raswan index volume 1

You’ve heard of Lawrence of Arabia, but have you heard of Carl Raswan?

the arab and his horse
Raswan’s account of life among the Beduin.

One of the things I love about being in the business of antiquarian books is the varied and continuous education I receive as I research materials I acquire or consider acquiring.

Recently, I came across one Carl Raswan, an expert in Arabian horse pedigree and perhaps an under-appreciated advocate for tolerance and understanding between the western world and beduin culture.

Born in 1883 in Dreden as Carl Schmidt, Raswan (we’ll get to that name-change later) was a contemporary of the more famous T. E. Lawrence, just five years his senior. As a young man, Raswan reportedly saw an Arabian horse seem to notice and play with it’s own reflection in a pool, and became fascinated by the creature’s apparent intellect, sparking both an interest in the horse breed and Arabian culture. At age 19, he moved to Egypt, taking a job overseeing agriculture in a community just outside of Alexandria. It was then that he was first introduced to Beduin culture.

Over the next 40 years, Raswan would continue to immerse himself in Beduin society and culture, punctuated by several years serving in World War I and a period of postwar recovery in the U.S.  It was during this time that his prize stallion, *Raswan was killed in an accident, and Carl declared that he would dedicate his life’s work to the memory of *Raswan, and took his name as his own last name (but appears to have dropped the unusual leading star).

Raswan index volume 1
Volume I of the Raswan Index

On his return to Central Arabia, he was formally given a place in a Bediun tribe and family – an honor nearly unheard of for a Christian. It was during this time that he brokered a peace deal between 21 rival sheiks (!), which was described in his book, The Arab and His Horse.

In his later years, Raswan decided he would compile an exhaustive concordance of his lifetime of notes about Arabian horse breeds and lineage. The first volume, The Raswan Index Vol 1 was published in 1959.  Originally the entirety was intended to be published in 12 volumes, but ended up being issued in “only” 7 volumes, the last two of which were published posthumously by his wife.

To this day, Raswan’s work remains one of the definitive reference materials for breeders and others interested in Arabian horses.

Curiously, Raswan specifically included a non-copyright statement in Volume I (almost an early open source text), saying: “NO COPYRIGHT.  NON-PROFIT PUBLICATION.”


For more books or information on Carl Raswan, see the following resources:

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