A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 3

The texts upon which the remarks of MM. Oppert and Lenormant were mainly founded were published under the title of _Early Inscriptions from Chaldaea_ in the invaluable work of Sir Henry RAWLINSON (_A Selection from the Historical Inscriptions of Chaldaea, Assyria, and Babylonia_, prepared for publication by Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, assisted by Edwin Norris, British Museum, folio, 1861).

[46] See the _History of Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. ii. pp. 350-3 (?).

[47] This peculiarity is still more conspicuous in the engraved limestone pavement which was discovered in the same place, but the fragments are so mutilated as to be unfit for reproduction here.

[48] LAYARD, _Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon_, p. 506.

[49] OPPERT, _Expedition scientifique de Mesopotamie_, vol. ii. pp. 62, 3.

[50] LAYARD, _Nineveh and its Remains_, vol. ii. p. 180.

[51] A list of these languages, and a condensed but lucid explanation of the researches which have led to the more or less complete decipherment of the different groups of texts will be found in the _Manuel de l'Histoire ancienne de l'Orient_ of LENORMANT, 3rd edition, vol. ii. pp. 153, &c.--"Several languages--we know of five up to the present moment--have given the same phonetic value to these symbols. It is clear, however, that a single nation must have invented the system," OPPERT, _Journal Asiatique_, 1875, p. 474. M. Oppert has given an interesting account of the mode of decipherment in the _Introduction_ and in _Chapter 1._ of the first volume of his _Expedition scientifique de Mesopotamie_.

[52] A reproduction of this stone will be found farther on. The detail in question is engraved in LAYARD'S _Nineveh and its Remains_, vol. ii. p.


[53] The latest cuneiform inscription we possess dates from the time of Domitian. It has been published by M. OPPERT, _Melanges d'Archeologie egyptienne et assyrienne_, vol. i. p. 23 (Vieweg, 1873, 4to.). Some very long ones, from the time of the Seleucidae and the early Arsacidae, have been discovered.

[54] Hence the name _pictography_ which some scholars apply to this primitive form of writing. The term is clear enough, but unluckily it is ill composed: it is a hybrid of Greek and Latin, which is sufficient to prevent its acceptance by us.

[55] See the _Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology_, twelfth session, 1881-2.

[56] See MICHEL BReAL, _Le Dechiffrement des Inscriptions cypriotes_ (_Journal des Savants_, August and September, 1877). In the last page of his article, M. Breal, while fully admitting the objections, asserts that it is "difficult to avoid recognizing the general resemblance (difficile de meconnaitre la ressemblance generale)." He refers us to the paper of Herr DEECKE, entitled _Der Ursprung der Kyprischen Sylbenschrift, eine palaeographische Untersuchung_, Strasbourg, 1877. Another hypothesis has been lately started, and an attempt made to affiliate the Cypriot syllabary to the as yet little understood hieroglyphic system of the Hittites. See a paper by Professor A. H. SAYCE, _A Forgotten Empire in Asia Minor_, in No.

608 of _Fraser's Magazine_.

-- 5.--_The History of Chaldaea and Assyria._

We cannot here attempt even to epitomize the history of those great empires that succeeded one another in Mesopotamia down to the period of the Persian conquest. Until quite lately their history was hardly more than a tissue of tales and legends behind which it was difficult to catch a glimpse of the few seriously attested facts, of the few people who were more than shadows, and of the dynasties whose sequence could be established. The foreground was taken up by fabulous creatures like Ninus and Semiramis, compounded by the lively imagination of the Greeks of features taken from several of the building and conquering sovereigns of Babylon and Nineveh. So, in the case of Egypt, was forged the image of that great Sesostris who looms so large in the pages of the Greek historians and combines many Pharaohs of the chief Theban dynasties in his own person. The romantic tales of Ctesias were united by Rollin and his emulators with other statements of perhaps still more doubtful value. The book of Daniel was freely drawn upon, and yet it is certain that it was not written until the year which saw the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. The book of Daniel is polemical, not historical; the Babylon in which its scene is laid is a Babylon of the imagination; the writer chose it as the best framework for his lessons to the Israelites, and for the menaces he wished to pour out upon their enemies.[57] Better materials are to be found in other parts of the Bible, in _Kings_, in the _Chronicles_, and in the older prophets. But it would be an ungrateful task for the critic to attempt to work out an harmonious result from evidence so various both in origin and value. The most skilful would fail in the endeavour. With such materials it would be impossible to arrive at any coherent result that would be, we do not say true, but probable.

The discovery of Nineveh, the exploration of the ruins in Chaldaea, and the decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions, have changed all this, although much of the detail has yet to be filled in, especially so far as the earlier periods are concerned. We are now able to trace the leading lines, to mark the principal divisions, in a word, to put together the skeleton of a future history. We are no longer ignorant of the origin of Babylonish civilization nor of the directions in which it spread; we can grasp both the strong differences and the close bonds of connection between Assyria and Chaldaea, and understand the swing of the pendulum that in the course of two thousand years shifted the political centre of the country backwards and forwards from Babylon to Nineveh, while from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf, beliefs, manners, arts, spoken dialects, and written characters, preserved so many striking resemblances as to put their common origin beyond a doubt.

Not a year passes but the discovery of fresh documents and the process of translation allows us to retouch and complete the story. MM. Maspero and Lenormant have placed it before us as shaped by their most recent studies, and we shall take them for our guide in a rapid indication of the ruling character and approximate duration of each of those periods into which the twenty centuries of development may be divided. We shall then have some fixed points by which to guide our steps in the vast region whose monuments we are about to explore. So that if we say that a certain fragment belongs to the _first_ or _second Chaldaean Empire_, our readers will know, not perhaps its exact date, but at least its relative age, and all risk of confusing the time of Ourkam or Hammourabi with that of Nebuchadnezzar will be avoided.

When we attempt to mount the stream of history and to pierce the mists which become ever thicker as we near its source, what is it that we see? We see the lower part of the basin through which the twin rivers make their way, entirely occupied by tribes of various origin and blood whose ethnic characteristics we have endeavoured to point out. These mixed populations are divided by the Tigris into two distinct groups. These groups often came into violent collision, and in spite of mutual relations kept up through a long series of years, the line of demarcation between them ever remained distinct.

Towards the east, in the plain which borders the river, and upon the terraces which rise one above the other up to the plateau of Iran, we have the country called by the Greeks Susiana, and by the Hebrews the kingdom of Elam. West of the Tigris, in Mesopotamia, the first Chaldaean Empire is slowly taking shape.

The eastern state, that of which Susa was the capital, was, at intermittent periods, a great military power, and more than once poured its hosts, not only over Babylonia, but over the Syrian provinces to the west of the Euphrates. But in these momentary successes, nevertheless, the part played by this state was, on the whole, a subordinate one. It spent itself in bloody conflicts with the Mesopotamian empires, to which it became subject in the end, while at no time does it appear to have done anything to advance civilization either by isolated inventions or by general perseverance in the ways of progress. We know very little of its internal history, and nothing to speak of about its religion and government, its manners and laws; but the few monuments which have been discovered suffice to prove that its art had no independent existence, that it was never anything better than a secondary form of Chaldaean art, a branch broken off from the parent stem.

We are better, or, rather, less ill, informed, in the case of the first Chaldee Empire. The fragments of Berosus give us some knowledge of its beginnings, so far, at least, as the story was preserved in the national traditions, and the remains by which tradition can be tested and corrected are more numerous than in the case of Susiana.

The chronicles on which Berosus based his work began with a divine dynasty, which was succeeded by a human dynasty of fabulous duration. These legendary sovereigns, like the patriarchs of the Bible, each lived for many centuries, and to them, as well as to the gods who preceded them, certain myths were attached of which we find traces in the surviving monuments.

Such myths were the fish god, Oannes, and the Chaldaic deluge with its Noah, Xisouthros.[58]

This double period, with its immoderate duration, corresponds to those dark and confused ages during which the intellect of man was absorbed in the constant and painful struggle against nature, during which he had no leisure either to take note of time or to count the generations as they passed. After this long succession of gods and heroes, Berosus gives what he calls a _Medic_ dynasty, in which, it has been thought, the memory of some period of Aryan supremacy has survived. In any case, we have serious reasons for thinking that the third of the dynasties of Berosus, with its eleven kings, was of Susian origin. Without speaking of other indications which have been ingeniously grouped by modern criticism, a direct confirmation of this hypothesis is to be found in the evidence of the Bible. In the latter we find Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, master of the whole basin of the Tigris and Euphrates in the time of Abraham. Among his vassals were Amraphel, king of Shinar, and Arioch, king of Ellasar, the two principal cities of Assyria.[59] All doubts upon this point have been banished since the texts in which Assurbanipal, the last of the Ninevite conquerors, vaunts his exploits, have been deciphered. In two of these inscriptions he tells us how he took Susa 1,635 years after Chedornakhounta, king of Elam, had conquered Babylon; he found, he says, in that city sacred statues which had been carried off from Erech by the king of Elam. He brought them back again to Chaldaea and re-established them in the sanctuary from which they had been violently removed.[60]

Assurbanipal took Susa in 660. All antiquity declares that the Babylonians and the Syrians had a taste for chronology at a very early period. This is proved by the eponymous system of the Assyrians, a system much to be preferred to the Egyptian habit of dating their monuments with the year of the current reign only.[61] Moreover, have not the ancients perpetuated the fame of the astronomical tables drawn up by the Chaldaeans and founded upon observations dating back to a very remote epoch? Such tables could not have been made without a strict count of time. We have, then, no reason to doubt the figure named by Assurbanipal, and his chronicle may be taken to give the oldest date in the history of Chaldaea, B.C. 2,295, as the year of the Susian conquest.

The Elamite dynasty was succeeded, according to Berosus, by a native Chaldaean dynasty. Berosus--and his dates are held in great respect--places the appearance of this new royal family in 2,047, giving it forty-nine sovereigns and 458 years of duration. We are thus brought down to the conquest of Mesopotamia by the Egyptian Pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty.

The names of the Chaldaean princes have been transcribed by those Byzantine chroniclers to whom we owe the few and short fragments of Berosus that are still extant.

On the other hand, inscriptions dug up upon the sites of the Chaldaean cities have furnished us with fifty royal names which may, it is thought, be ascribed to the period whose chief divisions we have just laid down.

Assyriologists have classed them as well as they could--from the more or less archaic characters of their language and writing, from the elements of which the proper names are composed, and from the relationships which some of the texts show to have existed between one prince and another--but they are still far from establishing a continuous series such as those that have been arranged for the Pharaohs even of the Ancient Empire. Interruptions are frequent, and their extent is beyond our power even to guess. Primitive Chaldaea has unluckily left behind it no document like the list of Manetho to help us in the arrangement of the royal names with which the monuments are studded.

We do not even know how the earliest royal name upon the inscriptions should be read; it is more to avoid speaking of him by a paraphrase than for any other reason that the name Ourkam has been assigned to the prince whose traces are to be found sprinkled over the ruins of most of the southern cities. The characters of the texts stamped upon bricks recovered from buildings erected by him, have, as all Assyriologists know, a peculiar physiognomy of their own. Ourkam is the Menes of Chaldaea, and his date is put long before that Susian conquest of which we have spoken above. The seals of Ourkam (see Fig. 3) and of his son Ilgi[62] have been found. The name of the latter occurs almost as often as that of his father among the ruins of Southern Chaldaea.

[Illustration: FIG. 3.--Seal of Ourkam.]

The oldest cities of Lower Chaldaea date from this remote epoch, namely, Ur, now _Mugheir_ or the _bituminous_, Urukh now _Warka_, Larsam (_Senkerch_), Nipour (_Niffer_), Sippara, Borsippa, Babylon, &c. Ur, on the right bank of the Euphrates and near its ancient mouth, seems to have been the first capital of the country and its chief commercial centre in those early times. The premiership of Babylon as a holy city and seat of royalty cannot have been established until much later. The whole country between Hillah and Bassorah is now little removed from a desert. Here and there rise a few tents or reed huts belonging to the Montefik Arabs, a tribe of savage nomads and the terror of travellers. Europeans have succeeded in exploring that inhospitable country only under exceptional circumstances.[63] And yet it was there, between two or three thousand years before our era, that the intermingling of ideas and races took place which gave birth to the civilization of Chaldaea.

In order to find a king to whom we can give a probable date we have to come down as far as Ismi-Dagan, who should figure in the fourth dynasty of Berosus. Tiglath-Pileser the First, who reigned in Assyria at the end of the twelfth century, has left us an official document in which he recounts how he had restored in Ellasar (now _Kaleh-Shergat_), a temple of Oannes founded by Ismi-Dagan seven hundred years before. We are led therefore to place the latter king about 1800.[64] We learn at the same time that Assyria was inhabited, in the days of Ismi-Dagan, by a people who borrowed their gods from Chaldaea, and were dependents of the sovereign of the latter country. It was in fact upon the shores of the Persian Gulf, far enough from Assyria, that Oannes made his first revelation, and it is at Ur in the same region that the names of Ismi-Dagan and of his sons Goun-goun and Samsibin are to be found stamped upon the bricks. We may, therefore, look upon their epoch as that in which the first Chaldee Empire reached its apogee. It then embraced all Mesopotamia, from the slopes of Mount Zagros to the out-fall of the two great rivers.

The sovereigns of Chaldaea, like the Pharaohs of Egypt, toiled with intelligence and unremitting perseverance to develop the resources of the vast domain of which they found themselves masters. They set on foot great public works whose memory survives here and there, to this day. From the moment when the first colonists, of whatever race, appeared in the country, they must have set about regulating the water courses; they must have taken measures to profit by the floods to form reserves, and to utilize the natural fall of the land, slight though it was, for the distribution of the fertilizing liquid. The first groups of agriculturists were established in the immediate neighbourhood of the Tigris and Euphrates, where nothing more was required for the irrigation of the fields than a few channels cut through the banks of the stream, but when the time arrived for the settlement of the regions at some distance from both rivers, more elaborate measures had to be taken; a systematic plan had to be devised and carried out by concerted action. That the kings of Chaldaea were quite equal to the task thus laid upon them is proved by the inscriptions of HAMMOURABI, one of the successors of Ismi-Dagan, which have been translated and commented upon by M. Joachim Menant.[65]

The canal to which this king boasts of having given his name, the _Nahar-Hammourabi_, was called in later days the royal canal, _Nahar-Malcha_. Herodotus saw and admired it, its good condition was an object of care to the king himself, and we know that it was considerably repaired by Nebuchadnezzar. It may be compared to a main artery; smaller vessels flowed from it right and left, throwing off in their turn still smaller branches, and ending in those capillaries which carried refreshment to the roots of each thirsty palm. Even in our day the traveller in the province of Bagdad may follow one of these ancient beds for an hour or two without turning to the right or the left, and their banks, though greatly broken in many places, still rise above the surrounding soil and afford a welcome causeway for the voyager across the marshy plains.[66] All these apparent accidents of the ground are vestiges left by the great hydraulic works of that Chaldee Empire which began to loom through the shadows of the past some twenty years ago, and has gradually been taking form ever since.

When civilization makes up its mind to re-enter upon that country, nothing more will be needed for the re-awakening in it of life and reproductive energy, than the restoration of the great works undertaken by the contemporaries of Abraham and Jacob.

According to all appearance it was the Egyptian conquest about sixteen centuries B.C., that led to the partition of Mesopotamia. Vassals of Thothmes and Rameses, called by Berosus the "Arab kings," sat upon the throne of Babylon. The tribes of Upper Mesopotamia were farther from Egypt, and their chiefs found it easier to preserve their independence. At first each city had its own prince, but in time one of these petty kingdoms absorbed the rest, and Nineveh became the capital of an united Assyria. As the years passed away the frontiers of the nation thus constituted were pushed gradually southwards until all Mesopotamia was brought under one sceptre. This consummation appears to have been complete by the end of the fourteenth century, at which period Egypt, enfeebled and rolled back upon herself, ceased to make her influence felt upon the Euphrates. Even then Babylon kept her own kings, but they had sunk to be little more than hereditary satraps receiving investiture from Nineveh. Over and over again Babylon attempted to shake off the yoke of her neighbour; but down to the seventh century her revolts were always suppressed, and the Assyrian supremacy re-established after more or less desperate conflicts.

During nearly half a century, from about 1060 to 1020 B.C., Babylon seems to have recovered the upper hand. The victories of her princes put an end to what is called the FIRST ASSYRIAN EMPIRE. But after one or two generations a new family mounted the northern throne, and, toiling energetically for a century or so to establish the grandeur of the monarchy, founded the SECOND ASSYRIAN EMPIRE. The upper country regained its ascendency by the help of military institutions whose details now escape us, although their results may be traced throughout the later history of Assyria. From the tenth century onwards the effects of these institutions become visible in expeditions made by the armies of Assyria, now to the shores of the Persian Gulf or the Caspian, and now through the mountains of Armenia into the plains of Cappadocia, or across the Syrian desert to the Lebanon and the coast cities of Phoenicia. The first princes whose figured monuments--in contradistinction to mere inscriptions--have come down to us, belonged to those days. The oldest of all was ASSURNAZIRPAL, whose residence was at CALACH (_Nimroud_). The bas-reliefs with which his palace was decorated are now in the Louvre and the British Museum, most of them in the latter.[67] They may be recognized at once by the band of inscription which passes across the figures and reproduces one text again and again (Fig. 4). To Assurnazirpal's son SHALMANESER III.

belongs the obelisk of basalt which also stands in the British Museum. Its four faces are adorned with reliefs and with a running commentary engraved with extreme care.[68]

[Illustration: FIG. 4.--Genius in the attitude of adoration. From the North-west Palace at Nimroud. Louvre. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

Shalmaneser was an intrepid man of war. The inscriptions on his obelisk recall the events of thirty-one campaigns waged against the neighbouring peoples under the leadership of the king himself. He was always victorious, but the nations whom he crushed never accepted defeat. As soon as his back was well turned they flew to arms, and again drew him from his repose in the great palace which he had built at Calach, close to that of his father.[69]

Under the immediate successors of Shalmaneser the Assyrian _prestige_ was maintained at a high level by dint of the same lavish bloodshed and truculent energy; but towards the eighth century it began to decline. There was then a period of languor and decadence, some echo of which, and of its accompanying disasters, seems to have been embodied by the Greeks in the romantic tale of Sardanapalus. No shadow of confirmation for the story of a first destruction of Nineveh is to be found in the inscriptions, and, in the middle of the same century, we again find the Assyrian arms triumphant under the leadership of TIGLATH PILESER II., a king modelled after the great warriors of the earlier days. This prince seems to have carried his victorious arms as far east as the Indus, and west as the frontiers of Egypt.

And yet it was only under his second successor, SARYOUKIN, or, to give him his popular name, SARGON, the founder of a new dynasty, that Syria, with the exception of Tyre, was brought into complete submission after a great victory over the Egyptians (721-704).[70] In the intervals of his campaigns Sargon built the town and palace which have been discovered at Khorsabad, _Dour-Saryoukin_, or the "town of Sargon."

His son SENNACHERIB equalled him both as a soldier and as a builder. He began by crushing the rebels of Elam and Chaldaea with unflinching severity; in his anger he almost exterminated the inhabitants of Babylon, the perennial seat of revolt; but, on the other hand, he repaired and restored Nineveh. Most of his predecessors had been absentees from the capital, and had neglected its buildings. They had preferred to place their own habitations where they could escape from the crowd and the dangers it implied. But Sennacherib was of another mind. He chose a site well within the city for the magnificent palace which Mr. Layard has been the means of restoring to the world. This building is now known as _Kouyundjik_, from the name of the village perched upon the mound within which the buildings of Sennacherib were hidden.[71]

Sennacherib rebuilt the walls, the towers, and the quays of Nineveh at the same time, so that the capital, which had never ceased to be the strongest and most populous city of the empire, again became the residence of the king--a distinction which it was to preserve until the fast approaching date of its final destruction.

The son of Sennacherib, ESARHADDON, and his grandson, ASSURBANIPAL, pushed the adventures and conquests of the Assyrian arms still farther. They subdued the whole north of Arabia, and invaded Egypt more than once. They took and retook Memphis and Thebes, and divided the whole valley of the Nile, from the Ethiopian frontier to the sea, into a number of vassal principalities, whose submission was insured by the weakness and mutual jealousies of their lords. Ever prompt in revolt, Babylon again exposed itself to sack, and Susiana, which had helped the insurrection, was pillaged, ravaged, and so utterly crushed that it was on the point of disappearing for ever from the scene as an independent state. There was a moment when the great Semitic Empire founded by the Sargonides touched even the aegaean, for Gyges, king of Lydia, finding himself menaced by the Cimmerians, did homage to Assurbanipal, and sued for help against those foes to all civilization.[72]

[Illustration: FIG. 5.--Assurbanipal at the chase. Kouyundjik. British Museum. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

Like their ancestors, these great soldiers were also great builders. In one of his inscriptions Esarhaddon boasts of having built ten palaces and thirty-six temples in Assyria and Chaldaea.[73] Some traces of one of these palaces have been found within the _enceinte_ of Nineveh, at Nebbi-Younas; but it was chiefly upon Nimroud that Esarhaddon left marks of his magnificence. The palace called the South-western Palace, in consequence of its position in the mound, was commenced by him. It was never finished, but in plan it was more grandiose than any other of the royal dwellings. Had it been complete it would have included the largest hall ever provided by an Assyrian architect for the pomps of the Ninevitish court.

Assurbanipal was cruel in victory and indefatigable in the chase. Judging from his bas-reliefs he was as proud of the lions he killed by hundreds in his hunts, as of the men massacred by thousands in his wars and military promenades, or of the captives driven before him, like herds of helpless cattle, from one end of Asia to the other. He appears also to have been a patron of literature and the arts. It was under his auspices that the collection of inscribed terra-cotta tablettes was made in the palace at Kouyundjik,[74] of which so many fragments have now been recovered. He ordered the transcription of several ancient texts which had been first cut, many centuries before, at Ur of the Chaldees. In fact, he collected that royal library whose remains, damaged by time though they be, are yet among the most valued treasures of the British Museum. Documents of many kinds are to be found among them: comparative vocabularies, lists of divinities with their distinguishing epithets, chronological lists of kings and eponymous heroes, grammars, histories, tables of astronomical observations, scientific works of various descriptions, &c., &c. These tablets were classified according to subject and arranged in several rooms of the upper story, so that they suffered much in the fall of the floors and roofs. Very few are quite uninjured but in many cases the pieces have been successfully put together. When first discovered these broken remains covered the floors of the buried palace to the depth of about two feet.[75]

The building was no less remarkable for the richness and beauty of its bas-reliefs. We shall have occasion to reproduce more than one of the hunting scenes which are there represented, and of which we give a first illustration on the opposite page. Some remains of another palace built by the same prince have been discovered in the mound of Nebbi-Younas.

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