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A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria, v. 1
by Georges Perrot
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The varied arrangements of the portico suggested the hypostyle hall, with all the picturesque developments it has undergone at the hands of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the people of modern Europe. In their ignorance of the pier and column, the Chaldaeans were unable to give their buildings those spacious galleries and chambers which delight the eye while they diminish the actual mass of a building. Their towers were artificial mountains, almost as solid and massive from base to summit as the natural hills from which their lines were taken.[153] A few small apartments were contrived within them, near their outer edges, that might fairly be compared to caves hollowed in the face of a cliff. The weight upon the lower stories and the substructure was therefore enormous, even to the point of threatening destruction by sheer pulverisation. The whole interior was composed of crude brick, and if, as is generally supposed, those bricks were put in place before the process of desiccation was complete, the shrinkage resulting from its continuance must have had a bad effect upon the structure as a whole, especially as the position of the courses and the more or less favourable aspects of the different external faces must have caused a certain inequality in the rate at which that operation went on. The resistance would not be the same at all points, and settlements would occur by which the equilibrium of the upper stages might be compromised and the destruction of the whole building prepared.

Another danger lay in the violence of the sudden storms and the diluvial character of the winter rains. Doubtless the outsides of the walls were faced with well burnt bricks, carefully set, and often coated with an impenetrable enamel; but an inclined plane of a more or less gentle gradient wound from base to summit to give access to the latter. When a storm burst upon one of these towers, this plane became in a moment the bed of a torrent, for its outer edge would, of course, be protected by a low wall. The water would pour like a river over the sloping pavement and strike violently against each angle. Whether it were allowed to flow over the edges of the inclined plane or, as seems more probable, directed in its course so as to sweep it from top to bottom, it must in either case have caused damage requiring continual watchfulness and frequent repairs. If this watchfulness were remitted for an instant, some of the external burnt and enamelled bricks might become detached and leave a gap through which the water could penetrate to the soft core within, and set up a process of disintegration which would become more actively mischievous with every year that passed. The present appearance of these ruins is thus, to a great extent, to be explained. Travellers in the country agree in describing them as irregular mounds, deeply seamed by the rains; and the sides against which the storms and waterspouts that devastate Mesopotamia would chiefly spend their force are those on which the damage is most conspicuous (see Fig. 37).

Even in antique times these buildings had suffered greatly. In Egypt, when the supreme power had passed, after one of those periods of decay that were by no means infrequent in her long career, into the hands of an energetic race of princes like those of the eighteenth or twenty-sixth dynasties, all traces of damage done to the public monuments by neglect or violence were rapidly effaced. The pyramids could take care of themselves. They had seen the plains at their feet covered again and again with hordes of barbarians, and yet had lost not an inch of their height or a stone of their polished cuirass. Even in the temples the setting up of a few fallen columns, the reworking of a few bas-reliefs, the restoration of a painting here and there, was all that was necessary to bring back their former splendour.



In Chaldaea the work undertaken by Nabopolassar and his dynasty was far more arduous. He had to rebuild nearly all the civil and religious buildings from their foundations, to undertake, as we know from more than one text, a general reconstruction.[154] A new Babylon was reared from the ground. Little of her former monuments remained but their foundations and materials. Temples richer than the first rose upon the lofty mounds, and, for the sake of speed, were often built of the old bricks, upon which appeared the names of forgotten kings. Nothing was neglected, no expense was spared by which the solidity of the new buildings could be increased, and yet, five or six centuries afterwards, nothing was left but ruins. Herodotus seems to have seen the great temple of Bel while it was still practically intact, but Diodorus speaks of it as an edifice "which time had caused to fall,"[155] and he adds that "writers are not in accord in what they say about this temple, so that it is impossible for us to make sure what its real dimensions were." It would seem, therefore, that the upper stories had fallen long before the age of Augustus. Even Ctesias, perhaps, who is Diodorus's constant guide in all that he writes on the subject of Chaldaea and Assyria, never saw the monument in its integrity. In any case, the building was a complete ruin in the time of Strabo. "The tomb of Belus," says that accurate and well-informed geographer, "is now destroyed."[156] Strabo, like Diodorus, attributes the destruction of these buildings partly to time, partly to the avenging violence of the Persians, who, irritated by the never-ending revolts of Babylon, ruined the proudest and most famous of her temples as a punishment. That the sanctuary was pillaged by the Persians under Xerxes, as Strabo affirms, is probable enough, but we have some difficulty in believing that they troubled themselves to destroy the building itself.[157] The effort would have been too great, and, in view of the slow but sure action of the elements upon its substance, it would have been labour thrown away. The destruction of an Egyptian monument required a desperate and long continued attack, it had to be deliberately murdered, if we may use such a phrase, but the buildings of Mesopotamia, with their thin cuirasses of burnt brick and their soft bodies, required the care of an architect to keep them standing, we might say of a doctor to keep them alive, to watch over them day by day, and to stop every wound through which the weather could reach their vulnerable parts. Abandoned to themselves they would soon have died, and died natural deaths.

Materials and a system of construction such as those we have described could only result, in a close style of architecture, in a style in which the voids bore but a very small proportion to the solids. And such a style was well suited to the climate. In the long and burning summers of Mesopotamia the inhabitants freely exchanged light for coolness. With few and narrow openings and thick walls the temperature of their dwellings could be kept far lower than that of the torrid atmosphere without.[158] Thus we find in the Ninevite palaces outer walls of from fifteen to five-and-twenty feet in thickness. It would have been very difficult to contrive windows through such masses as that, and they would when made have given but a feeble light. The difficulty was frankly met by discarding the use of any openings but the doors and skylights cut in the roofs. The window proper was almost unknown. We can hardly point to an instance of its use, either among Assyrian or Chaldaean remains, or in the representations of them in the bas-reliefs. Here and there we find openings in the upper stories of towers, but they are loop-holes rather than windows (Fig. 38).[159]



At first we are inclined to pity kings shut up within such blind walls as these. But we must not be betrayed into believing that they took no measures to enjoy the evening breeze, or to cast their eyes over the broad plains at their feet, over the cities that lay under the shadows of the lofty mounds upon which their palaces were built. At certain times of the year and day they would retire within the shelter of their thickest walls and roofs; just as at the present moment the inhabitants of Mossoul, Bassorah, and Bagdad, take refuge within their serdabs as soon as the sun is a little high in the heavens, and stay there until the approach of evening.[160]

When the heat was less suffocating the courtyards would be pleasant, with their encircling porticoes sustaining a light covering inclined towards the centre, an arrangement required by the climate, and one which is to be found both at Pompeii and in the Arab houses of Damascus, and is sure to have been adopted by the inhabitants of ancient Chaldaea. Additional space was given by the wide esplanades in front of the doors, and by the flat roofs, upon which sleep was often more successfully wooed than in the rooms below. And sometimes the pleasures given by refreshing breezes, cool shadows, and a distant prospect could be all enjoyed together, for in a certain bas-relief that seems to represent one of those great buildings of which we possess the ruins, we see an open arcade—a loggia as it would be called in Italy—rise above the roof for the whole length of the facade (Fig. 39).[161] There are houses in the neighbourhood of Mossoul in which a similar arrangement is to be met with, as we may see from Mr. Layard's sketch of a house in a village of Kurdistan inhabited by Nestorians (Fig. 40). It includes a modified kind of portico, the pillars of which are suggested or rather demanded by the necessity for supporting the ceiling.



Supposing such an arrangement to have obtained in Mesopotamia, of what material were the piers or columns composed? Had they been of stone their remains would surely have been found among the ruins; but no such things have ever come to light, so we may conclude that they were of timber or brick; the roof, at least, must have been wood. The joints may have been covered with protecting plates of metal by which their duration was assured. We have a curious example of the use of these bronze sheaths in the remains of gilded palm-trees found by M. Place in front of the harem at Khorsabad. He there encountered a cedar trunk lying upon the ground and incased in a brass coat on which all the roughnesses of cedar bark were imitated. The leaves of doors were also protected by metallic bands, which were often decorated with bas-reliefs.



Must we conclude that stone columns were unknown in Chaldaea and Assyria? As for Chaldaea, we have no positive information in the matter, but we know that she had no building stone of her own. The Chaldaean sculptor might indeed import a few blocks of diorite or basalt, either from Arabia, Egypt, or the valleys of Mount Zagros, for use in statues which would justify such expense; but the architect must have been restricted to the use of material close at hand. In Assyria limestone was always within reach, and yet the Assyrians never succeeded in freeing themselves from traditional methods sufficiently to make the column play a part similar to that assigned to it by the peoples of Egypt and Greece. Their habits, and especially the habit of respect for the practices and traditions of Chaldaea, were too strong for them. Their use of the column, though often tasteful and happy, is never without a certain timidity. One is inclined to think they had an inkling of the possibilities latent in it, but that they lacked the courage necessary to give it full play in the interiors and upon the facades of their large palaces and towers. In the bas-reliefs we find columns used in the kiosques built upon the river banks (Fig. 41), and in the pavilions or chapels studded over the royal gardens (Fig. 42). The excavations, moreover, have yielded pedestals and capitals which, rare as they are, have a double claim to our regard. The situations in which they have been discovered seem to show that columns were sometimes used in front of doorways, to support porches or covered ways extending to the full limits of the esplanade; secondly, their forms themselves are interesting. Close study will convince us that, when copied by neighbouring peoples who made frequent and general use of stone supports, they might well have exercised an influence that was felt as far as the AEgaean, and had something to do with one of the fairest creations of Greek art.

We thus catch side glimpses of the column, as it were, in small buildings, in the porches before the principal doors of palaces, and in the open galleries with which some of the latter buildings were crowned (Fig. 39). In all these cases it is nothing but a more or less elegant accessory; we might if we pleased give a sufficiently full description of Mesopotamian architecture without hinting at its existence.



We cannot say the same of the arch, which played a much more important role than it did in Egypt. There it was banished, as we have seen, to the secondary parts of an edifice. It hardly entered into the composition of the nobler class of buildings; it was used mainly in store-rooms built near the temples, in the gateways through the outer walls of tombs, and in underground cellars and passages.[162] In Mesopotamia, on the other hand, the arch is one of the real constituent elements of the national architecture.



That the Chaldaean architects were early led to the invention of the arch is easily understood. They were unable to support the upper parts of their walls, their ceilings or their roofs, upon beams of stone or timber, and they had to devise some other means of arriving at the desired result. This means was not matured all at once. With most peoples the first stage consisted probably in those corbels or off-sets by which the width of the space to be covered was reduced course by course, till a junction was effected at the top; and sometimes this early stage may have been dispensed with. In some cases, the workman who had to cover a narrow void with small units of construction may, in trying them in various positions and combinations, have hit upon the real principle of the arch. This principle must everywhere have been discovered more or less accidentally; in one place the accident may have come sooner than in another, and here it may have been turned to more profit than there. We shall have to describe and explain these differences at each stage of our journey through the art history of antiquity, but we may at once state the general law that our studies and comparisons will bring to light. The arch was soonest discovered and most invariably employed by those builders who found themselves condemned, by the geological formation of their country, to the employment of the smallest units.

The Chaldaeans were among those builders, and they made frequent use of the arch. They built no long arcades with piers or columns for supports, like those of the Romans, and that simply because such structures would have been contrary to the general principles of their architecture. They made no use, as we have already explained, of those isolated supports whose employment resulted in the hypostyle halls of Egypt and Persia, in the naves of Greek temples and Latin basilicas. The want of stone put any such arrangement out of the question. We have, then, no reason to believe that their arches ever rested upon piers or upon the solid parts of walls freely pierced for the admission of light. The type from which the modern east has evolved so many fine mosques and churches was unknown in Chaldaea. In every building of which we possess either the remains or the figured representation the archivolts rest upon thick and solid walls.

Under these conditions the vault was supreme in certain parts of the building. Its use was there so constant as to have almost the character of an unvarying law. Every palace was pierced in its substructure by drains that carried the rain water and the general waste from the large population by which it was inhabited down into the neighbouring river, and nearly all these drains were vaulted. And it must not be supposed that the architect deliberately hid his vaults and arches, or that he only used them in those parts of his buildings where they were concealed and lost in their surroundings; they occur, also, upon the most careful and elaborate facades. The gates of cities, of palaces and temples, of most buildings, in fact, that have any monumental character, are crowned by an arch, the curve of which is accentuated by a brilliantly coloured soffit. This arch is continued as a barrel vault for the whole length of the passage leading into the interior, and these passages are sometimes very long. Vaults would also, in all probability, have been found over those narrow chambers that are so numerous in Assyrian palaces were it not for the universal ruin that has overtaken their superstructures. Finally, certain square rooms have been discovered which must have been covered with vaults in the shape of more or less flattened domes.



We must here call attention to the importance of a bas-relief belonging to the curious series of carved pictures in which Sennacherib caused the erection of his palace at Nineveh to be commemorated. Look well at this group of buildings, which seems to rise upon a platform at the foot of a hill shaded with cypresses and fruit-laden vines (see Fig. 43). The buildings on the right have flat roofs, those on the left, and they seem the most important, have, some hemispherical cupolas, and some tall domes approaching cones in shape. These same forms are still in use over all that country, not only for public buildings like baths and mosques, but even here and there for the humblest domestic structures. Travellers have been often surprised at encountering, in many of the villages of Upper Syria and Mesopotamia, peasants' houses with sugar-loaf roofs like these.[163]

We need not here go further into details upon this point. In these general and introductory remarks we have endeavoured to point out as concisely as possible how the salient characteristics of Assyrian architecture are to be explained by the configuration of the country, by the nature of the materials at hand, and by the climate with which the architect had to reckon. It was to these conditions that the originality of the system was due; that the solids were so greatly in excess over the voids, and the lateral over the vertical measurements of a building. In this latter respect the buildings of Mesopotamia leave those of all other countries, even of Egypt, far behind. They were carried, too, to an extraordinary height without any effort to give the upper part greater lightness than the substructure; both were equally solid and massive. Finally, the nature of the elements of which Mesopotamian architects could dispose was such that the desire for elegance and beauty had to be satisfied by a superficial system of decoration, by paint and carved slabs laid on to the surface of the walls. Beauty unadorned was beyond their reach, and their works may be compared to women whose attractions lie in the richness of their dress and the multitude of their jewels.

NOTES:

[147] OPPERT (Expedition scientifique, vol. i. p. 86) gives a description of one of these storms that he encountered in the neighbourhood of Bagdad on the 26th of May.

[148] LAYARD, Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. p. 119. When one of these mounds is attacked from the top, the excavators must work downwards until they come to this paved platform. As soon as it is reached no greater depth need be attempted; all attention is then given to driving lateral trenches in every direction. In Assyria the mass of crude bricks sometimes rests upon a core of rock which has been utilized to save time and labour (LAYARD, Discoveries, &c., p. 219).

[149] See HERODOTUS, i. 181-184; and DIODORUS, ii. 9.

[150] By such means M. OPPERT arrives at a height of 250 Babylonian feet, or about 262 feet English for the monument now represented by the mound in the neighbourhood of Babylon known as Birs-Nimroud. Expedition scientifique de Mesopotamie, vol. i. pp. 205-209, and plate 8.

[151] Homologeitai d' hupselon gegenesthai kath' huperbolen.—DIODORUS, ii. 9, 4.

[152] The mound called Babil on the site of Babylon (Plate I. and Fig. 37) is now about 135 feet high, but the Birs-Nimroud, the highest of these ruins, has still an elevation of not less than 220 feet (LAYARD, Discoveries, p. 495).

[153] See LAYARD'S account of his excavation in the interior of the pyramidal ruin occupying a part of the platform which now surmounts the mound of Nimroud. From two sides trenches were cut to the centre; neither of them encountered a void of any kind (Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. p. 107). At a later period further trenches were cut and the rest of the building explored (Discoveries, pp. 123-129). The only void of which any trace could be found was a narrow, vaulted gallery, about 100 feet long, 6 wide, and 12 high. It was closed at both ends, and appeared never to have had any means of access from without.

[154] See LENORMANT, Histoire Ancienne, vol. ii. pp. 228 and 233. Translations of several texts in which these restorations are spoken of are here given.

[155] tou kataskeuasmatos dia tou chronou diapeptokotos (ii. 9, 4).

[156] STRABO, xvi. 5.

[157] DIODORUS, after describing the treasures of the temple, confines himself to saying generally, "all this was afterwards spoiled by the king of Persia" (ii. 9, 19).

[158] According to the personal experience of M. Place, the ancient arrangements were more suited to the climate of this country than the modern ones that have taken their place. The overpowering heat from which the inhabitants of modern Mossoul suffer so greatly is largely owing to the unintelligent employment of stone and plaster in the construction of dwellings. During his stay in that town the thermometer sometimes rose, in his apartments, to 51 deg. Centigrade (90 deg. Fahrenheit). The mean temperature of a summer's day was from 40 deg. to 42 deg. Centigrade (from 72 deg. to about 76 deg. Fahrenheit).

[159] See LAYARD, Monuments of Nineveh, 2nd series, plates 21 and 40.

[160] The serdab is a kind of cellar, the walls and floor of which are drenched periodically with water, which, by its evaporation, lowers the temperature by several degrees.

[161] The town represented on the sculptured slab here reproduced is not Assyrian but Phoenician; it affords data, however, which may be legitimately used in the restoration of the upper part of an Assyrian palace. We can hardly believe that the Mesopotamian artists, in illustrating the wars of the Assyrian kings, copied servilely the real features of the conquered towns. They had no sketches by "special artists" to guide their chisels. They were told that a successful campaign had been fought in the marshes of the lower Euphrates, or in some country covered with forests of date trees, and these they had no difficulty in representing because they had examples before their eyes; so too, when buildings were in question, we may fairly conclude that they borrowed their motives from the architecture with which they were familiar.

[162] See the History of Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. ii. pp. 77-84.

[163] LAYARD, Discoveries, p. 112; GEO. SMITH, Assyrian Discoveries, p. 341.

Sec. 3.—Construction.

As might have been expected nothing that can be called a structure of dressed stone has been discovered in Chaldaea;[164] in Assyria alone have some examples been found. Of these the most interesting, and the most carefully studied and described are the walls of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad.

Even there stone was only employed to case the walls in which the mound was inclosed—a cuirass of large blocks carefully dressed and fixed seemed to give solidity to the mass, and at the same time we know by the arrangement of the blocks that the outward appearance of the wall was by no means lost sight of. All those of a single course were of one height but of different depths and widths, and the arrangement followed a regular order like that shown in Fig. 46. Their external face was carefully dressed.[165]



The courses consist, on plan, of "stretchers" and "headers." We borrow from Place the plan of an angle (Fig. 44), a section (Fig. 45), and an elevation (Fig. 46). Courses are always horizontal and joints properly bound. The freestone blocks at the foot of the wall are very large. The stretchers are six feet eight inches thick, the same wide, and nine feet long. They weigh about twenty-three tons. It is astonishing to find the Assyrians, who were very rapid builders, choosing such heavy and unmanageable materials.

The supporting wall became gradually thinner towards the top, each course being slightly set back from the one below it on the inner face (see Fig. 45). This arrangement is general with these retaining-walls. The average diminution is from seven to ten feet at the base, to from three to six at the top.

The constructor showed no less skill in the use he made of his stretchers and headers. They not only gave him an opportunity of safely diminishing the weight of his structure and economising his materials, they afforded a ready means of adapting his wall exactly to the work it had to do. The headers penetrated farther into the crude mass within than the stretchers, and gave to the junction of the two surfaces a solidity similar to that derived by a wall from its through stones or perpenders.



In describing this wall, M. Place also calls attention to the care with which the angles are built. "The first course," he says, "is composed of three 'headers' with their shortest side outwards and their length engaged in the mass behind. Two of these stones lie parallel to each other, the third crosses their inner extremities."[166] Thanks to this ingenious arrangement, the weakest and most exposed part of the wall is capable of resisting any attack.

The surface in contact with the core of crude brick was only roughly dressed, by which means additional cohesion was given to the junction of the two materials; but the other sides were carefully worked and squared and fixed in place by simple juxtaposition. The architect calculated upon sufficient solidity being given by the mere weight of the stones and the perfection of their surfaces.[167]



The total height of this Khorsabad wall was sixty feet—nine feet for the foundations, forty-six for the retaining-wall, and five for the parapet, for the wall did not stop at the level of the roofs. A row of battlements was thought necessary both as a slight fortification and as an ornament.[168] These were finished at the top with open crenellations in brick, along the base of which ran apparently a frieze of painted rosettes. A reference to our Fig. 47 will explain all these arrangements better than words. It is a bird's-eye view in perspective of the south-western part of the palace. The vertical sections on the right of the engraving show how the stones were bonded to the crude brick. The crenellations are omitted here, but they may be seen in place on the left.

The great size of the stones and the regularity of the masonry, the height of the wall and the long line of battlements with which it was crowned, the contrast between the brilliant whiteness of its main surface and the bright colours of the painted frieze that, we have supposed, defined its summit—all this made up a composition simple enough, but by no means devoid of beauty and grandeur.

In the enceinte surrounding the town, stone was also employed, but in a rather different fashion. It was used to give strength to the foot of the wall, which consisted of a limestone plinth nearly four feet high, surmounted by a mass of crude brick, rising to a total height of about forty-four feet. Its thickness was eighty feet. The bed of stone upon which the brick rested was made up of two retaining walls with a core of rubble. In the former, large blocks, carefully dressed and fixed, were used; in the latter, pieces of broken stone thrown together pell-mell, except towards the top, where they were so placed as to present a smooth surface, upon which the first courses of brick could safely rest.[169]

When Xenophon crossed Assyria with the "ten thousand," he noticed this method of constructing city walls, but in all the enceintes that attracted his attention, the height of the plinth was much greater than that of Khorsabad. At Larissa it was twenty, and at Mespila fifty feet, or respectively a fifth and a third of the total height of the walls.[170] These figures can only be looked upon as approximate. The Greeks did not amuse themselves, we may be sure, with measuring the monuments they encountered on their march, even if Tissaphernes gave them time. But we may fairly conclude from this evidence that in some of the Assyrian town-walls the proportion between the plinth and the superstructure was very different from what it is in the only example that has come down to us.

At Khorsabad, then, stone played a much more important part in the palace wall than in that of the town, but even in the latter position it is used with skill and in no inconsiderable quantity; on the other hand, it is only employed in the interior of the palace for paving, for lining walls, for the bases, shafts and capitals of columns, and such minor purposes. In the only palace that has been completely excavated, that of Sargon at Khorsabad, everything is built of brick. Layard alone speaks of a stone-built chamber in the palace of Sennacherib at Kouyundjik, but he gives no details.

It would seem as if the Assyrians were content with showing themselves passed-masters in the art of dressing and fixing stone, and, that proof given, had never cared to make use of the material in the main structures of their buildings. Like the Chaldaeans, they preferred brick, into the management of which, however, they introduced certain modifications of their own. The crude brick of Nineveh and its neighbourhood was used while damp, and, when put in place, did not greatly differ from pise.[171] Spread out in wide horizontal courses, the slabs of soft clay adhered one to another by their plasticity, through the effect of the water with which they were impregnated and that of the pressure exercised by the courses above.[172] The building was thus, in effect, nothing but a single huge block. Take it as a whole, put aside certain parts, such as the doorways and drains, that were constructed on rather different principles, shut your eyes to the merely decorative additions, and you will have a huge mass of kneaded earth which might have been shaped by giants in a colossal mould.

The masons of Babylon and of other southern cities made a much more extensive use of burnt brick than those of the north. In Assyria the masses of pise have as a rule no other covering than the slabs of alabaster and limestone, and above, a thin layer of stucco. In Chaldaea the crude walls of the houses and towers were cuirassed with those excellent burnt bricks which the inhabitants of Bagdad and Hillah carry off to this day for use in their modern habitations.[173] The crude bricks used behind this protecting epidermis have not lost their individuality, as at Nineveh they seem to have been used only after complete dessication. They are of course much more friable than those burnt in the kiln; when they are deprived of their cuirass and exposed to the weather they return slowly to the condition of dust, and their remains are seen in the sloping mounds that hide the foot of every ancient ruin (see Fig. 48), and yet if you penetrate into the interior of a mass built of these bricks, you will easily distinguish the courses, and in some instances the bricks have sufficient solidity to allow of their being moved and detached one from another. They are, in fact, bricks, and not pise. But in Chaldaea, as in Assyria, the mounds upon which the great buildings were raised are not always of crude brick. They are sometimes made by inclosing a large space by four brick walls, and filling it with earth and the various debris left by previous buildings.[174] Our remarks upon construction must be understood as applying to the buildings themselves, and not to the artificial hills upon which they stood.



The Assyrians seem never to have used anything analogous to our mortar or cement in fixing their materials. On the comparatively rare occasions when they employed stone they were content with dressing their blocks with great care and putting them in absolute juxtaposition with one another. When they used crude brick, sufficient adherence was insured by the moisture left in the clay, and by its natural properties. Even when they used burnt or well dried bricks they took no great care to give them a cohesion that would last, ordinary clay mixed with water and a little straw, was their only cement.[175] Even in our own day the masons and bricklayers of Mossoul and Bagdad are content with the same simple materials, and their structures have no great solidity in consequence.

In Chaldaea, at least in certain times and at certain places, construction was more careful. In the ruin known as Babil, a ruin that represents one of the principal monuments of ancient Babylon, there is nothing between the bricks but earth that must have been placed there in the condition of mud.[176] These bricks may be detached almost without effort. It is quite otherwise with the two other ruins in the same neighbourhood, called respectively Kasr and Birs-Nimroud. Their bricks are held together by an excellent mortar of lime, and cannot be separated without breaking.[177] Elsewhere, at Mugheir for instance, the mortar is composed of lime and ashes.[178]



Finally, the soil of Mesopotamia furnished, and still furnishes, a kind of natural mortar in the bituminous fountains that spring through the soil at more than one point between Mossoul and Bagdad.[179] It is hardly ever used in these days except in boatbuilding, for coating the planks and caulking. In ancient times its employment was very general in the more carefully constructed buildings, and, as it was found neither in Greece nor Syria, it made a great impression upon travellers from those countries. They noted it as one of the characteristics of Chaldaean civilization. In the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel we are told: "They had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar."[180] Herodotus lays stress upon the same detail in his description of the way in which the walls of Babylon were built: "As they dug the ditches they converted the excavated earth into bricks, and when they had enough, they burnt them in the kiln. Finally, for mortar they used hot bitumen, and at every thirty courses of bricks they put a layer of reeds interlaced."[181]

Those walls have long ago disappeared. For many centuries their ruins afforded building materials for the inhabitants of the cities that have succeeded each other upon and around the site of ancient Babylon, and now their lines are only to be faintly traced in slight undulations of the ground, which are here and there hardly distinguishable from the banks that bordered the canals. But in those deserts of Lower Chaldaea, where the nomad tent is now almost the only dwelling, structures have been found but little damaged, in which layers of reeds placed at certain intervals among the bricks may be easily distinguished. As a rule three or four layers are strewn one upon the other, the rushes in one being at right angles to those above and below it. Here and there the stalks may still be seen standing out from the wall.[182] Fragments of bitumen are everywhere to be picked up among the debris about these buildings, upon which it must have been used for mortar. It never seems to have been employed, however, over the whole of a building, but only in those parts where more than the ordinary cohesive power was required. Thus, at Warka, in the ruin called Bouvariia, the buttresses that stand out from the main building are of large burnt bricks set in thick beds of bitumen, the whole forming such a solid body that a pickaxe has great difficulty in making any impression upon it.[183]

Travellers have also found traces of the same use of bitumen in the ruins of Babylon. It seems to have been in less frequent employment in Assyria. It has there been found only under the two layers of bricks that constitute the ordinary pavement of roofs, courts, and chambers. The architect no doubt introduced this coat of asphalte for two purposes—partly to give solidity to the pavement, partly to keep down the wet and to force the water in the soil to flow off through its appointed channels. A layer of the same kind was also spread under the drains.[184]

In spite of all their precautions time and experience compelled the inhabitants of Mesopotamia to recognize the danger of crude brick as a building material; they endeavoured, therefore, to supplement its strength with huge buttresses. Wherever the ruins have still preserved some of their shape, we can trace, almost without exception, the presence of these supports, and, as a rule, they are better and more carefully built than the structures whose walls they sustain. Their existence has been affirmed by every traveller who has explored the ruins of Chaldaea,[185] and in Assyria they are also to be found, especially in front of the fine retaining wall that helps to support the platform on which the palace of Sargon was built.[186] The architect counted upon the weight of his building, and upon these ponderous buttresses, to give it a firm foundation and to maintain the equilibrium of its materials. As a rule there were no foundations, as we understand the word. At Abou-Sharein, in Chaldaea, the monument described by Taylor and the brick pavement that surrounds it are both placed upon the sand.[187] Botta noticed something of the same kind in connection with the palace walls at Khorsabad: "They rest," he says, "upon the very bricks of the mound without the intervention of any plinth or other kind of solid foundation, so that here and there they have sunk below the original level of the platform upon which they are placed."[188]

This was not due to negligence, for in other respects these structures betray a painstaking desire to insure the stability of the work, and no little skill in the selection of means. Thus the Chaldaean architect pierced his crude brick masses with numerous narrow tunnels, or ventilating pipes, through which the warm and desiccating air of a Mesopotamian summer could be brought into contact with every part, and the slight remains of moisture still left in the bricks when fixed could be gradually carried off. These shafts have been found in the ruins of Babylon and of other Chaldaean cities.[189] Nothing of the kind has been discovered in Assyria, and for a very simple reason. It would have been impossible to preserve them in the soft paste, the kind of pise, we have described.

Another thing that had to be carefully provided for was the discharge of the rain water which, unless it had proper channels of escape, would filter through the cracks and crevices of the brick and set up a rapid process of disintegration. In the Assyrian palaces we find, therefore, that the pavements of the flat roofs of the courtyards and open halls had a decided slope, and that the rain water was thus conducted to scuppers, through which it fell into runnels communicating with a main drain, from which it was finally discharged into the nearest river.

It rained less in Chaldaea than in Assyria. But we may fairly conclude that the Chaldaean architects were as careful as their northern rivals to provide such safeguards as those we have described; but their buildings are now in such a condition that no definite traces of them are to be distinguished. On the other hand, the ruins in Lower Chaldaea prove that even in the most ancient times the constructor had then the same object in view; but the means of which he made use were much more simple, although contrived with no little ingenuity. We shall here epitomize what we have learnt from one of those few observers to whom we owe all our knowledge of the earliest Chaldaean civilization.

Mr. J. E. Taylor, British vice-consul at Bassorah, explored not a few of the mounds in the immediate neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf which mark the sites of the burying places belonging to the most ancient cities of Chaldaea.

The summits of these mounds are paved with burnt brick; their mass consists of heaped up coffins separated from one another by divisions of the same material. To insure the preservation of the bodies and of the objects buried with them liquids of every kind had to be provided with a ready means of escape. The structures were pierced, therefore, with a vast number of vertical drains. Long conduits of terra-cotta (see Fig. 49) stretched from the paved summit, upon which they opened with very narrow mouths, to the base. They were composed of tubes, each about two feet long and eighteen inches in diameter. In some cases there are as many as forty of these one upon another. They are held together by thin coats of bitumen, and in order to give them greater strength their sides are slightly concave. Their interiors are filled in with fragments of broken pottery, which gave considerable support while they in no way hindered the passage of the water. These potsherds are even placed around the outsides of the tubes, so that the latter are nowhere in contact with the brick; they have a certain amount of play, and with the tubes which they encase they form a series of shafts, like chimneys, measuring about four feet square. Every precaution was taken to carry off the water left by the storms. They were not contented with the small opening at the head of each tube. The whole of its dome-shaped top was pierced with small holes, that made it a kind of cullender. Either through this or through the interstices of the potsherd packing, all the moisture that escaped the central opening would find a safe passage to the level of the ground, whence, no doubt, it would be carried off to the streams in conduits now hidden by the mass of debris round the foot of every mound.



That these arrangements were well adapted to their purpose has been proved by the result. Thanks to the drains we have described, these sepulchral mounds have remained perfectly dry to the present day. Not only the coffins, with the objects in metal or terra-cotta they contained, but even the skeletons themselves have been preserved intact. A touch will reduce the latter to powder, but on the first opening of their coffins they look as if time had had no effect upon their substance.[190]

By these details we may see how far the art of the constructor was pushed in the early centuries of the Chaldaean monarchy. They excite a strong desire in us to discover the internal arrangements of his buildings, the method by which access was given or forbidden to those chambers of the Babylonian temples and houses whose magnificence has been celebrated by every writer that saw them before their ruin. Unhappily nothing has come down to us of the monuments of Chaldaea, and especially of those of Babylon, but their basements and the central masses of the staged towers. The Assyrian palaces are indeed in a better state of preservation, but even in their case we ask many questions to which no certain answer is forthcoming.

The great difficulty in all our researches and attempts at restoration, is caused by the complete absence of any satisfactory evidence as to the nature of the roofs that covered rooms, either small or large. In most cases the walls are only standing to a height of from ten to fifteen feet;[191] in no instance has a wall with its summit still in place been discovered.

The cut on the opposite page (Fig. 50) gives a fair idea of what a Ninevite building looks like after the excavators have finished their work. It is a view in perspective of one of the gates of Sargon's city: the walls are eighty-eight feet thick, to which the buttresses add another ten feet; their average height is from about twenty-five to thirty feet, high enough to allow the archway by which the city was entered to remain intact. This is quite an exception. In no part of the palace is there anything to correspond to this happy find of M. Place—any evidence by which we can decide the forms of Assyrian doorways. The walls are always from about twelve to twenty-eight feet in thickness (see Fig. 46.) Rooms are rectangular, sometimes square, but more often so long as to be galleries rather than rooms in the ordinary sense of the word.

The way in which these rooms were covered in has been much discussed. Sir Henry Layard believes only in flat roofs, similar to those of modern houses in Mossoul and the neighbouring villages. He tells us that he never came upon the slightest trace of a vault, while in almost every room that he excavated he found wood ashes and carbonized timber.[192] He is convinced that the destruction of several of these buildings was due in the first instance to fire. Several pieces of sculpture, those from the palace of Sennacherib, for instance, may be quoted, which when found were black with soot. They look like castings in relief that have been long fixed at the back of a fire-place.

Long and narrow rooms may have been roofed with beams of palm or poplar resting upon the summits of the walls. As for the large halls, in the centre they would be open to the sky, while around the opening would run a portico, similar to that of a Roman atrium, whose sloping roof would protect the reliefs with which the walls were ornamented.[193]



As to this, however, doubt had already been expressed by an attentive and judicial observer like Loftus; who thought that the arch had played a very important part in the architecture of Mesopotamia.[194] As he very justly remarked, the conditions were rather different from those that obtained in the maritime and mountainous provinces of Persia; there was no breeze from the gulf or from the summits of snowy mountains, to which every facility for blowing through their houses and cooling their heated chambers had to be given; the problem to be solved was how best to oppose an impenetrable shield against a daily and long continued heat that would otherwise have been unbearable. Now it is clear that a vault with its great powers of resistance would have been far better fitted to support a roof whose thickness should be in some reasonable proportion to the massive walls, than a ceiling of bad timber. In our day the mosques, the baths, and many of the private houses of Mossoul and Bagdad have dome-shaped roofs. Without going as far as Mesopotamia, the traveller in Syria may see how intelligently, even in the least important towns, the native builder has employed a small dome built upon a square, to obtain a strong and solid dwelling entirely suited to the climate, a dwelling that should be warm in winter and cool in summer.

We must also point out that the state in which the interiors of rooms are found by explorers, is more consistent with the hypothesis of a domed roof than with any other. They are covered to a depth of from fifteen to twenty feet with heaps of debris, reaching up to the top of the walls, so far as the latter remain standing.[195] This rubbish consists of brick-earth mixed with broken bricks, and pieces of stucco. Granting wooden roofs, how is such an accumulation to be accounted for? Roofs supported by beams laid across from one wall to the other, could never have safely upheld any great weight. They must have been thin and comparatively useless as a defence against the sun of Mesopotamia. On the other hand if we assume that vaults of pise were the chosen coverings, all the rest follows easily. They could support the flat roof with ease, and the whole upper structure could be made of sufficient thickness to exclude both the heat and the rain, while the present appearance of the ruins is naturally accounted for.

Those who have lived in the East, those, even, who have extended a visit to Athens as far as Eleusis or Megara, must have stretched themselves, more than once, under the stars, and, on the flat roofs of their temporary resting-places, sought that rest that was not to be found in the hot and narrow chambers within. They must then have noticed, as I have more than once, a large stone cylinder in one corner. In Greece and Asia Minor, it will be in most cases a "drum" from some antique column, or a funerary cippus, abstracted by the peasantry from some neighbouring ruin. This morsel of Paros or Pentelic has to perform the office of a roller. When some heavy fall of rain by wetting and softening the upper surface of the terrace, gives an opportunity for repairing the ravages of a long drought, the stone is taken backwards and forwards over the yielding pise. It closes the cracks, kills the weeds that if left to themselves would soon transform the roof into a field, and makes the surface as firm as a threshing-floor.

The roofs of Assyrian buildings must have required the same kind of treatment, and we know that in the present day it is actually practised. M. Place mentions rollers of limestone, weighing from two to three hundredweight, pierced at each end with a square hole into which wooden spindles were inserted to facilitate their management.[196] A certain number of these rollers were found within the chambers, into which they must have fallen with the roofs. As soon as the terraces ceased to receive the care necessary for keeping down the weeds and shrubs and keeping out the water, the process of disintegration must have been rapid. The rains would soon convert cracks into gaping breaches, and at the end of a few years, every storm would bring down a part of the roof. A century would be enough to destroy the vaults, and with them the upper parts of the walls to which they were closely allied by the skill of the constructor. The disappearance of the archivolts and the great heaps of debris are thus accounted for. The roof materials were too soft, however, to damage in their fall the figures in high relief or in the round that decorated the chambers beneath, or the carved slabs with which their walls were lined. In spreading itself about these sculptures and burying them out of sight and memory, the soft clay served posterity more efficiently than the most careful of packers.

Among the first observers to suspect the truth as to the use of the vault in Mesopotamia, were Eugene Flandin, who helped Botta to excavate the palace of Sargon,[197] and Felix Thomas,[198] the colleague of M. Place. The reasons by which M. Thomas was led to the conclusion that the rooms in the Ninevite palaces were vaulted, are thus given by M. Place, who may be considered his mouthpiece.[199]

He does not deny that some of the Khorsabad reliefs bear the marks of fire, but he affirms, and that after the experience of four digging campaigns, that the conflagration was much less general than might be supposed from the statements of some travellers. He failed to discover the slightest trace of fire in the hundred and eighty-four rooms and twenty-eight courts that he excavated. The marvellous preservation of the reliefs in many of the halls is inconsistent, in his opinion, with the supposition that the palace was destroyed by fire; and if we renounce that supposition the mere action of time is insufficient to account for the disappearance of such an extent of timber roofing, for here and there, especially near the doorways, pieces of broken beams and door panels have been found. "The wood is not all in such condition as the incorruptible cedar of the gilded palm-trees, but wherever it certainly existed, traces of it may be pointed out. In advanced decomposition it is no more consistent than powder, it may be picked up and thrown aside, leaving a faithful cast of the beam or post to which it belonged in the more tenacious clay."



All this, however, was but negative evidence. The real solution of the problem was first positively suggested by the discovery of vaults in place, in the drains and water channels, and in the city gates. The bas-reliefs in which towns or fortresses are represented also support the belief that great use was made of arched openings in Assyria, and the countries in its neighbourhood (see Fig. 51). As soon as it is proved that the Assyrians understood the principle of the arch, why should it any longer be denied that they made use of it to cover their chambers? It is obvious that a vault would afford a much better support for the weight above than any timber roof.

In the course of the explorations, a probable conjecture was changed into complete certainty. The very vaults for which inductive reasoning had shown the necessity were found, if not in place, at least in a fragmentary condition, and in the very rooms to which they had afforded a cover—and here we must quote the words of the explorers themselves.

In the most deeply buried quarters of the building, the excavations were carried on by means of horizontal tunnels or shafts. "I was often obliged," says M. Place, "to drive trenches from one side of the rooms to another in order to get a clear idea of their shape and arrangement. On these occasions we often met with certain hard facts, for which, at the time, we could give no explanation. These facts were blocks of clay whose under sides were hollowed segmentally and covered with a coat of stucco. These fragments were found sometimes a few feet from the walls, sometimes near the middle of the rooms. At first I was thoroughly perplexed to account for them. Our trenches followed scrupulously the inner surfaces of the walls, which were easily recognizable by their stucco when they had no lining of carved slabs. What then were we to make of these arched blocks, also coated with stucco, but found in the centre of the rooms and far away from the walls? Such signs were not to be disregarded in an exploration where everything was new and might lead to unforeseen results. Wherever a trace of stucco appeared I followed it up carefully. Little by little the earth under and about the stuccoed blocks was cleared away, and then we found ourselves confronted by what looked like the entrance to an arched cellar. Here and there these portions of vaulting were many feet in length, from four to six in span, and three or four from the crown of the arch to the level upon which it rested. At the first glance the appearance of a vault was complete, and I thought I was about to penetrate into a cellar where some interesting find might await me. But on farther examination this pleasant delusion was dispelled. The pretended cellar came to an abrupt end, and declared itself to be no more than a section of vaulting that had quitted its proper place.... The evidence thus obtained was rendered still more conclusive by the discovery on the under side of several fragments of paintings which had evidently been intended for the decoration of a ceiling."[200]

It is clear that these curvilinear and frescoed blocks were fragments of a tunnel vault that had fallen in; and their existence explains the great thickness given by the Assyrian constructor not only to his outer walls, but to those that divided room from room. The thinnest of the latter are hardly less than ten feet, while here and there they are as much as fifteen or sixteen. As for the outer walls they sometimes reach a thickness of from five and twenty to thirty feet.[201] The climate is insufficient to account for the existence of such walls as these. In the case of the outer walls such a reason might be thought, by stretching a point, to justify their extravagant measurements, but with the simple partitions of the interior, it is quite another thing. This apparent anomaly disappears, however, if we admit the existence of vaults and the necessity for meeting the enormous thrust they set up. With such a material as clay, the requisite solidity, could only be given by increasing the mass until its thickness was sometimes greater than the diameter of the chambers it inclosed.

M. Place lays great stress upon the disproportion between the length and width of many of the apartments. There are few of which the greater diameter is not at least double the lesser, and in many cases it is four, five, and even seven times as great. He comes to the conclusion that these curious proportions were forced on the Assyrians by the nature of the materials at their disposal. Such an arrangement must have been destructive to architectural effect as well as inconvenient, but a clay vault could not have any great span, and its abutments must perforce have been kept within a reasonable distance of each other.

Taken by itself, this argument has, perhaps, hardly as much force as M. Place is inclined to give it. Doubtless the predilection for an exaggerated parallelogram agrees very well with the theory that the vault was in constant use by Mesopotamian architects, but it might be quoted with equal reason by the supporters of the opposite hypothesis, that of the timber roof.

Our best reason for accepting all these pieces of evidence as corroborative of the view taken by MM. Flandin, Loftus, Place, and Thomas is, in the first place, the incontestable fact that the entrances to the town of Khorsabad were passages roofed with barrel vaults; secondly, the presence amid the debris of the fragmentary arches above described; thirdly, the depth of the mass of broken earth within the walls of each chamber; finally, the singular thickness of the walls, which is only to be satisfactorily explained by the supposition that the architect had to provide solid abutments for arches that had no little weight to carry.

It is difficult to say how the Assyrians set about building these arches of crude brick, but long practice enabled their architects to use that unsatisfactory material with a skill of which we had no suspicion before the exhumation of Nineveh. Thanks to its natural qualities and to the experienced knowledge with which it was prepared, their clay was tough and plastic to a degree that astonished the modern explorers on more than one occasion. The arched galleries cut during the excavations—sometimes segmental, sometimes pointed, and often of a considerable height and width—could never have stood in any other kind of earth without strong and numerous supports. And yet M. Place tells us that these very galleries, exactly in the condition in which the mattock left them, "provided lodging for the labourers engaged and their families, and ever since they have served as a refuge for the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. Workmen and peasants have taken shelter under vaults similar to those of the ancient Assyrians. Sometimes we cut through the accidental accumulations of centuries, where the clay, far from having been carefully put in place, had rather lost many of its original qualities. Even there, however, the roof of our galleries remained suspended without any signs of instability, as if to bear witness that the Assyrian architect knew what he was about when he trusted so much to the virtues of a fictile material."[202]

We may refer those who are specially interested in constructive methods to M. Place's account of the curious fashion in which the workmen of Mossoul will build a pointed vault without the help of any of those wooden centerings in use in Europe. In our day, certainly, the masons of Mossoul use stone and mortar, but their example none the less proves that similar results may once have been obtained in different materials.[203] A vault launched into mid-air without any centering, and bearing the workmen who were building it on its unfinished flanks, was a phenomenon calculated to astonish an architect. Taking everything into consideration the clay vaults of Khorsabad are no more surprising than these domes of modern Mossoul.[204]

We cannot say for certain that the Assyrian builders made use of domes in addition to the barrel vaults, but all the probabilities are in favour of such an hypothesis.

A dome is a peculiar kind of vault used for the covering of square, circular, or polygonal spaces. As for circular and polygonal rooms, none have been found in Assyria, but a few square ones have been disinterred. On the principal facade of Sargon's palace there are two of a fair size, some forty-eight feet each way. Thomas did not believe that a barrel vault was used in these apartments; the span would have been too great. He sought therefore for some method that would be at once well adapted to the special conditions and in harmony with the general system. This he found in the hemispherical dome.

All doubts on the subject were taken away, however, by the discovery of the bas-relief (Fig. 43) reproduced on page 145, in which we find a group of buildings roofed, some with spherical vaults, some with elliptical domes approaching a cone in outline. This proves that the Mesopotamian architects were acquainted with different kinds of domes, just as they were with varieties of the barrel vault.

It has been guessed that this bas-relief, which is unique in its way, merely represents the brick-kilns used in the construction of the palace of Sennacherib. To this objection there is more than one answer. The Assyrian sculptures we possess represent but a small part of the whole, and each fresh discovery introduces us to forms previously unknown. Moreover, had the sculptor wished to represent the kilns in which the bricks for the palace were burnt, he would have shown the flames coming out at the top. In reliefs of burning towns he never leaves out the flames, and in this case, where they would have served to mark the activity with which the building operations were pushed on, he would certainly not have omitted them. Again, is not the building on the left of the picture obviously a flat-roofed house? If that be so we must believe, before we accept the kiln theory, that the sculptor made a strange departure from the real proportions of the respective buildings. The doorways, too, in the relief are exactly like those of an ordinary house, while they bear no resemblance to the low and narrow openings which have been used at all times for kilns. Why then should we refuse to admit that there were vaults in Nineveh, when Strabo tells us expressly that "all the houses of Babylon were vaulted."[205]

Thomas invokes the immemorial custom of the East to support the evidence of this curious relief:—the great church of St. Sophia, the Byzantine churches and the Turkish mosques, all of which had no other roof but a cupola. In all of these he sees nothing but late examples of a characteristic method of construction which had been invented and perfected many centuries before at Babylon and Nineveh.

From the monuments with which those two great cities were adorned nothing but the foundations and parts of the walls have come down to our day; but the buildings of a later epoch, of the periods when Seleucia and Ctesiphon enjoyed the heritage of Babylon, have been more fortunate. In the ruins which are acknowledged to be those of the palaces built by the Parthian and Sassanid monarchs, the upper structures are still in existence, and in a more or less well preserved condition. In these the dome arrangement is universal. Sometimes, as at Firouz-Abad (Fig. 52), we find the segment of a sphere; elsewhere, as at Sarbistan (Fig. 53), the cupola is ovoid. Our section of the latter building will give an idea of the internal arrangements of these structures, and will show how the architect contrived to suspend a circular dome over a square apartment.[206]

These monuments of an epoch between remote antiquity and the Graeco-Roman period were built of brick, like the palaces of Nineveh.[207] The exigencies of the climate remained the same, the habits and requirements of the various royal families that succeeded each other in the country were not sensibly modified, while the Sargonids, the Arsacids and the Sassanids all ruled over one and the same population.



The corporations of architects and workmen must have preserved the traditions of their craft from century to century, traditions which had their first rise in the natural capabilities of their materials and in the data of the problem they had to solve. The historian cannot, then, be accused of going beyond the limit of fair induction in arguing from these modern buildings to their remote predecessors. After the conquest of Alexander, the ornamental details, and, still more, the style of the sculptures, must have been affected to a certain extent, first by Greek art and afterwards by that of Rome; but the plans, the internal structure, and the general arrangement of the buildings must have remained the same.



There is nothing hazardous or misleading in these arguments from analogy; from the palace of Chosroes to that of Sargon is a legitimate step. Some day, perhaps, we may attempt to pursue the same path in the opposite direction; we may endeavour to show that the survival of these examples and traditions may very well have helped to direct architecture into a new path in the last years of the Roman Empire. We shall then have to speak of a school in Asia Minor whose works have not yet been studied with the attention they deserve. The buildings in question are distinguished chiefly by the important part played in their construction by the vault and the dome resting upon pendentives; certain constructive processes, too, are to be found in them which had never, so far as we can tell, been known or practised in the East. We can hardly believe that the chiefs of the school invented from the foundation a system of construction whose principles were so different from those of the Greeks, or even of the later Romans. They may, indeed, have perfected the system by grafting the column upon it, but it is at least probable that they took it in the first place from those who had practised it from time immemorial, from men who taught them the traditional methods of shortening and facilitating the labour of execution. The boundaries of Asia Minor "march" with those of Mesopotamia, and in the latter every important town had buildings of brick covered with domes. The Romans frequented the Euphrates valley, to which they were taken both by war and commerce; their victories sometimes carried them even as far as Ctesiphon on the Tigris, so that there was no lack of opportunity for the study of Oriental architecture on the very spot where it was born. They could judge of and admire the beauty it certainly possessed when the great buildings of Mesopotamia were still clothed in all the richness of their decoration. The genius of the Greeks had come nigh to exhausting the forms and combinations of the classic style; it was tired of continuous labour in a narrow circle and sighed for fresh worlds to conquer. We can easily understand then, how it would welcome a system which seemed to afford the novelty it sought, which seemed to promise the elements of a new departure that might be developed in many, as yet unknown, directions. If we put ourselves at this point of view we shall see that Isidore and Anthemius, the architects of St. Sophia, were the disciples and perpetuators of the forgotten masters who raised so many millions of bricks into the air at the bidding of Sargon and Nebuchadnezzar.[208]

Whatever may be thought of this hypothesis, there seems to be little doubt that the Assyrians knew how to pass from the barrel vault to the hemispherical, and even to the elliptical, cupola. As soon as they had discovered the principle of the vault and found out easy and expeditious methods of setting it up, all the rest followed as a matter of course. Their materials lent themselves as kindly to the construction of a dome as to that of a segmental vault, and promised equal stability in either case. As to their method of passing from the square substructure to the dome we know nothing for certain, but we may guess that the system employed by the Sassanids (see Fig. 54) was a survival from it. It is unlikely that timber centerings were used to sustain the vaults during construction. Timber was rare and bad in Chaldaea and men would have to learn to do without it. M. Choisy has shown—as we have already mentioned—that the Byzantine architects built cupolas of wide span without scaffolding of any kind, each circular course being maintained in place until it was complete by the mere adherence of the mortar.[209]

M. Place, too, gives an account of how he saw a few Kurd women build an oven in the shape of a Saracenic dome, with soft clay and without any internal support. Their structure, at the raising of which his lively curiosity led him to assist, was composed of a number of rings, decreasing in diameter as they neared the summit.[210] The domes of crude brick which surmounted many of the Kurd houses were put together in the same fashion, and they were often of considerable size. When asked by M. Place as to how they had learnt to manage brick so skilfully, the oven-builders replied that it was "the custom of the country," and there is no apparent reason why that custom should not date back to a remote antiquity. The Assyrians had recourse to similar means when they built the domes of their great palaces. They too, perhaps, left a day for drying to each circular course, and re-wetted its upper surface when the moment arrived for placing the next.[211]



From the existence of domes—which he considers to be almost beyond question—M. Place deduces that of semi-domes, one of which he assigns to the principal chamber of the harem in the palace at Khorsabad (Fig. 55). Feeling, perhaps, that this requires some justification, he finds it in a modern custom, which he thus describes:—"In the towns of this part of the East, the inner court of the harem is, as a rule, terminated at one of its extremities by a vault entirely open at one side, in the form of a huge niche. It is, in fact, the half of a dome sliced in two from top to bottom; the floor, which is elevated a few steps above the pavement of the court, is strewn with carpets and cushions so as to form an open and airy saloon, in which the women are to be found by their visitors at certain hours. This divan is protected from rain by the semi-dome, and from the sun by curtains or mats hung across the arched opening. This arrangement may very well be dictated by ancient tradition. It is well suited to the climate, a consideration which never fails to exercise a decisive influence over architecture."[212]



And yet there would, perhaps, have been room for hesitation had no support to this induction been afforded by the figured monuments; for the inhabitants of the province of Mossoul have deserted the traditions of their ancestors in more than one particular. They have given up the use of crude brick, for instance, so far, at least as the walls of their houses are concerned. They have supplied its place with stone and plaster, hence their dwellings are less fresh and cool than those of their fathers. In such a question the present throws a light upon the past, but the two have distinctive features of their own, even when the physical characteristics of the country have remained the same. The best evidence in favour of the employment of such an arrangement in Assyria is that of the bas-relief. We there not infrequently encounter an object like those figured on this page. Sometimes it is in the midst of what appears to be an entrenched camp, sometimes in a fortified city. Its general aspect, certain minor details, and sometimes an accompanying inscription, permit us to recognize in it the marquee or pavilion of the king.[213] Now the roofs of these structures evidently consist of two semi-domes, unequal in size and separated by an uncovered space. If such an arrangement was found convenient for a portable and temporary dwelling like a tent, why should it not have been applied to the permanent homes both of the king and his people?

Arches still standing in the city gates, fragments of vaults found within the chambers of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad, the evidence of the bas-reliefs and the existing methods of building in Mesopotamia—all concur in persuading us that the vault played an important part in the constructions of Assyria, and consequently in those of Chaldaea; but we should not go so far as to say that all the rooms in the palace at Khorsabad and elsewhere were covered with barrel vaults, domes, or semi-domes. Our chosen guides, have, we think, allowed themselves to be a little too absolute in this particular; it is quite possible that by the side of the vaulted chambers there were others with wooden roofs. This conclusion is suggested partly by Sir H. Layard's discovery of considerable quantities of wood ashes in the palaces he excavated, partly by the evidence of ancient texts that wood was often used throughout this region to support the roofs at least of private houses. We may quote, in the first place, some remarks in Strabo's account of Susiana, which the Greek geographer borrowed from one of his original authorities: "In order to prevent the houses from becoming too hot, their roofs are covered with two cubits of earth, the weight of which compels them to make their dwellings long and narrow, because although they had only short beams, they had to have large rooms, so as to avoid being suffocated." This same writer, in speaking of these roofs, describes a singular property of the palm-tree beams. The densest and most solid of them, he says, instead of yielding with age and sinking under the weight they have to support, take a gentle upward curve so as to become better fitted than at first for the support of the heavy roof.[214]

The necessity for the presence of a thick roof between the sun and the inside of the rooms is here very clearly affirmed. It will also be noticed that the general form of apartments in Susiana and Assyria did not escape the observer in question. As he saw very clearly, the great disproportion between their length and their width was to be explained as easily by the requirements of a wooden roof as by those of a clay vault.

In his attempt to describe Babylon, Strabo says[215]: "In the absence of timber, properly speaking, beams and columns of palm-wood were used in the buildings of Babylonia. These pillars were covered with twisted ropes of rushes, over which several coats of paint were laid. The doors were coated with asphalte. Both doors and houses were very high. We may add that the houses were vaulted, in consequence of the absence of wood.... There were, of course, no tile roofs in countries where it never rains,[216] such as Babylonia, Susiana and Sittacenia."

Strabo himself never visited Mesopotamia. This we know from the passage in his introduction, in which he tells us exactly how far his voyages extended, from north to south, and from east to west.[217] When he had to describe Asia from the Taurus to India, he could only do so with the help of passages borrowed from various authors, and in the course of his work it has sometimes happened that he has brought into juxtaposition pieces of information that contradict each other.[218] Something of the kind has happened in the lines we have quoted, in which he first speaks of pillars and timber roofs, and ends by declaring that all the Chaldaean houses were vaulted, although vaults and timber could not exist together. The truth is, in all probability, that one system of covering prevailed here and another there, and that the seeming contradiction in the text is due to hasty editing. We may conclude from it that travellers had reported the existence of both systems, and that each was to be explained by local conditions and the varying supply of materials.

The two systems still exist side by side over all Western Asia. From Syria to Kurdistan and the Persian Gulf the hemispherical cupola upon a square substructure continually occurs. The timber roof is hardly less frequent; when the apartment in which it is used is of any considerable size it is carried upon two or three rows of wooden columns. These columns rest upon cubes of stone, and a tablet of the same material is often interposed between them and the beams they support. A sort of rustic order is thus constituted of which the shaft alone is of wood. We reproduce a sketch by Sir H. Layard in which this arrangement is shown. It is taken from a house inhabited by Yezidis,[219] in the district of Upper Mesopotamia called Sinjar (Fig. 58).



We are inclined to think that both systems were occasionally found in a single building. The tunnel vault and the joisted ceiling were equally well suited to the long galleries of Assyrian palaces. In one room, or suite of rooms, nothing but brick may have been used, while in others wood may have had the preference. Still more probably, one architect may have had a predilection for timber, while another may have preferred clay vaults. In either case the general arrangement, what we may call the spirit of the plan, would remain the same.

When wooden roofs were used were they upheld by wooden uprights or by columns of any other material? Botta was at first inclined to say yes to this question, but he did not attempt to conceal that excavation had discovered little to support such an hypothesis.[220] Such pillars, were they of stone, would leave traces among the ruins in the shape of broken columns; were they of burnt bricks (and there could be no question of the crude material), those bricks would be found on the spot they occupied and would easily be recognized by their shape, which, as we have already shown, would have been specially adapted to the work they had to do.[221] The points of junction with the pavement would also be visible. If we contend that they were of wood, like those of the house figured above, we must admit that, at least in the more carefully built houses, such precautions as even the peasants of the Yezidis do not neglect must have been taken, and the timber columns raised upon stone bases which would protect them from the sometimes damp floors. Neither these bases nor any marks of their existence have been found in any of the ruins; and we are therefore led to the conclusion that to search for hypostyle halls in the Assyrian palaces, would be to follow the imagination rather than the reason.

If we admit that architects made no use of columns to afford intermediate support to the heavy roofs, we may at first be inclined to believe that wooden ceilings were only used in very narrow apartments, for we can hardly give a length of more than from twenty-four to twenty-seven feet to beams that were called upon to support a thick covering of beaten earth as well as their own weight.[222] Perhaps, however, the skill of their carpenters was equal to increasing the span and rigidity of the beams used by a few simple contrivances. One of these is shown in our Fig. 60, a diagram composed by M. Chipiez to give an idea of the different methods of construction used by, or, at least, at the command of, the Assyrian builder.

All the rooms were surmounted by flat roofs, and our horizontal sections show how these roofs were accommodated to the domes or the timber ceilings by which they were supported. On the left of the engraving semicircular vaults are shown, on the right a timbered roof. The arrangement of the latter is taken from an Etruscan tomb at Corneto, where, however, it is carried out in stone.[223] A frame like this could be put together on the spot and offered the means of covering a wider space with the same materials than could be roofed in by a horizontal arrangement. Further back rises one of those domes over square substructures whose existence seems to us so probable. Behind this again opens one of the courts by which so much of the area of the palace was occupied. The composition is completed by a wall with parapet and flanking towers.



After considering the method employed for roofing the palace apartments, we come naturally to investigate their system of illumination. In view of the extravagant thickness of their walls it is difficult to believe that they made use of such openings as we should call windows. The small loop-holes that appear in some of the bas-reliefs near the summits of towers and fortified walls were mere embrasures, for the purpose of admitting a little air and light to the narrow chambers within which the defenders could find shelter from the missiles of an enemy and could store their own arms and engines of war (see Fig. 59). The walls of Khorsabad even now are everywhere at least ten feet high, and in some parts they are as much as fifteen, twenty, and five-and-twenty feet, an elevation far in excess of a man's stature, and they show no trace of a window. Hence we may at least affirm that windows were not pierced under the same conditions as in modern architecture.[224]



And yet the long saloons of the palace with their rich decoration had need of light, which they could only obtain through the doorways and the openings left in the roof. When this was of wood the matter was simple enough, as our diagram (Fig. 60) shows. Botta noticed, during his journey to his post, another arrangement, of which, he thinks, the Assyrians may very well have made use.



"The houses of the Armenian peasantry," he says, "are sunk into the ground, so that their walls stand up but little above the level of the soil. They are lighted by an opening that serves at once for window and chimney, and is placed, as a rule, in the centre of the roof. The timber frame of this opening is often ingeniously arranged (Fig. 61). Four thick beams, but very roughly squared, intersect each other in the middle of the house. Across their angles slighter joists are placed, and this operation is repeated till a small dome, open at the top, for the entrance of light and the escape of smoke, has been erected."[225]



In the case of vaults how are we to suppose that the rooms were lighted? We can hardly imagine that rectangular openings were left in the crown of the arch, such a contrivance would have admitted very little light, while it would have seriously compromised the safety of the structure. According to M. Place the desired result was obtained in more skilful fashion. In several rooms he found terra-cotta cylinders similar to those figured below. These objects, of which he gives a careful description, were about thirteen and a half inches in diameter and ten inches in height. We may refer our readers to the pages of M. Place for a detailed account of the observations by which he was led to conclude that these cylinders were not stored, as if in a warehouse, in the rooms where they were afterwards found, but that they formed an integral part of the roof and shared its ruin. We may say that the evidence he brings forward seems to fairly justify his hypothesis.

Penetrating the roof at various points these cylinders would afford a passage for the outer air to the heated chamber within, while a certain quantity of light would be admitted at the same time. The danger arising from the rains could be avoided to a great extent by giving them a slightly oblique direction. To this very day the Turkish bath-houses over the whole of the Levant from Belgrade to Teheran, are almost universally lighted by these small circular openings, which are pierced in great numbers through the low domes, and closed with immovable glasses. Besides which we can point to similar arrangements in houses placed both by their date and character, far nearer to those of Assyria. The Sassanide monuments bear witness that many centuries after the destruction of Nineveh the custom of placing cylinders of terra-cotta in vaults was still practised. In spite of its small scale these circles may be distinguished in the woodcut of the Sarbistan palace which we have borrowed from Coste and Flandin (Fig. 54).[226]

These same writers have ascertained that the architects of Chosroes and Noushirwan employed still another method of lighting the rooms over which they built their domes. They gave the latter what is called an "eye," about three feet in diameter, through which the daylight could fall vertically into the room beneath. This is the principle upon which the Pantheon of Agrippa is lighted; the only difference being one of proportion. In Persia, the diameter of the eye was always very small compared to that of the dome. If we are justified in our belief that the constructors of the Parthian and Sassanide palaces were no more than the perpetuators of systems invented by the architects of Nineveh and Babylon, the Assyrian domes also may very well have been opened at the summit in this fashion. In the bas-relief reproduced in our Fig. 42, the two small cupolas are surmounted with caps around a circular opening which must have admitted the light. Moreover, the elaborate system of drainage with which the substructure of an Assyrian palace was honeycombed would allow any rain water to run off as fast as such a hole would admit it.[227]

Whatever may be thought of these conjectures, it is certain that the architects of Nineveh—while they did not neglect accessory sources of illumination—counted chiefly upon the doors to give their buildings a sufficient supply of light and air. As M. Place says, when we examine the plans of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad we are as much astonished at the size of the doorways as at the thickness of the walls.[228]

"There is not a single doorway, even of the smallest chambers, even of the simple ante-rooms for the use of servants and guards, that is not at least six feet or more wide; most of them are ten feet, and those decorated with sculptures even wider still." In their present ruinous state, it is more difficult to say for certain what their height may have been. Judging, however, from the ruins and from the usual proportions of height and width in the voids of Assyrian buildings, the doors at Khorsabad must have risen to a height of between fifteen and twenty-two feet. "Such measurements are those of exceptionally vast openings, especially when we remember that most of them gave access, not to state apartments, but to rooms used for the most ordinary purposes, store-rooms, ante-rooms, kitchens, serving-rooms of all kinds, and bedrooms. When we find architects who were so reluctant as those of Assyria to cut openings of any kind in their outer walls, using doorways of these extravagant dimensions, we may surely conclude that they were meant to light and ventilate the rooms as well as to facilitate the circulation of their inhabitants."[229]

Even in halls, which were lighted at once by a number of circular eyes like those described and by a wide doorway, there would be no excess of illumination, and the rooms of Assyria must, on the whole, have been darker than ours. When we remember the difference in the climates this fact ceases to surprise us. With our often-clouded skies we seldom have too much light, and we give it as wide and as frequent passages as are consistent with the stability of our buildings. The farther north we go the more strongly marked does this tendency become. In Holland, the proportion of voids to solids is much greater than it is on the facade of a Parisian house, and the same tendency may be traced from one end of Europe to the other. But even in Central Europe, as soon as the temperature rises above a certain point, curtains are drawn and jalousies closed, that is, the window is suppressed as far as possible. And is not that enough to suggest a probable reason for the want of windows characteristic of an Oriental dwelling? An explanation has been sometimes sought in the life of the harem and in the desire of eastern sovereigns to withdraw themselves from the eyes of their subjects. The idleness, almost amounting to lethargy, of the present masters of the East has also been much insisted on. What, it is asked, do these men want with light? They neither read nor work, they care nothing for those games of skill or chance which form so large a part of western activity; absolute repose, the repose of sleep or stupefaction, is their ideal of existence.[230]

These observations have hardly the force that has been ascribed to them. The harem is not the whole palace, and even in the modern East the selamlik, or public part of the house, is very differently arranged from the rooms set apart for the women. The hunting and conquering kings of Assyria lived much in public. They appeared too often at the head of their armies or among the hounds for us to represent them—as the Greek tradition represented Sardanapalus—shut up within blind walls in distant and almost inaccessible chambers. We must guard ourselves against the mistake of seeking analogies too close between the East of to-day and that of the centuries before the Greek civilization.

The people who now inhabit those countries are in a state of languor and decay. Life has retired from them; their days are numbered, and the few they have yet to live are passed in a death-like trance. But it was not always thus. The East of antiquity, the East in which man's intellect awoke while it slumbered elsewhere, the East in which that civilization was born and developed whose rich and varied creations we are engaged in studying, was another place. Its inhabitants were strangely industrious and inventive, their intellects were busied with every form of thought, and their activity was expended upon every art of peace and war. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that the Chaldaeans, who invented the first methods of science, that the Assyrians, who carried their conquests as far as the shores of the Mediterranean, that those Phoenicians who have been happily called "the English of antiquity," had any great resemblance to the Turks who now reign at Bagdad, Mossoul, and Beyrout.

But the climate has not changed, and from it we must demand the key to the characteristic arrangements of Mesopotamian palaces. Even now most of the buildings of Mossoul are only lighted from the door, which is hardly ever shut. Some rooms have no direct means either of lighting or ventilation, and these are the favourite retreats in summer. "I was enabled," says M. Place, "to convince myself personally of this. In the consul's house there were, on one side of the court, three rooms one within the other, of which the first alone was lighted from without, and even this had a covered gallery in front of it, by which the glare was tempered. In the dog-days, when the mid-day sun rendered all work a punishment, the innermost of these three rooms was the only habitable part of the house. The serdabs, or subterranean chambers, are used under the same conditions. They are inconvenient in some ways, but the narrowness of the openings, through which light, and with it heat, can reach their depths, gives them advantages not to be despised."[231]

The crude brick walls of ancient Assyria were far thicker than the rubble and plaster ones of modern Mossoul, so that more light could be admitted to the rooms without compromising their freshness. It seems to be proved that in at least the majority of rooms at Khorsabad the architect provided other means of lighting and ventilation besides the doorways, wide and high though the latter were. He pierced the roof with numerous oblique and vertical openings, he left square wells in the timber ceilings, and circular eyes in the domes and vaults. If these were to fulfil their purpose of admitting light and air into the principal rooms, the latter must have had no upper stories to carry. At Mossoul, walls are much thinner than at Nineveh, and interiors are simpler in arrangement and decoration. The twenty or five-and-twenty feet of clay of the Assyrian walls would make it impossible to give sufficient light through the doors alone to the sculptures and paintings with which the rooms were adorned. We cannot doubt that a top light was also required. The rooms of the palaces must, therefore, have succeeded one another in one horizontal plan. Slight differences of level between them were connected by short flights, usually of five carefully-adjusted steps.[232] In spite of all its magnificence the royal dwelling was no more than a huge ground floor.

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