A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria, v. 1
by Georges Perrot
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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.

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]

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]

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.

Never had the empire seemed more strong and flourishing than now, and yet it was close to its fall. The Sargonids understood fighting and pillage, but they made no continuous effort to unite the various peoples whom they successfully conquered and trampled underfoot. The Assyrians have been compared to the Romans, and in some respects the parallel is good. They showed a Roman energy in the conduct of their incessant struggles, and the soldiers who brought victory so often to the standards of the Sennacheribs and Shalmanesers must have been in their time, as the legions of the consuls and dictators were in later years, the best troops in Asia: they were better armed, better disciplined, and better led than those of neighbouring states, more used to fatigue, to long marches and rapid evolutions. The brilliance of their success and its long duration are thus explained, for the chiefs of the empire never seem to have had the faintest suspicion of the adroit policy which was afterwards to bind so many conquered peoples to the Roman sceptre. The first necessity for civilized man is security: the hope, or rather the certainty, of enjoying the fruits of his own industry in peace. When this certainty is assured to him he quickly pardons and forgets the injuries he has suffered. This fact has been continually ignored by Oriental conquerors and by Assyrian conquerors more than any others. The Egyptians and Persians appear now and then to have succeeded in reconciling their subject races, and in softening their mutual hatreds by paying some attention to their political wants. But the Assyrians reckoned entirely upon terror. And yet one generation was often enough to obliterate the memory of the most cruel disasters. Sons did not learn from the experience of their fathers, and, although dispersed and decimated times without number, the enemies of Assyria never acquiesced in defeat. In the subjection imposed upon them they panted for revenge, and while paying their tributes they counted the hours and followed with watchful eye every movement of their master. Let him be carried into any distant province, or engaged in lengthened hostilities, and they at once flew to their arms. If the prince were fighting in Armenia, or on the borders of the Caspian, Chaldaea and Susiana would rise against him: if disputing the Nile Valley with the Ethiopians, Syria would revolt in his rear and the insurrection would spread across the plains of Asia with the rapidity of a prairie fire.

Thus no question received a final settlement. On the morrow of the hardest won victory the fight had to begin anew. The strongest and bravest exhausted themselves at such a game. Each campaign left gaps in the ranks of the governing and fighting classes, and in time, their apparent privilege became the most crushing of burdens. The same burden has for a century past been slowly destroying the dominant race in modern Turkey. Its members occupy nearly all the official posts, but they have to supply the army as well. Since the custom of recruiting the latter with the children of Christians, separated from their families in infancy and converted to Islamism has been abandoned, the military population has decreased year by year. One or two more wars like the last and the Ottoman race will be extinct.

Losses in battle were then a chief cause of decadence in a state which failed to discipline its subject peoples and to incorporate them in its armies. A further explanation is to be found in the lassitude and exhaustion which must in time overtake the most warlike princes, the bravest generals, and the most highly tempered of conquering races. A few years of relaxed watchfulness, an indolent and soft-hearted sovereign, are enough to let loose all the pent up forces of insubordination and to unite them into one formidable effort. We thus see that, in many respects, nothing could be more precarious than the prosperity of that Assyria whose insolent triumphs had so often astonished the world since the accession of Sargon.

The first shock came from the north. About the year 632 all western Asia was suddenly overrun by the barbarians whom the Greeks called the Cimmerian Scythians. With an elan that nothing could resist, they spread themselves over the country lying between the shores of the Caspian and the Persian Gulf; they even menaced the frontiers of Egypt. The open towns were pillaged and destroyed, the fields and agricultural villages ruthlessly laid waste. Thanks to the height and thickness of their defending walls Nineveh, Babylon, and a few other cities escaped a sack, but Mesopotamia as a whole suffered cruelly. The dwellers in its vast plains had no inaccessible summits or hidden valleys to which they could retreat until the wave of destruction had passed on. At the end of a few years the loot-laden Scythians withdrew into those steppes of central Asia whence their descendants were again, some six centuries later, to menace the existence of civilization; and they left Assyria and Chaldaea half stripped of their inhabitants behind them.

The work begun by the Scythians was finished by the Medes. These were Aryan tribes, long subject to the Assyrians, who had begun to constitute themselves a nation in the first half of the seventh century, and, under the leadership of CYAXARES, the real founder of their power, had already attacked Nineveh after the death of Assurbanipal. This invasion brought on a kind of forced truce, but when the Medes had compelled the Scythians to retreat to their deserts by the bold stroke which Herodotus admires so much, they quickly resumed the offensive[76]. We cannot follow all the fluctuations of the conflict; the information left by the early historians is vague and contradictory, and we have no cuneiform inscriptions to help us out. After the fall of Nineveh cylinders of clay and alabaster slabs were no longer covered with wedges by the Assyrian scribes. They had recounted their victories and conquests at length, but not one among them, so far as we know, cared to retrace the dismal history of final defeat.

All that we can guess is that the last sovereign of Nineveh fell before a coalition in which Media and Chaldaea played the chief parts[77]. NABOPOLASSAR, the general to whom he confided the defence of Babylon, entered into an alliance with Cyaxares. ASSUREDILANI shut himself up in his capital, where he resisted as long as he could, and finally set fire to his palace and allowed himself to be burned alive rather than fall living into the hands of his enemies (625 B.C.). Nineveh, "the dwelling of the lions," "the bloody city," saw its last day; "Nineveh is laid waste," says the prophet Nahum, "who will bemoan her?"[78]

The modern historian will feel more pity for Assyria than the Jewish poet, the sincere interpreter of a national hatred which was fostered by frequent and cruel wounds to the national pride. We can forgive Nineveh much, because she wrote so much and built so much, because she covered so much clay with her arrow-heads, and so many walls with her carved reliefs. We forgive her because to the ruins of her palaces and the broken fragments of her sculpture we owe most of our present knowledge of the great civilization which once filled the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates. The kings of Assyria went on building palaces up to the last moment. Each reign added to the series of royal dwellings in which every chamber was filled with inscriptions and living figures. Some of these structures were raised in Nineveh itself, some in the neighbouring cities. At the south-east angle of the mound at Nimroud, the remains of a palace begun by Assuredilani have been excavated. Its construction had been interrupted by the Medes and Scythians, for it was left unfinished. Its proposed area was very small. The rooms were narrow and ill arranged, and their walls were decorated at foot with slabs of bare limestone instead of sculptured alabaster. Above the plinth thus formed they were covered with roughly executed paintings upon plaster, instead of with enamelled bricks. Both plan and decoration show evidence of haste and disquiet. The act of sovereignty had to be done, but all certainty of the morrow had vanished. From the moment in which Assyrian sculpture touched its highest point in the reign of Assurbanipal, the material resources of the kingdom and the supply of skilled workmen had slowly but constantly diminished.[79]

Nineveh destroyed, the empire of which it was the capital vanished with it. The new Babylonian empire, the Empires of the Medes and of the Persians followed each other with such rapidity that the Assyrian heroes and their prowess might well have been forgotten. The feeble recollections they left in men's minds became tinged with the colours of romance. The Greeks took pleasure in the fable of Sardanapalus: they developed it into a moral tale with elaborate conceits and telling contrasts, but they did not invent it from the foundation. The first hint of it must have been given by legends of the fall and destruction of Nineveh current in the cities of Ecbatana, Susa, and Babylon when Ctesias was within their walls.

* * * * *

After the obliteration of Nineveh the Medes and Chaldaeans divided western Asia between them. A family alliance was concluded between Nabopolassar and Cyaxares at the moment of concerting the attack which was to have such a brilliant success, and either in consequence of that alliance or for some unknown motive, the two nations remained good friends after their common victory. The Medes kept Assyria, and extended themselves to the north, over the whole country between the Caspian and the Black Sea. They would have carried their frontiers to the AEgaean but for the existence of the Lydian monarchy, which arrested them on the left bank of the Halys. To the south of these regions the SECOND CHALDAEAN EMPIRE took shape (625-536 B.C.). It made no effort to expand eastwards over that plateau of Iran where the Aryan element, as represented by the Medes and soon afterwards by the Persians, had acquired an ever-increasing preponderance, but it pretended to the sovereignty of Egypt and Syria. In the former country, however, the Saite princes had rekindled the national spirit, and the frontiers were held successfully against the invaders. It was otherwise with the Jewish people. Sargon had taken Samaria and put an end to the Israelitish kingdom; that of Judah was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Thanks to its insular position, Tyre escaped the lot of Jerusalem, but the rest of Phoenicia and all northern Syria were subdued by Babylon.

In all this region the Semitic element had long been encroaching upon those other elements which had preceded and been associated with it at the commencement. In all Mesopotamia only one tongue was spoken and written, the tongue we now know as Assyrian, but should call Assyro-Chaldaean. The differences of dialect between north and south were of little importance, and the language in question is that of the inscriptions in both countries.

Another change requires to be mentioned. Our readers will remember the names of Ur, Erech, and many other cities which played a great part in the early history of the country, and were all capitals in turn. Babylon, however, in time acquired an unquestioned supremacy over them all. The residence of the Assyrian viceroys during the supremacy of the northern kingdom, it became the metropolis of the new empire after the fall of Nineveh. Without having lost either their population or their prosperity, the other cities sunk to the condition of provincial towns.

For some hundred years Babylon had been cruelly ill-treated by the Assyrians, and never-ending revolts had been the consequence. Nabopolassar began the work of restoration, and his son NEBUCHADNEZZAR, the real hero of the Second Chaldee Empire, carried it on with ardour during the whole of his long reign. "He restored the canals which united the Tigris to the Euphrates above Babylon; he rebuilt the bridge which gave a means of communication between the two halves of the city; he repaired the great reservoirs in which the early kings had caught and stored the superfluous waters of the Euphrates during the annual inundation. Upon these works his prisoners of war, Syrians and Egyptians, Jews and Arabs, were employed in vast numbers. The great wall of Babylon was set up anew; so was the temple of Nebo at Borsippa; the reservoir at Sippara, the royal canal, and a part at least of Lake Pallacopas, were excavated; Kouti, Sippara, Borsippa, Babel, rose upon their own ruins. Nebuchadnezzar was to Chaldaea what Rameses II. was to Egypt, and there is not a place in Babylon or about it where his name and the signs of his marvellous activity cannot be found."[80]

Nebuchadnezzar reigned forty-three years (604-561), and left Babylon the largest and finest city of Asia. After his death the decadence was rapid. A few years saw several kings succeed one another upon the throne, while a revolution was being accomplished upon the plateau of Iran which was destined to be fatal to Chaldaea. The supremacy in that region passed from the feeble and exhausted Medes into the hands of the Persians, another people of the same stock. The latter were a tribe of mountaineers teeming with native energy, and their strength had been systematically organized by a young and valiant chief, in whom they had full confidence because he had given them confidence in themselves. CYRUS began by leading them to the conquest of Media, Assyria, and Asia Minor, and by forcing the nations who dwelt between the southern confines of Persia and the mountains of Upper India to acknowledge his supremacy. Finally, he collected his forces for an attack upon Chaldaea, and, in 536, Babylon fell before his arms.

* * * * *

And yet Babylon did not disappear from history in a day; she was not destroyed, like Nineveh, by a single blow. Cyrus does not appear to have injured her. She remained, under the Persian kings, one of the chief cities of the empire. But she did not give up her habit of revolting whenever she had a chance, and DARIUS, the son of Hystaspes, tired of besieging her, ended by dismantling her fortifications, while XERXES went farther, and pillaged her temples. But the chief buildings remained standing. Towards the middle of the fifth century they excited the admiration of Herodotus, and, fifty years later, that of Ctesias. Strabo, on the other hand, found the place almost a desert.[81] Babylon had been ruined by the foundation of Seleucia, on the Tigris, at a distance of rather more than thirty miles from the ancient capital. Struck by the beauty of its monuments and the advantages of its site, ALEXANDER projected the restoration of Babylon, and proposed to make it his habitual residence; but he died before his intention could be carried out, and SELEUCUS NICATOR preferred to build a town which should be called after himself, and should at least perpetuate his name. The new city had as many as six hundred thousand inhabitants. Under the Parthians Ctesiphon succeeded to Seleucia, to be replaced in its turn by Bagdad, the Arab metropolis of the caliphs. This latest comer upon the scene would have equalled its predecessors in magnificence had the routes of commerce not changed so greatly since the commencement of the modern era, and, above all, had the Turks not been masters of the country. There can be no doubt that the next generation will see the civilization of the West repossess itself of the fertile plains in which it was born and nursed, and a railway carried from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Persian Gulf. Such a road would be the most direct route from Europe to India, and its construction would awake Chaldaea to the feverish activity of our modern life. Peopled, irrigated, and tilled into her remotest corners, she would again become as prolific as of old. Her station upon the wayside would soon change her towns into cities as populous as those of Nebuchadnezzar, and we may even guess that her importance in the future would reduce her past to insignificance, and would make her capital such a Babylon as the world has not yet seen.


[57] TH. NOELDEKE, Histoire litteraire de l'ancien Testament, French version. See chapter vii.

[58] This account of the fabulous origin of civilization in Chaldaea and Assyria will be found in the second book of BEROSUS. See Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum of Ch. MUeLLER, vol. i. fr. 4, 13. Book i. is consecrated to the cosmogony, Book iii. to the Second Chaldee Empire.

[59] Genesis xiv.

[60] F. LENORMANT, Manuel de l'Histoire ancienne, vol. ii. p. 24. SMITH (Assyrian Discoveries, p. 224) puts the capture of Susa in 645, and thus arrives at the date 2280 B.C.

[61] LENORMANT, Manuel de l'Histoire ancienne, vol. ii. p. 65, gives an account of the system under which special magistrates gave their name to each year, and of the lists which have been preserved.

[62] This was lately found at Bagdad after long being supposed to be lost. It is now in the British Museum.

[63] It was visited under the best conditions, and has been best described by W. KENNETH LOFTUS who was in it from 1849 to 1852. Attached as geologist to the English mission, commanded by Colonel, afterwards General Sir Fenwick Williams of Kars, which was charged with the delimitation of the Turco-Persian frontier, he was accompanied by sufficient escorts and could stay wherever he pleased. He was an ardent traveller and excellent observer, and science experienced a real loss in his death. The only work which he has left behind him may still be read with pleasure and profit, namely, Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana, with an Account of Excavations at Warka, the "Ereich" of Nimrod, and Shush, "Shushan the palace" of Esther, 8vo, London: 1857. The articles contributed by J. E. TAYLOR, English vice-consul at Bassorah, to vol. xv. of the Journal of the Asiatic Society (1855), may also be read with advantage. He passed over the same ground, and also made excavations at certain points in Lower Chaldaea which were passed over by Mr. Loftus. Finally, M. de Sarzec, the French consul at Bassorah, to whom we owe the curious series of Chaldaean objects which have lately increased the riches of the Louvre, was enabled to explore the same region through the friendship of a powerful Arab chief. It is much to be desired that he should give us a complete account of his sojourn and of the searches he carried on.

[64] LENORMANT, Manuel de l'Histoire ancienne, vol. ii. p. 30.

[65] J. MENANT, Inscriptions de Hammourabi, Roi de Babylone; 1863, Paris. These inscriptions are the oldest documents in phonetic character that have come down to us. See OPPERT, Expedition scientifique, vol. i. p. 267.

[66] KER PORTER, Travels in Georgia, Persia, etc., 4to., vol. ii. p. 390. LAYARD, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, p. 535. "Alexander, after he had transferred the seat of his empire to the east, so fully understood the importance of these great works that he ordered them to be cleansed and repaired and superintended the work in person, steering his boat with his own hands through the channels."

[67] This palace was the one called the North-western Palace.

[68] LAYARD, The Monuments of Nineveh, from Drawings made on the spot, Illustrated in one Hundred Plates (large folio, London: 1849), plates 53-56.

[69] It is now called the Central Palace at Nimroud.

[70] The chief work upon this period, the most brilliant and the best known in Assyrian history, is the Faites de Sargon of MM. OPPERT and MENANT (Paris: 1865).

[71] The palace occupied the whole of the south-western angle of the mound.

[72] MASPERO (Histoire ancienne, p. 431) refers us to the authors by whom the inscription, in which these relations between the kings of Lydia and Assyria are recounted, was translated and explained. The chief of these is George SMITH, who, in his History of Assurbanipal, has brought together and commented upon the different texts from which we learn the facts of this brilliant reign. The early death of this young scholar can never be too much regretted. In spite of his comparative youth he added much to our knowledge of Assyria, and, moreover, to him belongs the credit of having recognized the true character of the Cypriot alphabet.

[73] RAWLINSON, The Five Great Monarchies, vol. ii. p. 196.

[74] The Northern Palace.

[75] This library has always attracted the attention of Assyriologists, and the best preserved of its texts have been published at various times under the supervision of Sir Henry RAWLINSON and George SMITH. These texts have been translated into English, French, and German, and much discussed by the scholars of all three nations. The reader may also consult the small volume contributed by M. J. MENANT to the Bibliotheque oriental elzevirienne under the title: La Bibliotheque du Palais de Ninive. 1 vol. 18mo., 1880 Ernest Leroux.

[76] HERODOTUS, i. 106.

[77] HERODOTUS (i. 106) alludes to this capital event only in a word or two, in which he promises to give a more complete account of the whole matter in another work—en heteroisi logoisi—doubtless in that History of Assyria ("Assurioi logoi" i. 184) which was either never written or soon lost. Diodorus, who gives circumstantial details both of the coalition and the siege, dates it a century too early, changes all the names, and mixes up many fables with his recital (ii. 23-28). In forming a just idea of the catastrophe and of its date we have to depend chiefly upon the lost historians, such as Abydenus and Alexander Polyhistor, fragments of whose works have been preserved for us by Eusebius and Georgius Syncellus. See RAWLINSON, The Five Great Monarchies, etc., vol. ii. pp. 221-232.

[78] Nahum ii. 11; iii. 1, 7.

[79] LAYARD, Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. pp. 38-39. Discoveries, p. 655.

[80] MASPERO, Histoire ancienne, p. 506.

[81] STRABO, xvi. i. 5.

Sec. 6.—The Chaldaean Religion.

We know much less about the religion of Chaldaea than about that of Egypt. The religious monuments of Mesopotamia are much fewer than those of the Nile valley, and their significance is less clear. Their series are neither so varied nor so complete as those of the earlier civilization. Certain orders of subjects are repeated to satiety, while others, which would be more interesting, are completely absent.

It is in funerary inscriptions that the heart of man, touched by the mystery of the tomb, lays bare its aspirations with the greatest frankness and simplicity. Moved by the desire to escape annihilation on the one hand and posthumous sufferings on the other, it is there that he addresses his most ardent appeals to the supreme power, and allows us to arrive at a clear understanding of his ideas as to the action, the character, and the power of the divinity. At Memphis, Abydos, and Thebes, documents of this kind have been found in thousands, the figures accompanying them serving as commentaries upon their text, and helping us to clear up all doubts as to their nature. We thus have voices speaking from the depths of every Egyptian tomb; but the Chaldaean sepulchre is mute. It has neither inscriptions, nor bas-reliefs, nor paintings. No Assyrian burial-place has yet been found.

Dedications, phrases of homage to this or that divinity, the names and distinguishing epithets of the gods, all these have been met with in Mesopotamia; sometimes in situ, as artistic decorations, sometimes in engraved fragments of unknown origin. We may say the same of the different divine types. Sometimes we find them in monumental sculpture, more often on those seals which we call cylinders. But how obscure, incomplete, and poor such documents are in comparison with the long pages of hieroglyphs in which the Pharaohs address their gods or make them speak for themselves! How infinitely inferior in expression and significance to the vast pictures which cover the walls of the Theban temples and bring all the persons of the Egyptian pantheon before us in their turn! What hope is there that excavations in Chaldaea and Assyria will ever provide us with such remains as those groups of statues which fill our museums, in which the effigy of a single god is repeated hundreds of times with every variation of type, pose, and attribute given to it by the Egyptian theosophy? On the one hand, what abundance, we may say what super-abundance; on the other, what poverty, what gaping breaches in the chain of material history! Among the gods and genii, whose names have come down to us, how few there are whose images we can surely point to; and, again, what a small number of figures we have upon which we can put a name without fear of error!

To write the history of these beliefs is a difficult task, not only because the idols, as they would once have been called, are few, and the Chaldaeo-Assyrian inscriptions historical and narrative rather than religious and dogmatic, but also because the interpretation of the texts, especially of the most ancient, is much less advanced than that of the hieroglyphs. When documents in the old language, or at least written in the primitive ideographic characters, are attacked, the process is one of divination rather than of translation in the strict sense of the word.

Another difficulty has to be noticed; classic literature does little or nothing to help us in filling up these voids and dissipating the obscurities they cause. The Greeks were guilty of many errors when they attempted to understand and describe foreign religions, but their relations with the Egyptians and Phoenicians were so prolonged, and, towards the end, so intimate, that at last they did succeed in grasping some of the doctrine taught in the sanctuaries of Heliopolis and Thebes, of Byblos and Hierapolis. With their lively intellects they could hardly frequent the temples, examine the sacred images, and question the priests as to the national rites and ceremonies without discovering at least a part of the truth. It was not so with Chaldaea. Babylon was too far off. Until the time of Alexander's conquests the boldest travellers did no more than glance into its streets and monumental buildings, and by that time Nineveh had long ceased to exist. It was only under the first of the Seleucidae, when a Macedonian kingdom was established in the centre of Mesopotamia, that the curiosity of the Greeks led them to make inquiries similar to those they had pursued for some three centuries in the valley of the Nile. We cannot doubt that this desire for information arose among the followers of those princes themselves; many of them were very intelligent men; and when Berosus determined to write his history in Greek, he may have wished to answer the questions asked in his hearing by the Greek writers and philosophers; by those Alexandrians who were not all at Alexandria. Unfortunately, nearly the whole of his work has been lost.

At the end of a century and a half Babylon shook off Hellenism, and Mesopotamia fell into the hands of the Parthians. These people affected, in some degree, the poetry and arts of Greece, but at bottom they were nothing more than Oriental barbarians. Their capital, Ctesiphon, seems never to have attracted learned men, nor ever to have been a seat of those inquiries into the past of the older races in which the cultured cities of the Greek world took so great a pleasure. When Rome became the heir of Greece and the perpetuator of her traditions, we may believe that, under Trajan, she set about establishing herself in the country; but she soon found it necessary to withdraw within the Euphrates, and it was her loss when the Parthians fell from power to be succeeded in the lordship of Mesopotamia by the Sassanids.[82]

We see, then, that, with the exception of one short period, Chaldaea was what the Greeks called a barbarous country after the fall of its native royalty, and that it will help us little in our endeavour to grasp the nature and extent of its religious beliefs. The last of the Athenian philosophers, Damascius, has certainly left us some information as to the Babylonish deities which seems to have been taken from authentic sources.[83] This, together with a few fragments from the work of Berosus, is all that Hellenic tradition has handed down to us. There is nothing here which can be even remotely compared to the treatises upon Isis and Osiris and the Goddess of Syria preserved under the names of PLUTARCH and LUCIAN.

But we cannot enter upon the discussion of Chaldaean art without making an effort to describe the gist of the national religion and its principal personages. In every country the highest function of art is to translate the religious conceptions of its people into visible forms. The architect, the sculptor, the painter, each in his own fashion, carries out this idea; the first by the dimensions he gives to his temples, by their plan, and by the decoration of their walls; the second and third by their choice of feature, expression and attribute for the images in which the gods become visible to the people. The clearness and precision with which this embodiment of an idea is carried out will depend upon the natural aptitudes of the race and the assistance it receives from the capabilities of the materials at hand. Plastic creations, from their very nature, must always be inferior to the thought they are meant to express; by no means can they go beyond it. This truth is nowhere more striking than in the art of Greece. Fortunately we are there able to see how a single theme is treated, in the first place, in poetry,—the interpreter of the popular beliefs,—and afterwards in art; we can discover how Phidias and Praxiteles, to speak only of sculptors, treated the types created by Homer and Hesiod. In the case of Chaldaea we have no such opportunity. She has left us neither monuments of sacerdotal theology like those we have inherited in such countless numbers from Egypt, nor the brilliant imagery in which the odes and epics of the Greeks sketched the personalities of the gods. But even in Chaldaea art was closely united with religion, and, in spite of the difficulty of the task, the historian of art must endeavour to pierce the shadows that obscure the question, and discover the bond of union between the two.

Thanks to the more recently deciphered texts, we do know something of the religious rites and beliefs of the oldest nation that inhabited Mesopotamia and left its trace in history. Whether we call them Accads or Sumirs, or by both names at once, we know that to them the whole universe was peopled by a vast crowd of spirits, some dwelling in the depths of the earth, some in the sea, while others floated on the wind and lighted in the sky the fires of the day and night.[84]

As, among men, some are good and some bad, so among these spirits some were beneficent and others the reverse, while a third class was helpful or mischievous according as it was propitiated by offerings or irritated by neglect. The great thing was to know how to command the services of the spirits when they were required. The employment of certain gestures, sounds, and articulate words had a mysterious but irresistible effect upon these invisible beings. How the effect was produced no one asked, but that it was produced no one doubted. The highest of the sciences was magic, for it held the threads by which the denizens of the invisible world were controlled; the master of the earth was the sorcerer who could compel them to obey him by a nod, a form of words, or an incantation. We can form some idea of the practical results of such a system from what we know of the manners and social condition of those Turanian races in Asiatic Russia who profess what is called chamanism, and from the condition of most of the negro tribes and Polynesian islanders. Among all these people, who still remain in a mental condition from which the rest of the species has long escaped, we find the highest places occupied by priest-magicians. Now and then popular fury makes them pay cruelly for the ill-success of their conjurations, but as a rule their persons and the illimitable power ascribed to them inspire nothing but abject fear.

Fear is, indeed, the ruling sentiment in all religions in which a belief in spirits finds a place. A man can never be sure that, in spite of all his precautions, he has not incurred the displeasure of such exacting and capricious masters. Some condition of the bargain which is being perpetually driven with protectors who give nothing for nothing, may have been unwittingly omitted. "The spirits and their worshippers are equally selfish. As a general rule, the mischievous spirits receive more homage than the good ones; those who are believed to live close at hand are more dreaded than those at a distance; those to whom some special role is assigned are considered more important than spirits with a wider but less definite authority."[85]

There were, of course, moments when men turned with gratitude towards the hidden benefactor to whom they believed themselves indebted for some unhoped-for cure or unexpected success, when joy and confidence moved their hearts at the thought of the efficacious protection they had secured against future ills; but such moments were few and short. The habitual feeling was one of disquietude, we might almost say of terror, so that when the imagination endeavoured to give concrete forms to the beings in question, it figured them rather as objects of fear than love. The day arrived for art to attempt the material realization of the dreams which until then had been dimly seen in sleep or in the still more confused visions of the waking hours, and for this hideous and threatening features were naturally chosen. It is thus that the numerous figures of demons found in Chaldaea and Assyria, sometimes in the bas-reliefs, sometimes in the shape of small bronzes and terra-cottas, are accounted for. A human body is crowned with the head of an angry lion, with dog's ears and a horse's mane; the hands brandish long poignards, the feet are replaced by those of a bird of prey, the extended claws seeming to grasp the soil (Fig. 6). The gestures vary; the right arm is sometimes stretched downwards at full length, sometimes bent at the elbow, but the combination of forms, the character of the figure and its intention is always the same. We shall encounter this type again when we come to speak of Cappadocia.

This belief in spirits is the second phase that the primitive religion, which we studied in Egypt under the name of fetishism or animism, has to pass through.[86] In the beginning mere existence is confounded with life. All things are credited with a soul like that felt by man within himself. Such lifeless objects as stones and mountains, trees and rivers, are worshipped; so too are both useful and noxious animals.[87] Childish as it seems to us the worship of spirits is at least an advance upon this. It presupposes a certain power of reflection and abstraction by which men were led to conclude that intelligence and will are not necessarily bound up with a body that can be seen and touched. Life has been mobilized, if we may use such a phrase, and thus we arrive at polydemonism; by which we mean the theory that partitions the government of the world among a crowd of genii, who, though often at war among themselves, are always more powerful than man, and may do him much harm unless he succeeds in winning their help and good will.

The worship of stars is but one form of this religious conception. The great luminaries of night and day were of course invested with life and power by men who felt themselves in such complete dependence upon them.

So far as we can judge, the primitive form of fetishism left but feeble traces in the religion of civilized Chaldaea and Assyria. The signs are few of that worship of sacred stones which played such an important part among the Semites of the west, and even among the Greeks,[88] neither can we find that either fear or gratitude ever led to the worship of animals, the docile helpers or the redoubtable enemies of man, in the same degree as it did in Egypt. And yet Chaldaea and Assyria followed the example of Egypt in mixing up the forms of men with those of animals in their sacred statues. This we know both from the texts and the figured monuments. But it was not only in the budding art of a primitive population that such combinations were employed, and it was not only the inferior genii that were represented in such singular fashion. When, by the development of religion, the capricious and unruly multitude of spirits had been placed under the supremacy of a small number of superior beings, these, whom we may call the sovereign gods, were often figured with the heads of lions or eagles (see Fig. 8). Before any of these images had been found we already knew from Berosus what the deity was like by whom the first germs of art and letters had been sown upon the earth. "He had the whole body of a fish, but beneath his fish's head he had another head [that of a man], while human feet appeared below his fish's tail. He had also the voice of a man, and his images are yet to be found."[89] More than one sculptural type has been found answering to this description (see Fig. 9).

Why did art, in creating divine types, give such prominence to features borrowed from the lower animals? Was it impelled by mere inability to distinguish, by varieties of feature, form and attitude, between the different gods created by the imagination? Or must we look upon the attribution to this or that deity, of forms borrowed from the bull, the lion, or the eagle, as a deliberate act of symbolism, meant to suggest that the gods in question had the qualities of the animals of which their persons were partly made up? In order to arrive at a just conclusion we must, of course, take account both of the resistance of the material and of the facilities which a transparent system of allegory would give to the artist in the working out of his thought; we must also admit perhaps that the national intelligence had been prepared to look for and admire such combinations. It may have been predisposed towards them by the habits of admiration for the patient strength of the draught-ox and the destructive vigour of the eagle and the lion contracted during a long series of years.

Both historical analogy and the examination of sculptured types lead us to think that the tribes of Mesopotamia passed through the same religious phases as those of the Nile valley, but it would appear that the most primitive beliefs were less long-lived in Chaldaea than in Egypt, and that they were engraved less deeply upon the heart of the nation.

The belief in sorcery never died out in Chaldaea; up to the very last days of antiquity it never lost its empire at least over the lower orders of the people. As time passed on the priests joined the practice of astrology to that of magic. How the transition took place may readily be understood. The magician began by seeking for incantations sufficiently powerful to compel not only the vulgar crowd of genii to obedience, but also those who, in the shape of stars great and small, inhabited the celestial spaces and revealed themselves to man by the brilliance of their fires. Supposing him to be well skilled in his art his success would be beyond doubt so far as his clients were concerned.

Many centuries after the birth of this singular delusion even the Greeks and Romans did not refuse to believe that magic formulae had sometimes the powers claimed for them. "Incantation," cries an abandoned lover in Virgil, "may bring down the very moon from the sky:"

"Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam."[90]

Although simple minds allowed themselves to believe that such prodigies were not quite impossible, skilled men could not have failed to see that in spite of the appeals addressed to them by priests and magicians, neither sun nor moon had ever quitted their place in the firmament or interrupted their daily course. As the hope of influencing the action of the stars died away, the wish to study their motions grew stronger. In the glorious nights of Chaldaea the splendour of the sky stirred the curiosity as well as the admiration of mankind, and the purity of the air made observation easy. Here and there, in the more thickly inhabited and best irrigated parts of the plain, gentle mists floated over the earth at certain periods, but they were no real hindrance to observation. To escape them but a slight elevation above the plain was required. Let the observer raise himself a few feet above the tallest palm trees, and no cloud interposed to prevent his eyes from travelling from the fires that blazed in the zenith to the paler stars that lay clustered upon the horizon. There were no accidents of the ground by which the astronomer could lift himself above the smoke of cities or the mists hanging over the lakes and canals, and to make up for their absence the massive and many-storied towers which men began to construct as soon as they understood how to make bricks and set them, must soon have come into use. These towers were built upon artificial mounds which were in themselves higher than the highest house or palm. The platforms on their summits gave therefore the most favourable conditions possible for the interrogation of the heavens before the invention of the telescope.[91]

Thanks to the climate and to these great observatories which rose very early in Chaldaean history all over the plain, the skies could be read like an open book; and the Chaldaeans were fond of such reading, because it afforded them, as they thought, a sure means of predicting the future. They had no great belief in the power of their most formidable conjurations to affect the majestic regularity of the heavenly movements—a regularity which must have impressed each generation more strongly than the last, as it compared its own experience with the registered observations of those that had gone before it. But they could not persuade themselves that the powerful genii who guided those great bodies on their unending voyage could be indifferent to the destinies of man, and that there was no bond of union, no mysterious connection, between him and them. They pretended to discover this hidden bond. When a child uttered its first cry, an intimate relation, they declared, was established between the new life and some one of the countless bodies that people space. The impassive star, they said, governed the life and fortune of the mortal who, perhaps, ignorantly looked upon himself as his own master and the master of some of those about him. The future of each man was decided by the character of the star that presided at his birth, and according to the position occupied by it in the sky at the time of any important action of his life, that action would be fortunate in its issue or the reverse.[92] These statements contain the germ of all the future developments of astrology. Among all civilized peoples this imaginary science has at last fallen from its former repute. From the remotest antiquity down to the end of the sixteenth century, and, in some places, to a much later date, it enjoyed a rare power and prestige. Traces of these are yet to be found in more than one familiar expression recalling the beliefs and ideas that took shape in the plains of Mesopotamia long before the palaces of Babylon and Nineveh were raised upon the banks of its two great rivers.

Astrology could not fail to smooth the way for astronomy, its successor. In order to profit by the indications of the stars, it was necessary to foresee the positions they would occupy in the sky on a given day or hour. There are many undertakings which succeed only when they are carefully matured. If some great risk is to be run, it is not of much use to receive the advice and warnings of the stars at the last moment, when the decisive step has, perhaps, been made, and no retreat is possible. It would then be too late to think about the chances of success, and a sudden withdrawal from an action already begun or an equally sudden acceptance of a task for which no sufficient preparation had been made, would be the too frequent result.

There was only one mode of escaping such a danger or embarrassment as this, and that was, first, to arrive by repeated observation at an exact knowledge of the route followed by the stars across the sky, and of the rapidity of their march; secondly, to distinguish them one from another, to know each by its own name, to recognize its physiognomy, character, and habits. The first duty of the astrologer was to prepare such an inventory, and to discover the principle of these movements; then, and then only, would he be in a position to give a satisfactory answer to one asking where any particular star would be at the end of any specified number of days, weeks, or months. Thanks to such information, his client could fix upon some happy conjunction of the heavenly bodies, or at least avoid a moment when their influence would be on the side of disaster. In every undertaking of any importance the most favourable hour could be selected long before by the person chiefly concerned, the hour in which his star would be in the best quarter of the sky and in the most propitious relations with its neighbours.

The phenomena produced in Chaldaea by these studies have been repeated more than once in the history of civilization; they embody one of those surprises to which humanity owes much of its progress. The final object of all this patient research was never reached, because the relations upon which a belief in its feasibility was based were absolutely chimerical, but as a compensation, the accessory and preliminary knowledge, the mere means to a futile end, have been of incalculable value. Thus, in order to give an imposing and apparently solid basis to their astrological doctrines, the Chaldaeans invented such a numeration as would permit really intricate computations to be made. By the aid of this system they sketched out all the great theories of astronomy at a very early age. In the course of a few centuries, they carried that science to a point never reached by the Egyptians.[93]

The chief difficulty in the way of a complete explanation of the Chaldaean system of arithmetic lies in the interpretation of the symbols which served it for ciphers, which is all the greater as it would seem that they had several different ways of writing a single number. In some cases the notation varied according to the purpose of the calculation. A mathematician used one system for his own studies, and another for documents which had to be read by the public. The doubts attending the question are gradually being resolved, however, by the combined efforts of Assyriologists and mathematicians. At the beginning of their civilization the Chaldaeans did as other peoples have done when they have become dissatisfied with that mere rough opposition of unity to plurality which is enough for savage races, and have attempted to establish the series of numbers and to define their properties. "They also began by counting on their fingers, by fives and tens, or in other words by units of five; later on they adopted a notation by sixes and twelves as an improvement upon the primitive system, in which the chief element, the ten, could be divided neither into three nor four equal parts."[94] Two regular series were thus formed, one in units of six, the other in units of five. Their commonest terms were, of course, those that occur in both series. We know from the Greek writers that the Chaldaeans counted time by sosses of sixty, by ners of 600, and by sars of 3,600, years, and these terms were not reserved for time, they were employed for all kinds of quantities. The sosse could be looked at either as five twelves or six tens. So, too, with the ner (600) which represents six hundreds, or a sosse of tens, or ten sosses or fifty twelves. The sar may be analysed in a similar fashion.

A system of numeration was thus established which may be looked at from a double point of view; in the first place from its sexagesimal base, which certainly adapts itself to various requirements with greater ease than any other;[95] in the second from the extreme facility with which not only addition, but all kinds of complex calculations may be made by its use.[96]

With but two symbols, one for the units, the other for the tens, every number could be expressed by attending to a rule of position like that governing our written numeration; at each step to the left, a single sign, the vertical wedge, increased sixty-fold in value; the tens were placed beside it, and a blank in this or that column answered to our zero.

Founded upon a sexagesimal numeration, the metrical system of Babylon and Nineveh was "the most scientific of all those known and practised by the ancients: until the elaboration of the French metrical system, it was the only one whose every part was scientifically co-ordinated, and of which the fundamental conception was the natural development of all measures of superficies, of capacity, or of weight, from one single unit of length, a conception which was adopted as a starting point by the French commission of weights and measures."

The cubit of 525 millimetres was the base of the whole system.[97] We shall not here attempt to explain how the other measures—itinerary, agrarian, of capacity, of weight—were derived from the cubit; to call attention to the traces left in our nomenclature by the duodecimal or sexagesimal system of the Babylonians, even after the complete triumph of the decimal system, is sufficient for our purposes. It is used for instance in the division of the circle into degrees, minutes, and seconds, in the division of the year into months, and of the day into hours and their fractions.

This convenient, exact, and highly developed system of arithmetic and metrology enabled the Chaldaeans to make good use of their observations, and to extract from them a connected astronomical doctrine. They began by registering the phenomena. They laid out a map of the heavens and recognized the difference between fixed stars and those movable bodies the Greeks called planets—among the latter they naturally included the sun and the moon, the most conspicuous of them all both in size and motion, whose courses were the first to be studied and described. The apparent march of the sun through the crowded ranks of the celestial army was defined, and its successive stages marked by those twelve constellations which are still called the Signs of the Zodiac. In time even these observations were excelled, and it now appears certain that the Chaldaeans recognized the annual displacement of the equinoctial point upon the ecliptic, a discovery that is generally attributed to the Greek astronomers. But, like Hipparchus, they made faults of calculation in consequence of the defects of their instruments.[98]

It was the same with the moon. They succeeded in determining its mean daily movements, and when they had established a period of two hundred and twenty-three lunations, they contrived to foretell its eclipses. Eclipses of the sun presented greater difficulties, and the Chaldaeans were content with noting their occurrence. They were acquainted with the solar year of three hundred and sixty-five days and a quarter; they used it in their astronomical calculations; but their religious and civil year was one composed of twelve lunar months, alternately full and short, that is, of twenty-nine and thirty days respectively. The lunar and solar years were brought into agreement by an intercalary cycle of eight years.[99]

The assertion of the philosopher Simplicius has been called in question for very plausible reasons. Simplicius declares, upon the faith of Porphyrius, that Callisthenes sent from Babylon to his uncle Aristotle, a copy of Chaldaean observations dating back as far as 1903 years before the entry of Alexander into Mesopotamia, that is, to more than twenty-two centuries before our era.[100]

However this may be, all ancient writers are agreed in admitting that the Chaldaeans had begun to observe and record astronomical phenomena long before the Egyptians;[101] moreover the remains of those clay tablets have been found in various parts of Chaldaea and Assyria upon which, as Pliny tells us upon the authority of the Greek astronomer Epigenes, the Chaldaeans had inscribed and preserved the astronomical observations of seven hundred and eighty thousand years.[102] We need not dwell upon the enormity of this figure; it matters little whether it is due to the mistakes of a copyist or to the vanity of the Chaldaeans, and the too ready credulity of the Greeks; the important point is the existence of the astronomical tablets, and those Epigenes himself saw. The library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh included catalogues of stellary and planetary observations, among others the times of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, and the phases of the moon, for every day in the month.[103] Tablets have also been recently discovered giving the arrangement of the stars in the sky for each season and explaining the rule to be followed in the insertion of the intercalary months. Finally, a fragment of an Assyrian planisphere has been found in the palace of Sennacherib.[104]

Even if classic authors had been silent on the subject, and all the original documents had disappeared, we might have divined from the appearance of the figured monuments alone, how greatly the Chaldaeans honoured the stars and how much study and research they devoted to them; we might have guessed that they lived with their eyes fixed upon the firmament and upon the sources of light. Look at the steles that bear royal effigies, at the representations upon contracts and other documents of that kind (see Fig. 10), at the cylindrical or conical seals which have gravitated in thousands into our museums (Figs. 11 and 12); you will see a personage adoring a star, still oftener you will find the sun's disk and the crescent moon figured upon the field, with, perhaps, one or several stars. These images are only omitted upon reliefs that are purely narrative and historical, like most of those in the Assyrian palaces. Everywhere else, upon every object and in every scene having a religious and sacred character, a place is reserved for the symbols in question, if we may call them so. Their presence is evidence of the homage rendered by the Chaldaeans to the stars, and of the faith they placed in their supposed revelations. Further evidence to the same effect is given by the ancient writing, in which the ideogram for king was a star.

"The imaginations of the Egyptians were mainly impressed by the daily and annual circlings of the sun. In that body they saw the most imposing manifestation of the Deity and the clearest exemplification of the laws that govern the world; to it, therefore they turned for their personifications of the divine power."[105] The attention of the Chaldaeans, on the other hand, was not so absorbed, and, so to speak, lost, in the contemplation of a single star, superior though it was to all others in its power for good or ill, and in its incomparable splendour. They watched the sky with a curiosity too lively and too intelligent to permit of a willing sacrifice of all the stars to one. Samas, the sun, and Sin, the moon-god, played an important role in their religion and theology, but it does not appear that the gods of the other five planets were inferior to them in rank. If we accept the parallels established by the Greeks and Romans, these were Adar (Saturn), Merodach (Jupiter), Nergal (Mars), Istar (Venus), and Nebo (Mercury).

The chief atmospheric phenomena were also personified; of this we may give one example. All travellers in Chaldaea agree in their descriptions of those sudden storms which burst on the country from a clear sky, especially towards the commencement of summer. Without a single premonitory symptom, a huge, black water-spout advances from some point on the horizon, its flanks shooting lightnings and thunder. In a few minutes it reaches the traveller and wraps him in its black vapours; the sand-laden wind blinds him, the rain pours upon him in solid sheets; but he has hardly realized his position before the storm is past and the sun is again shining in the blue depths above. But for torn and overthrown tents and trees uprooted or struck by the electric fluid, a stranger to the country might almost believe himself to have been the sport of a dream.[106]

The force and suddenness of these visitations could hardly fail to impress the imagination of a people exposed to them, and it is not surprising that Mesopotamia had its god of storms and thunder. He, Raman, it is, perhaps, who is figured in the bas-relief from Nimroud reproduced below (Figs. 13 and 14),[107] in which a god appears bearing an axe in his right hand, and, in his left, a kind of faggot, whose significance might have escaped us but for the light thrown upon it by classic sculpture. The latter no doubt borrowed a well-known form from the east, and the object in question is nothing less than the thunderbolt given by Greek artists to their Zeus.

It was this adoration of the stars and planets that led by degrees to what we call polytheism. Man partitioned those terrible powers of nature of which he felt himself the sport, between a vast number of agents, between crowds of genii upon whose mercies he thought himself dependent, and whom he did his best to propitiate by gifts and to compel by magic. Little by little, intelligence perfected that work of abstraction and simplification by which all races but those who have stuck fast in the conceptions of their infancy have arrived at a single conclusion. Without ceasing to believe in the existence of genii, they invented the gods, a race of beings far more powerful, not only than short-lived man, but even than the confused army of demons, of those beings who enjoyed the control of not a few of the mysterious agencies whose apparent conflict and final accord are the causes of the life, movement, and equilibrium of the world.

When the intellect had arrived at this doctrine, calmness and serenity fell upon it. Each deity became a person with certain well-defined powers and attributes, a person who could not escape the apprehension and the appeals of mankind with the facility of the changing and fantastic crowd of demons. His dwelling-place could be pointed out to the faithful, whether it were in his own peculiar star, among the eternal snows upon the summits of the distant mountains, or near at hand, in the temple built for him by his worshippers. Such a deity could be approached like a sovereign whose honour and interest are bound up with his word. So long as by prayer, and still more by sacrifices, the conditions were observed on the suppliant's side, the god, invisible though he was, would do his duty and protect those with whom he had entered into an unwritten contract.

But in order to establish this mutual relationship between gods and men, it was necessary that the former should be brought within reach of the latter. With the development of the religious sentiment and of definite and clear ideas as to the gods, the plastic faculty was called upon for greater efforts than it had before made.

Something beside grimacing and monstrous images of genii was asked from it. Figures were demanded which should embody something of the nobility and majesty attributed to the eternal masters of the world. The divine effigy was the incarnation of the deity, was one of the forms in which he manifested himself, it was, as the Egyptians would say, one of his doubles. Such an effigy was required to afford a worthy frame for the supreme dignity of the god, and the house built by man's hands in which he condescended to dwell had to be such that its superior magnificence should distinguish it at a glance from the comparatively humble dwellings in which mortals passed their short and fugitive lives.

It was thus that the temples and statues of the gods took form when the various deities began to be clearly distinguished from one another, and, by a process of mental condensation, to acquire a certain amount of consistence and solidity. The Chaldaean temples, unlike those of Egypt and Greece, have succumbed to time, and the ancient texts in which they are described are short and obscure. Their ruins are little more than shapeless heaps of debris. In endeavouring to arrive at a clear understanding of the Chaldaean notions as to the gods, we are unable to study, as we did elsewhere, the forms of their religious edifices, with their plans, dimensions, and the instructive variety of decorative symbols and figures with which the sanctuary and its dependencies were overspread.

On the other hand a sufficient number of figures of the gods have come down to us. They abound upon small objects, such as cylinders, engraved stones, cones, scarabaei, the bezels of rings, terra-cotta tablets and statuettes. They are also found, though less frequently, among the debris of monumental sculpture, in the bas-reliefs of the Ninevite palaces, and even among certain figures in the round which have been recovered from the ruins of these latter buildings. We can therefore easily find out the particular attributes given by the artist as the interpreter of the national beliefs to those gods whose visible bodies it was his office to create; we can see what choice and combination of forms he thought best fitted to solve the problem presented to him. But as yet we are not in a position to put a name to each even of the figures that recur most frequently. In the case of Egypt there is no such difficulty: when we encounter the image of one of her gods upon the walls of a temple or in the cases of a museum, we can say without hesitation, "This is Osiris or Ptah," as the case may be, "Amen or Horus, Isis, Sekhet, or Hathor." It is not so with Chaldaea. Figures are there often found uninscribed, and even when an inscription is present it not seldom offers difficulties of interpretation which have not yet been cleared up; for the divine names are usually ideograms. Only a few have been identified beyond all doubt, those namely of which we have Hebrew or Greek transcriptions, preserving for us the real Chaldaean original; Ilou, Bel, Nisroch, Beltis, Istar, are examples of this. Hence it results that Assyriologists often feel no little embarrassment when they are asked to point out upon the monuments the figures even of those gods of whose names they are the least doubtful. The Assyrians and Chaldaeans, like other nations of antiquity, had what we should now call their figured mythology, but we are still imperfectly acquainted with it. Even for those whom we may call the most exalted personages of the Chaldaean Olympus, scholars have hardly succeeded in illustrating the texts by the monuments and explaining the monuments by the texts; and we are yet far from being able to institute a perpetual and standard comparison as we have done in the case of Egypt and still more in that of Greece, between the divine types as they appear in religious formulae and in the national poetry, and the same types when embodied by the imagination of the artist.

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