A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 26

Several of these amulets were not without value either for their material or their workmanship, but the great majority were of the roughest kind, some being merely shells or stones with a hole through them, which must have belonged to the poorest class of the community. In many cases their proper use could be easily divined; the holes with which they were pierced and other marks of wear showed them to be personal amulets.[409] Those present at the ceremony of consecrating the foundations must have detached them from the cords by which they were suspended, and thrown them, upon the utterance of some propitiatory formula by the priests, into the sand about to be covered with the first large slabs of alabaster.

The terra-cotta cylinders were in no less frequent use in Assyria than in Chaldaea. M. Place found no less than fourteen still in place in niches of the harem walls at Khorsabad. The long inscription they bore contained circumstantial details of the construction of both town and palace. Like that on the metal tablets, it ended with a malediction on all who should dare to raise their hands against the work of Sargon.[410]

As for the cylinders hidden in each angle of a building, none, we believe, have as yet been found in Assyria; perhaps because no search or an inefficient search has been made for them.

We have dwelt at some length upon the orientation of buildings, upon the importance attached to their angle stones, and upon the precautions taken to place an edifice under the protection of the gods, and to preserve the name of its founder from oblivion. We can point to no stronger evidence than that furnished by these proceedings as a whole, of the high civilization to which the people of Chaldaea and Assyria had attained at a very early date. The temple and palace did not spread themselves out upon the soil at the word of a capricious and individual fancy; a constant will governed the arrangement of its plan, solemn rites inaugurated its construction and recommended its welfare to the gods. The texts tell us nothing about the architects, who raised so many noble monuments; we know neither their names, nor their social condition, but we can divine from their works that they had strongly established traditions, and that they could look back upon a solid and careful education for their profession. As to whether they formed one of those close corporations in which the secrets of a trade are handed down from generation to generation of their members, or whether they belonged to the sacerdotal caste, we do not know. We are inclined to the latter supposition in some degree by the profoundly religious character of the ceremonies that accompanied the inception of a building, and by the accounts left by the ancients of those priests whom they called _the Chaldaeans_. It was to these Chaldaeans that Mesopotamian society owed all it knew of scientific methods and modes of thought, and it is, perhaps, fair to suppose that they turned to the practice of the arts those intellects which they had cultivated above their fellows.

Architecture especially requires something more than manual skill, practice, and natural genius. When it is carried so far as it was in Chaldaea it demands a certain amount of science, and the priests who by right of their intellectual superiority held such an important place in the state, may well have contrived to gain a monopoly as architects to the king. In their persons alone would the scientific knowledge required for such work be combined with the power to accomplish those sacred rites which gave to the commencement of a new building the character of a contract between man and his deity.


[397] LOFTUS, _Travels and Researches_, p. 171.

[398] _Les Fouilles de Chaldee, communication d'une Lettre de M. de Sarzec par M. Leon Heuzey_, -- 2 (_Revue archeologique_, November, 1881).

[399] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. pp. 17, 18. BOTTA had previously made the same observation (_Monument de Ninive_, vol. v. p. 25).

[400] LAYARD, _Discoveries_, plan 2, p. 123.

[401] OPPERT, _Expedition scientifique de Mesopotamie_, vol. i. p. 273.

[402] _Les Fouilles de Chaldee, communication d'une Lettre de M. de Sarzec_, by M. Leon HEUZEY (_Revue archeologique_, November, 1881).

[403] As to the notions attached to these cones, whether sprinkled about the foundations of a building, set up in certain sanctuaries, or carried upon the person, an article published by M. LEDRAIN, _a propos_ of an agate cone recently added to the collections of the Louvre, may be read with advantage. Its full title is _Une Page de Mythologie semitique_ (_la Philosophie positive, Revue_, 14th year, 1882, pp. 209-213).

[404] Taylor, _Notes on the Ruins of Mugheir_ (_Journal_, &c. vol. xv., pp.

263, 264). LOFTUS, _Travels_, &c. p. 247.

[405] See the _Athenaeum_ for January 20, 1855 (No. 1421), p. 84. "After two months' excavation Colonel Rawlinson was summoned to the work by the information that ... a wall had been found and laid bare to a distance of 190 feet, and that it turned off at right angles at each end, to be apparently carried all round the mound, forming a square of about twenty-seven feet in height, surmounted by a platform. He immediately rode to the excavation, examined the spot, where he found the workmen quite discouraged and hopeless, having laboured long and found nothing. He was now, however, well aware of these facts, and at once pointed out the spot, near the corner, where the bricks should be removed. In half an hour a small hollow was found, from which he immediately directed the head workman to 'bring out the commemorative cylinder'--a command which, to the wonder and bewilderment of the people, was immediately obeyed; and a cylinder covered with inscriptions was drawn out from its hiding-place of twenty-four centuries, as fresh as when deposited there by the hands, probably, of Nebuchadnezzar himself! The Colonel added in a note that the fame of his magical power had flown to Bagdad, and that he was besieged with applications for the loan of his wonderful instrument to be used in the discovery of hidden treasures!"

[406] Among these we may mention the Philips cylinder, from which, in speaking of the great works carried out by Nebuchadnezzar, LENORMANT gives long extracts in his _Manuel d'Histoire ancienne_, vol. ii. pp. 233 and 235.

[407] LAYARD, _Nineveh_, vol. i. p. 115, and vol. ii. p. 91.

[408] OPPERT, _Expedition en Mesopotamie_, vol. ii. pp. 343-351.

[409] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. p. 188.

[410] OPPERT, _Expedition scientifique_, vol. i. pp. 354 _et seq._

-- 9.--_Mechanical Resources._

The Chaldaeans and Assyrians were never called upon to transport such enormous masses as some of the Egyptian monoliths, such as the obelisks and the two great colossi at Thebes. But the stone bulls that decorated the palaces of Nineveh were no light weight, and it was not without difficulty that the modern explorers succeeded in conveying them to the borders of the Tigris and loading them on the rafts upon which they began their long journeys to Paris and London. In moving such objects from place to place the Assyrians, like the Egyptians, had no secret beyond that of patience, and the unflinching use of human arms and shoulders in unstinted number.[411] We know this from monuments in which the details of the operation are figured even more clearly and with more pictorial power than in the bas-relief at El-Bercheh, which has served to make us acquainted with the methods employed in taking an Egyptian colossus from the quarry to its site.

In Mesopotamia, as in Egypt, there were waterways that could be used at any season for the transport of heavy masses. Quarries were made as near the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris as possible, and when a stone monster had to be carried to a town situated at some distance from both those rivers the canals by which the country was intersected in every direction supplied their place. Going down stream, and especially in flood time, no means of propulsion were required; the course of the boats or rafts was directed by means of heavy oars like those still used by the boatmen who navigate the Tigris in _keleks_, or rafts, supported on inflated hides; in ascending the streams towing was called into play, as we know from one of the Kouyundjik bas-reliefs.[412] In this the stone in course of transport is oblong in shape and is placed upon a wide flat boat, beyond which it extends both at the stern and the bows. It is securely fastened with pieces of wood held together by strong pins. There are three tow ropes, two fastened to the stone itself and the third to the bow of the boat.

The towers pull upon these cables by means of smaller cords passed round the shoulders of each and spliced to the main ropes; by such means they could bring far more weight to bear than if they had been content to hold the cable in their hands, as in Egypt. The bas-relief in question is mutilated, but we may guess that a hundred men were attached to each cable, which would make three hundred in all obeying the single will of the superintending engineer who is perched upon the stone and directing their movements. On each flank of the gang march overseers armed with swords and rattans that would be quick to descend on the back and loins of any shirker.

More than one instance of such punishment may be seen on the bas-relief reproduced in part in our Fig. 151. In its lower division two or three of these slave-drivers may be seen with their hands raised against the workmen; in one case the latter sinks to the ground beneath the blows rained upon him. The way in which the whole series of operations is represented in this Kouyundjik relief is most curious. High up in the field we often find the king himself, standing in his chariot and urging on the work. The whole occupies several of Layard's large plates. We can only reproduce the central group, which is the most interesting to the student of engineering in ancient Mesopotamia.

[Illustration: FIG. 151.--The transport of a bull. Height of the slab, 7 feet 3 inches; British Museum.]

The block of alabaster that we saw a moment ago on a boat towed by hundreds of human arms has been delivered to the sculptors and has put on, under their hands, the rough form of a mitred, human-headed bull. It will be completed after being put in place; the last touches of the chisel and the brush will then be given to it; but the heaviest part of the work is already done and the block has lost much of its original size and weight.

Firmly packed with timber, the bull lies upon its side upon a sledge which is curved in front like a boat, or a modern sleigh. Two cables are fastened to its prow and two to its stern. The engineer is again seated upon the stone and claps his hands to give the time, but now he is accompanied by three soldiers who appear to support his authority by voice and gesture. In order to prevent friction and to facilitate the movement of the sledge, rollers are thrust beneath its runners as they progress. Before the huge mass will start, however, the straining cords and muscles have to be helped by a thrust from behind. This is given by means of a huge lever, upon which a number of men pull with all their weight, while its curved foot is engaged under the sledge. A workman is occupied with the reinforcement of the fulcrum by thrusting a wedge in between its upper surface and the lower edge of the lever. When everything is ready a signal will be given, the men behind will throw their weight upon the lever, the sledge will rise a little, the ropes will strain and tighten, and the heavy mass will glide forward upon the greased rollers until arms and legs give out and an interval for rest is called, to be followed presently by a repetition of the same process. Every precaution is taken to minimize the effect of any accident that may take place in the course of the operation. Behind the sledge spare ropes and levers are carried, some upon men's backs, others on small handcarts. There are also a number of workmen carrying rollers.

We shall only refer to one more of these reliefs and that the one with which the series appears to close (Fig. 152). This carved picture has been thought, not without reason, to represent the erection of the bull[413] in its destined place. After its slow but uninterrupted march the huge monster has arrived upon the plateau where it has been awaited. By one great final effort it has been dragged up an inclined plane to the summit of the mound and has been set upon its feet. Nothing remains to be done but to pull and thrust it into its place against the doorway it has to guard and ornament.

The same sledge, the same rollers, the same lever, the same precautions against accident are to be recognized here as in the last picture. The only difference is in the position of the statue itself. Standing upright like this it is much more liable to injury than when prone on its flank. New safeguards have therefore been introduced. It is packed under its belly with squares of wood and inclosed in scaffolding to prevent dangerous vibration. Additional precautions against this latter danger are provided by gangs of men who walk at each side and hold, some ropes fastened to the uprights of the scaffolding, others long forked poles engaged under its horizontal pieces. By these means equilibrium could be restored after any extra oscillation on the part of the sledge and its burden.

All these manoeuvres are remarkable for the skill and prodigality with which human strength was employed; of all the scientific tools invented to economise effort and to shorten the duration of a task, the only one they seem ever to have used was the most simple of all, the lever, an instrument that must have been invented over and over again wherever men tried to lift masses of stone or wood from the ground. Its discovery must, in fact, have taken place long before the commencement of what we call civilization, although its theory was first expounded by the Greek mathematicians.

[Illustration: FIG. 152.--Putting a bull in place; from Layard.]

In a relief in the palace of Assurnazirpal at Nimroud, there is a pulley exactly similar to those often seen over a modern well.[414] A cord runs over it and supports a bucket. There is no evidence that the Assyrians employed such a contrivance for any purpose but the raising of water. We cannot say that they used it to lift heavy weights, but the fact that they understood its principle puts them slightly above the Egyptians as engineers.


[411] As to the simplicity of Egyptian engineering, see the _History of Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. ii. p. 72, and fig. 43.

[412] See LAYARD, _Monuments_, 2nd series, plate ii. The same author gives a detailed description of this picture in his _Discoveries_, pp. 104-106.

[413] LAYARD, _Discoveries_, p. 112.

[414] LAYARD, _Nineveh_, vol. ii. p. 32.

-- 10.--_On the Graphic Processes Employed in the Representations of Buildings._

The Chaldaeans and Assyrians knew as little of perspective as they did of mechanics. When they had to figure a building and its contents, or a landscape background, they could not resist the temptation of combining many things which could not be seen from a single standpoint. Like the painters and sculptors of Thebes they mixed up in the most naive fashion those graphic processes that we keep carefully apart. All that they cared about was to be understood. We need not here reproduce the observations we made on this subject in the corresponding chapter of Egyptian Art;[415] it will suffice to give a few examples of the simultaneous employment by Ninevite sculptors of contradictory systems.

[Illustration: FIG. 153.--Chaldaean plan. Louvre.]

It is not difficult to cite examples of things that may, with some little ingenuity, be brought within the definition of a plan. The most curious and strongly marked of these is furnished by one of the most ancient monuments that have come down to us; we mean a statue found at Tello in Lower Chaldaea by M. de Sarzec. It represents a personage seated and holding on his knees an engraved tablet on which two or three different things are represented (Fig. 153). On the right there is one of those styles with which letters or images were cut in the soft clay, at the bottom of the tablet there is a scale which we know from another monument of the same kind to have been originally 10.8 inches in length, _i.e._ the Babylonian half-cubit or span.

By far the larger part of the field, however, is occupied by an irregular figure in which the trace of a fortified wall may be easily recognized.

When these monuments were first brought to France this statue was supposed to be that of an architect. When the inscriptions were interpreted, however, this opinion had to be modified in some degree. They were found to contain the same royal title as the other figure of similar style and material discovered by M. de Sarzec on the same spot, the title, namely, of the individual whom archaeologists have at present agreed to call Gudea.[416] It therefore seems to represent that prince in the character of an architect, as the constructor of the building in which his statues were placed as a sacred deposit. Must we take it to be the plan of his royal city as a whole, or only of his palace? It is difficult to answer this question, especially while no precise information has been obtained from the inscriptions, whose interpretation presents many difficulties. There can, however, be no doubt that the engraver has given us a plan according to his lights of a wall strengthened by flanking towers, of which those with the boldest salience guard the six passages into the interior.

We find a still more simple plan upon an Assyrian monument of much later date, namely, upon the armour of beaten bronze that formerly protected the gates of Balawat. In this example (Fig. 154) the doorways, the angles, and the centres of the two longer curtains are strengthened by towers.

[Illustration: FIG. 154.--Assyrian plan; from the Balawat gates in the British Museum.]

[Illustration: FIG. 155.--Plan and section of a fortress; from Layard.]

The way in which the sculptor has endeavoured to suggest the crenellations shows that these plans are not drawn on the same principal as ours; there is no section taken at the junction with the soil or at a determined height; the draughtsman in all probability wished to give an idea of the height of the flanking towers. His representation is an ideal _projection_ similar to those of which we find so many examples in Egypt, only that here we have the towers laid flat outside the fortification to which they belong in such a fashion that their summits are as far as possible from the centre of the structure. We shall see this better in another plan of the same kind in which the details are more carefully made out (Fig. 155). It comes from a bas-relief, on which a circular fortress, divided into four equal parts by walls radiating from its centre, is portrayed.

In this relief we find another favourite process of the Egyptians employed, namely, that in which a vertical section is combined with a projection, so that the interior of the building and its arrangements may be laid open to the spectator. In this instance we can see what is passing in the four principal chambers of the castle. In each chamber one or two persons are occupied over what appear to be religious rites.

[Illustration: FIG. 156.--Plan, section, and elevation of a fortified city; from Layard.]

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