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An Eastern Perspective: the Society of Antiquaries and Indian Antiquities in the 1780s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 May 2011

C J Wright*
C J Wright, FSA, 8 Grove Road, East Molesey KT8 9JS, UK. E-mail:


Though Britain was the predominant European power in India from the middle of the eighteenth century, British scholars at first lagged behind their European contemporaries in the study of Indian antiquities. There were, quite simply, no British counterparts to such celebrated figures as Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron and Carsten Niebuhr. This paper investigates the efforts made by the Society of Antiquaries of London to remedy this situation, as demonstrated in particular by the publication of two early eighteenth-century accounts of the cave temples at Kanheri and Elephanta near Bombay in volume 7 (1785) of the Society's journal, Archaeologia. It argues that the impetus for the Society's efforts was provided by its Director, Richard Gough, who had family reasons for an interest in India and the East, but that the Society's role was largely superseded when Sir William Jones founded the Asiatick Society of Bengal.


Bien que la Grande-Bretagne ait été le principal pouvoir européen en Inde à partir du milieu du dix-huitième siècle, les érudits britanniques, pour commencer, furent à la traîne de leurs collègues contemporains européens dans le domaine de l'étude des antiquités indiennes. Il n'y avait tout simplement aucun équivalent britannique de personnages célèbres comme Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron et Carsten Niebuhr. Cette communication examine les efforts faits par la Société des Antiquaires de Londres pour remédier à cette situation, comme le prouva tout particulièrement la publication de deux exposés du début du dix-huitième siècle concernant les temples des cavernes de Kanheri et Elephanta près de Bombay dans le volume 7 (1785) d'Archaeologia, le journal de la Société. Elle soutient que le directeur de la Société, Richard Gough, la poussa à faire ces efforts car il avait des raisons de famille pour s'intéresser à l'Inde et á l'Orient, mais que le rôle de la Société fut largement supplanté lorsque Sir William Jones fonda la Société Asiatique du Bengale.


Obwohl Großbritannien seit dem achtzehnten Jahrhundert eine der wichtigsten europäischen Mächte in Indien war, waren britische Gelehrte im Studium der indischer Altertümer weniger fortgeschritten als ihre europäischen Zeitgenossen. Es gab keine britischen Pendants zu berühmten Persönlichkeiten wie Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron und Carsten Niebuhr. Diese Abhandlung untersucht die Versuche der Society of Antiquaries of London diese Situation zu beheben. Dies wird insbesondere durch Veröffentlichungen belegt, welche die Höhlentempel von Kanheri und Elephanta in der Nähe von Bombai im Band VII (1785) der Zeitschrift Archaeologia beschreiben. Der Anstoß für die Bemühungen der Society ging aus von ihrem Direktor Richard Gough, der familiäre Gründe für sein Interesse an Indien und dem Fernen Osten hatte. Die Rolle der Society wurde jedoch größtenteils verdrängt durch die Gründung der Asiatick Society of Bengal durch Sir William Jones.

Copyright © The Society of Antiquaries of London 2011

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