A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 32

[481] We have already mentioned the size of its steps; see page 192. The gradient for the first stage was about one in twenty. In the upper stages it must have been far steeper, as the circumference of the stages was much less, while their height remained the same. It never became very abrupt however, as supposing that the original number of stories was seven, the gradient would not be more than about one in fourteen close to the summit.

[482] LENORMANT, _Histoire ancienne_, vol. ii. p. 200 (3rd edition).

[483] The position occupied by this staged tower in the plan of the royal palace at Khorsabad suggests that perhaps neither of the two explanations of its purpose here alluded to is the true one. It is placed immediately outside the Harem wall--and as to the identity of the Harem there can be no doubt--in such a way that any one ascending it must have had an uninterrupted view into the numerous courts of the women's apartments. Such a possibility seems inconsistent with the numerous precautions taken to secure the privacy of that part of the palace (see Vol. II. Chapter I. -- 2). Perhaps the real solution of the difficulty is to be found in a suggestion made, but only to be cast aside, by Mr. FERGUSSON, that this Khorsabad _zigguratt_ was, in fact, a private oratory for the exclusive use of Sargon himself (_History of Architecture_, vol. i. p. 173).--ED.

-- 3.--_Subordinate Types of the Temple._

Side by side with these pyramidal temples the Assyrians seem to have placed others of a less ambitious kind, dedicated, no doubt, to deities of the second rank. The great staged towers, whose height and mass implied an effort that could not be often repeated, were devoted to the worship of the great national gods. Botta believed that he had discovered a temple of this smaller kind in the building from which we borrowed the example of an Assyrian moulding reproduced in our Figs. 98 and 99. This edifice is remarkable, not only for its cornice, but also because it is built of limestone and decorated with sculptures carved from slabs of basalt, the only things of the kind that have been discovered in the Khorsabad ruins.

The general arrangements are unlike those of any other part of the palace.

Unfortunately the building is in a very bad condition. Even its plan can only be restored in part. Thomas is inclined to see in it rather a throne room, or divan, as it would be called in the modern East, than a temple.

The few bas-reliefs which may be certainly recognized as having belonged to it are not religious in their character; they represent hunting scenes, battles and prisoners bringing tribute. Although Thomas's restoration is, as he himself confesses, entirely conjectural, we have no serious motive for pronouncing the building to have been a temple.[484]

[Illustration: FIG. 188.--Plan of a small temple at Nimroud; from Layard.]

[Illustration: FIG. 189.--Plan of a small temple at Nimroud; from Layard.]

On the other hand, Layard seems to have had good reasons for recognizing small temples in the structures he cleared near the great staged tower at Nimroud.[485] The more important of the two was actually touching that tower (Fig. 188). The character of the building is at once betrayed by the nature of its sculptures, which are religious rather than historical--figures of gods and genii, scenes of adoration and mystic theology. And it was not without a purpose that it was put into close juxtaposition with a _zigguratt_, an arrangement that proves it to have formed a part of a collection of buildings consecrated, by the prince whose dwelling covered the rest of the platform, to the gods in whose protection he placed his trust. The second and smaller temple stands about thirty yards to the east on the very edge of the artificial mound (Fig. 189). An altar with three feet carved in the shape of lion's paws was found in front of the entrance.[486] There were no bas-reliefs: the decorations were carried out in paint. The number of rooms was less, but their general arrangement was similar to that of the larger building. The chief feature of both was a large hall (_e_ in the first plan, _c_ in the second) with a square niche at one of its extremities (_f_ in the first plan, _d_ in the second). This niche was paved with a single slab of alabaster, of considerable size and covered upon both faces with a long inscription describing in detail the reign of the prince by whom the temple was consecrated. In the larger of the two buildings the slab in question was twenty-three feet four inches long and seventeen feet eight inches wide; its thickness was twelve inches. Upon it stood, in all probability, the statue of the god. The niche must, in fact, have been the _secos_, or sanctuary properly speaking. The large oblong hall was the _naos_ or _cella_. In the larger temple its length was forty-six feet seven inches.

It was preceded by a _pronaos_ or vestibule (Fig. 188, _c_). We have no evidence as to the purpose of the chamber marked _g_ in our plan. It has a direct entrance of its own from the outside (_h_). The small temple is rather less complicated. Two doorways (_b_ and _f_) lead immediately into the principal hall or naos. A small chamber (_e_) behind the sanctuary was, perhaps, a kind of storeroom or sacristy. It should be noticed that in the little temple the doors into the naos were so placed that the image in the sanctuary could not be seen from without.[487] In both buildings the doors were flanked by winged lions or bulls, like those of the royal palaces. The walls of the larger temple were decorated with glazed bricks.

[Illustration: FIG. 190.--Temple with triangular pediment; from Botta.]

These temples of the second class lent themselves to a great variety of forms. Some of them had their facades crowned by a triangular pediment, like those of the Greek temples (Fig. 190). It is true that the Khorsabad relief whence we copy this peculiar arrangement deals with the capture of an Armenian city, Mousasir, called in the narrative of Sargon's conquests "the dwelling of the god Haldia,"[488] whose temple must be here figured by the sculptor. Must we believe that the artist has given his temple a form unfamiliar to himself in deference to the accounts of those who had taken part in the campaign? Is it not more probable that he copied some model which would be recognized by every spectator as that of a temple, from its frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood of the very palace on whose decoration he was at work? We are inclined to say yes to the latter question. But even if we look upon this relief as a faithful sketch from an Armenian temple we shall still believe that it reproduces a type not unknown to Assyrian art. Everything combines to prove that the inhabitants of the mountainous countries situated to the east and north of Assyria had no original and well-marked civilization of their own during any part of the period with which we are now concerned. Just as Ethiopia borrowed everything from Egypt, so the Medes and Armenians drew both their arts and their written character from Chaldaea, by way of Assyria. All the objects found in the neighbourhood of Lake Van are purely Assyrian in character, and no question is raised as to the fitness of their place in our museums side by side with objects from Nimroud and Khorsabad. It is, however, of little importance whether the temple shown in our woodcut was or was not copied from nature; if there were such buildings in Armenia it was because similar ones had previously existed in Assyria, from which the architects of the semi-barbarous people, who were in turn the enemies, the vassals and the subjects of the Ninevite monarchs, had borrowed their leading features.

Moreover, we find one of the most characteristic features of Assyrian architecture occurring in this Armenian monument. The entrance is flanked by lions similar to those which guard the temples at Nimroud.[489] The other features of the composition are quite new to us. In front of the temple two large vases are supported on tripods, of bronze no doubt. They contained the water required for purifications; we shall encounter them again in Syria. They remind us of the "molten sea" of Solomon's temple. The temple stands upon a high plinth, to which access must have been given by steps omitted by the sculptor. At each side of the door stands a lance-headed pole, indicating, perhaps, that the temple was dedicated to a god of war. In front of these lances stand two people in attitudes of adoration; statues, perhaps, or figures in relief. The facade is formed of pilasters divided horizontally by narrow bands; upon these pilasters, and on the wall between them, hang shields or targets, that accord well with the lances flanking the entrance. From two of the pilasters on the left of the doorway lions' heads and shoulders seem to issue; these, too, may be taken as symbolical of the bellicose disposition of the god to whom the building was dedicated. The pediment with which the facade is crowned is rather low in its proportions. Its tympanum is filled with a kind of reticulated ornament made up of small lozenges or meshes. There is nothing to throw light upon the internal arrangements, but by the aid of this carved sketch the facade may be easily restored, save, of course, in the matter of size, at which we can only guess.

The type is chiefly interesting on account of its analogy with the Greek temple. We have already drawn attention to similar points of likeness in the small buildings in which the column plays such an important part (Figs.

41 and 42). We have seen that some of those little structures resemble the Egyptian temples, others the Greek temple _in antis_.[490] For the sake of completeness we may also mention the pavilion we find so often in the Chaldaean monuments (Fig. 79). It is crowned with the horned mitre we are accustomed to see upon the heads of the winged bulls. Our interest has been awakened in these little chapels chiefly on account of the decorative forms of which they afford such early examples. It is not to them that we must look for the distinctive features of Mesopotamian temple architecture.

These we must find in the _staged tower_ or _zigguratt_. Why is it that the whole of those monuments, with the single exception of the so-called _Observatory_ of Khorsabad, are now mere heaps of formless dust, fulfilling to the letter the biblical prophecies as to the fate of Nineveh and Babylon? One traveller tells us how when he approached the Birs-Nimroud he saw wolves stretched upon its slopes and basking in the sun. Before they would lazily rise and make up their minds to decamp, the Arabs of his escort had to ride forward shouting and shaking their lances.


[484] See PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. pp. 149-151, and vol. ii. pp. 6-7, and 36-42. This building is at the western angle of the area occupied by the Khorsabad ruins (vol. iii. plate 3). The restoration will be found in the plate numbered 37 _bis_.

[485] _Discoveries_, &c., pp. 348-357, 359-362; and _Monuments_, &c., second series, plate 5.

[486] This is now in the British Museum.--ED.

[487] The doors are so arranged that in neither temple can the naos be seen by one standing outside the building.--ED.

[488] This expedition took place in the eighth year of Sargon's reign. The passage in which the chief events are recounted, will be found in the long and important inscription translated by M. OPPERT, under the title: _Annales de Sargon_ (PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. ii. p. 313).

[489] The sculptor has only introduced one; the other he has left for the imagination of the spectator to fill in.

[490] Page 142.

-- 4.--_Comparison between the Chaldaean Temple and that of Egypt._

Although the ancients called them both by the same name, there are more points of difference than of resemblance between the Egyptian pyramids and the staged towers of Chaldaea. On the borders of the Nile we have the true pyramid, the solid which bears that name in geometry. In Mesopotamia we have a series of rectangular prisms placed one upon the other. At a distance the gradual diminution of their size may give a pyramidal appearance to the mass of which they form a part, but their walls are vertical. Finally the contrast between the purposes of the two buildings is still greater. The Egyptian pyramid is a tomb; its enormous mass is no more than a monstrous development of the stone envelope to which the sarcophagus was committed. No means were provided for reaching the summit, and its height had, so to speak, no _raison d'etre_ or practical utility. In spite of all the art lavished upon it a pyramid was hardly a building in the proper sense of the word--it was a mere heap of building materials.

It was quite otherwise with the _zigguratt_, whose terminal platform supported a richly-decorated sanctuary. Astronomers could make use of it for observing the heavens under better conditions than were possible below; chapels were also cut in the flanks of its lower stages, so that a convenient means of approach to every story from top to bottom was absolutely required. This necessity brought in its train the varied arrangements of ramp and terrace of which we have endeavoured to give an idea in our restorations. If we give rein to our imagination and allow it for a moment to restore their crenellated parapets to the ramps and terraces; if we set up the resting-places, rebuild the chapels and pavilions and replace the statues; if we cover the sanctuary with its vesture of bronze and gold, and the whole edifice with the surface decoration to which the sun of Mesopotamia gave its fullest value, we shall then understand how far superior, as an architectonic conception, the Chaldaean _zigguratt_ was to the Egyptian pyramid. With its smooth and naked face the latter was in some degree an inorganic mass, as lifeless as the corpse it crushed with its preposterous weight. The division of the former into stages had a latent rhythm that was strongly attractive; the eye followed with no little pleasure the winding slope which, by its easy gradient, seemed to invite the traveller to mount to the lofty summit, where, in the extent and beauty of the view he would find so rich a reward for the gentle fatigues of the ascent.

But we must not forget that the _zigguratt_ was a temple, and that it is to the temples of Thebes that we must compare it. In such a comparison Egypt regains all its superiority. How cold and poor a show the towers of Chaldaea and Assyria make beside the colonnades of the Ramesseum, of Luxor, of Karnak! In the one case the only possible varieties are those caused by changes in the position and proportions of the stages, in the slope and arrangement of the ramps. In the other, what infinite combinations of courts, pylons, and porticoes, what an ever changing play of light, shadow, and form among the groves of pictured columns! What a contrast between the Assyrian sanctuaries lighted only from the door and by the yellow glare of torches, and the mysterious twilight of the Egyptian halls, where the deep shadows were broken here and there by some wandering ray of sunshine shooting downwards from holes contrived in the solid roof, and making some brilliant picture of Ptah or Amen stand out against the surrounding gloom.

But the Chaldaeans might, perhaps would, have equalled the Egyptians had their country been as rich in stone as the Nile valley; their taste and instinct for grandeur was no less, and the religious sentiment was as lively and exalted with the worshippers of Assur and Marduk as with those of Osiris and Amen-Ra. The inferiority of their religious architecture was due to the natural formation of their country, which restricted them almost entirely to the use of a fictile material.



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