A captain in the East India Company, Burton was also an accomplished swordsman, geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, poet, Egyptologist, fencer and linguist, speaking as many as 29 languages.
He was one of the first Europeans to complete the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage of Islam. Adopting various disguises during the trek, he used his intricate knowledge of Islamic traditions and understanding of the customs of Eastern cultures to avoid detection, for which he would have been executed.
Later, he was one of the first Europeans to enter the Somali capital, Harar, a city forbidden to Westerners, another act punishable by death, and led expeditions that led to the discovery of Lake Victoria, which many at the time believed to be the source of the Nile (though Burton was never convinced of this).
While exploring Africa, Burton and his company were attacked by Somali Waranye warriors, and he was impaled through the face by a spear, leaving him with two large facial scars.
He wrote over 50 books on everything from swordfighting to sexual practices. He translated the first English editions of Kama Sutra (1883), and The Perfumed Garden (1886), and helped published a complete edition of the The Thousand Nights and One Night aka Arabian Nights (1885–88). Also: that moustache.