Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

singularly destitute of stone of any kind, especially in the lower portion of the valley; so that the inhabitants had to betake themselves to bricks, which they could manufacture in endless abundance, by mixing a little straw with the alluvial soil. In Babylonia, where not a slab of stone could be got within hundreds of miles, these bricks were carefully made, being kiln-dried, and often coloured, and, while the colours were still moist, glazed in the fire. Around Nineveh they were, for the most part, merely dried for a day or two in the hot sun, and with bricks of this description the houses of Mesopotamia are built to this day. But Nineveh, being nearer the mountains, had a great advantage over Babylon. The plains around it, and the lowlands lying between the Tigris and the bill-country, abound in a kind of coarse alabaster or gypsum, large masses of which protrude in low ridges from the alluvial soil, or are exposed in the gullies formed by winter torrents. Ornamental from its colour and transparency, and offering few difficulties to the sculptor, this alabaster was used by the people of Nineveh in their public buildings. Cut into large slabs, it was used as panels to cover the inner surface of the brick walls, each slab bearing on its back an inscription recording the name, title, and descent of the king undertaking the work, and being kept in its place by cramps and plugs of metal or wood. After being thus fixed against the wall, the face of the slabs was covered with sculptures and inscriptions,-in some edifices, as at Kouyunjik, each chamber being reserved for some particular historical incident, and each palace, it would appear, only recording in its sculptures the exploits of the king who built it. No pillars are to be found in Assyrian architecture; and the difficulty experienced by the builders in the construction of expansive roofs is shown by the great narrowness of the rooms compared with their length; the most elaborately ornamented hall at Nimroud, although above 160 feet in length, being only 35 feet broad. Forty-five feet appears to have been the greatest width spanned over by a roof; for the great central hall in the north-west palace at Nimroud (110

feet by 90) may have been entirely open to the sky,-and, as it did not contain sculptures, it probably was

So.

The rooms ranged from 16 to 20 feet in height; the side-walls being covered to twice the height of a man by the sculptured slabs, and their upper portion being built of baked bricks richly coloured, or of sun-dried bricks covered by a thin coat of plaster, on which various ornaments were painted. Of the mode of roofing these palaces we know nothing. Probably the roof was formed of beams resting solely on the sidewalls; but as this method would not have sufficed for the larger rooms, from 35 to 45 feet in width, we may conjecture that the beams in some instances were made to meet and rest against each other at a slight angle in the centre of the ceiling, or (more improbably) that wooden pillars or posts were employed which have since entirely mouldered away. No traces of windows are to be found, even in the chambers next the outer walls; so that, as in the temples of Egypt, there must have been square openings or skylights in the ceilings, which may have been closed during the winterrains by canvass or some such material. The pavement of the chambers was formed either of alabaster slabs, or of kiln-burnt bricks, covered with inscriptions relating to the king;-and beneath this pavement, drains led from almost every room, showing that water might occasionally have entered the rooms from above, by such apertures in the ceiling as has been conjectured.

The interior of these Assyrian palaces must have been as magnificent as imposing. Mr Layard thus graphically describes the spectacle which, in days of old, met the eye of those who entered the abode of the Assyrian kings :

·

"He was ushered in through the portal guarded by the colossal lions or bulls of white alabaster. In the first hall he found himself surrounded by the sculptured records of the empire. Battles, sieges, triumphs, the exploits of the chase, the ceremonies of religion, were portrayed on the walls-sculptured in alabaster, and painted in gorgeous colours. Under each picture were engraved, in characters filled up with

bright copper, inscriptions describing the scenes represented. Above the sculptures were painted other events-the king, attended by his eunuchs and warriors, receiving his prisoners, entering into alliances with other monarchs, or performing some sacred duty. These representations were enclosed in coloured borders of elaborate and elegant design. The emblematic tree, winged bulls, and monstrous animals were conspicuous amongst the ornaments. At the upper end of the hall was the colossal figure of the king in adoration before the supreme deity, or receiving from his eunuch the holy cup. He was attended by warriors bearing his arms, and by the priests or presiding divinities. His robes, and those of his followers, were adorned with groups of figures, animals, and flowers, all painted with brilliant colours.

"The stranger trod upon alabaster slabs, each bearing an inscription, recording the titles, genealogy, and achieve ments of the great king. Several doorways, formed by gigantic winged lions or bulls, or by the figures of guardian deities, led into other apartments which again opened into more distant halls. In each were new sculptures. On the walls of some were processions of colossal figures-armed men and eunuchs following the king, warriors laden with spoil, leading prisoners, or bearing presents and offerings to the gods. On the walls of others were portrayed the winged priests, or presiding divinities, standing

before the sacred trees.

"The ceilings above him were divided into square compartments, painted with flowers, or with the figures of animals. Some were inlaid with ivory, each compartment being surrounded by elegant borders and mouldings. The beams, as well as the sides of the chambers, may have been gilded, or even plated with gold and silver; and the rarest woods, in which the cedar was conspicuous, were used for the wood-work. Square openings in the ceilings of the chambers admitted the light of day. A pleasing shadow was thrown over the sculptured walls, and gave a majestic expression to the human features of the colossal forms which guarded the entrances. Through these apertures was seen the bright blue of an eastern sky, enclosed in a frame on which were painted, in vivid colours, the winged circle, in the midst of elegant ornaments, and the graceful forms of ideal animals.

racters, the chronicles of the empire. He who entered them might thus read the history, and learn the glory and triumphs of the nations. They served, at the same time, to bring continually to the remembrance of those who assembled within them on festive occasions, or for the celebration of religious ceremonies, the deeds of their ancestors, and the power and majesty of their gods."

"These edifices, as it has been shown, were great national monuments, upon the walls of which were represented in sculpture, or inscribed in alphabetic cha

This royal magnificence was well guarded. The external walls of the Assyrian cities, as we learn from the united testimony of ancient authors, were of extraordinary size and height. According to Diodorus Siculus, the walls of Nineveh were one hundred feet high,-so broad that three chariots might be driven abreast along fifteen hundred towers, each of which their summit, and fortified with was two hundred feet in height. According to the same authority, the circumference of the city was sixty miles,-a statement which exactly tallies with the dimensions given in the Book of Jonah, where Nineveh is said to have been three days' journey round about. This is an immense circuit, but it must be recollected that the dimensions of an Eastern city do not bear the same proportion to its population as those of an European city. The custom, prevalent to some degree in Southern Asia, even in the earliest times, of secluding the women in apartments removed from those of the men, as well as the heat of the climate, renders a separate house for each family incompatible with that economy of almost indispensable, and is perfectly ings, which we witness in the cities of space, and close aggregation of dwellthe West. Moreover, within the circuit of those old cities there used to be a "paradise" or hunting-ground for the king, and orchards, gardens, and an extensive tract of arable land; so that the inhabitants, behind their impregnable walls, could bid defiance alike to force and to famine. From the expression of Jonah, that there was Nineveh, it may be inferred that there much cattle within the walls of was also pasture for them. Many cities of the East-as, for instance, Damascus and Ispahanbuilt in this manner; the amount of are still their population being greatly dispro

[ocr errors]

1854.]

467

The

Records of the Past.-Nineveh and Babylon. portionate, according to our Western notions, to the site which they occupy. allowed to fall into decay. largest palaces would probably have remained undiscovered, had not slabs is, however, sufficient to indicate that of alabaster marked the walls. There buildings were once spread over the the vast number of small mounds space above described; for, besides everywhere visible, scarcely a husbandman drives his plough over the soil without exposing the vestiges of former habitations."

If we take the four great mounds of Nimroud, Kouyunjik, Khorsabad, and Karamles, as the corners of an elongated quadrangle (eighteen miles by twelve), it will be found that the form as well as the circumference of the city correspond pretty accurately with the statements of ancient writers. Each quarter of this vast city, says Mr Layard, may have had its peculiar name; hence the palace of Evorita, where Saracus destroyed himself and the Mespila and Larissa of Xenophon, which names the Greek general applies respectively to the moundruins at Kouyunjik and Nimroud. It is certain that large fortified enclosures existed within the outer walls, surrounding the principal buildings or palaces, and capable of defence after the rest of the city was stormed. These four great mounds, the scene of Mr Layard's excavations, mark the site of the principal public buildings of Nineveh,-apparently at once temples and palaces, built upon elevated platforms of masonry, like the temples of the ancient Mexicans, and, from their great strength, always placed so as to form part of the external defences of the city. But these were not the only great buildings in Nineveh; for within the quadrangle described by these ruins, many other large mounds are to be seen, and the face of the country is strewed with the remains of pottery, bricks, and other fragments. The space between the great public buildings was doubtless occupied by private houses, standing in the midst of gardens, and built at distances from each other; or forming streets which enclosed gardens of considerable extent, and even arable land. The absence of the remains of these houses, says Mr Layard, is easily accounted for. constructed almost entirely of sunThey were dried bricks, and, like the houses now built in the country, soon disappeared altogether when once abandoned, and

66

ruins visible on the Mesopotamian From the numerous large moundplains, it is evident that the work of excavation is only commenced. The long-sealed book of Assyrian history and antiquities has only begun to be unrolled; and in the course of another generation the labours of Layard will probably be as far exceeded as those of Belzoni in Egypt have been by the Champollion-le-Jeune. It is needless, recent investigations of Lepsius and then, at present to waste time in the discussion of moot points in Assyrian history, which in a few years fresh ly at rest. discoveries may at once set definitivelogy has been but little advanced by As yet, Assyrian chronocipally owing to the circumstance, the recent researches,-and this prinalready mentioned, that the sculptures only to the career of the particular and inscriptions of each palace relate king who erected or embellished it. All we know is, that the palaces at one) must have been built at least Nimroud (if we except the unfinished nine centuries B.C.; but that the by the great Ninus himself* (2000 earliest of them may have been reared B.C.), a most unsatisfactory state at the other angles of the city-nameof knowledge; and that the palaces ly, Kouyunjik, Karamles, and Khorsabad-were erected, to all appearance, between the ninth and sixth centuries B.C. We know, however, with all certainty, that a great crisis State occurred between the erection and convulsion in the fortunes of the of the earlier and later series of pal

* Ctesias and other writers speak of the Bactrian and Indian expedition of Ninus and Semiramis ; and in connection with this it is important to notice, that upon the obelisk discovered at Nimroud-which belongs to the period of the earliest palace, having been erected by the son of the founder of that building-are represented the Bactrian camel, the elephant, and the rhinoceros-(all animals from India and Central Asia)-brought as tribute by a conquered people to the Assyrian king.

VOL. LXXVI.-NO. CCCCLXVIII.

2 H

aces. This convulsion was probably occasioned by the successful revolt of the Medes under Arbaces, and the capture of Nineveh, about 950 B.C., which brought to an end the ancient dynasty of Ninus and Semiramis, after thirteen centuries of power, and established a new family on the throne.

Ninus-whose character as a great hunter of the lion and panther tallies with the scriptural accounts of Nimrod—is said, by the general consent of many ancient writers, to have founded the Assyrian monarchy more than two thousand years before Christ, -doing so in the midst of a people far advanced in civilisation, whose works, says Moses of Chorene, the new-comers endeavoured to destroy, and whose knowledge of the arts was taken advantage of by the conquerors in the erection and embellishment of their palaces. In corroboration of this it may be stated, that of all the specimens of Assyrian art which have been discovered, the most ancient are invariably the best,- a curious fact, agreeing with, but not establishing, the hypothesis that the builders of the most ancient edifices at Nineveh were assisted by a people of skill superior to their own.

The boundaries of the Assyrian monarchy, like that of every other longestablished empire, fluctuated from age to age. At the epoch of its greatest power, it appears to have maintained an ascendancy over Persia and Media, and from thence westwards to the shores of the Levant; while it is indisputable that its rule was for long dominant in Asia Minor, where towns were built and colonies founded by the Assyrian monarchs,-Troy itself, according to Plato, having been one of their dependencies. The prowess of the Assyrian armies in later times made itself felt even in Egypt; but in the wars between these two great antagonists, there is reason to believe that the balance of success lay chiefly with the Egyptians. It would appear that for a considerable period, between the 14th and 9th centuries B.C., a close connection, either by conquest or friendly intercourse, existed between these two empires, which connection produced considerable changes in the arts and

customs of Assyria, as may be witnessed in the introduction of the sitting sphinxes of Nimroud, and the lotus-shaped ornaments of Khorsabad and Kouyunjik. On the earliest monuments of Nineveh we read of expeditions undertaken against Babylon, which city was at first unquestionably independent of the Assyrian princes, but which ere long became subject to them-wearing their chains, however, unwillingly, and occasionally in name rather than in fact. When the Medes revolted under Arbaces, the governor of Babylon took part with the rebels, and in alliance with them succeeded in capturing Nineveh, and destroying its public buildings-if not depopulating it. Under the new or later dynasty, however-which counts in its brief roll the great names of Sargon and Sennacherib-Nineveh rose in renewed splendour and power: the palaces of Kouyunjik, Karamles, and Khorsabad were built, the last of which excelled all its predecessors in magnificence; and the city attained those vast dimensions described by Diodorus and the prophet Jonah. But the days of this great city and ancient empire were fast drawing to a close. Headed by Cyaxares and Nabopolassar, the combined armies of the Persians and Babylonians again approached its walls; and after a protracted siege of nearly three years, they at length (606 B.C.) captured the city at a time when the river had overflowed its bed and carried away a portion of the wall. The city was then utterly destroyed-the torch was put to its noble palaces, and its inhabitants were compulsorily distributed among the adjoining towns and villages. Nineveh was no more. Twelve centuries afterwards (A.D. 627), the great battle between Heraclius and Rhazates was fought within the space once compassed by its walls. "The city, and even the ruins of the city," says Gibbon, "had long ago disappeared: the vacant space afforded a spacious field for the operations of the two armies."

The primitive religion of the Assyrians appears to have been a form of Sabæauism. It appears to have consisted in the worship of the sun-not as the Deity, but as an emblem of

the Deity as the greatest, most glorious, and most beneficent of His works in the eye of man, and the mystery of whose unbeholdable splendours not unaptly symbolised the presence of Him" who dwelleth in light that is inaccessible and full of glory." But the peculiar part of the Chaldean faith or philosophy was the influence which it ascribed to the planets over the life and fortunes of men. The belief in astrology is one of the oldest, if not absolutely the very oldest, which one meets with in the history of postdiluvian mankind. It was not confined to any one nation, or any one era of the world. It has lived from the earliest times, down through several thousand years, to the middle ages of Europe, and still lingers even at the present day. To take the last spots in the world where one is likely to find old-world notions lingering "Raphaels" and "Zadkiels" are to be found even in the capitals of England and France, where astrological almanacs are at this moment yearly published, containing predictions of the future-one of which modern Magi boasts that he correctly predicted the death of the "hero of Waterloo," and both of whom, we believe, prophesied two years ago that 1854 is to be the deathyear of Louis Napoleon! But the East is the native land of astrology; and there, to this day, it is believed in as firmly as if it belonged to the domain of the positive sciences. It is curious to know that one of the causes of the disastrous issue of the last battle (August 5) between the Turks and Russians in Asia, was the obstinate adhesion of the Turkish general to an astrological crotchet. The Russians had detached a division of their army to Bayazid, where they surprised and defeated a Turkish corps; but no sooner did General Guyon learn of this movement, than he counselled the Turkish commander, Zarif Pasha, immediately to advance and attack the main body of the Russians while thus weakened. The Pasha, however, while assenting to the plan, would not move at the time required, alleging that neither that day nor the morrow would do for the attack," because the stars were unpropitious." Eight-and-forty hours

were thus lost, big with the fortunes of the campaign; and the consequence was, that when the Turks did at last advance, they found not only that the Russian detachment had rejoined the main body, but that the Russian general had been fully apprised by his spies of the meditated night-march of his enemies.

We have not space here to undertake an investigation of the old Chaldean faith, nor to point out the principles in human nature by a rash reasoning upon which astrology seems to have arisen. We would remark, however, that the convulsion which intervened between the fall of the first Assyrian dynasty and the rise of the second, occasioned, or was at least accompanied by, a change in the State-religion of the country. In the palaces at Khorsabad and Kouyunjik, built by the second dynasty, we find no traces of the religious emblems so frequent in the sculptures of the earliest palaces at Nimroud. The emblem of the great Divinity-the winged figure within the circle - has never been found in the later-built palaces; and from the frequent representations of the fire-altar in the basreliefs from those ruins, and on cylinders, evidently of the same period, there is reason to believe that a fireworship, like that introduced by Zoroaster among the Persians, had succeeded to the purer forms of Sabæanism. Although eagle - headed figures, and other mythic forms, exist in the earliest sculptures at Nineveh, in no case do they appear to have been objects of worship. The king is only seen in adoration before one symbol of the Deity-the figure of which we have already spoker, with the wings and tail of a bird enclosed in a circle, resembling the Ormuzd of the Persian monuments. He is generally standing or kneeling beneath this circled figure with his hand raised in sign of prayer or adoration. This symbol of the Deity is never represented above any person of inferior rank, but appears to watch specially over the king-who among the Assyrians, as among all the old nations, was regarded as the type and representative of the nation. It is seen above him on all occasions, in the sculptures,

« AnteriorContinuar »