Empires of the Plain

Lesley Adkins

This is the exciting, true adventure story of Henry Rawlinson, a fearless soldier, sportsman and explorer. From 1827 he spent twenty-five years in India, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. A brilliant linguist, fascinated by history, he became obsessed with cuneiform, the world’s earliest writing. An immense inscription on a sheer rock face at Bisitun in Iran was the key to understanding the many cuneiform scripts and languages, and only Rawlinson had the skills to achieve the perilous ascent and copy the monument.

In her gripping account, Lesley Adkins relates how Rawlinson triumphed in deciphering the lost languages of Persia and Babylonia, overcoming his bitter rival, Edward Hincks. While Rawlinson was based at Baghdad, incredible palaces with whole libraries of cuneiform clay tablets were unearthed in the ancient mounds of Mesopotamia, from Nineveh to Babylon – the great flood plain of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers that had been fought over by so many powerful empires. His decipherment of the inscriptions resurrected these lost civilisations, revealing fascinating details of everyday life and forgotten historical events. By proving to the astonished Victorian public that people and places in the Old Testament really existed, Rawlinson assured his own place in history.

Reviews of Empires of the Plain

  • Praise for ‘Empires of the Plain’:

    ‘A colourful account of a fascinating and little-known story. It combines scholarship with high adventure, and is enlivened by the larger-than-life character of Henry Rawlinson.’ Sunday Times

    ‘A welcome addition to history writing on the archaeological exploration of the Near East.’ The Times

    Praise for ‘The Keys of Egypt’:

    ‘A fascinating and elegantly written biography of Champollion, doing justice to one of the great stories of academic heroism.’
    Simon Singh, Sunday Telegraph

    ‘A first-rate blend of high scholarship and great narrative pace, this is one of those rare, wondrous books which turns an intellectual adventure into high drama. It deserves a huge audience.’ Douglas Kennedy, The Times

    ‘A fascinating account of the race to unlock the cryptic language of the pharaohs.’ Giles Milton, Daily Mail