A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 31

[456] LOFTUS, _Travels_, &c., p. 133.

[457] At Warka, around the ruin called _Wuswas_ by the Arabs, LOFTUS traced the plan of these great courtyards and platforms (_Travels_, p. 171).

[458] See above, p. 246, figs. 100 and 102.

[459] Numerous pieces of glazed tile were found in these ruins.

[460] The idea of this plinth was suggested to M. Chipiez by a remark made on page 129 of LOFTUS's _Travels_: "Between the stories is a gradual stepped incline about seven feet in perpendicular height, which may however, be accidental, and arise from the destruction of the upper part of the lower story."

[461] See TAYLOR, _Journal_, &c., pp. 264-5.

[462] LOFTUS, _Travels_, p. 130. It was the same with the _Observatory_ at Khorsabad.

[463] LAYARD, _Discoveries_, p. 495.

[464] The authorities made use of by Strabo for his description of Babylon, all lived in the time of Alexander and his successors; no one of them could have seen the temple intact and measured its height. Founded upon tradition or upon the inspection of the remains, the figure given by the geographer can only be approximate. I should think it is probably an exaggeration.

[465] See PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. iii, plate 37.

[466] DIODORUS, ii, 9, 5.

[467] These courts must have been at certain times of the day the meeting place of large numbers of the population, like the courtyards of a modern mosque. Shops in which religious emblems and other _objets-de-piete_ were sold would stand about them, just as in the present day the traveller finds a regular fair in the courtyard of the mosque _Meshed-Ali_. Among the commodities that change hands in such places, white doves are very common (LOFTUS, _Travels_, p. 53). In this perhaps, we may recognize the survival of a pagan rite, the sacrifice of a dove to the Babylonian Istar, the Phoenician Astarte, and the Grecian Aphrodite. It was in the courtyards of one of these temples that those sacred prostitutions of which HERODOTUS speaks, took place (i. 199). The great extent of the inclosures is readily explained by the crowds they were then required to accommodate.

[468] "I undertook in Bit-Saggatu," says the king, "the restoration of the chamber of Merodach; I gave to its cupola the form of a lily, and I covered it with chiselled gold, so that it shone like the day," London inscription, translated by M. Fr. LENORMANT, in his _Histoire ancienne_, vol. ii. pp.

228-229. See also a text of Philostratus in his life of _Apollonius of Tyana_, (i. 25). The sophist who seems to have founded his description of Babylon on good information, speaks of a "great brick edifice plated with bronze, which had a dome representing the firmament and shining with gold and sapphires."

[469] The idea has also occurred to M. OPPERT of restricting the ramp to two sides of the tower, to the exclusion of the others (_Expedition scientifique_, vol. i. p. 209); but so far as we understand his system--which he has not illustrated with any figure--he does not double his incline, he merely alternates its side at each stage, so that part of it would be on the north-west, part on the south-west face of his tower.

[470] The original of this relief has not been brought to Europe. We are therefore unable to decide whether Layard's draughtsman has accurately represented its condition or not.

-- 2.--_Ruins of Staged Towers._

In describing the first of our four types we had occasion to point to the buildings at Warka and Mugheir, which enabled us to restore what may be called the Lower Chaldaean form of temple. The mounds formed by the remains of those buildings had not been touched for thousands of years, they had entirely escaped such disturbance as the ruins of Babylon have undergone for so many centuries at the hand of the builders of Bagdad and Hillah; and it is probable that explorations carried on methodically and with intelligent patience would give most interesting results. If, for instance, the foundations of all walls were systematically cleared, we should be enabled to restore with absolute certainty the plans of the buildings to which they belonged. To the monuments discovered by the English explorers we must now add a find made by M. de Sarzec at Tello, of which, however, full details have yet to be furnished.[471] We take the following from the too short letter that was read to the Academy of Inscriptions on the 2nd of December 1881. "Finally, it was in that part of the building marked H that opens upon the court B that I found the curious structure of which I spoke to you. This solid mass of burnt brick and bitumen, with diminishing terraces rising one above the other, reminds us of those Chaldaeo-Babylonian structures whose probable object was to afford a refuge to the inhabitants from the swarms of insects and burning winds that devastate these regions for nine months of the year." Here, we believe, M.

de Sarzec is in error; the only refuges against the inflamed breath of the desert were the _serdabs_, the subterranean chambers with their scanty light and moistened walls, and the dark apartments of Assyrian palaces with their walls of prodigious thickness. The great terraces erected at such a vast expenditure of labour were not undertaken merely to escape the mosquitoes; we may take M. de Sarzec's words, however, as a proof that at Sirtella as in all the towns of Lower Chaldaea, the remains of a building with several stories or stages are to be recognized.

[Illustration: FIG. 183.--Map of the ruins of Babylon; from Oppert.]

The ruins on the site of Babylon may be divided into four principal groups, each forming small hills that are visible for many miles round; they are designated on the annexed map by the names under which they are commonly known. These are, in their order from north to south, _Babil_, _El-Kasr_ (or _Mudjelibeh_) and _Tell-Amran_, on the left bank; on the right bank the most conspicuous of them all, the _Birs-Nimroud_.[472] Most of those who have studied the topography of Babylon are disposed to see in the Kasr and in Tell-Amran the remains of a vast palace, or rather of several palaces, built by different kings, and those of the famous hanging gardens; while in Babil (Plate I. and Fig. 37) and the Birs Nimroud (Fig. 168) they agree to recognize all that is left of the two chief religious buildings of Babylon.

Babil would be the oldest of them all--the _Bit-Saggatu_ or "temple of the foundations of the earth" which stood in the very centre of the royal city and was admired and described by Herodotus. The Birs-Nimroud would correspond to the no less celebrated temple of Borsippa, the _Bit-Zida_, the "temple of the planets and of the seven spheres."

At Babil no explorations have thrown the least light upon the disposition of the building. In the whole of its huge mass, which rises to a height of some 130 feet above the plain, no trace of the separate cubes or of their dimensions is to be found. All the restorations that have been made are purely imaginary. At Birs-Nimroud the excavations of Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1854 were by no means fruitless but, unhappily, we are without any detailed account of their results. So far as we have been told, it would appear that the existence of at least six of the seven stages had been ascertained and the monument, which, according to Sir Henry Rawlinson's measurements, is now 153 feet high; can have lost but little of its original height. We can hardly believe however, that the violence of man and the storms of so many centuries have done so little damage.[473] It seems to be more clearly proved that, in shape, the temple belonged to the class we have described under the head of THE RECTANGULAR CHALDaeAN TEMPLE.[474] The axis of the temple, the vertical line upon which the centre of the terminal chapel must have been placed, was not at an equal distance from the north-western and south-eastern sides, so that the building had its gentlest slope--taking it as a whole--towards the south-east.[475] On that side the cubical blocks of which it was composed were so placed as to leave much wider steps than on the north-west. The temple therefore had a true facade, in front of which propylaea, like the one introduced in our restoration from the ruins at Mugheir, were placed. The difference consists in the fact that here the stages are square on plan. The lowest stage was 273 feet each way; it rested upon a platform of sun-dried brick which rose but a few feet above the level of the plain.

Supposing these measurements to be exact they suggest a building which was nothing extraordinary either in height or mass. The dimensions furnished by Rich and Ker-Porter are much greater. Both of these speak of a base a stade, or about 606 feet, square, which would give a circumference of no less than 2,424 feet--not much less than half a mile. In any case the temple now represented by Babil must have been the larger of the two. M.

Oppert mentions 180 metres, or about 600 feet, as one diameter of the present rather irregular mass. That would still be inferior to the Pyramid of Cheops, which is 764 feet square at the base, and yet the diameter of 600 feet for Babil is, no doubt, in excess of its original dimensions. The accumulation of rubbish must have enlarged its base in every direction.

It seems clear, therefore, that the great structures of Chaldaea were inferior to the largest of the royal tombs of Egypt, both in height and lateral extent. We do not know how far the subsidiary buildings by which the staged towers are surrounded and supplemented in our plates may have extended, but it is difficult to believe that their number or importance could have made the ensemble to which they belonged a rival to Karnak, or even to Luxor.

If we may judge from the texts and the existing ruins, the religious buildings of Assyria were smaller than those of Chaldaea. When the Ten Thousand traversed the valley of the Tigris in their famous retreat, they passed close to a large abandoned city, which Xenophon calls Larissa. As to whether his Larissa was Calah (Nimroud), or Nineveh (Kouyundjik), we need not now inquire, but his short description of a staged tower is of great interest: "Near this town," he says, "there was a stone pyramid two plethra (about 203 feet) high; each side of its base was one plethron in length."[476]

The tower cleared by Layard at Nimroud is perhaps the very one seen by Xenophon.[477] The Greek soldier speaks of a stone pyramid while the Nimroud tower is of brick, but the whole of its substructure is cased with the finer material to a height of nearly twenty-four feet, which is quite enough to account for Xenophon's statement. As for his dimensions, they should not be taken too literally. In their rapid and anxious march the Greek commanders had no time to wield the plumb-line or the measuring-chain; they must have trusted mainly to their eyes in arriving at a notion of the true size of the buildings by which their attention was attracted. The tower at Nimroud must have been about 150 feet square, measured along its plinth; the present height of the mound is 141 feet, and nothing above the first stage now exists. As Layard remarks, one or two stories more must be taken into the account, and they would easily make up an original elevation of from 200 to 240 feet, or about that of the Larissa tower. Xenophon made use of the word pyramid because his language furnished him with no term more accurate. Like the true pyramid, the staged tower diminished gradually from base to summit, and there can be no doubt as to the real character of the building seen by the Greeks, as may be gathered from their leader's statement, that the "barbarians from the neighbouring villages took refuge upon it in great numbers." Such buildings as the pyramids of Egypt and Ethiopia could have afforded no refuge of the kind. A few could stand upon their summits, supposing them to have lost their capstones, but it would require the wide ramps and terraces of the staged tower to afford a foothold for the population of several villages.[478]

Nothing but the first two stages, or rather the plinth and the first stage, now remain at Nimroud of what must have been the chief temple of Calah.

There is no trace either of the ramp or of the colours with which the different stories were ornamented. The Khorsabad tower discovered by Place is more interesting and much more instructive as to the arrangement and constitution of these buildings.[479]

[Illustration: FIG. 184.--Actual condition of the so-called _Observatory_, at Khorsabad; from Place.]

This tower was previously hidden under a mass of _debris_, which gave it a conical form like that at Nimroud. Botta had already noticed its existence, but he failed to guess its real character, which, indeed, was only divined by Place when his explorations were far advanced. As soon as all doubt was removed as to the real character of the monument, M. Place took every care to preserve all that might yet exist of it, and our Fig. 184 shows the state of the building after the excavations were complete. Three whole stages and part of a fourth (to say nothing of the plinth) were still in existence. The face of each stage was ornamented with vertical grooves, repeating horizontally the elevation of the Assyrian stepped battlements (Fig. 102); the coloured stucco, varying in hue from one stage to another, was still in place, and confirmed the assertions of Herodotus as to the traditional sequence of tints.[480] The external ramp, with its pavement of burnt brick and its crenellated parapet, was also found.[481] At its base the first stage described upon the soil a square of about 143 feet each way. Each of the three complete stages was twenty feet three inches high.

Upon such data M. Thomas had no difficulty in restoring the whole building.

Evidently the fourth story could not have been the original apex, as it would have been strange indeed, if, when all the rest of the Khorsabad palace had lost its upper works, the sun-dried bricks of the _Observatory_ alone had resisted the agents of destruction. Moreover the materials of the higher stories still exist in the 40,000 cubic yards of rubbish which cover the surrounding platform to an average depth of about ten feet.

[Illustration: FIG. 185.--The _Observatory_ restored. Elevation.]

How many stages were there? Struck by the importance of the number seven in Assyrian architecture, M. Thomas fixed upon that number. Even at Khorsabad itself the figure continually crops up. The city walls had seven gates. One of the commonest of the ornamental motives found upon the external and internal walls of the Harem is the band of seven half columns illustrated on page 247. Herodotus tells us of the seven different colours used on the concentric walls of Ecbatana. Finally, in assigning seven stories to the building we get a total elevation of 140 feet, which corresponds so closely to the 143 feet of the base that we may take the two as identical, and account for the slight difference between them, amounting only to about three inches for each story, by the difficulty in taking correct measurements on a ruined structure of sun-dried brick. And we should remember that Strabo tells us in a passage already quoted that the height of the great temple at Babylon was equal to its shorter diameter, an arrangement that may to some extent have been prescribed by custom.

[Illustration: FIG. 186.--The _Observatory_ restored. Plan.]

So far then as its main features are concerned, we may look upon the restoration we borrow from M. Place's work as perfectly authentic (Figs.

185 and 186). Our section (Fig. 187) is meant to show that no trace of any internal chamber or void of the smallest kind was discovered by the French explorers. It is, however, quite possible that such chambers were contrived in the upper stories, but we have no evidence of their existence. We may say the same of the resting-places mentioned by Herodotus in his description of the temple of Belus. But supposing that edifice to have had seven stages, its ramp must have been about a thousand yards long, and it is likely enough that halting places were provided on such a long ascent.

[Illustration: FIG. 187.--The _Observatory_. Transverse section through AB.]

It is not until we come to discuss the object of such a building that we feel compelled to part company with MM. Place and Thomas. They are inclined to believe that it was an observatory rather than a temple, and under that title they have described it. Although we have made use of the name thus given we do not think it has been justified. There is nothing, says M. Place, among the ruins at Khorsabad to show that the tower ever bore any chapel or tabernacle upon its apex. But according to their own hypothesis it has lost its three highest stories, so why should they expect to find any vestige of such a chapel, seeing that it must have been the first thing to disappear? There is absolutely nothing to negative the idea that it may have been of wood, in which case its total disappearance would not be surprising, even after the platform had been thoroughly explored; and that is far from being the case at present. Moreover there is some little evidence that the purpose of the pyramid was religious. Two stone altars were found in its neighbourhood. Whether they came from its summit or from the esplanade, they justify us in believing the _Observatory_ to have been a temple. We are confirmed in this belief by the similarity--which M. Place himself points out--between it and the chief monuments of Babylon, as described by Herodotus. It seems to be incontestable that Chaldaea adopted this form for the largest and most sumptuous of her temples, and why should we suppose the Assyrians to have broken with that tradition and to have devoted to a different use buildings planned and constructed on the same principle?

It is true that tablets have been found in the royal archives at Kouyundjik upon which reports as to the condition of the heavens are recorded for the guidance of the king,[482] but there is nothing in these so far as they have been deciphered to show that the observations were taken from the summit of a _zigguratt_. It is, however, very probable that the astronomers availed themselves of such a height above the plain in order to escape from floating vapours and to gain a wider horizon. The platform of the Khorsabad tower must have had a superficial extent of about 180 square yards. There may have been a chapel or tabernacle in the centre, and yet plenty of space for the astrologers to do their work at their ease. We do not wish to deny, therefore, that this tower and other monuments of the same kind may have been used as observatories, but we believe that in Assyria, as in Chaldaea, their primary object was a religious one--that they were raised so far above the dwellings of man, even of the king himself, in order to do honour to the gods whose sanctuaries were to crown their summits.[483]


[471] See _Les Fouilles de Chaldee_ in the _Revue archeologique_ for November, 1881. M. de Sarzec refers us in his paper to a plan which has not yet been laid before the Academy. We regret very much that its publication should have been so long delayed, as we have been prevented from making as much use as we should have wished of M. de Sarzec's architectural discoveries.

[472] The clearest and most precise information upon the topography of Babylon is to be found in Professor RAWLINSON's essay on that subject in the second volume of his translation of HERODOTUS (p. 570, in the third edition).

[473] In making his calculations, Professor RAWLINSON has certainly forgotten to take into account the pier or section of wall that still stands upright upon the surface of the mound (OPPERT, _Expedition scientifique_, vol. i. pp. 260, _et seq._). It is clearly shown in our figure--Sir Henry LAYARD leaves us in no doubt on this score: "The Birs-Nimroud rises to a height of 198 feet, and has on its summit a compact mass of brickwork thirty-seven feet high by twenty-eight broad, the whole being thus 235 feet in perpendicular height," _Discoveries_, p. 495. LAYARD says, however, that the dimensions here given were taken from RICH, as he had no time to take measurements during his hurried visit. ED.

[474] _Discoveries_, p. 495.

[475] We take these details from Professor RAWLINSON's essay on the topography of Babylon.

[476] XENOPHON, _Anabasis_, iii, 4, 9.

[477] LAYARD, _Discoveries_, pp. 126-128, and map 2.

[478] At Kaleh Shergat, where the site of an important, but as yet unidentified Assyrian city has been recognized, there is a conical mound, recalling in its general aspect the Nimroud tower, which must contain all that is left of a _zigguratt_; but no deep excavations have yet been made in it (LAYARD, _Nineveh_, vol. ii. p. 61).

[479] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. pp. 147-148, and plates 36-37.

[480] See above, pp. 272-274.

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