungarian-born Aurel Stein was a British subject after being granted citizenship in 1904, the Hungarian achievements of nineteenth century Silk Road explorations did not continue into the twentieth century.(75)

In addition to ármin Vámbéry mentioned earlier, the other Hungarian Silk Road delegate to the Rome Congress was Ignác Kúnos, also from Budapest University. In Rome, he shared the presidency of Session VII of the Congress, devoted to Central Asia, with Vámbéry, Otto Donner and Vasile Radloff.

Vámbéry was a gifted linguist, fluent in Latin, French, German, Italian, English, Russian and Turkish. From an early age, he travelled widely, often in disguise, to Tehran, Mecca, Isfahan, Khiva, Bokhara, Samarkand and Khoqand, learning yet more languages and local dialects. He published several travel collections on Near and Central Asian sites. His travel accounts were perused by other explorers of his time, such as Alexandre-Pavlovitch Khorochkine, a Cossack of noble descent who met an untimely death in the battle for independence at Khoqand in 1875-76.(76)

Rudolf Hoernle turned to Vámbéry for assistance in deciphering a line of Turkī inscribed in one of the 'sealed sheets' found by Captain Godfrey in the Taklamakan area. Hoernle had previously approached in Kashgar the Swedish missionary Bäcklund as well as Munshī Ahmad Dīn (the latter had been involved with the Weber manuscript, and in 1895 with the purchase of Islam Akhun's first forgery while temporarily stationed in Kashgar during George Macartney's absence), for a translation, independently of each other. Their versions agreed in every respect, except for a clause of three words, for which Vámbéry provided a third, different version.(77)

In Rome on 6th October, Vámbéry detailed his work on the language of the Osmanlis, based on a Turkish manuscript dated to 1451, which bears grammatical rules consistent with inscriptions found on monuments in Mongolia and Siberia and deciphered by Vasile Radloff together with the Danish linguist Vilhelm Thomsen (1842–1927).(78) The two scholars had encountered words in Uighur and Turkish, with no direct correspondents in any known dialect from the Mongolian steppes to the Adriatic Sea.(79)

Ignác Kúnos was a respected linguist, with expertise in the Finno-Ugric group and Near East languages. He is best known for his research on popular speech in Turkey, for which he published the first records on dialogue and folklore texts.

In Rome on 5th October, Kúnos presented his work on the modern literature of the Osmanli Turks, and its expression in prose, theatre and poetry.(80) On 9th October, Kúnos and Georg Huth participated in a discussion, where the German scholar cited some words in Tongus, which bear similarities with words in the Finno-Ugric language group.(81)

Congress Proposals

The above has provided details of contributions from the principal scholars that would shape Silk Road explorations in the early part of the twentieth century, through either their own efforts or those of the institutions they represented.

On 14th October, at the afternoon session of the Congress, the following was proposed:(82)

Closing Remarks at the XII Congress of Orientalists

In his Closing speech the morning of 15th October, the President Count de Gubernatis, on behalf of the Italian Minister for Culture, made the following remarks:(83)

'Twenty years ago I served as the secretary-general of the Florence Congress, and I now have the honour to transfer the powers of the organising Committee to the German Committee … our Congress was born in Paris, was reared in London, grew up in St. Petersburg, studied in Italy and received its doctorate in Berlin. After the doctorate, the young German scholar travelled extensively, just like our Congress. At the end of this journey, before returning to port, it came to the top of the Campidoglio to collect a crown of laurels. However, no international port can be more illustrious than the one of the city of Hamburg … we wish our institution an equally joyous return journey. It is my privilege to announce that the city of Hamburg will host the XIII Congress of Orientalists'(84)

The Secretary-general, Count Pullé, spoke next, listing the proposals adopted by the Congress, of which only those pertinent to the Silk Road are summarised below:(85)

'The IV Session (China, Japan and Korea) of the XII Congress voted on the proposal for each country to devise its own system for the romanisation of Chinese phonetics, for inclusion in an international manual.
The VI Session (India), on the subject of the International Committee for the India Exploration Fund. The two conditions stipulated were accepted without preconditions
[1. That no exploration be undertaken without the prior consent of the Government of India. 2. That all archaeological and historical artefacts uncovered as part of explorations financed by the Fund remain the property of the Government].'

Émile Sénart, Sergey de Oldenburg, Count Pullé and Leopold von Schröder, among others, were confirmed as members of the International Committee for the India Exploration Fund.

The VII Session (Central Asia) adopted the following proposals:(86)

  1. 'As proposed by Otto Donner, to allow Georg Huth to continue his travels to Siberia and Manchuria
  2. To accept Vasile Radloff’s proposal to establish an international association called Central and East Asia Exploration Fund (International Committee for the archaeological and linguistic exploration of Central Asia and the Far East)
  3. The government of Russia and the relevant institutions of learning to organise and finance an expedition to Central Asia to further the knowledge acquired by the explorations already undertaken by Klementz'(87).

All the above proposals were approved.

As a postscriptum to the above three proposals, it is worth noting that:

  1. Georg Huth left Berlin with Albert Grünwedel on 11th August 1902, for the First German expedition to Turfan. As a consequence of the hardships and disease suffered on this expedition, Huth died in 1906 shortly after returning to Germany from Central Asia.
  2. The International Committee for the Archaeological and Linguistic Exploration of Central Asia and the Far East was formed.
  3. After Klementz’s discoveries of 1898, the Imperial Ministry of Finance refused to fund further expeditions to Central Asia. In 1909, however, the Russian Committee of the International Association for the Archaeological and Linguistic Exploration of Central Asia and the Far East obtained the financial means to dispatch full-scale archaeological expeditions to Chinese Turkestan, allowing Sergey de Oldenburg to set off from St. Petersburg to visit Urumchi, Turfan, Kucha and Kashgar.(88)

The XII Congress of Orientalists concluded with a farewell banquet on 15th October 1899 at the Grand Hôtel de Russie in Rome, after a performance, at the Teatro Valle, of Romulus, a drama written by Count de Gubernatis.

Summary and Conclusions

On 9th October, five days after the official inauguration, Ivan Chên reached Rome and was introduced to the Congress by Frédéric Hirth, president of the IV Session, as ' …the official delegate from the Government of China'.(89) While European teams prepared large-scale expeditions, China, the country that would be most affected by these expeditions over the next 25 years, appeared unaware of its own treasures along the Silk Road. Testimony the fact that China's official representative to the Rome Congress delivered a lecture on 10th October dealing with contemporary law institutions in China and Japan.(90) The irony is not lost on some readers, who compare Chên's delayed arrival with China's strict control of foreign explorations only in 1925–26, after hundreds of crates of priceless artefacts had found their way to museums and art collections around the world.(91)

Long before the XII Congress of Orientalists in Rome, European scholars were engaged in active co-operation on many fronts, especially exchanges in linguistic skills. Several had expertise in diverse fields beyond the Silk Road contributions detailed in this essay. Co-operative efforts were strongest between German and Russian scholars, but also between Hungarian, French and British scholars. Max Müller and Georg Bühler, scholars from two different countries, deciphered and translated together documents in Sanskrit

In Rome, the European countries cemented their co-operative efforts, as witnessed by the encounters in Berlin between German and Russian academics, which would have far-reaching consequences for Central Asia explorations. In early 1900, a few months after the Rome Congress, Aurel Stein set off on his first expedition to Khotan, for which he would be fêted at the XIII Congress in Hamburg in 1902. Another form of co-operation involved ármin Vámbéry and Rudolf Hoernle on documents discovered by Captain Godfrey in the Taklamakan area, but also between ármin Vámbéry and Vasile Radloff on the ancient language of the Osmanli Turks, or between Édouard Chavannes and Aurel Stein on documents attesting to Tibetan control of Turfan in the eighth century CE, in readiness for Stein's first expedition in 1900. Many more forms of co-operation appear to have been in place, as has become apparent during the related readings in preparation for this essay. For example, Alexandre-Pavlovitch Khorochkine had read one of Vámbéry's travel books before embarking on a fateful military campaign in Khoqand in 1875–76. More surprising still is the collaboration on inscriptions from monuments in Mongolia and Siberia deciphered by Vasile Radloff and Vilhelm Thomsen, and the subsequent connection of grammatical rules with the language of the Osmanli Turks worked on by ármin Vámbéry.

It was only when the potential for rich rewards became clear, that it was necessary to institute artificial barriers: spheres of influence,(92) outright agreements such as the one limiting Russian explorations to Kucha for wider German access to Turfan, or fictitious partings of the Silk Road into north and south trails to avoid exploration teams or native treasure-hunters.

The successful expeditions conducted by Britain, Germany, France, Japan and later, the USA, finally compelled China in 1925–26 to foreclose on non-Chinese teams seeking to explore its treasure houses to the West.

The Silk Road became a romantic notion of the 20th century and a magnet for explorers, scholars, adventurers, botanists, linguists, zoologists, cartographers, engineers, forgers and armchair travellers. It gave up its priceless treasures to scholars, explorers and treasure-seekers, but not without a parting shot, a lasting reminder in the shape of the forgeries, which found their way into venerable institutions in Europe, Asia and America.

Fig 2: Vol. 1 of the Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists.

Fig 2: Vol. 1 of the Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists, circulated in April 1902. (A copy of the Proceedings is stored in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London).

Fig 3: Vol. 2 (in two parts) of the Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists.

Fig 3: Vol. 2 (in two parts) of the Proceedings of the XII International Congress of Orientalists, circulated in March 1903. (A copy of the Proceedings is stored in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London).