Arminius Vámbéry

Hungarian Turkologist and Traveller - deceased


Arminius Vámbéry (19 March 1832 – 15 September 1913), was a Hungarian Turkologist and traveller. Vámbéry was born as Hermann Bamberger or Ármin Bamberger in Szentgyörgy, Hungary, (Austro-Hungarian Empire) into a poor Jewish family. He attending a local school until the age of 12 he showed a remarkable aptitude for learning languages. By the age of sixteen, he had a good knowledge of Hungarian, Latin, French, and German. He was also rapidly acquiring English, the Scandinavian languages, Russian, Serbian, and naturally other Slavic languages. Forced to walk with crutches because of a congenital disorder, he eventually had to leave school due to difficult financial circumstances. For a brief time he served as a tailor’s assistant, before becoming tutor to the son of the village innkeeper. He was eventually enabled by his friends to enter the “Untergymnasium” of Szentgyörgy.


Vámbéry was especially attracted by the literature and culture of the Ottoman Empire including Turkey. By the age of twenty, Vámbéry had learned enough Ottoman Turkish to enable him to go, through the assistance of Baron Joseph Eötvös, to Istanbul and establish himself as a private tutor of European languages. He became a tutor in the house of Huseyin Daim Pasha, and, under the influence of his friend and instructor, Ahmet Efendi, became a full Osmanli, serving as secretary to Fuat Pasha. About this time he was elected a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in recognition of his translations of Ottoman historians.

The publication of “Travels in Central Asia” and its Hungarian counterpart “Közép-ázsiai utazás” in 1865, turned Vámbéry into an internationally renowned writer and celebrity. He became acquainted with members of British social elite. The Ambassador of Austria in London gave him a letter of recommendation to the Emperor, who received him in an audience and rewarded his much regarded success by granting him a professorship in the Royal University of Pest

The British King Edward VII appointed him an Honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, his house order followed by a letter where Vámbéry was appreciated as “so good and constant a friend to England”. Covertly he was employed by the British Foreign Office as an agent and spy whose task it was to combat Russian attempts at gaining ground in Central Asia and threatening the British position on the Indian sub-continent.

It has been widely reputed among Foreign Intelligence Service analysts that as British intelligence assets, Vámbéry and army doctor George Stoker sent a coded and highly classified communiqué regarding some startling discovery they had discovered during one of their missions during the Russo-Turkish War. Upon further investigation over the next decades, Vámbéry developed a trove of cryptic occult materials and obscure scientific papers.

Arminius Vámbéry

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