At the Crossroads of Identity: Arminius Vámbéry – Oriental Traveller and Scholar

Miklós Sárközy


Drawing upon recent Hungarian scholarship this article examines the different identities of Arminius Vámbéry (1832-1913) as seen in his life and writings. Originating from an obscure Hungarian-Jewish family, as an explorer and Orientalist Vámbéry led an adventurous and celebrated life. Completely self-taught in oriental languages, he was a close ally of British and Ottoman political circles as well as an expert on the Muslim world. From Vámbéry’s life a four-part identity structure emerges: 1) Jewish roots. Officially neglected, these hold undeniable importance especially for understanding his family life. 2) Hungarian cultural background. This strongly impacted on the young Vámbéry and went on to influence his later theories on language as well as foreign policy positions, especially with respect to a lifelong hatred of Tsarist Russia. 3) Muslim identity. Educated in an Ottoman madrasa Vámbéry’s cultural attachment to the Ottoman form of Islam made him an early pro-Ottoman partisan in the West as well as a unique personage who was in contact with movements across the Islamic world. 4) British identity. An advocate of Enlightenment ideas, as a self-proclaimed follower of British values he was popular in England, becoming a sought-after consultant on difficult foreign issues concerning the British Empire, as well as a confidant to high-level politicians and friend to members of the British royal family.

Keywords: Vámbéry, Hungary, Central Asia, identity, Jewry, Islamic world, British Empire 

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University of Sunderland

ISSN 2057-2042 (Print)
ISSN 2057-2050 (Online)



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