A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria, v. 1
by Georges Perrot
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A long time may elapse before a mythological gallery for Chaldaea, in which all the important members of the Mesopotamian pantheon shall take their places and be known by the names they bore in their own day, can be formed, but even now the principles upon which they were represented by art may be stated. The images of the various gods were built up in great part by the aid of combinations similar to those made use of in realizing the minor demons. A natural bent towards such a method of interpretation was perhaps inherited from the days in which the naive adoration of all those animals which help or hurt mankind formed a part of the national worship; again, certain animals were, by their shapes and constitution, better fitted than others to personify this or that quality which, in its fulness, was considered divine. It was natural, therefore, that the artist should, in those early days, have indicated the powers of a deity by forms borrowed from the strongest, the most beautiful, or the most formidable of animals. Nothing could suggest the instantaneous swiftness of a god better than the spreading wings of an eagle or vulture, or his destructive and irresistible power better than their beaks and talons, the horns and dewlap of the bull, or the mane and claws of the lion.

The sculptor had, therefore, a good reason for employing these forms and many others offered to him by the fauna of the regions he inhabited. He introduced them into his work with skill and decision, and obtained composite types by their aid which we may compare to those of Egypt. But there were some differences which deserve to be remembered. The human face received more consideration from the Mesopotamian sculptors than from those of Egypt. Except in the sphinxes and in two or three less important types the Egyptians, as our readers will remember, crowned a human body with the head of a snake, a lion, or a crocodile, an ibis or a hawk, and sometimes of a clumsy beast like the hippopotamus,[108] and their figures are dominated and characterized by the heads thus given to them. At Babylon and Nineveh the case is reversed. Animals' heads are only found, as a rule, upon the shoulders of those figures which are looked upon by common consent as genii rather than gods. In the latter a contrary arrangement prevails. They may have, like Dagon, a fish's tail hanging down their backs, or, like the colossal guardians of the king's palace, the body and limbs of a lion or bull with the wings of an eagle, but the head is that of a man and the sculptor has given it all the beauty he could compass. To this, we believe, there is but one exception—the eagle-headed god to whom Assyriologists have assigned the name of Nisroch. He seems to have occupied a high place among the Mesopotamian divinities (Fig. 8).

But the difference between the two systems does not end here. There are a few deities, such as Ptah, Osiris, and Amen, to whom the Egyptians gave a human form in its simple entirety; but even in such cases it was not reproduced in its native elegance and nobility. The extremities of Ptah and Osiris were enveloped in a kind of sheath, which made their figures look more like mummies than beings with the power of life and motion. It was not so in Chaldaea, as we shall see if we examine the procedure of the Mesopotamian artist when he had to figure the greater gods, those in whom the highest efforts of mental abstraction found concrete expression. Take, for instance, Nebo, the god of intelligence and prophecy, and Istar, the personification of the earth's fertility, of its power of creation and destruction and its inexhaustible energy. Nebo stands upright, his head covered with a horned tiara: his ample beard is gathered into three rows of close curls: he wears a long robe falling straight to the ground (Fig. 16). As for Istar, she is a young woman, nude, large-hipped, and pressing her breasts with her hands (Fig. 15). The awkwardness and rudeness which to some extent characterizes these figures is due to the inexperience of the artist; his intentions were good, but his skill was hardly equal to giving them full effect. His Nebo was meant to be as majestic as a king or high priest; his Istar is the spouse, the mother, the nurse; she is the goddess "who," as the inscriptions say,[109] "rejoices mankind," who, when fertilized by love, assures the duration and perpetuity of the species. It was this method of interpretation that was in later years to lead to those great creations of Greek art whose beauty is still the wonder of mankind. Between these Chaldaean figures and those of the Greek sculptors the difference was one of degree. The anthropomorphism of the Chaldees was franker than that of the Egyptians, and so far the art of Chaldaea was an advance upon that of Egypt, although it was excelled by the latter in executive qualities. The method to which it had committed itself, the diligent and passionate study of the human figure, was the royal road to all excellence in the plastic arts.

But our present business is to discover this people's real conceptions of its gods and to get a clear idea of their characteristic qualities. We shall not attempt, therefore, to show how most of them belonged to one of those divine triads which are to be found, it is believed, in Chaldaea as well as in Egypt: we shall not ask how these triads were subordinated, first, one to another, and secondly, to a single supreme being, who, in Mesopotamia as elsewhere, was in time perceived more or less clearly and placed at the head of the divine hierarchy. These triads are nearly always found in polytheistic religions, and that for sufficiently obvious reasons.

The most simple relationship offered by the organic world to the mind of man is the relationship of the sexes, their contrast, and the necessity for their union. Wherever religious conceptions spring up gods and goddesses are created together. All the forces divined by human intelligence are doubled into two persons, closely united, the one the complement of the other. The one has the active, the other the passive role. Egypt, Chaldaea, Greece, all had these divine couples; Apsou, or, as Damascius calls him, Apason and Tauthe; Anou and Antou, the Anaitis of the Greek writers; Bel and Belit, or Beltu, perhaps the Greek Mylitta; Samas, the sun, and Allat, the queen of the dead; Merodach (or Marduk) and Zarpanit, a goddess mother who protected unborn infants and presided at births; Nabou and Nana; Assur and Istar; Dumouzi and Istar. Precise details as to the status of these divinities are still wanting. Several among them seem to have been at one time endowed with a distinct individuality, and at other periods to have been almost indistinguishable from some other deity. They were without the distinct features and attributes of the inhabitants of Olympus, but we are left in no doubt as to the binary divisions of which we have been speaking.

The attraction of desire and the union of the sexes leads to the birth of the child; with the appearance of the latter the family is complete, and, with it, the type upon which the triple classification of the gods was founded. But even when we attempt to trace the composition of a single group and to assign his proper place to each of its members, the embarrassment is great. We find a single god sometimes filling, to all appearance, the role of husband and father, and sometimes that of the son; or a single goddess acting at different times as the wife and daughter of one and the same god. Some of these apparent contradictions must be referred to the want of certainty in our interpretation of the inscriptions, some to the floating quality of the conceptions to which they relate. It may never, perhaps, be possible to make out a complete list, or one which shall not be obnoxious to criticism on other grounds; moreover, the historian of art has no need to enter into any such discussion, or to give the details of a nomenclature as to which Assyriologists themselves have many doubts. It suffices that he should point out the multiplicity of couples and triads, the extreme diversity of deities, and thus indicate a reason for the very peculiar aspect of the cylinders and engraved stones of Chaldaea, for the complex forms of the gods, and for the multitude of varied symbols which encumber the fields of her sculptured reliefs. Some of the figures that crowd these narrow surfaces are so fantastic that they astonish the eye as much as they pique the curiosity (see Fig. 17).

The number of divine types and the consequent difficulties of classification are increased, as in Egypt, by the fact that every important town had its local deities, deities who were its own peculiar gods. In the course of so many centuries and so many successive displacements of the political centre of gravity, the order of precedence of the Mesopotamian gods was often changed. The dominant city promoted its own gods over the heads of their fellows and modified for a time which might be long or short, the comparative importance of the Chaldaean divinities. Sin, the moon god, headed the list during the supremacy of Ur, Samas during that of Larsam. With the rise of Assyria its national god, Assur, doubtless a supreme god of the heavens, acquired an uncontested pre-eminence. It was in his name that the Assyrians subdued all Asia and shed such torrents of blood. Their wars were the wars of Assur; they were undertaken to extend his empire and to glorify his name. Hence the extreme rigour, the hideous cruelty, of the punishments inflicted by the king on his rebellious subjects; he was punishing heretics and apostates.[110]

In the religious effusions of Mesopotamia, we sometimes find an accent of exalted piety recalling the tone of the Hebrew scriptures; but it does not appear that the monotheistic idea towards which they were ever tending, but without actually reaching it and becoming penetrated by its truth, had ever acquired sufficient consistence to stimulate the Chaldaean artist to the creation of a type superior in beauty and nobility to those of gods in the second rank. The fact that the idea did exist is to be inferred from the use of certain terms rather than from any mention of it in theological forms or embodiment in the plastic arts.

At Nineveh, Assur was certainly looked upon as the greatest of the gods, if not as the only god. Idols captured from conquered nations were sometimes restored to their worshippers, but not before they had been engraved with the words, "To the glory of Assur." Assur was always placed at the head of the divine lists. He is thought to be descended from Anou or Sin: but he was raised to such a height by his adoption as the national deity, that it became impossible to trace in him the distinguishing characteristics of his primary condition as a god of nature; he became, like the Jehovah of the Israelites, a god superior to nature. His attributes were of a very general kind, and were all more or less derived from his dignity as chief leader and father, as master of legions and as president in the assemblies of the gods. He was regarded as the supreme arbiter, as the granter of victory and of the spoils of victory, as the god of justice, as the terror of evil doers and the protector of the just. The great god of the Assyrians was, of course, the god of battles, the director of armies, and in that capacity, the spouse of Istar, who was no less warlike than himself. His name was often used, in the plural, to signify the gods in general, as that of Istar was used for the goddesses. No myth has come down to us in which he plays the principal part, a fact which is to be accounted for by his comparatively late arrival at a position of abstract supremacy.[111]

In the Babylon of the second Chaldee empire there was, it would seem, a double embodiment of the divine superiority, in Merodach, the warrior god, the god of royalty, and Nebo the god of science and inspiration. In Chaldaea the power of the priests and learned men did not yield before that of the monarch. And yet a certain latent and instinctive monotheism may be traced in its complex religion. There were, indeed, many gods, but one was raised above all the others, and, whether they turned to Merodach or Nebo, the kings loved to style themselves the worshippers of the "Lord of Lords," Bel Beli.[112]

Like Assur at Nineveh, this supreme deity was sometimes called, by abbreviation, Ilou, or god, a term which was employed, with slight variants, by every nation speaking a Semitic tongue.[113]

But in spite of their aspirations and the august role assigned to their Merodach, their Nebo, and their Assur, Chaldaea and Assyria succeeded no better than Egypt in giving a fit embodiment to the sovereign moderator of the universe, to the king and common parent of gods and men. Their art was without the skill and power required for the creation of an image which should be worthy of the mental idea. Neither the temples of Nineveh nor those of Babylon had an Olympian Jove.

Assur came nearer to the acquisition of a supreme and unique godhead than any of his rivals, but we do not know with any certainty what features were his in plastic representations. Some have recognized him in a group which often occurs on the historic bas-reliefs and cylinders, here floating over a field of battle, there introduced into some scene of adoration. You are at once struck by the similarity of the group in question to one of the commonest of Egyptian symbols—the winged globe on the cornice of almost every temple in the Nile valley. Long before they had penetrated as conquerors to Thebes and Memphis, the Assyrians may have found this motive repeated a thousand times upon the ivories, the jewels, the various objects of luxury which Phoenician merchants carried from the ports of the Delta to distribute over every neighbouring country.[114]

The Assyrians appropriated the emblem in question, sometimes with hardly a modification upon its Egyptian form (Fig. 18), but more often with an alteration of some significance. In the centre of the symbol and between the outspread wings, appears a ring, and, within it, the figure of a man draped in flowing robes and covered with a tiara. He is upright, in some cases his right hand is raised as if in prayer, while his left grasps a strong bow (Fig. 19); in others he is stretching his bow and about to launch a triple-headed arrow, which can be nothing but a thunderbolt.

The meaning attached to this plastic group by the Assyrians is made clear to us by the important place it held in the religious imagery of the Aryans of Media and Persia. These people, the last born of the ancient Asiatic world, borrowed nearly the whole of their artistic motives from their predecessors; they only modified their significance when the difference between their religious notions and those of the inventors required it. Now, we find this symbol upon the rocks of Behistan and Persepolis, where, according to texts the meaning of which is beyond a doubt, it represents Ahura-Mazda. The name has changed, but we may fairly conclude that the idea and intention remained the same. Both in Mesopotamia and in Iran this group was meant to embody the notion of a supreme being, the master of the universe, the clement and faithful protector of the chosen race by whom his images were multiplied to infinity.

* * * * *

In this rapid analysis of the beliefs held by the dwellers on the Tigris and Euphrates, we have made no attempt to discriminate between Chaldaea and Assyria. To one who looks rather to similarities than to differences, the two peoples, brothers in blood and language, had, in fact, but one religion between them. We possess several lists of the Assyrian gods and goddesses, and when we compare them we find that they differ one from the other both in the names and numbers of the deities inscribed upon them; but, with the exception of Assur, they contain no name which does not also belong to Chaldaea. Nothing could be more natural. Chaldaea was the mother-country of the Assyrians, and the intimate relations between the two never ceased for a day. Even when their enmity was most embittered they could not dispense the one with the other. Babylon was always a kind of holy city for the kings of Assyria; those among them who chastised the rebellious Chaldaeans with the greatest severity, made it a point of honour to sacrifice to their gods and to keep their temples in repair. It was in Babylon, at Borsippa, and in the old cities near the coast, that the priests chiefly dwelt by whom the early myths had been preserved and the doctrines elaborated to which the inhabitants of Mesopotamia owed the superiority of their civilization. The Assyrians invented nothing. Assur himself seems only to have been a secondary form of some Chaldaean divinity, a parvenu carried to the highest place by the energy and good fortune of the warlike people whose patron he was, and maintained there until the final destruction of their capital city. When Nineveh fell, Assur fell with her, while those gods who were worshipped in common by the people of the north and those of the south long preserved their names, their fame, and the sanctity of their altars.

The religion of Nineveh differed from that of Babylon, however, in minor particulars, to which attention has already been called.[115] A single system of theology is differently understood by men whose manner and intellectual bent are distinct. Rites seem to have been more voluptuous and sensual at Babylon than at Nineveh; it was at the former city that Herodotus saw those religious prostitutions that astonished him by their immorality.[116] The Assyrian tendency to monotheism provoked a kind of fanaticism of which no trace is to be found in Chaldaea. The Ninevite conquerors set themselves to extend the worship of their great national god; they sacrificed by hecatombs the presumptuous enemies who blasphemed the name of Assur. The sacrifice of chastity was in favour at Babylon, that of life seemed to the Assyrians a more effectual offering. A soldier people, they were hardened by the strife of centuries, by the perpetual hardships of the battlefield, by the never-ending conflicts in which they took delight. Their religious conceptions were, therefore, narrower and more stern, their rites more cruel than those of their southern neighbours. The civilization of Babylon was more refined, men gave themselves more leisure for thought and enjoyment; their manners were less rude, their ideas less rigid and conservative; they were more inclined towards intellectual analysis and speculation. So that when we find traces of the beliefs and useful arts of Mesopotamia on the coasts, and even among the isles, of the AEgaean, the honour of them must be given to Babylon rather than to Nineveh.


[82] The History of the Assyrians and Medes, which EUSEBIUS (Preparation evangelique, 1, 12, and 41) attributes to the writer whom he calls ABYDENUS, dates perhaps from the period when the Roman Empire turned its attention to the basin of the Euphrates and attempted to regain possession of it. The few extant fragments of this author have been collected in Ch. MUeLLER'S Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, vol. iv. p. 279. We know nothing as to when he lived, but he wrote in the Ionian dialect, as did ARRIAN in his book on India, and it would seem difficult to put him later than the second century. It is probable that his undertaking belonged to that movement towards research which began in the reign of Augustus and was prolonged to the last years of the Antonines.

[83] Damaskiou diadochou aporiai kai luseis peri ton proton archon (edition published by Kopp, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1826, 8vo), ch. 125. Ch. Emile RUELLE, Le Philosophe Damascius; Etude sur sa Vie et ses Ouvrages, suivie de neuf Morceaux inedits, Extraits du Traite des premiers Principes et traduits en Latin (in the Revue archeologique, 1861), fragments i. and ix.

[84] On this subject the reader should consult M. Fr. LENORMANT'S La Magie chez les Chaldeens et les Origines Accadiennes, Paris: 1874, 8vo. The English translation, dated 1877, or, still better, the German version published at Jena in 1878 (Die Magie und Wahrsagekunst der Chaldaeer, 8vo), will be found more useful than the French original. Both are, in fact, new editions, with fresh information.

[85] TIELE, Manuel de l'Histoire des Religions (Leroux, 1880, 8vo). In our explanation of the Chaldaeo-Assyrian religions we shall follow this excellent guide, supplementing it by information taken from another work by the same author, Histoire comparee des anciennes Religions de l'Egypte et des Peuples Semitiques—both from the Dutch.

[86] A History of Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. i. pp. 47-57.

[87] At Erzeroum Mr. LAYARD heard of some Kurdish tribes to the south-west of that place who, he was told, "are still idolatrous, worshipping venerable oaks, great trees, huge solitary rocks, and other grand features of nature." Discoveries, p. 9.

[88] Francois LENORMANT, Les Betyles (extracted from the Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, p. 12):—"The cuneiform inscriptions mention the seven black stones worshipped in the principal temple of Urukh in Chaldaea, which personify the seven planets." In the same paper a vast number of facts are brought together which show how widely spread this worship was in Syria and Arabia, and with what persistence it maintained itself, at least until the preaching of Islamism. It would be easy to show that it still subsists in the popular superstitions. As to this worship among the Greeks, see also the paper by M. HEUZEY, entitled, La Pierre sacree d'Antibes (Memoires de la Societe des Antiquaires de France, 1874, p. 99).

[89] BEROSUS, fragment 1. Sec. 3. in the Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum of CH. MUeLLER, vol. ii. p. 496.

[90] VIRGIL, Bucolics, viii. 69. See in the edition of Benoist (Hatchette, 8vo, 1876) passages cited from Horace and Ovid, which prove that the superstition in question was then sufficiently widespread to enable poets to make use of it without too great a violation of probability.

[91] This was very clearly seen by the ancients. It could not be put better than by Cicero: "Principio Assyrii, propter planitiem magnitudinemque regionum quas incolebant, cum caelum ex omni parte patens et apertum intuerentur, trajectiones motusque stellarum observaverunt."—De Divinatione, i. 1, 2.

[92] "Chaldaei ... diuturna observatione siderum scientiam putantur effecisse, ut praedeci posset quid cuique eventurum et quo quisque fato natus esset."—CICERO, De Divinatione, i. 1, 2.

[93] This has been clearly shown by LAPLACE in the Precis de l'Histoire de l'Astronomie, which forms the fifth book of his Exposition du Systeme du Monde (fifth edition). He gives a resume of what he believes to have been the chief results obtained by the Chaldaean astronomers (pp. 12-14 in the separate issue of the Precis 1821, 8vo). It would now, perhaps, be possible, thanks to recent discoveries, to give more precise and circumstantial details than those of Laplace.

[94] AURES, Essai sur le Systeme metrique assyrien, p. 10 (in the Recueil de Travaux relatifs a la Philologie et a l'Archeologie egyptiennes et assyriennes, vol. iii. Vieweg, 4to, 1881). We refer those who are interested in these questions to this excellent paper, of which but the first part has as yet been published (1882). All previous works upon the subject are there quoted and discussed.

[95] "Sixty may be divided by any divisor of ten or twelve. Of all numbers that could be chosen as an invariable denominator for fractions, it has most divisors."—FR. LENORMANT, Manuel d'Histoire ancienne, vol. ii. p. 177, third edition.

[96] AURES, Sur le Systeme metrique assyrien, p. 16. A terra-cotta tablet, discovered in Lower Chaldaea among the ruins of Larsam, and believed with good reason to be very ancient, bears a list of the squares of the fractionary numbers between 1/60 2 and 60/60 2, or 1/60, calculated with perfect accuracy (LENORMANT, Manuel, &c. vol. ii. p. 37). See also SAYCE, Babylonian Augury by means of Geometrical Figures, in the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. iv. p. 302.

[97] LENORMANT, Manuel, &c. vol. ii. p. 177, third edition.

[98] Ibid. p. 37.

[99] LENORMANT, Manuel, vol. ii. pp. 175, 178, 180. G. SMITH, Assyrian Discoveries (London, 1876, 8vo), pp. 451, 452. RAWLINSON, Ancient Monarchies, vol. i. pp. 100, 101, fourth edition. We know that the Astronomical Canon of Ptolemy begins with the accession of a king of Babylon named Nabonassar, in 747 B.C. M. Fr. LENORMANT thinks that the date in question was chosen by the Alexandrian philosopher because it coincided with the substitution, by that prince, of the solar for the lunar year. Astronomical observations would thus have become much easier to use, while those registered under the ancient system could only be employed after long and difficult calculations. A reason is thus given for Ptolemy's contentment with so comparatively modern a date. (Essai sur les Fragments cosmogoniques de Berose, pp. 192-197.)

[100] See the paper by M. T. H. MARTIN, of Rennes, Sur les Observations astronomiques envoyees, dit on, de Babylone en Grece par Callisthene, Paris, 1863.

[101] The texts to this effect will be found collected in the essay of M. Martin. We shall be content here with quoting a phrase from Cicero which expresses the general opinion: "Chaldaei cognitione siderum sollertiaque ingeniorum antecellunt." De Divinatione, i. 91.

[102] PLINY, Natural History, vii. 57, 3. The manuscripts give 720, but the whole context proves that figure to be far too low, neither does it accord with the writer's thought, or with the other statements which he brings together with the aim of showing that the invention of letters may be traced to a very remote epoch. The copyists have certainly omitted an M after the DCCXX. Sillig, following Perizonius has introduced this correction into his text.

[103] LENORMANT, Manuel, &c. vol. ii. p. 175.

[104] G. SMITH, Assyrian Discoveries, p. 407.

[105] LENORMANT, Manuel, &c. vol. ii. p. 181.

[106] LAYARD, Nineveh and its Remains, vol. i. p. 124. These storms hardly last an hour.

[107] Some Assyriologists believe this to represent Merodach.

[108] History of Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. i. pp. 56, 57, and figs. 39-45.

[109] RAWLINSON, The Five Great Monarchies, &c. vol. i. p. 139.

[110] TIELE, Histoire comparee des anciennes Religions de l'Egypte et des Peuples Semitiques, translated by Collins, p. 222. The first volume of an English translation, by James Ballingal, has been published in Truebner's Oriental Series.—ED.

[111] Ibid. p. 224.

[112] TIELE, Histoire, &c. p. 237.

[113] Hence the name Babylon, which has been handed down to us, slightly modified, by classic tradition. The true Chaldaean form is Bab-Ilou, literally "The Gate of God."

[114] History of Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. ii. pp. 399-400 and figs. 311-313.

[115] TIELE, Manuel, &c. pp. 77, 78.

[116] HERODOTUS, i. 99.

Sec. 7.—The People and Government.

We have already explained how it is that the religions of Chaldaea and Assyria are less well known to us than that of Egypt; the insufficiency of our knowledge of the political and social organization of the two kingdoms is to be explained by the same reasons. The inscriptions, prolix enough on some subjects, hardly touch on others that would be much more interesting, and, moreover, their interpretation is full of difficulty. The Greek travellers knew nothing of Nineveh, while their visits to Babylon were paid in its years of decadence. They seem to have been chiefly struck with the sort of sacerdotal caste to which they gave the name of Chaldaioi.

The origin of this priestly corps has been much discussed. Some see in it the descendants and heirs of the primitive population, of those whom they believe to have been Turanians; others believe them to have been Semitic immigrants, coming from the north and bringing with them arts and doctrines of which they constituted themselves the guardians and expounders in the new country. We are hardly qualified to take part in the controversy. It is certain, on the one hand, that the influence of these quasi-clergy began to make itself felt at a remote period in the national history, and, on the other, that they had become, like the population that bowed before them, Semitic both in race and language at a very early date. The idiom employed by the Chaldaeans belongs to the same family of languages as Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaean; their gods are to be found, with slight modifications of name and attributes, from Yemen in the south to the north of Syria and as far west as the table-land of Cappadocia.

It is, no doubt, upon the authority of Ctesias, his favourite guide in matters of oriental history, that Diodorus talks of the Chaldaeans. Ctesias may have seen them at Babylon, in the exercise of their functions, in the time of Artaxerxes Mnemon. "The Chaldaeans," writes the historian, "are the most ancient Babylonians ... (and) hold the same station and dignity in the commonwealth as the Egyptian priests do in Egypt; for, being deputed to divine offices, they spend all their time in the study of philosophy, and are especially famous for the art of astrology. They are mightily given to divination, and foretell future events, and employ themselves either by purifications, sacrifices, or other enchantments to avert evils, or procure good fortune and success. They are skilful, likewise, in the art of divination by the flying of birds, and interpreting of dreams and prodigies; and are reputed as the oracles (in declaring what will come to pass) by their exact and diligent viewing of the entrails of the sacrifices. But they attain not to this knowledge in the same manner as the Greeks; for the Chaldaeans learn it by tradition from their ancestors, the son from the father, who are all in the meantime free from all other public offices and attendances; and because their parents are their tutors, they both learn everything without envy, and rely with more confidence upon the truth of what is taught them; and being trained up in this learning from their very childhood, they become most famous philosophers, being at the age most capable of learning."[117]

Centuries were required for the growth of such a corporation and for the firm establishment of its power upon a well-knit system of rites and doctrines. The institutions described by Ctesias would hardly show any sensible change from those in force in the same country before the Persian conquests. In their double character of priests and astrologers the Chaldaeans would enjoy an almost boundless influence over both kings and private individuals; the general belief in their powers of divination made them in a sense the masters and arbiters of every destiny. Under the national kings "members of their caste led the national armies and occupied all the chief posts in the kingdom." The royal houses that succeeded one another at Babylon sprang from their ranks both in the days of vassalage to Assyria and in those of full independence. Their hierarchy was headed by an archimagus; we do not know his title in the national language, but we do know that, after the king, he was the chief person in the empire. He accompanied the sovereign wherever he went, even to the wars, in order to regulate his actions according to the rules of his art and the indications of the heavens. When the king died and his successor was not on the spot to assume the reins of government, the archimagus was regent during the interregnum, as, for instance, between the death of Nabopolassar and the accession of Nebuchadnezzar.[118]

The almost theocratic character of this regime had both its advantages and its inconveniences. These priests were the savants of their time. The honours that were paid to them must have had their effect in stimulating intellectual culture and material well being, but, on the other hand, the constant intervention of a sacerdotal body in public affairs could not but do something to enfeeble the military spirit and the energy and responsibility of the commanders. Not that the priests were less penetrated by the national sentiment than their fellow countrymen. Proud of their ancient traditions and of the superiority of their science, they added contempt to the detestation they felt for a foreign master, whether he came from Babylon or Susa. The priests were the ringleaders in those risings against Assyria, and, in later years, against Persia, which cost Babylon so dearly. Once only was the success they promised achieved, and that was in the time of Nabopolassar, when Nineveh was exhausted by its long succession of wars and victories. On every other occasion the upper hand remained with races less instructed, indeed, and less refined, but among whom the power concentrated in the hands of the sovereign had been utilized to drive all the vital forces of the kingdom into the practice of war and preparation for it.

On the other hand, Babylon enjoyed certain elements of prosperity and guarantees of a long national existence which were wanting to those rivals under whose yoke she had more than once to pass. The ruling classes in Chaldaea were quicker in intellect and far better educated than elsewhere. Their country lent itself to a wide and well-organised system of cultivation better than the hilly districts of Assyria or the narrow valleys and sterile plains of Iran. Communication was more prompt and easy than among the terraces which rise one above another from the left bank of the Euphrates up to the high lands of Persia and Media: in order to pass from one of these terraces to another, the bare rock has to be climbed in a fashion that brings no little danger to the traveller and his patient beasts of burden.[119] In Chaldaea, on the other hand, the proximity of the two rivers to each other, and the perfect horizontality of the soil, make the work of irrigation very easy. The agriculturists were not exposed to the danger of a complete failure of crops, a misfortune which overtook the upper regions of Mesopotamia often enough. There the Euphrates and Tigris are wide apart, and the land between them is far from being a dead level. Many districts had to depend almost entirely upon the rainfall for irrigation. Again, when it was a question of journeying from one city to another or transporting the produce of the fields, the Chaldaean could choose between the land routes that lay along the banks of the canals, or the waterways that intersected each other over the whole surface of the country. In these days the journey between Bagdad and Bassorah, a distance of some three hundred miles, involves a long detour to the east along the foot of the mountains, in order to avoid impassable marshes and bands of wandering Arabs devoted to murder and pillage. The flat country is infested with mounted brigands who strip unprotected travellers, but in ancient times it swarmed with traffic, every road was encumbered with the movements of merchandise and the march of caravans, the fields were crossed in every direction by canals, and the tall sails of the boats that moved between their banks rose over the waving crops as they do to-day in the deltas of the Meuse and the Rhine, for Chaldaea was a southern Holland.

The incomparable situation of Babylon was sure to lead to great industrial and commercial activity in spite of any shortcomings in her rulers. She stood in the centre of a marvellously fertile region, between upper and western Asia. Two great rivers were at her doors, bringing her, without cost or effort, the products of their upper basins, while, on the other hand, they placed her in easy communication with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The merchants of Babylon had communication with the people of the Levant by easy and well-worn roads crossing the fords of the middle Euphrates. Less direct roads farther to the north were used nearly as much. Some of these traversed the Cilician passes, crossed the Amanus and Taurus into the plateau of Asia Minor, and ended at the coasts of the AEgaean and the Euxine; others passed through Assyria into Media, and through the Caspian passes up to the central plateau of Asia and into distant Bactria, whence easy passes led down into the upper valley of the Indus. Babylon was thus an entrepot for caravans both from the east and west, and for navigators coming from the ports of Africa, Arabia, and India.

There are, if we may use the expression, natural capitals and capitals that are artificial. The sites of the first are determined by the configuration of the earth. When they perish it is but a temporary death, to be followed by a life often more full and brilliant than the first. The second owe their prosperity to the caprice of a sovereign, or to political combinations that pass away and leave no trace. Thebes and Nineveh were artificial cities; both have disappeared and left behind them nothing but their ruins; they have been replaced only by villages and unimportant towns. On the other hand, Memphis lives again in Cairo, and, when the depopulation of Babylon was complete, Seleucia and Ctesiphon, Kouffa and Bagdad sprang up to carry on her work.

The centre of a refined civilization and of wide-stretching commercial relations, Babylon could not have been without an original art, and one marked with the peculiar characteristics of the national genius. Unhappily, the materials at her command were far inferior to those of which the Egyptians and Greeks could dispose. From this it has resulted that, on the one hand, her productions never passed a certain level of excellence, and, on the other, that they have been ill preserved. The Babylonians were not among those happy peoples whose artists could exercise their tools upon the one material that gives birth to great sculptors and great architects—a stone soft enough to yield kindly to the chisel, but hard enough to preserve to eternity the suggestive forms impressed upon it by the hand of man.

Our knowledge, therefore, of Chaldaean art will bear no comparison with what we have discovered as to the art of Egypt and Greece, of Etruria and Rome. So far as we can form a judgment from the remains that have come down to us, it was an art much less varied and comprehensive than that of Egypt. The tombs of Memphis and Thebes, with their pictured walls, reflect, as in a faithful mirror, the most interesting and most amusing of all spectacles, the daily life of the oldest of all civilized societies. In Chaldaea there is nothing of the kind. The Chaldaean tomb gives us, by its arrangement and furnishing, glimpses of a faith similar at bottom to that of Egypt, but we find nothing parallel to the representations of daily work and pleasure which fill the mastabas and the Theban sepulchres; there is nothing that can be compared to those animated forms and images that play over again on the tomb walls the long drama of a hundred acts whose first performance occupied so many centuries and filled a stage stretching from the swamps of the Delta to the cataracts of Syene. We are more especially grateful to these funerary scenes for handing down to us, in a safe niche in the temple of the arts, those poor and humble folk who count for so little in this world where they bear the heaviest burdens, who depend for remembrance after death upon the services they render to the great. We shall search in vain among the scanty remnants of Babylonian sculpture for the attitude, gestures, and features of the laborious workmen upon whom the prosperity of the country was built. We shall find neither the tradesmen and artisans of the towns, nor the agriculturists who cultivated the fields and gave them the water for which they never ceased to thirst. No hint is given of those fishermen of the Persian Gulf who lived entirely, according to Herodotus, upon dried fish ground to powder and made into a kind of cake.[120] The naive, picturesque, and anecdotic illustrations of common life, which are so plentiful in Egypt, are almost completely wanting to the art of Chaldaea.

On the other hand, we find, as we might have expected from what we know of Chaldaean society, continual traces of the sacerdotal spirit, and of the great part played by the king with the help and under the tutelage of the priesthood. Upon the walls of palaces, temples, and towns, on the statuettes of bronze and terra-cotta which were buried under the thresholds of buildings and placed as votive offerings in the temples, upon cylinders and engraved stones, we find only complex and varied emblems, fantastic and symbolic forms, attitudes suggestive of worship and sacrifice (Figs. 20 and 21), images of gods, goddesses, and secondary genii, princes surrounded with royal pomp and offering their homage to the deity. Hence a certain poverty and monotony and the want of recuperative power inseparable from an absorbed contemplation of sacred types and of a transcendental world.


Assyrian society was different in many respects from that of Chaldaea. The same gods, no doubt, were adored in both countries, and their worship involved a highly-placed priesthood; but at Nineveh the royal power rested on the army, and the initiative and independence of the sovereign were much greater than in the case of Babylon. Assyria was a military monarchy in the fullest sense of the word. Almost as often as the spring came round the king led his invincible legions to the conquest of new subjects for Assur. He traversed deserts, crossed trackless mountain chains, and plunged into forests full of hidden dangers. He destroyed the walls and towers of hostile cities, in spite of the rain of arrows, stones, and boiling pitch that poured upon himself and his hosts; he was at once the skilful captain and the valiant soldier, he planned the attack and never spared himself in the melee. First in danger, he was the first in honour. In person he implored the good will of the god for whom he braved so many dangers, in person he thanked him for success and presented to him the spoils of the conquered enemy. If he was not deified, like the Pharaohs, either alive or after his death, he was the vicar of Assur upon earth, the interpreter of his decrees and their executor, his lieutenant and pontif, and the recipient of his confidences.[122]

There was no room by the side of this armed high priest for a sacerdotal caste at all equal to him in prestige. The power and glory of the king grew with every successive victory, and in the vast empire of the Sargonids, the highest places were filled by men whom the monarch associated with himself in the never-ending work of conquest and repression. First of all came a kind of grand vizier, the Tartan, or commander-in-chief of the royal armies. This is the personage we so often find in the bas-reliefs facing the king and standing in an attitude at once dignified and respectful (see Fig. 22). Next came the great officers of the palace, the ministers as we should call them in modern parlance, and the governors of conquered provinces. Eunuchs were charged with the supervision of the harem and, as in the modern East, occupied high places at court. They may be recognized in the bas-reliefs, where they are grouped about the king, by their round, beardless faces (see Figs. 23 and 24). The Kislar-Aga is, in the Constantinople of to-day what more than one of these personages must have been in Nineveh. Read the account given by Plutarch, on the authority of Ctesias, of the murderous and perfidious intrigues that stained the palace of Susa in the time of Artaxerxes-Mnemon. You will then have some idea of the part, at once obscure and preponderant, that the more intelligent among these miserable creatures were able to play in the households of the great conquerors and unwearied hunters by whom the palaces at Khorsabad, Kouyundjik, and Nimroud, were successively occupied.

All these military officers and administrators, these priests of the different gods, and the domestics who were often the most powerful of all, looked to the hand of the king himself and depended upon no other master. Courage and military talent must have been the surest roads to advancement, but sometimes, as under the Arab caliphs and the Ottoman sultans, the caprice of the sovereign would lead him to raise a man from the lowest ranks to the highest dignities of the state. The regime of Assyria may be described in the words applied to that of Russia, it was despotism tempered with assassination. "And it came to pass, as he (Sennacherib) was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead."[123] Sennacherib's father, Sargon, perished in the same fashion.

These murders were, perhaps, the revenge for some outrage or punishment imprudently inflicted in a moment of anger; but however that may have been, neither in the one case nor the other did they hinder the legitimate heir from succeeding his father. Sennacherib replaced Sargon, and Esarhaddon Sennacherib. The Assyrian supremacy was only supported by the constant presence, at the head of the army, of a king ready for every eventuality; a few weeks of anarchy or interregnum would have thrown the whole empire into confusion; the royal power was the keystone of the arch, the element upon which depended the stability of a colossal edifice subjected to various strains. In such a society, art could hardly have had a mission other than the glorification of a power without limit and without control—a power to which alone the Assyrians had to look for a continuance of their dearly-won supremacy. The architect, the sculptor, and the painter, exhausted the resources of their arts, the one in building a palace for the prince on a high mound raised to dominate the surrounding plain, the others in decorating it when built and multiplying the images of its almost divine inhabitant. The exploits of the sovereign, his great and never-ending achievements as a conqueror and destroyer of monsters, as pontif of Assur and the founder of palaces and cities—such are the themes to which Assyrian sculpture devoted itself for many centuries, taking them up and varying them in countless ways, and that, apparently, without any fear that he for whom the whole work was intended would ever grow weary of the repetition.

Such themes presuppose the actual occurrence of the events represented and the artists' realization either from personal observation or from descriptions. This gives rise to a very sensible difference between Chaldaean sculpture and that of Assyria, so far at least as the latter is to be studied in the decorations of a palace. In those characteristics and qualities of execution which permit of a definition, the style is no doubt the same as in Chaldaea. The artists of Babylon and those of Nineveh were pupils in one school—they saw nature with the same eyes; the same features interested and attracted the attention of both; they had the same prejudices and the same conventions. The symbols and combinations of forms we have noticed as proper to Chaldaean art are here also; scenes of invocation to gods and genii; ornamental groups and motives. An instance of the latter is to be found in the rich embroidery with which the robes of the Assyrian kings are covered.[124] Finally, we must remember that all Assyrian art was not included in the adornment of the palace. Before a complete and definite judgment can be formed upon it the monuments of religious and industrial art should be passed under review, but, unhappily, no temple interior, and a very small number of objects of domestic luxury and daily use, have come down to us. These gaps are to be regretted, but we must not forget that the bas-reliefs were ordered by the king, that the thousands of figures they contain were introduced for the sake of giving eclat to the power, the valour, and the genius of the sovereign, and that the best artists of which Assyria could boast were doubtless entrusted with their execution. Under the reserves thus laid down we may, then, devote ourselves to the study of the Ninevite sculptures that fill the museums of London and Paris; we may consider them the strongest and most original creations of Assyrian art.

Now the sculpture upon the alabaster slabs with which the palace walls of Shalmaneser and Sargon, of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, were covered, confines itself mainly to marches, combats, and sieves, it is more realistic than the sculpture of Chaldaea, a country that had done less, especially upon fields of battle, but had invented more and done more thinking than its bellicose rival. We owe no small debt of gratitude to the swordsmen of Assyria, in spite of the blood they shed and the horrible cruelties they committed and delighted in seeing commemorated in the figured histories of their reigns. The works entrusted to their artists have left us precious documents and the elements for a restoration of a vanished world. Philologists may take their time over the decipherment of the texts inscribed on the reliefs, but the great people of prey who, for at least four centuries, pillaged all Asia without themselves becoming softened by the possession of so much accumulated wealth, live, henceforward, in the long series of pictures recovered for the world by Layard and Botta. The stern conquerors reappear, armed, helmeted, and cuirassed, as they passed before the trembling nations thirty centuries ago. They are short of stature, but vigorous and sturdy, with an exceptional muscular development. They were, no doubt, prepared for their military duties from infancy by some system of gymnastic exercises, such as have been practised by other nations of soldiers. Their noses are high and hooked, their eyes large, their features as a whole strongly Semitic (see Fig. 25).

The moral character of the people is shown with no less clearness. The ferocity they preserved amid all the luxurious appliances of their civilization is commemorated. Atrocities of every kind find a place in the reliefs. Among the prisoners of war the most fortunate are those led by a cord passed through their lips. Others are mutilated, crucified, flayed alive. Tiglath Pileser II. is shown to us besieging a city, before whose walls he has impaled three prisoners taken from the defenders (see Fig. 26). Elsewhere we find scribes counting over heaps of heads before paying the price for them.[125] When these had come from the shoulders of important enemies they were carried in procession and treasured as honourable trophies. In one relief we find Assurbanipal, after his return to Nineveh from the subjugation of the southern rebels, lying upon a luxurious couch in the garden of his harem and sharing a sumptuous meal with a favoured wife. Birds are singing in the trees, an attendant touches the harp, flowers and palms fill the background, while a head, the head of the Elamite king, whom Assurbanipal conquered and captured in his last campaign, hangs from a tree near the right[126] of the scene (see Figs. 27 and 28). The princes who took pleasure in these horrors were scrupulous in their piety. We find numberless representations of them in attitudes of profound respect before their gods, and sometimes they bring victims and libations in their hands (see Fig. 29). Thus, without any help from the inscriptions, we may divine from the sculptures alone what strange contrasts were presented by the Assyrian character—a character at once sanguinary and voluptuous, brutal and refined, mystical and truculent.

It is not only by what it says, it is by what it leaves untold, by what it forgets to tell, that art has left us such a sincere account of this singular nation. The king and his lieutenants, his ministers and household officers, the veterans who formed the strength of his legions and the young men from whom their numbers were recruited, did not constitute the whole of the Assyrian nation. There were also the tillers of the soil, the followers of those countless trades implied by a civilized society—the peasants, artisans, and merchants of every kind, who fed, clothed, and equipped the armies; the men who carried on the useful but modest work without which the fighting machine must soon have come to a standstill. And yet they are entirely absent from the sculptures in which the artist seems to have included everything that to him seemed worthy of interest. We meet them here and there, but only by accident. They may be descried now and then in the background of some scene of war, acting as labourers or in some other humble capacity. Otherwise the sculptor ignored their existence. They were not soldiers, which was much as to say they were nothing. Can any other instance be cited of an art so well endowed entirely suppressing what we should call the civil element of life? Neither do we find women in the bas-reliefs: that in which the queen of Assurbanipal occurs is quite unique in its way. Except in scenes representing the capture of a town and the carrying off of its inhabitants as prisoners of war, females are almost entirely wanting. On those occasions we sometimes find them carried on mules or in chariots (see Figs. 30 and 31). In certain bas-reliefs of Assurbanipal, treating of his campaign against Susa, women are playing the tambourine and singing the king's praises. But all these are exceptions. Woman, whose grace and beauty were so keenly felt by the Egyptians, is almost completely absent from the sculpture of Assyria.

By thus limiting its scope, sculpture condemned itself to much repetition and to a uniformity not far removed from sameness; but its very silences are eloquent upon the inhuman originality of a system to which Assyria owed both the splendour of her military successes and the finality of her fall. The great entrenched camp, of which Nineveh was the centre, once forced; the veteran ranks, in which constant war, and war without quarter, had made such wide gaps, once broken, nothing remained of the true Assyria but the ignorant masses of a second-class state to whom a change of masters had little meaning, and a few vast buildings doomed soon to disappear under their own ruins.

When we have completed our examination of Assyrian sculpture, so rich in some respects, so poor in others, we shall understand the rapidity with which silence and oblivion overtook so much glory and power; we shall understand how some two centuries after the victory of Nabopolassar and the final triumph of Babylon and her allies, Xenophon and his Greeks could mount the Tigris and gaze upon the still formidable walls of the deserted cities of Mespila and Larissa without even hearing the name of Nineveh pronounced. Eager for knowledge as they were, they passed over the ground without suspecting that the dust thrown up by their feet had once been a city famous and feared over all Asia, and that the capital of an empire hardly less great than that of the Artaxerxes whom they had faced at Cunaxa, had once covered the ground where they stood.


[117] DIODORUS, ii. 29.

[118] Fr. LENORMANT, Manuel de l'Histoire ancienne de l'Orient, vol. ii. p. 252.

[119] LOFTUS, Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana, p. 309. The Greeks gave the appropriate name of klimakes to those stepped roads that lead from the valley and the sea coast to the high plains of Persia.

[120] HERODOTUS, i. 200. A similar article of food is in extensive use at the present day in the western islands of Scotland, and upon other distant coasts where the soil is poor.—ED.

[121] Upon the subject of this cylinder, in which George Smith wished to recognize a representation of Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent, see M. JOACHIM MENANT'S paper entitled, La Bible et les Cylindres Chaldeens (Paris, 1880, Maisonneuve, 8vo). M. Menant makes short work of this forced interpretation and of several similar delusions which were beginning to win some acceptance.

[122] Upon the sacred functions of the king, see LAYARD, Nineveh, vol. ii. p. 474.

[123] 2 Kings xix. 37.

[124] LAYARD, The Monuments of Nineveh (folio, 1849), plates 43-50.

[125] LAYARD, A Second Series of the Monuments of Nineveh (folio, 1853), plates 26 and 27. The scribes in question seem to be writing upon rolls of leather.

[126] Throughout this work the words "right" and "left" refer to the right and left of the cuts, not of the reader. By this system alone can confusion be avoided in describing statues and compositions with figures.—ED.



Sec. 1.—Materials.

Chaldaea was the cradle of the civilization, and consequently of the art, whose characteristics we have to define. Now the soil of Chaldaea to a great depth beneath the surface is a fine loose earth, similar to that of the Nile Delta. At a few points only on the plain, and that near the Persian Gulf, are there some rocky eminences, the remains of ancient islands which the gradual encroachment of the two great rivers has joined to the mainland of Asia. Their importance is so slight that we may fairly ignore their existence and assert generally that Chaldaea has no stone. Like all great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates in the upper and middle parts of their courses carry down pieces of rock from their native mountains, but after they enter upon the alluvial ground near the boundary between Assyria and Chaldaea their streams become sluggish, and these heavy bodies sink to the bottom and become embedded in the soil; the water no longer carries on with it anything but the minute particles which with the passage of centuries form immense banks of clay. In the whole distance between Bagdad and the sea you may take a spade, and, turn up the soil wherever you please, you will not find a stone as big as a nut.

In this absence of a natural stone something had to be found to take its place, and the artificial material we call brick was invented. The human intellect refuses to give up the contest with nature before the first obstacles that seem to bar its progress; if it cannot brush them aside it turns their flank. The least accident is often enough to suggest the desired expedient. The origin of almost all the great discoveries that are studded over the history of civilization may be traced to some lucky chance. The first inhabitants of Chaldaea fashioned rude kitchens for the cooking of their simple food out of moist and plastic clay, the fires of reed and broken wood lighted on these simple hearths reddened and hardened the clay till it became like rock. Some bystander more observant than the rest noted the change and became the father of ceramics. We use the word in its widest, in its etymological sense. Ceramics is the art of fashioning clay and burning it in the fire so as to obtain constructive materials, domestic utensils, or objects of luxury and ornament.[127]

Even before the first brick or pottery kiln was erected it must have been recognized that in a climate like that of Chaldaea the soil when dried in the sun was well fitted for certain uses. Among the debris left by the earliest pioneers of civilization we find the remains of vases which seem to have been dried only in the sun. But porous and friable pottery like this could only be used for a few purposes, and it was finally renounced as soon as the art of firing the earth, first in the hot ashes of the domestic hearth, and afterwards in the searching flames of the close oven, was discovered. It was otherwise with brick. The desiccation produced by the almost vertical sun of Mesopotamia allowed it to be used with safety and advantage in certain parts of a building. In that condition it is called crude brick, to distinguish it from the harder material due to the direct heat of wood fires.

In any case the clay destined for use as a building material was subject to a first preparation that never varied. It was freed from such foreign bodies as might have found their way into it, and, as in Egypt, it was afterwards mixed with chopped or rather pulverized straw, a proceeding which was thought to give it greater body and resistance. It was then mixed with water in the proportions that experience dictated, and kneaded by foot in wide and shallow basins.[128] The brickmakers of Mossoul go through the same process to this day.

As soon as the clay was sufficiently kneaded, it was shaped in almost square moulds. In size these moulds surpassed even those of Egypt: their surfaces were from 15-1/4 to 15-1/2 inches square, and their thickness was from 2 to 4 inches.[129] It would seem that these artificial blocks were given this extravagant size to make up for the absence of stone properly speaking; the only limit of size seems to have been that imposed by difficulties of manufacture and handling.

Crude brick never becomes hard enough to resist the action of water. In Greek history we read how Agesipolis, King of Sparta, when besieging Mantinea, directed the stream of the Ophis along the foot of its walls of unburnt brick, and so caused them to crumble away. Cimon, son of Miltiades, attacked the defences of Eion, on the Strymon, in the same fashion. When desiccation was carried far enough, such materials could be used, in interiors at least, so as to fulfil the same functions as stone or burnt brick. Vitruvius tells us that the magistrates who had charge of building operations at Utica would not allow brick to be used until it was five years old.[130] It would seem that neither in Chaldaea nor still less in Assyria was any such lengthy restriction imposed. It is only by exception that crude bricks of which the desiccation has been carried to the farthest possible point have been found in the palaces of Nineveh; almost the only instance we can give is afforded by the bricks composing the arches of the palace doorways at Khorsabad. They are rectangular, and into the wedge-shaped intervals between their faces a softer clay has been poured to fill up the joints.[131] As a rule things were done in a much less patient fashion. At the end of a few days, or perhaps weeks, as soon, in fact, as the bricks were dry and firm enough to be easily handled, they were carried on to the ground and laid while still soft.

This we know from the evidence of M. Place, who cut many exploring shafts through the massive Assyrian buildings, and could judge of the condition in which the bricks had been put in place by the appearance of his excavations. From top to bottom their sides showed a plain and uniform surface; not the slightest sign of joints was to be found. Some might think that the bricks, instead of being actually soft, were first dried in the sun and then, when they came to be used, that each was dipped in water so as to give it a momentary wetness before being laid in its place. M. Place repels any such hypothesis. He points out that, had the Assyrian bricklayers proceeded in that fashion, each joint would be distinguishable by a rather darker tint than the rest of the wall. There is nothing of the kind in fact. The only things that prove his excavations to have been made through brick and not through a mass of earth beaten solid with the rammer are, in the first place, that the substance cut is very homogeneous and much more dense than it would have been had it not been kneaded and pressed in the moulds; and, secondly, that the horizontal courses are here and there to be distinguished from each other by their differences of tint.[132]

The art of burning brick dates, in the case of Chaldaea, from a very remote epoch. No tradition subsisted of a period when it was not practised. After the deluge, when men wished to build a city and a tower which should reach to heaven, "they said to one another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly; and they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar."[133]

The Babylonian bricks were, as a rule, one Chaldaean foot (rather more than an English foot) square. Their colour varies in different buildings from a dark red to a light yellow,[134] but they are always well burnt and of excellent quality. Nearly all of them bear an inscription to the following effect: "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, restorer of the pyramid and the tower, eldest son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, I." In laying the brick the face bearing this inscription was turned downwards. The characters were impressed on the soft clay with a stamp. More than forty varieties have already been discovered, implying the existence of as many stamps (see Fig. 32). In Assyria these inscriptions were sometimes stamped, sometimes engraved with the hand (Fig. 33).

Most of the bricks are regular in shape, with parallel and rectangular faces, but a few wedge-shaped ones have been found, both in Chaldaea and Assyria. These must have been made for building arches or vaults. Their obliquity varies according to their destined places in the curve.[135]

The body of the enamelled bricks differs from that of the ordinary kind. It is softer and more friable, appearing to be scarcely burnt.[136] This difference, at which M. Place was so much surprised, had its reason. The makers understood that their enamel colours when vitrified would penetrate deeper into and be more closely incorporated with the material upon which they were placed were the latter not so completely hardened.

Crude brick, burnt brick, and brick enamelled, those were the only materials at the command of the architect, in the cities, at least, of Chaldaea. A few fragments of basalt and diorite have certainly been found in their ruins, especially at Tello, recently excavated by M. de Sarzec; but we can easily tell from the appearance of these blocks that they played a very subordinate part in the buildings into which they were introduced. Some of them seem to have been employed as a kind of decoration in relief upon the brick walls; others, and those the most numerous, appear to have been used in the principal entrances to buildings. Upon one face a semicircular hollow or socket may be noticed, in which the foot of the bronze pivots, or rather the pivot shod and faced with bronze, upon which the heavy timber doors and their casings of metal were hung, had to turn. The marks of the consequent friction are still clearly visible.[137] The dimensions of these stones are never great, and it is easy to see that their employment for building purposes was always of the most restricted nature. They had indeed to be brought from a great distance. The towns upon the Persian Gulf might get them from Arabia.[138] Babylon and Nineveh must have drawn them from the upper valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates.[139] But quarrying and transport involved an expenditure that prevented any thought of bringing these volcanic rocks into common use.

Compared with the towns of the lower Euphrates, Babylon was not far from mountains whence, by means of canals and rivers, she might have easily obtained a limestone of good quality. Even in these days, when commerce and industry have fallen so low in those regions, the gypseous alabaster from the neighbourhood of Mossoul is transported in no unimportant quantities as far as Bagdad. It is used for lining baths and those serdabs to which the people retreat in summer.[140]

The remains of the great capital show no trace of dressed stone. And yet it was used during the second empire in some of the great public works undertaken by Nabopolassar and more especially by Nebuchadnezzar. Herodotus, who saw Babylon, declares this in the most formal manner in his description of the bridge which then united, for the first time, the two banks of the Euphrates. While the river was bordered by quays of burnt brick, the bridge, says the historian, "was built of very large stones, bound together with iron clamps embedded in lead."[141]

That, however, was but one exception, and it was necessitated by the very nature of the work to be carried out. No cement was to be had which could resist the action of water for an indefinite period and maintain the coherence of brickwork subjected to its unsleeping attacks. In order to obtain piers capable of withstanding the current during the great floods, it was better too to use blocks of considerable weight, which could be held together by metal tenons or clasps.

It was but at rare intervals that buildings had to be erected in which the habits of ages had to be thus abandoned. Why is it that such works have perished and left no sign? The question may be easily answered. When the ruins of Babylon began to be used as an open quarry, the stone buildings must have been the first to disappear. This material, precious by its rarity and in greater request than any other, was used again and again until no trace of its original destination or of the buildings in which it was found remained.

In Assyria long chains of hills traversed the plain and stretched here and there as far as the borders of the two rivers, besides which the last buttresses of the mountains of Kurdistan came very near the left bank of the Tigris. These hills all contained limestone. Two sorts were found: one fine, hard, close grained, and a little shelly, the other softer and more friable.

For the decoration of his monumental doorways and the lining of his richest apartments, the architect chose and committed to the sculptor those fine slabs of gypseous alabaster of which so many examples are to be seen in the Louvre and British Museum. In the plains gypsum serves as a base or foundation for the wide banks of clay that spread over the country, and are much less thick than in the south of Chaldaea. Alabaster is there to be met with in great quantities, often but little below the surface of the soil.[142] It is a sulphate of chalk, gray in colour, soft and yet susceptible of polish. But it has many defects; it breaks easily and deteriorates rapidly on exposure to the air. The Assyrians, however, did not fear to use it in great masses, as witness the bulls in the Louvre and British Museum. Before removal these carved man-headed animals weighed some thirty-five tons, and some of those remaining at Khorsabad and Kouyundjik are still larger.

In Assyria as in Chaldaea the dark and hard volcanic rocks have only been found in a few isolated fragments. They were used by the statuary and ornamentist rather than by the architect, and we cannot say for certain where they got them. We know, however, that basalt and other rocks of that kind were found in the upper valleys of the streams that flowed into the two great rivers.[143]

The Assyrian architect had therefore only to stretch out his hand to win stone of a sufficiently varied nature from the soil of his own country or the flanks of its mountains. It was, of course, mediocre in quality but it had powers of resistance that fitted it for use in certain positions. At the first glance it is difficult to understand why so little use was made of it. But in truth stone was for the Assyrian no more than an accessory and complementary material; the bodies of his structures were never composed of it; it was mainly confined to plinths, pavements, and the internal linings of walls.

In spite of its apparent singularity this determined exclusion is to be easily explained. The Assyrian invented nothing. His language and his writing, his religion and his science, came from Chaldaea, and so did his art. When the kings of Resen, of Calech, and Nineveh, took it into their heads to build palaces, they imported architects, painters, and sculptors, from the southern kingdom. Why, it may be asked, did those artists remain so faithful to the traditions in which they had grown up when they found themselves planted among such different surroundings? The answer is, that nothing is more tenacious of life than those professional habits that are transmitted from one generation to another by the practical teaching of more or less close corporations, besides which we must remember that the Chaldaean methods were excellently well fitted for the satisfaction of those impatient princes at whose orders the works were undertaken. For the quarrying, dressing, and fixing of stone, a special and rather tedious education was required. The manufacture and laying of bricks was comparatively easy. A few weeks were sufficient to learn all that was to be learnt about the kneading and moulding of the earth, its desiccation in the sun or burning in the kiln. Provided that experienced men were forthcoming to superintend the latter operation, millions of good bricks could be made in the year.[144] All this required no lengthy apprenticeship. Their arrangement in horizontal courses or grouping at stated intervals, into those lines of battlements with which every wall was crowned, was done by the men of the corvee. Certain parts of the building, such as arches and vaults, required more care and skill, and were left, no doubt, to experienced masons and bricklayers, but, with these exceptions, the whole work could be confided to the first-comers, to those armies of captives whom we see in the bas-reliefs labouring in chained gangs like convicts.

Working in this fashion, even the most formidable works could be completed with singular rapidity. In Assyria, as in Chaldaea, a prince was no sooner seated firmly upon the throne than his architects set about erecting a palace which should be entirely his own. He had no wish that any name but his should be read upon its walls, or that they should display any deeds of valour but those due to his own prowess. In the life of constant war and adventure led by these conquering sovereigns, speed was everything, for they could never be sure of the morrow.

That considerations like these counted for much in the determination of the Assyrian architects to follow a system that the abundance of durable materials invited them to cast aside can hardly be doubted. They did not dare to rouse the displeasure of masters who disliked to wait; they preferred rather to sacrifice the honour and glory to be won by the erection of solid and picturesque buildings than to use the slowly worked materials in which alone they could be carried out.

Assyria was in all respects better provided than Chaldaea. Nature itself seemed to invite her to throw off her too docile spirit of imitation and to create an art of her own. Her possession of stone was not her only advantage over her southern neighbour, she had timber also; at least the Ninevite architect had to go a much shorter distance than his Babylonian rival in order to find it. From the summits of the lofty mounds, at whose feet he established his workshops, he could catch a distant view of mountain chains, whose valleys were clothed with forests of oak and beech, pine and cypress. There was nothing of the kind within reach of Lower Mesopotamia. The nearest mountains, those which ran parallel to the left bank of the Tigris but at a considerable distance, were more naked, even in ancient times, than those of Kurdistan and Armenia. From one side of the plain to the other there were no trees but the palm and the poplar from which timbers of any length could be cut. The soft and fibrous date-palm furnishes one of the worst kinds of wood in the world; the poplar, though more useful, is not much less brittle and light. From materials like these no system of carpentry could be developed that should allow great spaces to be covered and great heights to be reached. When Nineveh and, after her, Babylon, had conquered all Western Asia, she drew, like Egypt before her, upon the forests of Lebanon. There she obtained the beams and planks for the ceilings and doors of her sumptuous palaces.[145] The employment, however, of these excellent woods must always have been rare and exceptional. Moreover, other habits had become confirmed. When these new resources were put at the disposition of architecture, the art was too old and too closely wedded to its traditional methods to accept their aid. In the use of wood, as in that of brick, Assyria neglected to make the best of the advantages assured to her by her situation and her natural products.

If Chaldaea was ill-provided with stone and timber, she had every facility for procuring the useful and precious metals. They were not, of course, to be found in her alluvial plains, but metals are easy of transport, especially to a country whose commerce has the command of navigable highways. The industrial centres in which they are manufactured are often separated by great distances from the regions where they are won from the earth. But to procure the more indispensable among them the dwellers upon the Tigris and Euphrates had no great distance to cover. The southern slopes of Zagros, three or four days' journey from Nineveh, furnished iron, copper, lead, and silver in abundance. Mines are still worked in Kurdistan, or, at least, have been worked in very recent times, which supply these metals in abundance. The traces of abandoned workings may be recognized even by the hasty and unlearned traveller, and a skilful engineer would, no doubt, make further discoveries.[146] Mr. Layard was unable to learn that any gold had been won in our days; but from objects found in the excavations, from inscriptions in which the Assyrians boast of their wealth and prodigality, from Egyptian texts in which the details of tributes paid by the Roten-nou, that is by the people of Syria and Mesopotamia, are given, it is clear that in the great days of Nineveh and Babylon those capitals possessed a vast quantity of gold, and employed it in a host of different ways. In the course of several centuries of war, victory, and pillage, princes, officers, and soldiers had amassed enormous wealth by the simple process of stripping the nations of Western Asia of every object of value they possessed. These accumulations were continually added to, in the case of Babylon, by the active commerce she carried on with the mineral-producing countries, such as the Caucasus, Bactriana, India, and Egypt.

There are some architectures—that of the Greeks for example—that preserve a rare nobility even when deprived of their metal ornaments and polychromatic decoration. The architects of Babylon and Nineveh were differently situated. Deprived of metals some of their finest effects would have been impossible. The latter could be used at will in flexible threads or long, narrow bands, which could be nailed or riveted on to wood or brick. They may be beaten with the hammer, shaped by the chisel, or engraved by the burin; their surfaces may be either dead or polished; the variety of shades of which they are capable, and the brilliance of their reflections, are among the most valuable resources of the decorator, and the colouring principles they contain provide the painter and enameller with some of his richest and most solid tones. In Chaldaea the architect was condemned by the force majeure of circumstances to employ little more than crude or burnt brick and bad timber; in Assyria he voluntarily condemned himself to the limitations they imposed. By the skilful and intelligent use of metals, he managed to overcome the resulting disadvantages in some degree, and to mask under a sumptuous decoration of gold, silver, and bronze, the deficiencies inherent in the material of which his buildings were mainly composed.


[127] G. CURTIUS is of opinion that the word keramos, and consequently its derivatives (kerameus, kerameia, kerameike, &c.,) springs rather from a root CRA, expressive of the idea to cook, than from the word kerannumi, to mix, knead (Grundzuege der Griechischen Etymologie, p. 147, 5th edition).

[128] See Nahum iii. 14.

[129] Even these dimensions were sometimes passed. The Louvre possesses an Assyrian brick rather more than 17-1/2 inches square. See DE LONGPERIER, Notice des Antiquites Assyriennes (3rd edition, 1854, 12mo), No. 44.

[130] VITRUVIUS, 1. ii. ch. 3.

[131] PLACE, Ninive et l'Assyrie, vol. i. p. 225. The vault of the gallery discovered by LAYARD in the centre of the tower that occupied a part of the mound of Nimroud was constructed in the same fashion. Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, p. 126.

[132] PLACE, Ninive et l'Assyrie, vol. i. pp. 211-224.

[133] Genesis xi. 3.

[134] LAYARD, Discoveries, pp. 506 and 531.

[135] See, for Chaldaea, LOFTUS, Travels and Researches, p. 133; and for Assyria, PLACE, Ninive et l'Assyrie, vol. i. p. 250, and vol. ii. plates 38 and 39. As an example of the varieties of section presented by these bricks, we may cite those found by M. de Sarzec in the ruins of Tello, which belonged to a circular pillar. This pillar was composed of circular bricks, placed in horizontal courses round a centre of the same material. Elsewhere triangular bricks, which must have formed the angles of buildings have been found. TAYLOR, Notes on the Ruins of Mugheir (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xv. p. 266). At Abou-Sharein, this same traveller found convex-sided bricks (Journal, &c., vol. xv. p. 409).

[136] PLACE, Ninive, &c., vol. i. p. 233.

[137] Some of these fragments are in the Louvre. They are placed on the ground in the Assyrian Gallery. Their forms are too irregular to be fitted for reproduction here. But for the hollow in question, one might suppose them to be mere shapeless boulders. LAYARD noticed similar remains among the ruins of Babylon, Discoveries, &c., p. 528.

[138] M. OPPERT is even inclined to think that some of them came from the peninsula of Sinai and the eastern shores of Egypt (Revue Archeologique, vol. xlii. p. 272). The formation of the Arabian hills is not yet very well known, and we are not in a position to say for certain whence these rocks may have come. It seems probable however, that they might have been obtained from certain districts of Arabia, from which they could be carried without too great an effort to within reach of the canals fed by the Euphrates, or of some port trading with the Persian Gulf.

[139] LAYARD, Discoveries, &c., p. 528.

[140] LAYARD, Discoveries, p. 116.

[141] HERODOTUS, i. 186. DIODORUS (ii. viii. 2), quoting Ctesias, speaks in almost the same terms of this stone bridge, which he attributes to Semiramis.

[142] BOTTA, Monuments de Ninive, vol. v. p. 3.

[143] In the valley of the Khabour, the chief affluent of the Euphrates, LAYARD found volcanoes whose activity seemed only to have been extinguished at a very recent epoch. Long streams of lava projected from their sides into the plain. Discoveries, p. 307.

[144] As for the simple and rapid nature of the process by which crude bricks are manufactured to the present day in Persia, see TEXIER, L'Armenie et la Perse, vol. ii. p. 64.

[145] As to the employment in Assyria of cedar from the Lebanon, see FRANCOIS LENORMANT, Histoire Ancienne, vol. ii. p. 191, and an inscription of Sennacherib, translated by OPPERT, Les Sargonides, pp. 52, 53. Its use in Babylon is proved by several passages of the great text known as the Inscription of London, in which Nebuchadnezzar recounts the great works he had caused to be carried out in his capital (LENORMANT, Histoire, vol. ii. pp. 228 and 233). We find this phrase among others, "I used in the chamber of oracles the largest of the trees transported from the summits of Lebanon." LAYARD (Discoveries, pp. 356-7) tells us that one evening during the Nimroud excavations, his labourers lighted a fire to dry themselves after a storm, which they fed with timbers taken from the ruins. The smell of burning cedar, a perfume which so many Greek and Latin poets have praised (urit odoratam nocturna in lumina cedrum, VIRGIL, AEneid, vii. 13), apprised him of what was going on. In the British Museum (Nimroud Gallery, Case A), fragments of recovered joists may be seen. They are in such good preservation that they might be shaped and polished anew, so as to again bring out the markings and the fine dark-yellow tone which contributed not a little to make the wood so precious. It was sought both for its agreeable appearance and its known solidity; and experience has proved that the popular opinion which declared it incorruptible had some foundation.

[146] LAYARD, Nineveh, vol. i. p. 223, and vol. ii. pp. 415-418.

Sec. 2.—The General Principles of Form.

If in our fancy we strip the buildings of Chaldaea and Assyria of all their accessories, if we take from them their surface ornament and the salience of their roofs, the bare edifice that remains is what geometricians call a rectangular parallelopiped.

Of all the types created by this architecture, the only one of which we still possess a few fairly well preserved examples is that of the palace. It is therefore the best known of them all, and the first to excite attention and study. Now, upon the artificial mound, the wide terrace, over which its imposing mass is spread, the palace may be likened to a huge box whose faces are all either horizontal or vertical (Plate V.). Even in the many-storied temples, whose general aspect is modified of course to a great extent by their height, the same element may be traced. We have endeavoured to restore some of these by collating the descriptions of the ancient writers with the remains that still exist in many parts of Mesopotamia (Plates II., III., and IV.). Their general form may be described as the box to which we have compared the palace repeated several times in vertical succession, each box being rather smaller than the one below it. By these means their builders proposed to give them an elevation approaching the marvellous. The system was in some respects similar to that of the pyramid, but the re-entering angles at each story gave them a very different appearance, at least to one regarding them from a short distance. Only now and then do we find any inclination like that of the sides of a pyramid, and in those cases it applies to bases alone (Plate IV.). As a rule the walls or external surfaces are perpendicular to their foundations.

We may, perhaps, explain the complete absence from Chaldaea of a system of construction that was so universal in Egypt by the differences of climate and of the materials used. Doubtless it rains less in Mesopotamia than even in Italy or Greece. But rain is not, as in Upper Egypt, an almost unknown phenomenon. The changes of the seasons are ushered in by storms of rain that amount to little less than deluges.[147] Upon sloping walls of dressed stone these torrents could beat without causing any great damage, but where brick was used the inconveniences of such a slope would soon be felt. Water does not fall so fast upon a slope as upon a perpendicular wall, and a surface made up of comparatively thin bricks has many more joints than one in which stones of any considerable size are employed. As a rule the external faces of all important buildings were revetted with very hard and well burnt bricks. But the rain, driven by the wind, might easily penetrate through the joints and spread at will through the core of mere sun-dried bricks within. The verticality of Assyrian and Chaldaean walls was necessary, therefore, for their preservation. Without it the thin covering of burnt brick would have been unable to do its proper work of protecting the softer material within, and the sudden storms by which the plains were now and again half drowned, would have been far more hurtful than they were.

The Chaldaean palace, like the Egyptian temple, sought mainly for lateral development. Its extent far surpassed its elevation, and horizontal lines predominated in its general physiognomy. There was here a latent harmony between the architecture of nature and that of man, between the great plains of Mesopotamia, with their distant horizons, and the long walls, broken only by their crenellated summits, of the temples and palaces. There must, however, have been a certain want of relief, of visibility, in edifices conceived on such lines and built in such a country.

This latter defect was obvious to the Mesopotamians themselves, who raised the dwellings of their gods and kings upon an artificial mound with a carefully paved summit.[148] Upon this summit the structure properly speaking rested, so that, in Chaldaea, the foundations of a great building instead of being, as elsewhere, sunk beneath the soil, stand so high above it that the ground line of the palace or temple to which they belong rises above the plain to a height that leaves the roofs of ordinary houses and even the summits of the tallest palms far below. This arrangement gave a clearer salience and a more imposing mass to structures which would otherwise, on account of their monotony of line and the vast excess of their horizontal over their vertical development, have had but little effect.

Such an arrangement would appear superfluous in the case of those towers in the shape of stepped pyramids, whose summits could be carried above the plain to any fanciful height by the simple process of adding story to story. But the Mesopotamian constructor went upon the same system as in the case of his palaces. It was well in any case to interpose a dense, firm, and dry mass between the wet and often shifting soil and the building, and to afford a base which by its size and solidity should protect the great accumulation of material that was to be placed upon it from injury through any settling in the foundations. Moreover, the paved esplanade had its place in the general economy. It formed a spacious court about the temple, a sacred temenos as the Greeks would have called it, a haram as a modern Oriental would say. It could be peopled with statues and decorated with mystic emblems; religious processions could be marshalled within its bounds.

The general, we may almost say the invariable, rule in Mesopotamia was that every structure of a certain importance should be thus borne on an artificial hill. An examination of the ruins themselves and of the monuments figured upon the bas-reliefs shows us that these substructures did not always have the same form. Their faces were sometimes vertical, sometimes inclined; sometimes again they presented a gentle outward curve (see Fig. 34); but these purely external differences did not affect the principle. In all the river basins of Mesopotamia, whether of the Euphrates, the Tigris, or the smallest affluents of the Persian Gulf, whenever you see one of these tells, or isolated mounds, standing above the general surface of the plain, you may be sure that if you drive a trench into it you will come upon those courses of crude brick that proclaim its artificial origin. Rounded by natural disintegration and scarred by the rain torrents, such a hillock is apt to deceive the thoughtless or ignorant traveller, but an instructed explorer knows at a glance that many centuries ago it bore on its summit a temple, a fortress, or some royal or lordly habitation (Fig. 35).

The distinguishing feature of the staged towers is their striving after the greatest possible elevation. It is true that neither from Herodotus nor Diodorus do we get any definite statements as to the height of the most famous of these monuments, the temple of Belus at Babylon;[149] Strabo alone talks of a stade (616 feet), and it may be asked on what authority he gives that measurement, which has been freely treated as an exaggeration. In any case we may test it to a certain extent by examining the largest and best preserved of the artificial hills of which we have spoken,[150] and we must remember that all the writers of antiquity are unanimous in asserting its prodigious height.[151] We run small risk of exaggeration, therefore, in saying that some of these Chaldaean temples were much taller than the highest of the Gizeh Pyramids. Their general physiognomy was the reverse of that of the Mesopotamian palaces, but it was no less the result of the natural configuration of the country. Their architect sought to find his effect in contrast; he endeavoured to impress the spectator by the strong, not to say violent, opposition between their soaring lines and the infinite horizon of the plain. Such towers erected in a hilly country like Greece would have looked much smaller. There, they would have had for close neighbours sometimes high mountains and always boldly contoured hills and rocks; however far up into the skies their summits might be carried, they would still be dominated on one side or the other. Involuntarily the eye demands from nature the same scale of proportions as are suggested by the works of man. Where these are chiefly remarkable for their height, much of their effect will be destroyed by the proximity of such hills as Acrocorinthus or Lycabettus, to say nothing of Taygetus or Parnassus.

It is quite otherwise when the surface of the country stretches away on every side with the continuity and flatness of a lake. In these days none of the great buildings to which we have been alluding have preserved more than a half of their original height;[152] all that remains is a formless mass encumbered with heaps of debris at its foot, and yet, as every traveller in the country has remarked, these ruined monuments have an extraordinary effect upon the general appearance of the country. They give an impression of far greater height than they really possess (Fig. 36). At certain hours of the day, we are told, this illusion is very strong: in the early morning when the base of the mound is lost in circling vapours and its summit alone stands up into the clear sky above and receives the first rays of the sun; and in the evening, when the whole mass rises in solid shadow against the red and gold of the western sky. At these times it is easy to comprehend the ideas by which the Chaldaean architect was animated when he created the type of these many-storied towers and scattered them with such profusion over the whole face of the country. The chief want of his land was the picturesque variety given by accidents of the ground to its nearest neighbours, a want he endeavoured to conceal by substituting these pyramidal temples, these lofty pagodas, as we are tempted to call them, for the gentle slopes and craggy peaks that are so plentiful beyond the borders of Chaldaea. By their conspicuous elevation, and the enormous expenditure of labour they implied, they were meant to break the uniformity of the great plains that lay about them; at the same time, they would astonish contemporary travellers and even that remote posterity for whom no more than a shapeless heap of ruins would be left. They would do more than all the writings of all the historians to celebrate the power and genius of the race that dared thus to correct and complete the work of nature.

When the king and his architect had finished one of these structures, they might calculate upon an infinite duration for it without any great presumption, and that partly because Chaldaean art, even when most ambitious and enterprising, never made use of any but the simplest means. The arch was in more frequent use than in Egypt, but it hardly seems to have been employed in buildings to which any great height was to be given. Scarcely a trace of it is to be discovered either in the parts preserved of these structures or in their sculptured representations. None of those light and graceful methods of construction that charm and excite the eye, but must be paid for by a certain loss of stability, are to be found here. Straight lines are the inflexible rule. The few arches that may be discovered in the interior exercise no thrust, surrounded as they are on every side by weighty masses. In theory the equilibrium is perfect; and if, as the event has proved, the conditions of stability, or at least of duration, were less favourable than in the pyramids at Memphis or in the temples at Thebes, the fault lies with the inherent vices of the material used and with the comparatively unfavourable climate.

* * * * *

In the absence of stone the Chaldaean builder was shut off from many of the most convenient methods of covering, and therefore of multiplying, voids. Speaking generally, we may say that he employed neither piers, nor columns, nor those beams of limestone, sandstone, or granite, which we know as architraves; he was, therefore, ignorant of the portico, and never found himself driven by artistic necessities to those ingenious, delicate, and learned efforts of invention by which the Egyptians and Greeks arrived at what we call orders. This term is well understood. By it we mean supports of which the principal parts, base, shaft, and capital, have certain constant and closely defined mutual relations. Like a zoological species, each order has a distinctive character and personal physiognomy of its own. An art that is deprived of such a resource is condemned to a real inferiority. It may cover every surface with the luxury of a sumptuous decoration, but, in spite of all its efforts, a secret poverty, a want of genius and invention, will be visible in its creations.

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