Vambery, Arminius

views updated May 09 2018


VAMBERY, ARMINIUS (1832–1913), Hungarian traveler and Orientalist. He was born Hermann Vamberger (erroneously referred to as Bamberger) of Orthodox parents in Dunajska Streda on the island of Schütt, Hungary, Vambery, who was congenitally lame, worked to maintain himself from the age of 12 as a tailor's apprentice and later as a tutor. Possessed of an extraordinary capacity for languages and a phenomenal memory, he mastered numerous European languages and then turned to Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, achieving magisterial fluency and control in these.

In his early twenties, fired by the dream of exploring the putative homeland of the Magyars in Asia, he moved to Constantinople where he lived as a tutor of European languages and executed translations from Turkish history. He became a Muslim and entered the service of the Turkish government as secretary to Mehmet Fuad Pasha, five times foreign minister of Turkey. While in Constantinople he earned the esteem of Sultan Abdul-Hamid ii.

During his six years in Constantinople, he published a Turkish-German dictionary (1858) and other linguistic works, acquired a variety of Oriental languages and dialects, and traveled extensively. In 1863–64 he undertook a long and arduous journey through Armenia, *Persia, and Turkestan, disguised as a Sunnite dervish under the assumed name Rashid Effendi. He journeyed across the Turkoman desert on the eastern shore of the Caspian to Khiva, *Teheran, Trebizond, *Bukhara, Samarkand, Herat, and back to Constantinople maintaining his disguise to the end despite many difficult tests, which might have cost him his life had the Muslim authorities known his identity. Said to have been the first European to make such a journey, the account of his exploits, Travels and Adventures in Central Asia (1864), aroused great interest throughout Europe. This was the case especially in England appearing as it did at a time of acute tension between Russia and England for the mastery of Central Asia. During his peregrinations in Persia he established contact with the British legation and his pro-British orientation combined with his masterful knowledge of the Near East and *India were to make him an important and useful advocate of British foreign policy.

After his return from the long trek in the spring of 1864, he visited London where he was lionized for his triumph as an intrepid adventurer and his impressive polyglot achievement. Then after a stop in Paris, Vambery, who had apparently become a Protestant, accepted an invitation from the University of Budapest to teach Oriental languages and in this capacity he served until 1905. Among his students were I. *Goldziher, B. *Munkacsi, and I. Kunos.

He produced a whole range of works on Oriental languages and ethnology and in addition, essays on political questions and popular accounts of his travels, one of which was a favorite boys' book. His books were translated into many languages but his autobiography, Arminius Vambery, His Life and Adventures (1883), and his memoirs, The Story of My Struggles (1904), were written in English. One of his scholarly contributions to Turkology was the discovery of the relation of Turkish and Magyar. He also contributed to the ethnology of Central Asia and India. A staunch protagonist of British dominance in the East he placed his vast knowledge of Central Asia at the disposal of Great Britain, serving as her adviser on Indian and Asiatic policy, executing various diplomatic missions in the Near East, and becoming a personal friend of the prince of Wales, later Edward vii. His preoccupation with the "Eastern question" is documented in various political essays, e.g., The Coming Struggle for India (1885).

Vambery supported *Zionism in its emergent stage by introducing Theodor *Herzl to Sultan Abdul-Hamid in 1901. After Herzl's death Vambery's counsel in respect of the Zionist cause was solicited by David *Wolfssohn. Vambery married Cornelia Aranyi (a niece of Joseph *Joachim, the violin virtuoso) and their son was the criminologist Rustem Vambery.


T. Herzl, Complete Diaries, ed. by R. Patai, 5 (1960), index; N. Sokolow, Ishim (19582), 398–408; G. Hazai, Armin Vámbéry-A Bio-Bibliography (1963); M. Nordau, in: Life and Adventures (1914); N.S. Tikhonov, Vambery (Rus., 1957). add. bibliography: J.M. Landau, "Arminius Vambéry: Identities in Conflict," in: M. Kramer (ed.), The Jewish Discovery of Islam (1999), 95–102.

[Ephraim Fischoff]

Vambéry, Arminius (1832-1913)

views updated May 18 2018

Vambéry, Arminius (1832-1913)

Hungarian historian and world traveler who may have communicated to author Bram Stoker the facts and legends concerning the real Prince Dracula (Vlad V), who supplied the inspiration for Stoker's famous occult thriller. Stoker and Vambéry met at the Beefsteak Club on April 30, 1890, after a performance of Henry Irving in the play The Dead Heart, and also two years later at Trinity College, Dublin, where Vambéry was presented with an honorary degree.


Adler, Lory, and Richard Dalby. The Dervish of Windsor Castle. London: Bachman & Turner, 1979.

Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: An Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

Vambéry, Arminius. The Story of My Struggles: The Memoirs of Arminius Vambéry. 2 vols. New York, 1904; London: T. F. Unwin, 1905.

About this article

Arminius Vambery

All Sources -
Updated Aug 18 2018 About content Print Topic