A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria, v. 1
by Georges Perrot
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The idea of a reward for the just carries as its corollary that of a punishment for the unjust, but in spite of the logical connection between the two notions, we cannot affirm that the Elysium of these Semites had a Tartarus by its side. No allusion to such a place has been found in any of the texts already translated. On the other hand, we find some evidence that the Assyrians believed in the resurrection of the dead. Marduk and his spouse Zarpanitu often bear the title of "those who make the dead live again" (muballith or muballithat miti or mituti). The same epithet is sometimes given to other deities, especially to Istar. As yet we do not know when and under what conditions renewed life was to be granted.

We need hardly add that the ideas that find expression in the Assyrian texts were by no means peculiar to the northern people. All Assyriologists agree that in everything connected with the intellect, the Assyrians invented nothing; they did nothing but adapt and imitate, translate and copy from the more prolific Chaldaeans, who furnished as it were the bread upon which their minds were nourished. It is the Chaldee intellect that we study when we question the texts from the library of Assurbanipal.

Other passages in these terra-cotta books help to complete and illustrate those from which we have, as it were, gained a first glimpse of the Assyrian Under-world; but we shall never, in all probability, know it as we already know that of the Egyptians. This is partly, perhaps, because it was less complex, and partly because the fascination it exercised over the mind of man was not so great.

History contains no mention of a people more preoccupied with the affairs of the grave than the Egyptians. Doubtless the Chaldaeans had to give a certain amount of their attention to the same problem, and we know that it was resolved in the same sense and by the same sequence of beliefs both on the banks of the Euphrates and on those of the Nile; but other questions were more attractive to the peoples of Mesopotamia. Their curiosity was roused chiefly by the phenomena of the skies, by the complicated phantasmagoria offered nightly in the depths above. These they set themselves to observe with patience and exactitude, and it is to the habits thus formed that they, in part at least, owed their scientific superiority and the honour they derive from the incontestable fact that they have furnished to modern civilization elements more useful and more readily assimilated than any other great people of the remote past.

And yet the Semites of Chaldaea were not without myths relating to the abode of departed souls of which some features may be grasped. In order to get a better comprehension of them, we must not only look to the discovery and translation of new texts, but to the intelligent study of figured representations. At least this seems to be the lesson of a curious monument recently discovered.[439]

People may differ as to the significance of this or that detail, but no one will deny that the plaque is religious and funerary in its general character, and that, whatever may have been its purpose, it is as a whole connected with the memory and worship of the dead, and therefore that this is the place for such remarks as we have to make upon it.

The object in question is a bronze plaque, sculptured on both faces, which Peretie acquired at Hama in Northern Syria. The dealer from whom he bought it declared that it came into his hands from a peasant of Palmyra. As to where the latter found it we know nothing. In any case the oasis of Tadmor was a dependency of Mesopotamia as long as the power of the Chaldaean and Assyrian monarchies lasted, and the characteristic features of the work in question are entirely Assyrian. In that respect neither Peretie nor Clermont-Ganneau made any mistake.

This plaque is a tall rectangle in shape. At its two upper angles there are salient rings or staples, apparently meant to receive a cord or chain. At the bottom it has a slight ledge, suggesting that it stood upon its base and was suspended at the same time. However this may have been, it should be carefully noticed that both of its faces were meant to be seen.

The face we call the obverse is entirely occupied by the body of a fantastic quadruped, partly chiselled in slight relief, partly engraved. This monster is upright on his hind feet; his back is turned to the spectator, while the lower part of his body is seen almost in profile. He clings with his two fore feet to the upper edge of the plaque, and looks over it as over a wall. His fore paws and his head are modelled in the round. He has four wings; two large ones with imbricated feathers grow from his shoulders, while a smaller pair are visible beneath them. This arrangement we have already encountered in undoubted Assyrian monuments (see Figs. 8, 29, and 123). If we turn the plaque, we find ourselves face to face with the beast. His skull is depressed, his features hideous, his grinning jaws wrinkled like those of a lion or panther. His feline character is enforced by his formidable claws.

The body, lithe and lean as that of a leopard, is covered with a reticulated marking. His upturned tail nearly touches his loins, while another detail of his person exactly reproduces the contours of a snake.[440] The hind feet are those of a bird-of-prey.

We must now describe the reverse of this singular monument (Fig. 162). In the first place its upper edge is surmounted by the claws and face of the beast just described, which thus dominates, as it were, the scenes depicted below.

These scenes are divided by horizontal bands into four divisions, and those divisions are by no means arbitrary; they show us what the sculptor thought as to the four regions into which the Assyrian universe was divided. Those regions are the heavens, the atmosphere, the earth, and hell or hades.

The highest division is the narrowest of all. It only contains the stars and a few other symbols grouped almost exactly as we find them on not a few monuments of Mesopotamia.[441] The non-sidereal emblems in this division are, no doubt, the attributes of gods who live beside the stars in the depths of the firmament.

In the second division we find seven animal-headed personages passing from right to left. We need not stop to describe their appearance or gesture; we have already encountered them at Nineveh mounting guard at the palace gates (Figs. 6 and 7); they belong to the class of demons who, according to circumstances, are alternately the plagues and protectors of mankind. The place they occupy represents a middle region between heaven and earth, namely, the atmosphere, which was believed to be entirely peopled by these genii.

The third division contains a funerary scene by which we are at once transported to earth. On the right there is a standard or candelabrum, and on the left a group of three figures. One of these appears to be a man, the other two have lions' heads and resemble the genii of the division above. The most important group, however, is the one in the middle. A man swathed in a kind of shroud is stretched on a bed, at the head and foot of which appear two of those personages, half man and half fish, in which the Oannes of Berosus has been recognized (Figs. 9 and 67).[442] The figure on the bed must be that of a corpse wrapped in those linen bandages of which so many fragments have been found in the tombs of Lower Chaldaea. The two fish-like gods brandish something over the corpse which appears, so far as it can be made out, to be a flower or bunch of grass. Their gesture appears to be one of benediction, like that of a modern priest with the holy-water-sprinkler.

The lowest division is by far the most roomy of the four. It evidently represents the regions under the earth, and both its size and the complication of its arrangements show us that it was, in the opinion of the artist, more important than either of the three above it. The whole of its lower part is occupied by five fishes all swimming in one direction, a conventional symbol always employed by Assyrian artists to represent a river. The left bank is indicated by a raised line running from one side of the plaque to the other. On this bank towards the left of the relief there are two shrubs or reeds above which appears a group of objects whose character is not easily made out. Are they ideographic signs or funeral offerings? The latter more likely. At any rate we may distinguish vases, bottles, a small box or comb and especially the foot of a horse drawn with great precision. At the other end of this division a hideous monster advances on the river bank. Its semi-bestial, semi-human head is flat and scarred, with a broad upturned nose and a mouth reaching to the ears. The upper part of its body is that of a man, although its skin is seamed all over with short vertical lines meant to indicate hairs. One arm is raised and the other lowered, like those of the genii in the second division. His tail is upturned, his feet are those of a bird, and his wings show over his left shoulder. On the whole, the resemblance between this figure and the nondescript beast on the obverse of the plaque is so great that we are tempted to think that they both represent the same being.

Upon the river and in the centre of this division a scene is going forward that takes up more than a third of the whole field. It is no doubt the main subject. A small boat glides down the stream, its poop adorned with the head of a quadruped, its prow with that of a bird. In this boat there is a horse, seen in profile and with its right fore leg bent at the knee. The attitude of this animal, which seems born down by a crushing weight, is to be explained by the rest of the composition. The poor quadruped bears on his back, in fact, the body of a gigantic and formidable divinity, who makes use of him not in the orthodox fashion but merely as a kind of pedestal; his or rather her right knee rests upon the horse's back while her left foot—which is that of a bird-of-prey—grasps the animal's head. The legs of this strange monster are human, and so is her body, but here, as in the personage walking by the river side, we find the short scratches that denote hair; her head is that of a lioness. For although her sex may appear doubtful to some it is difficult to explain the action of the two lion-cubs that spring towards her breasts otherwise than by M. Clermont-Ganneau's supposition that they are eager for nourishment.

The bosom attacked by the two cubs is seen from in front, but the head above it is in profile, and so high that it rises above the line that divides this lower division from the one immediately above it. The jaws are open, that is to say they grin in harmony with those of the monster looking over the top of the plaque, with the genii of the third division and that of the river bank. All this, however, was insufficient to satisfy the artist's desire for a terror-striking effect, and in each hand of the goddess he has placed a long serpent which hangs vertically downwards, and shows by its curves that it is struggling in her grip. Between the limbs of the goddess and the horse's mane there is something that bears a vague resemblance to a scorpion.

We cannot pretend to notice every detail of this curious monument as their explanation would lead us too far, and, with all the care we could give them, we should still have to leave some unexplained. We shall be satisfied with pointing out those features of the composition whose meaning seems to be clear.

In the first place the division of the field into four zones should be noticed; it coincides with what we know of the Assyrian mode of dividing the universe among the powers of heaven, the demons, mankind, and the dead. The chief incident of the third zone shows us that, like the Egyptians, the Assyrians wished to assure themselves of the protection of some benevolent deity after death. In the Nile valley that protector was Osiris, in Mesopotamia Anou, Oannes, or Dagon, the fish god to whom man owed the advantages of civilization in this world and his safety in the next. The kingdom of shadows, into which he had to descend after death, was peopled with monstrous shapes, to give some idea of which sculptors had gone far afield among the wild beasts of the earth, and had brought together attributes and weapons that nature never combines in a single animal, such as the claws of the scorpion, the wings and talons of the eagle, the coils of the serpent, the mane and muzzle of the great carnivora. The conception which governs all this is similar to that of which we see the expression in those Theban tombs where the dead man prosecutes his voyage along the streams of Ament, and runs the gauntlet of the grimacing demons who would seize and destroy him but for the shielding presence of Osiris. And the resemblance is continued in the details. The boat is shaped like the Egyptian boats;[443] the river may be compared to the subterranean Nile of the Theban tombs, while it reminds us of the Styx and Acheron of the Grecian Hades. We remember too the line of the chant we have quoted:

"There too stand the foundations of the earth, the meeting of the mighty waters."

Certain obscure points that still exist in connection with the Chaldaeo-Assyrian inferno and with the personages by whom it is peopled, will, no doubt, be removed as the study of the remains progresses. We have been satisfied for the moment to explain, with the help of previous explorers, the notions of the Semites of Mesopotamia upon death and a second life, and to show that they did not differ sensibly from those of the Egyptians or of any other ancient people whose ideas are sufficiently known to us.


[419] See Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. i. chapter 3.

[420] Upon the tombs found at Nimroud see LAYARD, Nineveh, vol. i. pp. 17-19 and p. 352; vol. ii. pp. 37, 38. Some funerary urns discovered at Khorsabad are figured in BOTTA, Monument, &c. plate 165. There is one necropolis in Assyria that, in the employment of terra-cotta coffins, resembles the graveyards of Chaldaea; it is that of Kaleh-Shergat, which has long been under process of rifling by the Arabs, who find cylinders, engraved stones, and jewels among its graves. PLACE judges from the appearance of the coffins and other objects found that this necropolis dates from the Parthian times (Ninive, vol. ii. pp. 183-185). LAYARD is of the same opinion (Nineveh, vol. ii. pp. 58, 154, 155). Mr. Rassam found tombs at Kouyundjik, but much too late to be Assyrian (LOFTUS, Travels and Researches, p. 198, note). Loftus found some bones in a roughly-built vault some seventeen feet below the level of the south-eastern palace at Nimroud, but he acknowledges he saw nothing to lead him to assign these remains to the Assyrian epoch more than to any other (Travels and Researches, p. 198). Layard was disposed to see in the long and narrow gallery cleared by him at Nimroud (in the middle of the staged tower that rises at the north-western corner of the mound) a sepulchral vault in which the body of a king must once have been deposited (Discoveries, pp. 126, 128), but he confesses that he found nothing in it, neither human remains nor any trace of sepulchral furniture. His conjecture is therefore entirely in the air, and he himself only puts it forth under all reserve. The difficulty of this inquiry is increased by the fact that the people of different religions by whom the Assyrians were succeeded always chose by preference to bury their dead at high levels. Even in our own day it is, as a rule, upon the heights studded over the plains that Christians, Mussulmans, and Yezidis establish their cemeteries; and these have become grave obstacles to the explorer in consequence of the natural disinclination on the part of the peasantry to disturb what may be the ashes of their ancestors. BENNDORF (Gesichtshelme, plate xiv. figs. 1 and 2) reproduces two golden masks similar to those found at Mycenae, which were found, the one at Kouyundjik, the other at some unknown point in the same district; he mentions (pp. 66, 67) a third discovery of the same kind. But the character of the objects found with these masks seems clearly to show that the tombs from which they were taken were at least as late as the Seleucidae, if not as the Roman emperors (Cf. HOFFMANN, in the Archaeologische Zeitung for 1878, pp. 25-27).

[421] When we come to speak of Chaldaean sculpture, we shall give a reproduction of this relief. We cannot make much use of it in the present inquiry, because its meaning is so obscure. The stone is broken, and the imperfections of the design are such that we can hardly tell what the artist meant to represent. The two figures with baskets on their heads for instance—are they bringing funeral offerings, or covering with earth the heaped-up corpses on which they mount?

[422] LAYARD, Monuments, 1st series, plates 14, 21, 26, 57, 64, &c.

[423] In more than one battle scene do we find these birds floating over the heads of the combatants (LAYARD, Monuments, 1st series, plates 18, 22, 26, &c). We may also refer to the curious monument from Tell-loh, in which vultures carrying off human heads and limbs in the clouds are represented. For an engraving of it see our chapter on Chaldaean sculpture.

[424] See an article published by M. J. HALEVY in the Revue archeologique, vol. xliv. p. 44, under the title: L'Immortalite de l'Ame chez les Peuples semitiques.

[425] PLACE, Ninive, vol. ii. p. 184.

[426] LOFTUS, Travels and Researches, pp. 198, 199.

[427] LOFTUS especially speaks strongly upon this point (Travels, &c. p. 199). "By far the most important of these sepulchral cities is Warka, where the enormous accumulation of human remains proves that it was a peculiarly sacred spot, and that it was so esteemed for many centuries. It is difficult to convey anything like a correct notion of the piles upon piles of human relics which there utterly astound the beholder. Excepting only the triangular space between the three principal ruins, the whole remainder of the platform, the whole space between the walls, and an unknown extent of desert beyond them, are everywhere filled with the bones and sepulchres of the dead. There is probably no other site in the world which can compare with Warka in this respect; even the tombs of Ancient Thebes do not contain such an aggregate amount of mortality. From its foundation by Urukh until finally abandoned by the Parthians—a period of probably 2,500 years—Warka appears to have been a sacred burial-place!"

[428] See the curious paper of M. E. LE BLANT entitled: Tables egyptiennes a Inscriptions grecques (Revue archeologique, 1874).

[429] In his sixth and seventh chapters LOFTUS gives a very interesting account of his visits to the sanctuaries of Nedjef and Kerbela.

[430] The work he alludes to as his Assurioi logoi (i. 184).

[431] HERODOTUS, i. 198.

[432] See above, pp. 158-9 and fig. 49. The details that here follow are borrowed from the narrations of those who have explored the sepulchral mounds of lower Chaldaea. Perhaps the most important of these relations is that of Mr. J. E. TAYLOR, to which we have already referred so often (Notes on the Ruins of Mugheir, to which may be added his Notes on Abou-Sharein and Tell-el-Lahm, p. 413, in the same volume of the Journal). Cf. LOFTUS's eighteenth chapter (Travels, &c. p. 198) and the pages in LAYARD's Discoveries, from 556 to 561.

[433] "Each of the Babylonians," says HERODOTUS (i. 195), "carries a seal and a walking-stick carved at the top into the form of an apple, a rose, a lily, an eagle, or something similar, for it is not their habit to use a stick without an ornament."

[434] LOFTUS, Travels, p. 212.

[435] See Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. i. p. 145, note 3.

[436] Les Fouilles de Chaldee, communication d'une Lettre de M. de Sarzec, par LEON HEUZEY, Sec. 1 (in the Revue archeologique for November, 1881).

[437] Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. i. pp. 127 et seq.

[438] M. OPPERT has translated this text in full in a work entitled: L'Immortalite de l'Ame chez les Chaldeens (Annales de philosophie chretienne, vol. viii. 1884), and he has reproduced his version with a few modifications of detail in Fragments Mythologiques (Quantin, 1881, 18mo). M. HALEVY has given long extracts from the same document in an article in the Revue des Etudes Juives (October-December, 1881), entitled: Les Inscriptions peintes de Citium, Sec. 2; he has returned to the same subject in an article in the Revue archeologique (July, 1882), L'Immortalite de l'Ame chez les Peuples semitiques. We reproduce his translation as the most recent. Herr SCHRADER has devoted a whole book to the translation and explanation of this same myth (Die Hoellenfahrt der Istar, Giessen, 1874).

[439] See M. CLERMONT-GANNEAU'S L'Enfer assyrien, first part (Revue archeologique vol. xxxviii. and plate xxv.). The second article, which should have contained the explanation of this little monument, has never appeared, to the great regret of all who appreciate the knowledge and penetration of that learned writer at their proper value. The first article is nothing but a detailed description, which we abridge. Certain doubts were expressed at the time of its publication as to the authenticity of this object; nothing, however, has happened to confirm them. Both in composition and execution it is excellent. M. Peretie, moreover, was not one to be easily deceived. M. Clermont-Ganneau described and illustrated this bronze plate from photographs, but since his paper appeared he has again visited the East and seen and handled the original.

[440] M. CLERMONT-GANNEAU reminds us that this peculiarity is repeated in a monster on one of the Nimroud reliefs (see LAYARD, Monuments, series ii. plate 3).

[441] See above, p. 72, and Figs. 3, 10, 11, 12. See also the notes to M. Clermont-Ganneau's article. He has no difficulty in showing how general was the use of these emblems.

[442] See page 65.

[443] Compare Figs. 23, 31, and especially 159 and 209 of Art in Ancient Egypt, vol. i.

Sec. 2.—The Chaldaean Tomb.

The principle of the Chaldaean sepulchre was similar to that of the Egyptian mastaba or hypogeum; it had to supply the same wants and to render the same services; the task imposed upon the architect was in each case governed by the same general idea. Why then have we found nothing in Mesopotamia that may be compared, even at the most respectful distance, with the splendid tomb-houses of the Theban necropolis, nor even with those of Phoenicia, Asia Minor, or Etruria? The reason for the difference is easily told; it is to be found in the nature and configuration of the country itself. There were no mountains in whose sides tomb-chambers could be cut, and in the loose permeable soil of the plain it would have been practically impossible to establish pits that should be at once spacious and durable.

We shall find, no doubt, in almost every country, sepulchres constructed above the soil like palaces and temples. In Egypt we have already encountered the pyramid, but even there the tomb-chamber is in most cases cut in the rock itself, and the huge mass of stone above it is nothing more than a sort of colossal lid. Funerary architecture is not content, like that of civil or religious buildings, to borrow its materials from the rock; it cuts and chisels the living rock itself. In every country the first idea that seems to occur to man, when he has the mortal remains of his own people to make away with, is to confide them to the earth. In mountainous countries rock is everywhere near the soil and rises through it here and there, especially on the slopes of the hills. It is as a rule both soft enough to be easily cut with a proper tool, and hard enough, or at least sufficiently capable of hardening when exposed to the air, faithfully to preserve any form that may be given to it. As soon as man emerged from barbarism and conceived the desire to carry with him into the next world the goods he had enjoyed in this, the hastily cut hole of the savage became first an ample chamber and then a collection of chambers. It became a richly furnished habitation, a real palace. But even then the features that distinguish a house of the living from one of the dead were carefully preserved. The largest of the tombs in the Biban-el-Molouk is no more than the development of the primitive grave. As for those tombs in which the sepulchral chamber is above the ground, as in the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, they are merely brilliant exceptions, embodiments of princely caprice or architectural ambition. Funerary architecture is, in virtue of its destination, a subterranean architecture, an architecture of the rock. The countries in which it has been managed with the greatest power and originality are those whose soil lent itself most kindly to the work of excavation. The limestone and sandstone chains of the Nile valley, the abrupt flanks of Persian ravines, of Cappadocian and Lycian hillsides, and the rocky slopes of Greece and Etruria, were excellently fitted for the work of the funerary architect.

If the civilization of the Mesopotamian Semites had originated in the country above Nineveh, at the foot of those hills in which the Tigris has its springs, the fathers of the people would perhaps have cut tomb chambers like those of Egypt in the soft gypsum, and, in later years, their descendants, instead of breaking entirely with the traditions of the past would have raised tumuli in the plains and constructed within them brick chambers to take the place of vaults cut in the living rock. Chaldaea would then have been dotted over with sepulchral mounds like those with which the steppes of central Russia are covered. Nothing of the kind has as yet been discovered; none of the tells or mounds of sun-dried bricks have yet been identified as tombs, and that is because, as we have seen, the course of civilization was from south to north; the first impulse came from the shores of the Persian Gulf, from the people inhabiting alluvial plains consisting merely of sand and broken stone. From the very first hour these people had to compel clay, kneaded and dried in the sun or the brick kiln, to render the services which are demanded from stone elsewhere. They were content therefore with entombing their dead either in small brick vaults, under large terra-cotta covers, or in coffins of the latter material.

The tomb chamber illustrated in our Fig. 89 may be taken as a type. It is five feet high by seven feet long, and three feet seven inches wide. The vault is closed at the top by a single row of bricks and at each end by a double wall of the same material. There are no doors. The tombs once shut must have been inaccessible. The structure was put together with such care that neither dust nor water could get within it. Some of these graves, and among them this particular one, inclosed only one skeleton. Taylor found fourteen clay vases in it, not to mention other objects such as a walking stick, rings, cylinders, and bronze cups. Besides these there was a gold waist-band about an inch wide, showing it to be the grave of a rich man. In other tombs as many as three, four, and even eleven skeletons were found. In these the brick under the head and the bronze cup in the hand were sometimes missing, but the water jars were always there.

In other parts of the same cemetery the dead instead of being placed in a vault were laid upon an area paved with large well burnt bricks and covered with a huge terra-cotta lid. These lids were in several pieces, joined together with reeds soaked in bitumen. We give a section (Fig. 163) and elevation (Fig. 164) of one of these peculiar sepulchres. The whole was about seven feet long, three high, and three wide.

The body of the lid is formed of several rings decreasing in thickness with their distance from the ground. The top is an oval plateau divided into eight symmetrical compartments by flat bands. The skeleton always lies on its side, generally the left, the limbs being drawn up as shown in the engraving (163). Taylor gives a complete list of the objects found in this tomb together with notes as to their exact position.

Sometimes the covering is more simple in construction and has a domed top (Fig. 165). Elsewhere in the same necropolis numerous examples of a still more elementary form of burial were discovered. The skeletons of children were found between two hollow plates, and full grown bodies in a kind of double vase into which they could only have been thrust with some difficulty and that after being doubled up. Still more often coffins were of the form shown in our Fig. 166. The diameter of these cylindrical jars was about two feet. The joint between them was sealed with bitumen. At one end there was a hole to allow the gases generated by decomposition to escape. None of these coffins contained more than one skeleton, but narrow as they were room had been found for the vases and dishes. These were mostly of earthenware, but a few of bronze were also encountered. Each coffin held an arrow-head of the latter material, while the feet and hands of the skeleton were adorned with iron rings. In several cases the remains of gold ornaments, of sculptured ivories and engraved shells, were discovered.

Finally the fashion seems to have changed, and a more elegant form of coffin to have come into use. It was still of terra-cotta, but its surface was covered with a rich glaze originally blue but now mostly of a dark green. Here and there, on the parts shielded best from the atmosphere, the blue has preserved its colour. The general shape of these coffins is that of a shoe or slipper; the oval opening through which the body was introduced has a grooved edge for the adjustment of the lid. The small hole for the escape of gas is at the narrow end. This type seems to date from the last centuries of antiquity rather than from the time of the Chaldaean Empire; its examples are found close to the surface of the cemeteries, whence we may fairly conclude that they were the last accessions. It is still more significant that the images stamped upon the panels with which the lids are decorated have little to remind us of the bas-reliefs of Assyria and Chaldaea, and it is not until we turn to the medals of the Parthians and Sassanids that we find anything to which they can be readily compared.[444]

In the cemeteries of Lower Chaldaea the various receptacles for human dust that we have described are heaped vertically one upon another, so that with the passage of time they have formed huge mounds covering vast spaces and rising conspicuously above the plain (see Fig. 167, letter c). Loftus tells us that at Warka he dug trenches between thirty and forty feet deep without reaching the lowest stratum of sepulchres. There was no apparent order in their arrangement. Sometimes brick divisions were found for a certain length, as if used to separate the tombs of one family from those of another. A layer of fine dust, spread evenly by the winds from the desert, separated the coffins. Terra-cotta cones inscribed with prayers had been thrown into the interstices. Sometimes, as at Mugheir, the mound thus formed is surmounted by a paved platform upon which open the drains that traverse the mass.[445] In most cases these mounds have been turned over in all their upper parts by the Arabs. It is probable that in ancient days each of these huge cemeteries had priests and superintendents told off to watch over them, to assign his place to each new comer, and to levy fees like those paid in our day to the mollahs attached to the Mosques of Nedjef and Kerbela. They guarded the integrity of the mound, and when it had reached the regulation height, caused it to be paved and finally closed.

In none of these cemeteries has any tomb been discovered that by its size, richness, or isolation, proclaimed itself the burial place of royalty, and yet the sovereigns of Mesopotamia must have had something analogous to the vast and magnificent sepulchres of the Egyptian kings. Their tombs must at least have been larger and more splendid than those of private individuals. In the case of Susiana we know that it was so through an inscription of Assurbanipal. The Assyrian king gives a narrative of his campaign. He tells us how his soldiers penetrated into the sacred forests and set fire to them, and then to show more clearly with how stern a vengeance he had visited the revolted Elamites, he added: "The tombs both of their ancient and their modern kings, of those kings who did not fear Assur and Istar, my lords, and had troubled the kings, my fathers, I threw them down, I demolished them, I let in the light of the sun upon them, then I carried away their corpses into Assyria. I left their shades without sepulture and deprived them of the offerings of those who owed them libations."[446]

If the Elamite dynasty had its royal necropolis near Susa, in which funerary rites were celebrated down to the moment of the Assyrian conquest, it could hardly have been otherwise with the powerful and pious monarchies of Chaldaea. History has in fact preserved a few traditions of the royal sepulchres of that country. Herodotus mentions the tomb of that Queen Nitocris to whom he attributes so many great works;[447] it is supposed that she was an Egyptian princess and the wife of Nabopolassar. According to the historian she caused a sepulchral chamber to be constructed for herself in the walls of Babylon, above one of the principal gates. So far as the terms of the inscription are concerned he may have been hoaxed by the native dragomans, but there is nothing to rouse our scepticism in the fact of a tomb having been contrived in the thickness of the wall. At Sinkara Loftus discovered two corbel-vaulted tombs imbedded in a mass of masonry which had apparently served as basement to a temple rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar.[448]

Some of the Babylonian princes, however, were buried in that part of the Chaldaean territory that was inclosed by the Euphrates and Tigris and contained most of the cemeteries of which we have been speaking. According to Arrian, Alexander, on his way back from Lake Pallacopas, passed close to the tomb of one of the ancient kings, "They say," adds the historian, "that most of the former kings of Assyria were buried among the lakes and swamps."[449]

Loftus suggests that these royal tombs should be sought at Warka, but he found no ruin to which any such character could be certainly assigned. The only mention of a royal Assyrian tomb in history is of a kind that tells us nothing. "Semiramis," says Diodorus, "buried Ninus within the boundary walls of the palace, she raised a mound of extraordinary size over his tomb; Ctesias says it was nine stades high and ten wide. The town stretching to the middle of the plain, near the Euphrates,[450] the funerary mound was conspicuous at many stades' distance like an acropolis; they tell me that it still exists although Nineveh was overthrown by the Medes when they destroyed the Assyrian empire." The exaggerations in which Ctesias indulged may here be recognized. It is impossible to take seriously statements which make the tomb of Ninus some 5,500 feet high and 6,100 in diameter. The history of Ninus and Semiramis as Ctesias tells it, is no more than a romantic tale like those of the Shah-Nameh. All that we may surely gather from the passage in question is that, at the time of Ctesias, and perhaps a little later, the remains of a great staged-tower were to be seen among the ruins of Nineveh. The popular imagination had dubbed this the tomb of Ninus, just as one of the great heaps of debris that now mark the site is called the tomb of Jonah.

All that has hitherto been recovered in the way of Mesopotamian tomb architecture is of little importance so far as beauty is concerned, and we may perhaps be blamed for dwelling upon these remains at such length in a history of art. But we had our reasons for endeavouring to reunite and interpret the scanty facts by which some light is thrown on the subject. Of all the creations of man, his tomb is that, perhaps, which enables us to penetrate farthest into his inner self; there is no work of his hands into which he puts more of his true soul, in which he speaks more naively and with a more complete acknowledgment of his real beliefs and the bases of his hopes. To pass over the Chaldaean tomb in silence because it is a mediocre work of art would be to turn a blind eye to the whole of one side of the life of a great people, a people whose role in the development of the ancient civilization was such as to demand that we should leave no stone unturned to make ourselves masters of their every thought.


[444] LOFTUS, Travels, &c., pp. 203-4. The British Museum possesses several fine specimens of these glazed-ware coffins. The details given by LOFTUS (chapter xx.), upon the necropolis of Sinkara may be read with interest.

[445] See above, p. 158, and fig. 49.

[446] M. Stanislas GUYARD published a translation of this passage in the Journal asiatique, for May-June, 1880, p. 514; some terms which had remained doubtful, were explained by M. AMIAUD, in the same journal for August-September, 1881, p. 237.

[447] HERODOTUS, i. 187.

[448] LOFTUS, Travels, &c., pp. 248-9.

[449] ARRIAN, Anabasis, vii. 22.

[450] DIODORUS, ii. 7, 1-2.



Sec. 1.—Attempts to restore the Principal Types.

In spite of all our researches we have not succeeded in finding in the whole of Mesopotamia a real sepulchre, a tomb on which the talent of the architect has been lavished as well as the structural skill of the builder. The Chaldaeans and Assyrians made greater efforts when they had to honour a god than when they were called upon to provide a lodging for their dead. Of all the structures they raised, their temples seem to have been the most ambitious in height and in grandeur of proportion though not in extent of ground covered. This the classic writers tell us, and their assertions are confirmed in more than one particular by documents written in the Assyrian language. We can also check their statements to some extent by the study of the monuments themselves or rather of their somewhat scanty remains.

We shall seek in vain for ruins that may be compared to those of the Egyptian sanctuaries. The nature of the materials employed in the valley of the Euphrates made the degradation of a building and the obliteration of its lines far more rapid than elsewhere. And yet in many cases the almost formless aspect of structures once so greatly admired, does not prevent those who know how to crossexamine them from restoring many of their former arrangements; and both in the bas-reliefs and in some very small monuments we find certain sculptured sketches that have been recognized as representing temples.

These sketches are very imperfect and very much abridged: the ruins themselves are confused; of the Greek and Assyrian texts some are short and vague, others excite our scepticism. Without wishing to deny the value of the methods employed or the importance of the results obtained, we can hardly believe that the certainty with which technical terms are translated is well founded. There are some of these terms which if they occurred in a Greek inscription would cause no little embarrassment by their purely special character, and that even to one who might unite in his single person the qualifications of a Greek scholar with those of an architect or sculptor. We hope, though we hardly expect to see our hope realized, that some day a Mesopotamian temple may be found in good preservation. Until then we cannot give to our restorations of such buildings anything approaching the accuracy or completeness so easily attained when the great religious edifices of Greece or Egypt are in question. We find none of those well defined elements, those clear and precise pieces of information which elsewhere allow us to obliterate the injuries worked by time and human enemies. The foot of every wall is heaped about with such formless masses of brick and brick dust, that it is almost impossible to make full explorations or to take exact measurements. One must be content with an approximation to the truth.

With the one exception of the staged tower at Khorsabad, we shall not attempt to give a single restoration in the proper sense of the word. Not that we mean to say that the different temple models given in our Plates II., III., and IV., and in our Fig. 173, are creations of our fancy. No one of the four pretends to reconstruct one famous building more than another. They are abstract types, each representing, in its general features, one of the varieties into which Assyro-Chaldaean temples may be divided. The arrangements in which the originality of each type consists were only fixed by M. Chipiez after long researches. In each case he has taken for his point of departure either a Greek or Assyrian text, a sculptured relief, or facts gleaned by the examination of original sites; in most cases he has been able to supplement and correct the information gained from one of these sources by that from another. He has thus entered into the spirit of Mesopotamian architecture, and restored the chief forms it put on in its religious buildings according to time and district. He cannot say that all the details figured were found united, as they may be here, on a single building; but they are not inventions, no one of them is without authority, and the use to which they are put has been decided by the examination of actual remains. We may say the same of proportions. These are the result of study and of the collation of one ruin and one piece of evidence with another; they have not been taken from any single building. Finally there were certain details, such as the trace and elevation of the ramps, that were full of difficulty. M. Chipiez arrived at the solution finally adopted by an inductive process, by carefully weighing the obvious conditions of the problem and choosing those arrangements by which its requirements seemed most simply and conveniently met. In virtue of their general character M. Chipiez's restorations reach a high degree of probability. They may be compared, if we may use the expression, to those triumphs of historical synthesis in which no attempt is made to narrate events as they occurred and in all their details, but in which a whole people lives, and the character of a whole century is summed up, in a picture whose every line and colour is borrowed from reality.[451]

In spite of their apparent variety, all the buildings we shall describe in the present chapter may be referred to a single fundamental type. They are each formed of several cubic masses superimposed one upon another and diminishing in volume in proportion to their height in the monument. We have already explained how such a system came to be adopted.[452] It was determined by the limitations of the only material at the architect's disposal, and it had at least this advantage, that it enabled him to relieve the monotony of the Chaldaean plains with artificial mountains whose vast size and boldness of line were calculated to impress the minds of the people, and to give them a great idea of their master's power and of the majesty of the deities in whose honour they were raised.

Mesopotamia was covered, then, by buildings resembling a stepped pyramid in their general outlines. We find them in the reliefs (Fig. 10), and in the oldest cities we can frequently recognize the confused ruins of their two or three lower stories. Our only doubt is connected with the possible use of these buildings, the zigguratts of the Assyrian texts. We shall not here stop to recapitulate the evidence in favour of their religious character; it will suffice to quote the description given by Herodotus of the temple of Bel or Belus at Babylon. As to whether the ruins of that building are to be identified with Babil (Fig. 37) or the Birs-Nimroud (Fig. 168) we shall inquire presently. This is the description of Herodotus:—

"In the other (fortress) was the sacred precinct of Jupiter Belus, a square inclosure two furlongs each way with gates of solid brass; which was also remaining in my time. In the middle of the precinct there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half way up one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned with a golden table by its side. There is no statue of any kind set up in the place nor is the chamber occupied of nights by any one but a single native woman.... Below in the same precinct there is a second temple, in which is a sitting figure of Jupiter all of gold ... outside the temple are two altars."[453]

This description is, of course, very short; it omits many details that we should have wished to find in it; but like nearly all the descriptions of Herodotus it is very clear. The old historian saw well, and his mind retained what he saw. From his recital it is plain that this was the finest of the Babylonian temples, and that even when partly ruinous, under the successors of Alexander, its colossal dimensions were yet able to astonish foreign visitors. We may, then, take it as the type of the Chaldaean temple, as the finest religious building in the first city of Mesopotamia. Nebuchadnezzar reconstructed it and made it higher and richer in its ornamentation than before, but he kept to the ancient foundations and made no change in the general character of the plan. In this single edifice were gathered up all the threads of a long tradition; it was, as it were, the supreme effort, the last word of the national art: and Herodotus declares plainly that it was a staged tower.

Such an assertion puts the matter beyond a doubt, and enables us to point to the staged tower as the form chosen by these people and made use of throughout their civilization for the buildings raised in honour of their gods. And having dismissed this fundamental question we have now to give a rapid description of the principal varieties of the type as they have been established by M. Chipiez. And as we go on we shall point out the authorities for each restoration; whether the ruins themselves, the inscribed texts, or the sculptured reliefs.

In the first line we must place the RECTANGULAR CHALDAEAN TEMPLE (Plate II. and Figs. 169, 170, and 171). We have put it first because the remains from which it has been reconstructed have all been found in Lower Chaldaea, that is, amongst the oldest of the Chaldaean cities. As we learn from the texts, these temples were repaired under the last kings of Babylon, and it was their antiquity that made them dear both to the people and their kings. We may believe, therefore, that in restoring them care was taken to preserve their ancient features. It would be the upper part of their retaining walls that required renewal, and these would be rebuilt on their ancient foundations. Here and there the latter exist even at the present day, and the names of the earliest Chaldaean princes may be read upon their bricks.[454]

The remains studied by Messrs. Taylor and Loftus at Warka (Fig. 172), Abou-Sharein, and Mugheir have furnished the chief elements for our restoration, which bears a strong resemblance to the ruin at Warka called Bouvariia (A on the map), and one still stronger to that temple at Mugheir whose present state is shown in our Figs. 48 and 143. This first type is characterized by the form of its lower, and the situation of its upper, stages. The latter are not placed in the centre of the platform on which they stand; they are thrown back much nearer to one of the two shorter sides than to the other, so that the building has a front and a back. The front is almost entirely taken up with wide staircases.[455] The staircase leading from the first story to the second must alone have been concealed in the interior of the building, an arrangement which avoided the necessity for breaking up the ample solidity of that imposing stage (see Plate II.).

The surroundings of the temple in our plate—the background of slightly undulating plain, the houses similar to those found by Taylor and Loftus, in which they discovered vaulted passages traversing the thickness of the walls[456]—are, of course, purely imaginary.

The temple itself, like the palace at Khorsabad, was raised on a vast platform upon which the city walls abutted. This platform was reached by wide flights of steps.[457] Lateral ramps led to a second platform, inclosed on every side, with which the sacred part of the building, the Haram, began. We have already spoken of the panelled ornament with which the great, flat surfaces of its walls were relieved.[458] The lowest stage of the temple was provided with buttresses like those that still exist in the temple of Mugheir (Fig. 43). A high, rectangular plinth—decorated in our restoration with glazed faience[459]—was interposed between the first and second stage.[460] A rectangular chapel decorated, in all probability, with metal plaques and glazed polychromatic bricks, crowned the whole. Traces of this chapel have been found at Mugheir, and the wealth of its decoration is attested by many pieces of evidence.[461] At Abou-Sharein also there are vestiges of a small and richly ornamented sanctuary crowning the second stage of a ruin whose aspect now bears a distinct resemblance to that of the temple at Mugheir. The triple row of crenellations we have given to this sanctuary or chapel was suggested by the altars and obelisks (Fig. 107 and 111). Here, as at Nineveh, these battlements must have been the one universal finish to the walls. The use to which we have put them is quite in harmony with the spirit of Mesopotamian architecture, but there is no direct evidence of their presence in these buildings. In this particular our restoration is conjectural.

A glance at our longitudinal section (Fig. 169) will show that we have left the main body of this great mass of sun-dried brick absolutely solid. It was in vain that, at Mugheir, trenches and shafts were cut through the flanks of the ruin, not a sign of any apartment or void of the most elementary kind was found.[462]

This Mugheir temple rises hardly more than fifty feet above the level of the plain. The restoration by M. Chipiez, for which it furnished the elements, shows a height of 135 feet; judging from the proportions of its remains the building can hardly have been higher than that. But it is certain that many temples reached a far greater height, otherwise their size could not have made any great impression upon travellers who had seen the Egyptian pyramids. Even now the Birs-Nimroud, which has been undergoing for so many centuries a continual process of diminution, rises no less than 235 feet above the surrounding country,[463] and Strabo, the only Greek author who says anything precise as to the height of the greatest of the Babylonian monuments, writes thus: "This monument, which was, they say, overthrown by Xerxes, was a square pyramid of burnt brick, one stade (606-3/4 feet) high, and one stade in diameter."[464]

The arrangement by which such a height could be most easily reached would be the superposition of square masses one upon another, each mass being centrally placed on the upper surface of the one below it. The weight would be more equally divided and the risks of settlement more slight than in any other system. Of this type M. Chipiez has restored two varieties. We shall first describe the simpler of the two, which we may call the SQUARE SINGLE-RAMPED CHALDAEAN TEMPLE (Figs. 173, 174, 175, 176).

The principal elements for this restoration have been taken from the staged tower at Khorsabad known as the Observatory, but M. Chipiez has expanded its dimensions until they almost reach those ascribed to the temple of Bel by Strabo. Moreover, he had to decide a delicate question which the discovery of the Khorsabad Observatory, where only the four lower stages remained, had done nothing to solve, namely the plan and inclination of the ramp. In M. Thomas's restoration of the Khorsabad tower, the last section of the ramp at the top, is parallel to that at the bottom, and the crowning platform is not exactly upon the central axis of the building.[465] In M. Chipiez's restoration the top platform is in the centre, like those below it, and the upper end of his ramp is vertically over the spot where it leaves the ground. This result has been obtained by a peculiar arrangement of the inclined plane which must have been known to the Mesopotamian architects, seeing how great was their practice and how desirable, in their eyes, was the symmetrical aspect which it alone could give. We have suggested the varied colours of the different stages by changes of tone in our engraving. In spite of the words of Herodotus M. Chipiez has only given his tower seven stages, because that number seems to have been sacred and traditional, and Herodotus may very well have counted the plinth or the terminal chapel in the eight mentioned in his description. Bearing in mind a passage in Diodorus—"At the summit Semiramis placed three statues of beaten gold, Zeus, Hera, and Rhea"[466]—we have crowned its apex with such a group. The phrase of Herodotus, "Below ... there is a second temple," has led us to introduce chapels contrived in the interior of the mass and opening on the ramp at the fifth and sixth stories. There is nothing to forbid the idea that such chambers were much more numerous than this, and opened, sometimes on one, sometimes on another, of the four faces.

The buildings at the lower part of our engraving are imaginary, but they are by no means improbable. Among them may be distinguished the wide flights of steps and inclined planes by which the platform on which the temple stood was reached.[467] At the foot of the temple on the right of the engraving there is a palace, on the left two obelisk-shaped steles and a small temple of a type to be presently described. Behind the tower stretch away the waters of a lake. Nebuchadnezzar, in one of his inscriptions, speaks of surrounding the temple he had built with a lake.

In seeking to vary the effect produced by these external ramps, the idea of a more complicated arrangement than the one last noticed may have occurred to the Chaldees. This M. Chipiez has embodied in his restoration of a SQUARE DOUBLE-RAMPED CHALDAEAN TEMPLE (Plate III. and Figs. 177, 178, and 179). As in the last model, there are seven stages, each stage being square on plan, but the difference consists in the use of two ramps leading from base to summit. Each of these keeps to its own side of the building, only approaching the other on the front and back facades at the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages (see Plate III). In order that the building as a whole should have a symmetrical and monumental appearance, it was necessary that all its seven stages—with the exception of the first, to which a rather different role was assigned—should be of equal height. But their length and width differed in proportion to their height in the building. The continual shortening of the distance within which the incline had to be packed, would, if we suppose each ramp confined to one side of the tower, have required the slope to become steeper with each story. Such a want of parallelism would have been very ugly, and there was but one means of avoiding it, and that was to continue the ramps nearly to the centre of the front at the fourth and sixth stages, and to the centre of the posterior facade at the fifth. The advantages of such an arrangement are obvious. Banished mostly to the flanks the double ramp left four stages clear both at front and back, providing an ample promenade. On the other three it showed itself just sufficiently to "furnish" the building and diversify its aspect without in any way encumbering it. The whole structure terminated in a chapel placed on the central axis of the tower, and surmounted by a cupola. The inscriptions mention the dome covered with leaves of chiselled gold which crowned at Babylon that temple "to the foundations of the earth" which was restored by Nebuchadnezzar.[468]

In these texts another sanctuary included in the same building and placed half way between the base and summit is mentioned. This was the sepulchral chamber of Bel-Merodach in which his oracle was consulted; in M. Chipiez's restoration the entrance to this sanctuary is placed in the middle of the fifth story.

The vast esplanade about the base of the temple was suggested by the description of Herodotus. It is borne by two colossal plinths flanked and retained by buttresses. In our plate the lower of these two plinths is only hinted at in the two bottom corners. In the distance behind the temple itself may be seen one of those embattled walls which divided Babylon into so many fortresses, and, still farther away, another group of large buildings surrounded by a wall and the ordinary houses of the city.

This double-ramped type is at once the most beautiful and the most workmanlike of those offered by these staged towers. With a single ramp we get a tower whose four faces are repetitions of each other, but here we have a true facade, on which a happy contrast is established between the unbroken stages and those upon which the ramps appear—between oblique lines and lines parallel with the soil. The building gains in repose and solidity, and its true scale becomes more evident than when the eye is led insensibly from base to summit by a monotonous spiral.

We cannot positively affirm that the architects of Mesopotamia understood and made use of the system just described; there is no positive evidence on the point.[469] It contains, however, nothing but a logical development from the premises, nothing but what is in perfect keeping with Mesopotamian habits, nothing that involves difficulties of execution or construction beyond those over which we know them to have triumphed. Besides, we have proofs that they were not content to go on servilely reproducing one and the same type for twenty centuries; their temples were not all shaped in the same mould. The type of the Mugheir temple differed sensibly from that of the Khorsabad Observatory. One of the Kouyundjik sculptures reveals a curious variant of the traditional theme, so far as Assyria was concerned, in an arrangement of the staged tower that we should never have suspected but for the survival of this relief (Fig. 34). The picture in question is no doubt very much abridged and far from true to the proportions of the original, but yet it has furnished M. Chipiez with the elements of a restoration in which conjecture has had very little to say. This we have called the SQUARE ASSYRIAN TEMPLE (see Plate IV. and Figs. 180-182).

According to the relief the tower itself rises upon a dome-shaped mound in front of which there are a large doorway and two curved ramps. From all that we know of Assyrian buildings of this kind we may be sure that the original of the picture was so placed. The form of the mound may be described as reproducing the extrados of a depressed arch. This is the only form on which flights of steps with a curve similar to that here shown could be constructed. The design of the steps in our plate corresponds exactly to that indicated more roughly by the sculptor; no other means of affording convenient access to the base of the tower—at least outside the mound—could have been contrived. Two doors were pierced at the head of the steps through the large panels with which the lower stage of the tower itself was decorated, and from that point, so far as we can tell from the relief, the ascent was continued by means of internal staircases. The sculptor has only shown three stages, but—unless the absence of anything above has been caused by the mutilation of the slab—we may suppose that he has voluntarily suppressed a fourth.[470] In any case the third story is too large to have formed the apex of the tower. The general proportions suggest at least one more stage for the support of the usual chapel. The latter we have restored as a timber structure covered with metal plates, skins, or coloured planks. The three stages immediately below the chapel we have decorated with painted imitations of panels, carried out either in fresco or glazed brick. As for the internal arrangements we know very little. The great doorway with which the mound itself is prefaced in the relief must have led to some apartment worthy of its size and importance; we have therefore pierced the mass in our section with a suite of several chambers. At the second story another doorway occurs; it is much smaller and more simple, and the chamber to which it led must have been comparatively unimportant. In our Fig. 180 it is restored as the approach to the internal staircase.

In order to vary the framework of our restorations and to show Assyrian architecture in as many aspects as possible, we have placed this temple within a fortified wall, like that of Khorsabad. Within a kind of bastion towards the left of the plate we have introduced one of those small temples of which remains have been found at Khorsabad and Nimroud. The walls of the town form a continuation of those about the temple. In front of the principal entrance to the sacred inclosure we have set up a commemorative stele.

* * * * *

Aided by these restorations we hope to have given a clearer and more vivid idea of Chaldaean art than if we had confined ourselves to describing the scanty remains of their religious buildings. We have now to give a rapid review of those existing ruins whose former purposes and arrangements may still to a certain extent be traced.


[451] These restorations of the principal types of Chaldaean temples were exhibited by M. CHIPIEZ in the Salon of 1879, under the title Tours a Etages de la Chaldee et de l'Assyrie.

[452] Chapter II. Sec. 2.

[453] HERODOTUS, i, 181-3, Rawlinson's version. By Jupiter, or rather Zeus, we must understand Bel-Merodach. Diodorus calls the god of the temple Zeus Belus.

[454] LOFTUS, Travels, &c., p. 131. See also TAYLOR's papers in vol. xv. of the Royal Asiatic Society's Journal.

[455] LOFTUS, (p. 129). "It rather struck me, however, from the gradual inclination from top to base, that a grand staircase of the same width as the upper story, occupied this side of the structure."

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

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

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

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

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

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

[462] LOFTUS, Travels, p. 130. It was the same with the Observatory at Khorsabad.

[463] LAYARD, Discoveries, p. 495.

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

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

[466] DIODORUS, ii, 9, 5.

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

[468] "I undertook in Bit-Saggatu," says the king, "the restoration of the chamber of Merodach; I gave to its cupola the form of a lily, and I covered it with chiselled gold, so that it shone like the day," London inscription, translated by M. Fr. LENORMANT, in his Histoire ancienne, vol. ii. pp. 228-229. See also a text of Philostratus in his life of Apollonius of Tyana, (i. 25). The sophist who seems to have founded his description of Babylon on good information, speaks of a "great brick edifice plated with bronze, which had a dome representing the firmament and shining with gold and sapphires."

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

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

Sec. 2.—Ruins of Staged Towers.

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

The ruins on the site of Babylon may be divided into four principal groups, each forming small hills that are visible for many miles round; they are designated on the annexed map by the names under which they are commonly known. These are, in their order from north to south, Babil, El-Kasr (or Mudjelibeh) and Tell-Amran, on the left bank; on the right bank the most conspicuous of them all, the Birs-Nimroud.[472] Most of those who have studied the topography of Babylon are disposed to see in the Kasr and in Tell-Amran the remains of a vast palace, or rather of several palaces, built by different kings, and those of the famous hanging gardens; while in Babil (Plate I. and Fig. 37) and the Birs Nimroud (Fig. 168) they agree to recognize all that is left of the two chief religious buildings of Babylon. Babil would be the oldest of them all—the Bit-Saggatu or "temple of the foundations of the earth" which stood in the very centre of the royal city and was admired and described by Herodotus. The Birs-Nimroud would correspond to the no less celebrated temple of Borsippa, the Bit-Zida, the "temple of the planets and of the seven spheres."

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

Supposing these measurements to be exact they suggest a building which was nothing extraordinary either in height or mass. The dimensions furnished by Rich and Ker-Porter are much greater. Both of these speak of a base a stade, or about 606 feet, square, which would give a circumference of no less than 2,424 feet—not much less than half a mile. In any case the temple now represented by Babil must have been the larger of the two. M. Oppert mentions 180 metres, or about 600 feet, as one diameter of the present rather irregular mass. That would still be inferior to the Pyramid of Cheops, which is 764 feet square at the base, and yet the diameter of 600 feet for Babil is, no doubt, in excess of its original dimensions. The accumulation of rubbish must have enlarged its base in every direction.

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

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

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

Nothing but the first two stages, or rather the plinth and the first stage, now remain at Nimroud of what must have been the chief temple of Calah. There is no trace either of the ramp or of the colours with which the different stories were ornamented. The Khorsabad tower discovered by Place is more interesting and much more instructive as to the arrangement and constitution of these buildings.[479]

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

Upon such data M. Thomas had no difficulty in restoring the whole building. Evidently the fourth story could not have been the original apex, as it would have been strange indeed, if, when all the rest of the Khorsabad palace had lost its upper works, the sun-dried bricks of the Observatory alone had resisted the agents of destruction. Moreover the materials of the higher stories still exist in the 40,000 cubic yards of rubbish which cover the surrounding platform to an average depth of about ten feet.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[474] Discoveries, p. 495.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[482] LENORMANT, Histoire ancienne, vol. ii. p. 200 (3rd edition).

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

Sec. 3.—Subordinate Types of the Temple.

Side by side with these pyramidal temples the Assyrians seem to have placed others of a less ambitious kind, dedicated, no doubt, to deities of the second rank. The great staged towers, whose height and mass implied an effort that could not be often repeated, were devoted to the worship of the great national gods. Botta believed that he had discovered a temple of this smaller kind in the building from which we borrowed the example of an Assyrian moulding reproduced in our Figs. 98 and 99. This edifice is remarkable, not only for its cornice, but also because it is built of limestone and decorated with sculptures carved from slabs of basalt, the only things of the kind that have been discovered in the Khorsabad ruins. The general arrangements are unlike those of any other part of the palace. Unfortunately the building is in a very bad condition. Even its plan can only be restored in part. Thomas is inclined to see in it rather a throne room, or divan, as it would be called in the modern East, than a temple. The few bas-reliefs which may be certainly recognized as having belonged to it are not religious in their character; they represent hunting scenes, battles and prisoners bringing tribute. Although Thomas's restoration is, as he himself confesses, entirely conjectural, we have no serious motive for pronouncing the building to have been a temple.[484]

On the other hand, Layard seems to have had good reasons for recognizing small temples in the structures he cleared near the great staged tower at Nimroud.[485] The more important of the two was actually touching that tower (Fig. 188). The character of the building is at once betrayed by the nature of its sculptures, which are religious rather than historical—figures of gods and genii, scenes of adoration and mystic theology. And it was not without a purpose that it was put into close juxtaposition with a zigguratt, an arrangement that proves it to have formed a part of a collection of buildings consecrated, by the prince whose dwelling covered the rest of the platform, to the gods in whose protection he placed his trust. The second and smaller temple stands about thirty yards to the east on the very edge of the artificial mound (Fig. 189). An altar with three feet carved in the shape of lion's paws was found in front of the entrance.[486] There were no bas-reliefs: the decorations were carried out in paint. The number of rooms was less, but their general arrangement was similar to that of the larger building. The chief feature of both was a large hall (e in the first plan, c in the second) with a square niche at one of its extremities (f in the first plan, d in the second). This niche was paved with a single slab of alabaster, of considerable size and covered upon both faces with a long inscription describing in detail the reign of the prince by whom the temple was consecrated. In the larger of the two buildings the slab in question was twenty-three feet four inches long and seventeen feet eight inches wide; its thickness was twelve inches. Upon it stood, in all probability, the statue of the god. The niche must, in fact, have been the secos, or sanctuary properly speaking. The large oblong hall was the naos or cella. In the larger temple its length was forty-six feet seven inches. It was preceded by a pronaos or vestibule (Fig. 188, c). We have no evidence as to the purpose of the chamber marked g in our plan. It has a direct entrance of its own from the outside (h). The small temple is rather less complicated. Two doorways (b and f) lead immediately into the principal hall or naos. A small chamber (e) behind the sanctuary was, perhaps, a kind of storeroom or sacristy. It should be noticed that in the little temple the doors into the naos were so placed that the image in the sanctuary could not be seen from without.[487] In both buildings the doors were flanked by winged lions or bulls, like those of the royal palaces. The walls of the larger temple were decorated with glazed bricks.

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