Even though Oman had always been familiar to travellers sailing between Europe and India or Persia, it was its coast alone that was known. Greeks and Romans had charted it, medieval merchants traded on it, and in the early sixteenth century the Portuguese conquered its main towns, yet the interior of Oman was all but entirely unknown and would remain so until the early nineteenth century. Only after the ejection of the Portuguese in 1650 and an independent Oman had built an empire of its own, stretching round the Indian Ocean from India to Zanzibar, did Muscat, the capital, start to be visited by western powers eager to obtain commercial concessions and political influence. In the nineteenth century, for the first time, a very few, mainly English, explorers ventured inland and embarked on the true discovery of Oman. But even that was sporadic.
As long as there was a powerful ruler, the travellers were protected, but by the late nineteenth century the rulers in Muscat had lost control over the interior and it was not until well into the twentieth century that explorers such as Wilfred Thesiger could investigate the south and that the oil companies could begin to chart the centre and the west. Oman was the last Arab country to be fully explored by western travellers and this book examines and discusses the ways in which the emergent knowledge of Oman was propagated in the West, from the earliest times to 1970, by explorers, missionaries, diplomats, artists, geologists and naturalists, and by those scholars who gradually uncovered the manuscripts and antiquities that allowed them to piece together the history of the area.
Alastair Hamilton, Former Louise C. Thijssen Schoute Professor of the History of Ideas at Leiden University, is currently the Arcadian Visiting Professor at the School of Advanced Study, London University, attached to the Warburg Institute. He has worked for many years, and published extensively, on relations between Europe and the Arab world. His more recent works include The Copts and the West 1439-1822 (2006) and (with Francis Richard) Andre Du Ryer and Oriental Studies in Seventeenth-Century France (2004).
Introduction ; 1. The Land of Heat, Perfumes and Sailors from Antiquity to the Renaissance ; 2. The 'Good Towns' of the Coast: The Portuguese Occupation of Oman ; 3. The New Era: Independence and Foreign Wooers ; 4. An Arabian Utopia: Enlightened Impressions ; 5. The Growing Friendship: the British and Oman ; 6. 'The Wealthiest and Most Popular Prince throughout Arabia'. Sa'id, the Sultan of Muscat ; 7. Imperialism and Humanitarianism: the Attraction of Zanzibar ; 8. The Palinurus Period: the Exploration of the Omani Coast and Interior ; 9. The Unpenetrated Country: Exotic Muscat and its Inaccessible Hinterland ; 10. The 'Dearth of Information' Remedied ; 11. Muscat in Decline ; 12. Arcadia in the South. The Exploration of Dhofar ; Conclusion