Belzoni – The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate

A book review by Joel Patience

There are various accounts of Italians making history and how their efforts may impact the present. But to the story of Giovanni Belzoni (1778-1824) is a person that made history by bringing antiquity to our futures. Romance of long lasting love is the binder for this story. It is a mix of detective work as well as personal torment as an added spice.

Belzoni spent much of his early life as a circus performer.  But it was the circus of politics and his acquiring and selling of international treasures from Egypt that made him famous.

Giovanni had personality which made him comfortable with everyone and he was inspired by the upper crust contacts presented to him through acting. His ingenuity and lust for discovery lead him to engineer and successfully sell a hydraulic machine that he designed.  However, diplomatic patrons encouraged Belzoni to use his location and personal skills to acquire items of antiquity for them and their countries. Giovanni Belzoni was at a time and in a place where Egyptian relics were being sought after with the locals in support for profit.  Giovanni made himself into the go to guy for anything at any price – including his and his wife’s own personal safety.

Sarah, Giovanni’s wife, followed him into the deserts of Egypt and they lived in constant danger, during a period where no European dared travel there. Competition for these artifacts was fierce and ran as deep as the ancestral rivalry between the money families of Europe. Dealers in the field were used to out-gun and out-collect each other at any cost.  However, the results of his efforts are timeless installations in major museums. There is every reason to believe that Belzoni was sharp thorn in the sides of anyone not patron.  If there is any common sense why in cinema the Italian and French language almost never appears together, Belzoni may be partially responsible.   The book appears with many of Belzoni’s own drawings and is a delightful escape to a time we may never know again