Belzoni, Giovanni Battista

Belzoni, Giovanni Battista jōvänˈnē bät-tēsˈtä bĕltsôˈnē [key], 1778–1823, Italian adventurer and antiquities dealer. He began as a Capuchin monk and later sold religious goods and worked as a sideshow strongman. Belzoni lived (1803–12) in England where he invented a hydraulic machine, which he attempted to introduce into Egypt in 1815. He subsequently became involved in securing Egyptian antiquities in order to sell them to European collectors. He opened (1817) the rock temple of Abu-Simbel, and he discovered (1817) the tomb of Seti I at Thebes. Active at a time before the emergence of scientific archaeology and the government protection of Egyptian antiquities, Belzoni was a major participant in the recovery of Egyptian monuments and antiquities that took place in the early 19th cent. at the behest of European collectors, museums, and governments. It resulted in the removal of many Egyptian treasures to Europe and the destruction and disruption of numerous monuments and much archaeological material. His exploits are recorded in his Narrative (1820).

See biographies by S. Mayes (1961) and I. N. Hume (2011); B. Fagan, The Rape of the Nile (1977).

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