A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 29

[436] _Les Fouilles de Chaldee, communication d'une Lettre de M. de Sarzec_, par LeON HEUZEY, -- 1 (in the _Revue archeologique_ for November, 1881).

[437] _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. i. pp. 127 _et seq._

[438] M. OPPERT has translated this text in full in a work entitled: _L'Immortalite de l'ame chez les Chaldeens_ (_Annales de philosophie chretienne_, vol. viii. 1884), and he has reproduced his version with a few modifications of detail in _Fragments Mythologiques_ (Quantin, 1881, 18mo).

M. HALeVY has given long extracts from the same document in an article in the _Revue des etudes Juives_ (October-December, 1881), entitled: _Les Inscriptions peintes de Citium_, -- 2; he has returned to the same subject in an article in the _Revue archeologique_ (July, 1882), _L'Immortalite de l'ame chez les Peuples semitiques_. We reproduce his translation as the most recent. Herr SCHRADER has devoted a whole book to the translation and explanation of this same myth (_Die Hoellenfahrt der Istar_, Giessen, 1874).

[439] See M. CLERMONT-GANNEAU'S _L'Enfer assyrien_, first part (_Revue archeologique_ vol. xxxviii. and plate xxv.). The second article, which should have contained the explanation of this little monument, has never appeared, to the great regret of all who appreciate the knowledge and penetration of that learned writer at their proper value. The first article is nothing but a detailed description, which we abridge. Certain doubts were expressed at the time of its publication as to the authenticity of this object; nothing, however, has happened to confirm them. Both in composition and execution it is excellent. M. Peretie, moreover, was not one to be easily deceived. M. Clermont-Ganneau described and illustrated this bronze plate from photographs, but since his paper appeared he has again visited the East and seen and handled the original.

[440] M. CLERMONT-GANNEAU reminds us that this peculiarity is repeated in a monster on one of the Nimroud reliefs (see LAYARD, _Monuments_, series ii.

plate 3).

[441] See above, p. 72, and Figs. 3, 10, 11, 12. See also the notes to M.

Clermont-Ganneau's article. He has no difficulty in showing how general was the use of these emblems.

[442] See page 65.

[443] Compare Figs. 23, 31, and especially 159 and 209 of _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. i.

-- 2.--_The Chaldaean Tomb._

The principle of the Chaldaean sepulchre was similar to that of the Egyptian mastaba or hypogeum; it had to supply the same wants and to render the same services; the task imposed upon the architect was in each case governed by the same general idea. Why then have we found nothing in Mesopotamia that may be compared, even at the most respectful distance, with the splendid tomb-houses of the Theban necropolis, nor even with those of Phoenicia, Asia Minor, or Etruria? The reason for the difference is easily told; it is to be found in the nature and configuration of the country itself. There were no mountains in whose sides tomb-chambers could be cut, and in the loose permeable soil of the plain it would have been practically impossible to establish pits that should be at once spacious and durable.

We shall find, no doubt, in almost every country, sepulchres constructed above the soil like palaces and temples. In Egypt we have already encountered the pyramid, but even there the tomb-chamber is in most cases cut in the rock itself, and the huge mass of stone above it is nothing more than a sort of colossal lid. Funerary architecture is not content, like that of civil or religious buildings, to borrow its materials from the rock; it cuts and chisels the living rock itself. In every country the first idea that seems to occur to man, when he has the mortal remains of his own people to make away with, is to confide them to the earth. In mountainous countries rock is everywhere near the soil and rises through it here and there, especially on the slopes of the hills. It is as a rule both soft enough to be easily cut with a proper tool, and hard enough, or at least sufficiently capable of hardening when exposed to the air, faithfully to preserve any form that may be given to it. As soon as man emerged from barbarism and conceived the desire to carry with him into the next world the goods he had enjoyed in this, the hastily cut hole of the savage became first an ample chamber and then a collection of chambers. It became a richly furnished habitation, a real palace. But even then the features that distinguish a house of the living from one of the dead were carefully preserved. The largest of the tombs in the Biban-el-Molouk is no more than the development of the primitive grave. As for those tombs in which the sepulchral chamber is above the ground, as in the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, they are merely brilliant exceptions, embodiments of princely caprice or architectural ambition. Funerary architecture is, in virtue of its destination, a subterranean architecture, an architecture of the rock. The countries in which it has been managed with the greatest power and originality are those whose soil lent itself most kindly to the work of excavation. The limestone and sandstone chains of the Nile valley, the abrupt flanks of Persian ravines, of Cappadocian and Lycian hillsides, and the rocky slopes of Greece and Etruria, were excellently fitted for the work of the funerary architect.

If the civilization of the Mesopotamian Semites had originated in the country above Nineveh, at the foot of those hills in which the Tigris has its springs, the fathers of the people would perhaps have cut tomb chambers like those of Egypt in the soft gypsum, and, in later years, their descendants, instead of breaking entirely with the traditions of the past would have raised _tumuli_ in the plains and constructed within them brick chambers to take the place of vaults cut in the living rock. Chaldaea would then have been dotted over with sepulchral mounds like those with which the steppes of central Russia are covered. Nothing of the kind has as yet been discovered; none of the _tells_ or mounds of sun-dried bricks have yet been identified as tombs, and that is because, as we have seen, the course of civilization was from south to north; the first impulse came from the shores of the Persian Gulf, from the people inhabiting alluvial plains consisting merely of sand and broken stone. From the very first hour these people had to compel clay, kneaded and dried in the sun or the brick kiln, to render the services which are demanded from stone elsewhere. They were content therefore with entombing their dead either in small brick vaults, under large terra-cotta covers, or in coffins of the latter material.

The tomb chamber illustrated in our Fig. 89 may be taken as a type. It is five feet high by seven feet long, and three feet seven inches wide. The vault is closed at the top by a single row of bricks and at each end by a double wall of the same material. There are no doors. The tombs once shut must have been inaccessible. The structure was put together with such care that neither dust nor water could get within it. Some of these graves, and among them this particular one, inclosed only one skeleton. Taylor found fourteen clay vases in it, not to mention other objects such as a walking stick, rings, cylinders, and bronze cups. Besides these there was a gold waist-band about an inch wide, showing it to be the grave of a rich man. In other tombs as many as three, four, and even eleven skeletons were found.

In these the brick under the head and the bronze cup in the hand were sometimes missing, but the water jars were always there.

[Illustration: FIG. 163.--Tomb at Mugheir; from Taylor.]

In other parts of the same cemetery the dead instead of being placed in a vault were laid upon an area paved with large well burnt bricks and covered with a huge terra-cotta lid. These lids were in several pieces, joined together with reeds soaked in bitumen. We give a section (Fig. 163) and elevation (Fig. 164) of one of these peculiar sepulchres. The whole was about seven feet long, three high, and three wide.

The body of the lid is formed of several rings decreasing in thickness with their distance from the ground. The top is an oval plateau divided into eight symmetrical compartments by flat bands. The skeleton always lies on its side, generally the left, the limbs being drawn up as shown in the engraving (163). Taylor gives a complete list of the objects found in this tomb together with notes as to their exact position.

[Illustration: FIG. 164.--Tomb at Mugheir; from Taylor.]

[Illustration: FIG. 165.--Tomb at Mugheir; from Taylor.]

Sometimes the covering is more simple in construction and has a domed top (Fig. 165). Elsewhere in the same necropolis numerous examples of a still more elementary form of burial were discovered. The skeletons of children were found between two hollow plates, and full grown bodies in a kind of double vase into which they could only have been thrust with some difficulty and that after being doubled up. Still more often coffins were of the form shown in our Fig. 166. The diameter of these cylindrical jars was about two feet. The joint between them was sealed with bitumen. At one end there was a hole to allow the gases generated by decomposition to escape. None of these coffins contained more than one skeleton, but narrow as they were room had been found for the vases and dishes. These were mostly of earthenware, but a few of bronze were also encountered. Each coffin held an arrow-head of the latter material, while the feet and hands of the skeleton were adorned with iron rings. In several cases the remains of gold ornaments, of sculptured ivories and engraved shells, were discovered.

[Illustration: FIG. 166.--Tomb, or coffin, at Mugheir; from Taylor.]

Finally the fashion seems to have changed, and a more elegant form of coffin to have come into use. It was still of terra-cotta, but its surface was covered with a rich glaze originally blue but now mostly of a dark green. Here and there, on the parts shielded best from the atmosphere, the blue has preserved its colour. The general shape of these coffins is that of a shoe or slipper; the oval opening through which the body was introduced has a grooved edge for the adjustment of the lid. The small hole for the escape of gas is at the narrow end. This type seems to date from the last centuries of antiquity rather than from the time of the Chaldaean Empire; its examples are found close to the surface of the cemeteries, whence we may fairly conclude that they were the last accessions. It is still more significant that the images stamped upon the panels with which the lids are decorated have little to remind us of the bas-reliefs of Assyria and Chaldaea, and it is not until we turn to the medals of the Parthians and Sassanids that we find anything to which they can be readily compared.[444]

In the cemeteries of Lower Chaldaea the various receptacles for human dust that we have described are heaped vertically one upon another, so that with the passage of time they have formed huge mounds covering vast spaces and rising conspicuously above the plain (see Fig. 167, letter c). Loftus tells us that at Warka he dug trenches between thirty and forty feet deep without reaching the lowest stratum of sepulchres. There was no apparent order in their arrangement. Sometimes brick divisions were found for a certain length, as if used to separate the tombs of one family from those of another. A layer of fine dust, spread evenly by the winds from the desert, separated the coffins. Terra-cotta cones inscribed with prayers had been thrown into the interstices. Sometimes, as at Mugheir, the mound thus formed is surmounted by a paved platform upon which open the drains that traverse the mass.[445] In most cases these mounds have been turned over in all their upper parts by the Arabs. It is probable that in ancient days each of these huge cemeteries had priests and superintendents told off to watch over them, to assign his place to each new comer, and to levy fees like those paid in our day to the mollahs attached to the Mosques of Nedjef and Kerbela. They guarded the integrity of the mound, and when it had reached the regulation height, caused it to be paved and finally closed.

In none of these cemeteries has any tomb been discovered that by its size, richness, or isolation, proclaimed itself the burial place of royalty, and yet the sovereigns of Mesopotamia must have had something analogous to the vast and magnificent sepulchres of the Egyptian kings. Their tombs must at least have been larger and more splendid than those of private individuals.

In the case of Susiana we know that it was so through an inscription of Assurbanipal. The Assyrian king gives a narrative of his campaign. He tells us how his soldiers penetrated into the sacred forests and set fire to them, and then to show more clearly with how stern a vengeance he had visited the revolted Elamites, he added: "The tombs both of their ancient and their modern kings, of those kings who did not fear Assur and Istar, my lords, and had troubled the kings, my fathers, I threw them down, I demolished them, I let in the light of the sun upon them, then I carried away their corpses into Assyria. I left their shades without sepulture and deprived them of the offerings of those who owed them libations."[446]

If the Elamite dynasty had its royal necropolis near Susa, in which funerary rites were celebrated down to the moment of the Assyrian conquest, it could hardly have been otherwise with the powerful and pious monarchies of Chaldaea. History has in fact preserved a few traditions of the royal sepulchres of that country. Herodotus mentions the tomb of that Queen Nitocris to whom he attributes so many great works;[447] it is supposed that she was an Egyptian princess and the wife of Nabopolassar. According to the historian she caused a sepulchral chamber to be constructed for herself in the walls of Babylon, above one of the principal gates. So far as the terms of the inscription are concerned he may have been hoaxed by the native dragomans, but there is nothing to rouse our scepticism in the fact of a tomb having been contrived in the thickness of the wall. At Sinkara Loftus discovered two corbel-vaulted tombs imbedded in a mass of masonry which had apparently served as basement to a temple rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar.[448]

Some of the Babylonian princes, however, were buried in that part of the Chaldaean territory that was inclosed by the Euphrates and Tigris and contained most of the cemeteries of which we have been speaking. According to Arrian, Alexander, on his way back from Lake Pallacopas, passed close to the tomb of one of the ancient kings, "They say," adds the historian, "that most of the former kings of Assyria were buried among the lakes and swamps."[449]

[Illustration: FIG. 167.--Map of the ruins of Mugheir; from Taylor.

H, H, H, H, circumference of 2,946 yards; _a_, platform of house; _b_, pavement at edge of platform; _c_, tomb mound; _d, e, g, h, k, l, m_, points at which excavations were made; _f, f, f, f_, comparatively open space with very low mounds; _n, n_, graves; _o_, the great two-storied ruin.]

Loftus suggests that these royal tombs should be sought at Warka, but he found no ruin to which any such character could be certainly assigned. The only mention of a royal Assyrian tomb in history is of a kind that tells us nothing. "Semiramis," says Diodorus, "buried Ninus within the boundary walls of the palace, she raised a mound of extraordinary size over his tomb; Ctesias says it was nine stades high and ten wide. The town stretching to the middle of the plain, near the Euphrates,[450] the funerary mound was conspicuous at many stades' distance like an acropolis; they tell me that it still exists although Nineveh was overthrown by the Medes when they destroyed the Assyrian empire." The exaggerations in which Ctesias indulged may here be recognized. It is impossible to take seriously statements which make the tomb of Ninus some 5,500 feet high and 6,100 in diameter. The history of Ninus and Semiramis as Ctesias tells it, is no more than a romantic tale like those of the _Shah-Nameh_. All that we may surely gather from the passage in question is that, at the time of Ctesias, and perhaps a little later, the remains of a great staged-tower were to be seen among the ruins of Nineveh. The popular imagination had dubbed this the tomb of Ninus, just as one of the great heaps of debris that now mark the site is called the tomb of Jonah.

All that has hitherto been recovered in the way of Mesopotamian tomb architecture is of little importance so far as beauty is concerned, and we may perhaps be blamed for dwelling upon these remains at such length in a history of art. But we had our reasons for endeavouring to reunite and interpret the scanty facts by which some light is thrown on the subject. Of all the creations of man, his tomb is that, perhaps, which enables us to penetrate farthest into his inner self; there is no work of his hands into which he puts more of his true soul, in which he speaks more naively and with a more complete acknowledgment of his real beliefs and the bases of his hopes. To pass over the Chaldaean tomb in silence because it is a mediocre work of art would be to turn a blind eye to the whole of one side of the life of a great people, a people whose _role_ in the development of the ancient civilization was such as to demand that we should leave no stone unturned to make ourselves masters of their every thought.


[444] LOFTUS, _Travels_, &c., pp. 203-4. The British Museum possesses several fine specimens of these glazed-ware coffins. The details given by LOFTUS (chapter xx.), upon the necropolis of Sinkara may be read with interest.

[445] See above, p. 158, and fig. 49.

[446] M. Stanislas GUYARD published a translation of this passage in the _Journal asiatique_, for May-June, 1880, p. 514; some terms which had remained doubtful, were explained by M. AMIAUD, in the same journal for August-September, 1881, p. 237.

[447] HERODOTUS, i. 187.

[448] LOFTUS, _Travels_, &c., pp. 248-9.

[449] ARRIAN, _Anabasis_, vii. 22.

[450] DIODORUS, ii. 7, 1-2.




-- 1.--_Attempts to restore the Principal Types._

In spite of all our researches we have not succeeded in finding in the whole of Mesopotamia a real sepulchre, a tomb on which the talent of the architect has been lavished as well as the structural skill of the builder.

The Chaldaeans and Assyrians made greater efforts when they had to honour a god than when they were called upon to provide a lodging for their dead. Of all the structures they raised, their temples seem to have been the most ambitious in height and in grandeur of proportion though not in extent of ground covered. This the classic writers tell us, and their assertions are confirmed in more than one particular by documents written in the Assyrian language. We can also check their statements to some extent by the study of the monuments themselves or rather of their somewhat scanty remains.

We shall seek in vain for ruins that may be compared to those of the Egyptian sanctuaries. The nature of the materials employed in the valley of the Euphrates made the degradation of a building and the obliteration of its lines far more rapid than elsewhere. And yet in many cases the almost formless aspect of structures once so greatly admired, does not prevent those who know how to crossexamine them from restoring many of their former arrangements; and both in the bas-reliefs and in some very small monuments we find certain sculptured sketches that have been recognized as representing temples.

These sketches are very imperfect and very much abridged: the ruins themselves are confused; of the Greek and Assyrian texts some are short and vague, others excite our scepticism. Without wishing to deny the value of the methods employed or the importance of the results obtained, we can hardly believe that the certainty with which technical terms are translated is well founded. There are some of these terms which if they occurred in a Greek inscription would cause no little embarrassment by their purely special character, and that even to one who might unite in his single person the qualifications of a Greek scholar with those of an architect or sculptor. We hope, though we hardly expect to see our hope realized, that some day a Mesopotamian temple may be found in good preservation. Until then we cannot give to our restorations of such buildings anything approaching the accuracy or completeness so easily attained when the great religious edifices of Greece or Egypt are in question. We find none of those well defined elements, those clear and precise pieces of information which elsewhere allow us to obliterate the injuries worked by time and human enemies. The foot of every wall is heaped about with such formless masses of brick and brick dust, that it is almost impossible to make full explorations or to take exact measurements. One must be content with an approximation to the truth.

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