Robert Wood

The Ruins of Palmyra (London, 1753)

(Thomas Phillips, 1846)

The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the Desart  was one of two volumes of engravings resulting from a journey made in 1750-1 by Robert Wood (?1717-1771), James Dawkins (1722-1757) and John Bouverie (d.1750).

The three embarked at Naples in the spring of 1750 on a ship sent from London. On board, says Wood in his preface, were 'a library, consisting chiefly of all of the Greek historians and poets, some books of antiquities, and the best voyage writers, what mathematical instruments were thought necessary, and such things as might be proper presents for the Turkish Grandees, or others, to whom, in the course of our voyage, we should be obliged to address ourselves'.

On the first part of their journey they visited the Aegean islands, the region around the Hellespont (including the Troad, where they failed to identify the site of Troy) and Asia Minor. Bouverie died at Magnesia on 8 September and was buried at Smyrna, leaving the other two to travel on to the Levant without him. They reached Palmyra on 14 March 1751, and left on 27 March en route for Baalbek, where they arrived on 1 April. By early May they were in Athens on their way home, where they found Stuart and Revett at work. They both gave their fellow Britons much encouragement and Dawkins, who was a man of immense wealth, also supplied them with funds to extend their stay there.

Beside a preface 'The Publisher to the Reader', the work contains three introductory sections: 'An Enquiry into the antient state of Palmyra', 'The Inscriptions', and 'A Journey through the Desart' (the only extant account of their travels in Syria itself). There follow 57 plates, of which the one shown, Plate XXVI, shows the famous Monumental Arch and is entitled 'View of the arch from the east'.

The Ruins of Palmyra, appearing less than two years after Wood's return, achieved instant success. Its effect on British architecture is epitomised by the 'Palmyrene' ceilings at Stratfield Saye and Osterley Park, both of which are derived from the ceilings of the south adyton of the Palmyra's Temple of Bel, illustrated in Wood's Plate XIX. The success led to the appearance in 1757 of the second book, The Ruins of Balbec, otherwise Heliopolis, in Coelosyria, which is also found in the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives (Phillips, 1846).

One other product of the journey was Wood's An Essay on the Original Genius and Writings of Homer with a Comparative View of the Antient and Present State of the Troade (London, 1775). Published posthumously, this had been preceded during his lifetime by a privately circulated version of 1767 and an anonymous one of 1769. The Roderic Bowen Library and Archives has an 1824 London reissue (Thomas Phillips, 1847); in it the Comparative View follows theEssay on pp.185-203, and is preceded by a map entitled 'View of Ancient Troas together with Scamander and Mount Ida as taken anno MDCCL'. Wood despairs of finding the ancient site of Troy, saying on p.201: 'The chief thing to be pointed out, if it were possible to be ascertained, would be the precise situation of the city itself. But this, I fear, is not very easy, as there are not the least remains, by which we can judge of its original position.' For this comment, and for almost every other aspect of the Comparative View, Wood was later to be severely criticised by Le Chevalier in his Description of the Plain of Troy [cf. no.14].

See further: D.Constantine, Early Greek Travellers and the Hellenic Ideal (Cambridge, 1984), ch. 3.