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A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 25

[375] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. p. 234; vol. iii. plates 9 and 17.

[376] _Ibid._ vol. iii. plate 14. We should have reproduced this composition in colour had the size of our page allowed us to do so on a proper scale. M. Place was unable to give it all even in a double-page plate of his huge folio.

[377] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. iii. plates 23-31.

[378] Layard, _Monuments_, 2nd series, plates 53, 54. Elsewhere (_Discoveries_, pp. 166-168) Layard has given a catalogue and summary description of all these fragments, of which only a part were reproduced in the plates of his great collection.

[379] _Ibid._ plate 55.

[380] GEO. SMITH, _Assyrian Discoveries_, p. 79.

[381] Botta gives examples of some of these bricks (_Monument de Ninive_, plates 155, 156). Among the motives there reproduced there is one that we have already seen in the bas-reliefs (fig. 67). It is a goat standing in the collected attitude he would take on a point of rock. The head of the ibex is also a not uncommon motive (LAYARD, _Monuments_, first series, plate 87, fig. 2; see also BOTTA).

[382] Fig. 1 of our Plate XIV. reproduces the same design, but with a more simple colouration.

[383] J. E. TAYLOR, _Notes on Abou-Sharein_, p. 407 (in the _Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society_, vol. xv.).

[384] PHILOSTRATUS, _Life of Apollonius_, i. 25. Cf. DIONYSIUS PERIEGETES, who says of Semiramis (v. 1007, 1008):

autar ep' akropolei megan domon eisato Beloi chrusoi t' ed' elephanti kai aguroi askesasa.

[385] HERODOTUS, i. 98.

[386] See above, p. 202.

[387] LAYARD, _Nineveh_, vol. ii. p. 264, note 1. Frequent allusions to this use of metal are to be found in the wedges. In M. LENORMANT'S translation of the London inscription (_Histoire ancienne_, vol. ii. p.

233, 3rd edition) in which Nebuchadnezzar enumerates the great works he had done at Borsippa, I find the following words: "I have covered the roof of Nebo's place of repose with gold. The beams of the door before the oracles have been overlaid with silver ... the pivot of the door into the woman's chamber I have covered with silver."

[388] Among the fragments of tiles brought from Nimroud by Mr. George Smith, and now in the British Museum, there are two like those reproduced above, to which bosses or knobs of the same material--glazed earthenware--are attached. The necks of these bosses are pierced with holes apparently to receive the chain of a hanging lamp, and are surrounded at their base with inscriptions of Assurnazirpal stating that they formed part of the decoration of a temple at Calah.--ED.

[389] The size of our engraving is slightly above that of the object itself.

[390] 1 _Kings_ vi. 15; vii. 3.

[391] ZEPHANIAH ii. 14.

[392] The design consists entirely in the symmetrical repetition of the details here given. [In this engraving the actual design of the pavement has been somewhat simplified. Between the knop and flower that forms the outer border and the rosettes there is a band of ornament consisting of the symmetrical repetition of the palmette motive with rudimentary volutes, much as it occurs round the outside of the tree of life figured on page 213. In another detail our cut differs slightly from the original. In the latter there is no corner piece; the border runs entirely across the end, and the side borders are stopped against it.--ED.]

[393] LAYARD, _Discoveries_, p. 184, note.

[394] LAYARD, _Nineveh_. vol. ii. p. 212, note.

[395] LAYARD, _Discoveries_, p. 281.

[396] PRISSE D'AVENNES, _Histoire de l'Art egyptien d'apres les Monuments_ (2 vols folio): see the plates entitled _Couronnements et Frises fleuronnes_.

-- 8.--_On the Orientation of Buildings and Foundation Ceremonies._

The inhabitants of Mesopotamia were so much impressed by celestial phenomena, and believed so firmly in the influence of the stars over human destiny, that they were sure to establish some connection between those heavenly bodies and the arrangement of their edifices. All the buildings of Chaldaea and Assyria are orientated; the principle is everywhere observed, but it is not always understood in the same fashion.

[Illustration: FIG. 143.--Plan of a temple at Mugheir; from Loftus.]

Mesopotamian buildings were always rectangular and often square on plan, and it is sometimes the angles and sometimes the centres of each face that are directed to the four cardinal points. It will easily be understood that the former system was generally preferred. The facades were of such extent that their direction to a certain point of the horizon was not evident, while salient angles, on the other hand, had all the precision of an astronomical calculation; and this the earliest architects of the Chaldees thoroughly understood. Some of the buildings examined by Loftus and Taylor on the lower Euphrates may have been restored, more or less, by Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, but it is generally acknowledged that the lower and less easily injured parts of most of these buildings date from the very beginnings of that civilization, and were constructed by the princes of the early empire. Now both at Warka and at Mugheir one corner of a building is always turned towards the true north.[397] An instance of this may be given in the little building at Mugheir in which the lower parts of a temple have been recognized (Fig. 143). The same arrangement is to be found in the palace excavated by M. de Sarzec at Tello.[398]

[Illustration: FIG. 144.--Plan of the town and palace of Sargon at Khorsabad; from Place.]

Most of the Assyrian architects did likewise. See for example the plan of Sargon's city, Dour-Saryoukin (Fig. 144). Its circumvallation incloses an almost exact square, the diagonals of which point to the north, south, east and west respectively.[399] In the large scale plans that we shall give farther on of the palace and of some of its parts it will be seen that the parallelograms of which that building was composed also had their angles turned to the four cardinal points. It was the same with the structures sprinkled over the summit of the vast mound of Kouyundjik, in the centre of what once was Nineveh.

[Illustration: FIG. 145.--General plan of the remains at Nimroud; from Layard.

1, 2, 3 Trenches, 4 Central palace, 5 Tombs, 6 South-eastern edifice, 7 South-western palace, 8 North-western palace, 9 High pyramidal mound.]

On the other hand in those ruins at Nimroud that have been identified with the ancient Calah, it is the sides of the mound and of the buildings upon it that face the four cardinal points (Fig. 145). The plan given by Layard of the square staged tower disengaged in his last digging campaign at the north-western angle of the mound shows this more clearly.[400] Nearly half the northern side is occupied by the salient circular mass that is such a conspicuous object to one looking at the mound from the plain. We do not know what caused this deviation from the traditional custom; a reason should perhaps be sought in the configuration of the ground, and in the course here followed by the river which then bathed the foot of the artificial hill upon which stood the royal dwellings of the Tiglath-Pilesers and Assurnazirpals.

The first of these two methods of orientation had the advantage of establishing a more exact and well defined relation between the disposition of the building and those celestial points to which a peculiar importance was attached. It must also be remembered that such an arrangement gave a more agreeable dwelling than the other. No facade being turned directly to the north there was none entirely deprived of sunlight, while at the same time there was none that faced due south. The sun as it ran its daily course would light for a time each face in turn.

The religious ideas that led to orientation are revealed in other details, in the time chosen for commencing the foundations of temples or palaces, and in certain rites that were accomplished afterwards--doubtless with the help of the priesthood--in order to place the building under the protection of the gods and to interest them in its duration. There were ceremonies analogous to those now practised when we lay foundation stones. In the Chaldee system the first stone, the seed from which the rest of the edifice was to spring, was an angle stone, under or in which were deposited inscribed plaques. These contained the name of the founder, together with prayers to the gods and imprecations on all who should menace the stability of the building. This custom dated from the very beginning of Chaldaean civilization, as is proved by a curious text translated by M. Oppert.[401]

It was discovered at Sippara and dates from the time of Nabounid, one of the last kings of Babylon. Many centuries before the reign of that prince a temple raised to the sun by Sagaraktyas, of the first dynasty, had been destroyed, and its foundations were traditionally said to inclose the sacred tablets of Xisouthros, who has been identified with the Noah of the Bible. Nabounid recounts the unsuccessful efforts that had been made before his time to recover possession of the precious deposit. Two kings of Babylon, Kourigalzou and Nebuchadnezzar, and one king of Assyria, Esarhaddon, had made the attempt and failed. One of the three had commemorated his failure in an inscription to the following effect: "I have searched for the angle stone of the temple of Ulbar but I have not found it." Finally Nabounid took up the quest. After one check caused by an inundation he renewed the search with ardour; he employed his army upon it, and at last, after digging to a great depth, he came to the angle-stone: "Thus," he says, "have I recovered the name and date of Sagaraktyas."

[Illustration: FIG. 146.--Bronze statuette. 8-1/4 inches high. Louvre.]

In the ruins of the ancient royal city recovered by M. de Sarzec at Tello the traces of similar precautions have everywhere been found. In the middle of the great mass of ruins whose plan we are still awaiting, "I found," says M. de Sarzec, "at a depth of hardly 30 centimetres (one foot English) below the original level of the soil four cubical masses consisting of large bricks cemented with bitumen, and measuring about 80 centimetres across each face. In the centre of each cube there was a cavity 27 centimetres long by 12 wide and 35 deep. In each case this hollow contained a small bronze statuette packed, as it were, in an impalpable dust. In one cavity the statuette was that of a kneeling man (Fig. 146), in another of a standing woman (Fig. 147), in another of a bull (Fig. 148). At the feet of each statue there were two stone tablets, set in most cases in the bitumen with which the cavity was lined. One of these tablets was black, the other white. It was upon the black as a rule that a cuneiform inscription similar, or nearly so, to the inscriptions on the statuettes was found."[402]

Abridgments of the same commemorative and devotional form of words are found upon those cones of terra-cotta that were discovered in such numbers among the foundations and in the interstices of the structure (Fig.

149).[403]

[Illustration: FIG. 147.--Bronze statuette. 8-1/4 inches high. Louvre.]

The Mesopotamian builder was not satisfied with relying upon talismans built into the lower part of a building or strewn under the pavements.

Taylor ascertained at Mugheir and Loftus at Sinkara that engraved cylinders were built into the four angles of the upper stories. A brick had been omitted, leaving a small niche in which they were set up on end.[404]

Profiting by the hint thus given Sir Henry Rawlinson excavated the angles of one of the terraces of the Birs-Nimroud at Babylon, and to the astonishment of his workmen he found the terra-cotta cylinders upon which the reconstruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar is narrated exactly at the point where he told them to dig.[405] These little tubs are called cylinders--a not very happy title. As some of them are about three feet high (Fig. 150) they can take commemorative inscriptions of vastly greater length than those cut upon small hard-stone cylinders. Some of these inscriptions have as many as a hundred lines very finely engraved. Many precious specimens dating from the times of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors have been found in the ruins of Babylon.[406]

[Illustration: FIG. 148.--Bronze statuette. 10 inches high. Louvre.]

Thus from the beginning to the end of Chaldaean civilization the custom was preserved of consecrating a building by hiding in its substance objects to which a divine type and an engraved text gave both a talismanic and a commemorative value.

As might be supposed the same usage was followed in Assyria. In the palace of Assurnazirpal at Nimroud, Sir Henry Layard found some alabaster tablets with inscriptions on both their faces hidden behind the colossal lions at one of the doorways.[407] The British Museum also possesses a series of small figures found at Nimroud but in a comparatively modern building, the palace of Esarhaddon. They have each two pairs of wings, one pair raised, the other depressed. They had been strewn in the sand under the threshold of one of the doors.

[Illustration: FIG. 149.--Terra-cotta cone. Height 6 inches. Louvre.]

It was at Khorsabad, however, that the observations were made which have most clearly shown the importance attached to this ceremony of consecration. M. Oppert tells us that during the summer of 1854, "M. Place disinterred from the foundations of Khorsabad a stone case in which were five inscriptions on five different materials, gold, silver, antimony, copper and lead. Of these five tablets he brought away four. The leaden one was too heavy to be carried off at once, and it was despatched to Bassorah on the rafts with the bulk of the collection, whose fate it shared." The other four tablets are in the Louvre. Their text is almost identical. M.

Oppert gives a translation of it.[408] According to his rendering, the inscription--in which the king speaks throughout in the first person--ends with this imprecation: "May the great lord Assur destroy from the face of this country the name and race of him who shall injure the works of my hand, or who shall carry off my treasure!"

A little higher up, where Sargon recounts the founding of the palace, occurs a phrase which M. Oppert translates: "The people threw their amulets." What Sargon meant by this the excavations of M. Place have shown.

In the foundations of the town walls, and especially in the beds of sand between the bases of the sculptured bulls that guard the doorways, he found hundreds of small objects, such as cylinders, cones, and terra-cotta statuettes. The most curious of these are now deposited in the Louvre. The numbers and the character of these things prove that a great number of the people must have assisted at the ceremony of consecration.

[Illustration: FIG. 150.--Terra-cotta cylinder. One-third of actual size; from Place.]

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