Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

sympathising with and assisting him, treatment, the elegance of the forms, like a good Providence. If it pre- and in what the French aptly term sides over a triumph, its action re- mouvement,--as well as by the evident sembles that of the king; and when attempt at composition, the artistical represented over the king in war, it arrangement of the groups. The is seen, like a god of battles, shooting sculptors who worked at Khorsabad its arrows against the enemies of the and Kouyunjik perhaps possessed Assyrians. The most superficial ex- more skill in handling their tools, and amination of the sculptures suffices to their work is frequently superior to prove the sacred character of the that of the earlier artists in delicacy king. Not only is the symbol of the of execution-as, for instance, in the great Deity above him, as well as the details of the features — and in boldsun, moon, and planets ; but the ness of relief; but they are decidedly priests, or lesser divinities (whichever inferior to their ancestors in the higher the winged human figures so fre- branches of art—in the treatment of quently found on the Assyrian monu- a subject, and in beauty and variety ments may be), are represented as of form. waiting upon or ministering to him. The domestic furniture, arms, utenThis is just a development of the old sils, and personal ornaments of the patriarchal principle, by which a father Assyrians show a very refined and used to worship on behalf of his cultivated taste. In their arms they family. At this day the principle is rivalled even the Greeks in elegance carried out to the fullest extent in of design. Their drinking-cups and China, where the “higher sacrifices " vessels used on festive occasions were can only be offered by the Emperor apparently of gold, like those of Soloin person, who actually regards him. mon, or.of silver; and they were freself as the father of the nation, and quently wrought into the shape of the who, on occasion of national calami. head and neck of an animal-such as ties, fasts and makes public confession a lion or bull—and resembled those of his sins and shortcomings, looking afterwards in use among the Greeks, upon them as the reason why the and found in the tombs of Etruria. Divine wrath is poured out upon his Their thrones, tables, and couches people.

were made both of metal and wood; A marked difference is likewise and the tables and chairs were freobservable in the style of ornamental quently shaped like onr camp-stools, art under the earlier and later dynas- and may have been made to close. ties. What principally distinguishes On the earliest monuments, the chair Assyrian from Egyptian sculpture is, is represented richly cushioned, with that the former is entirely free from the seat and legs tastefully carved, the angular mode of treatment so but without a back,-in the later conspicuous in the latter. It is more monuments the back is added, but the florid, and altogether more advanced; chairs exhibit less elegance. Indeed, but at the same time it must be said, in domestic and personal ornament, that in regard to accuracy we incline as in the higher branches of art, the to place greater estimation upon the most ancient Assyrian monuments portrait-sculpture of Egypt than upon greatly exceed the later. “Many that of Assyria. In the later monu- forms had been preserved,” says Mr ments of Nineveh we find direct, Layard, “as in the swords, bracelets, although not very extensive, traces of and armlets ; but they had evidently Egyptian influence; but the principal degenerated, and are more coarsely distinction between the earlier and designed in the sculptures. This is later sculptures is, the greater know. also evident in the embroideries of the ledge of design and composition dis- robes, and in the details of the chaplayed in the former. The bas-relief riots. We see the same love of elarepresenting the Lion-hunt, now in borate and profuse decoration, but the British Museum, is a good illus- not that elegance and variety so contration of the earliest school of Assy. spicuous in the ornamants of the first rian art yet discovered. It far exceeds period. The kneeling bull or wildthe later sculptures in the vigour of goat, the graceful flower, and the groups of men and animals skilfully Jewish temple. On the walls of the combined, are succeeded by a profa- palace at Khorsabad was a bas-relief sion of rosettes, circles, and squares, representing a public feast, probably in covering the whole surface of the

celebration of a victory. Men were seen dress, or the sides of the chariots.

seated on high chairs with drinking.cups Although there is a certain richness bringing in bowls, goblets, and various

in their hands; whilst attendants were of appearance, yet the classic forms,

fruits and viands, for the banquet. At if the term may be used, of the earlier

Nimroud part of a similar bas-relief was artists, are wanting.”

discovered. Music was not wanting on The materials at our command are these occasions." as yet too scanty to enable us to arrive at definite conclusions as to the The arts and civilisation of Nineveh manners and private life of the As- represent those of Babylon also. Babysyrians; but we do not doubt that lon, though it was long of attaining future discoveries will yet supply the to the political greatness of her

rival, desideratum. Mr Layard says :- was evidently an older city. It can

bardly be doubted that it arose from “ From casual notices in the Bible and

the first gathering of mankind upon in ancient history, we learn that the Assyrians, as well as those who succeeded

the plains of Shinar. From notices them in the empire of Asia, were fond of of it on Egyptian monuments of the public entertainments and festivities, and

time of Thothmes III., it is evident that they displayed on such occasions the that it was a place of considerable greatest luxury and magnificence. The pote at least in the fifteenth century Assyrian king, called Nabuchodonosor in before Christ. Although for long pothe book of Judith, on returning from his litically overshadowed by her neighvictorious expedition against Ārphaxad, bour Nineveh, Babylon at an early feasted with his whole army for one hun. period became famous for the extent dred and twenty days. The same is and importance of her commerce. No related by the Greek authors of Sarda- position could then have been more napalus, after his great victory over the favourable than bers for carrying on combined armies of the Medes. The Book of Esther describes the splendour of

a trade with all the regions of the the festivals given by the Babylonian known.world. She stood upon a naviking. The princes and nobles of his vast gable stream that brought to her quays dominions were feasted for one hundred the produce of the temperate highand eighty days; and for one week all lands of Armenia-running westward the people of Susa assembled in the gar. in one part of its course to within a dens of his palace, and were served in hundred miles of the Mediterranean, vessels of gold. The richest tapestries and empting its waters into a gulf of adorned the halls and tents, and the the Indian Ocean. Parallel to this most costly couches were prepared for great river, and scarcely inferior to it the guests. Wine was served in abun- in size, was the Tigris, flowing through dance, and women, including even the the fertile plains of Assyria, and carrywives and concubines of the monarch, were frequently present to add to the ing their produce to the Babylonian magnificence of the scene. According to cities. The inhabitants turned these Quintus Curtius, not only did hired natural advantages to the best account; female performers exhibit on these occa

and their industry and enterprise, cosions, but the wives and daughters of the operating with tbat of civilised people nobles, forgetting their modesty, danced in the adjoining countries, greatly inbefore the guests, divesting themselves creased the means of locomotion. Higheven of their garments. Wine was drunk roads and causeways across the Deimmoderately. When Babylon was taken sert connected Babylonia with Syria by the Persians, the inhabitants were

and Palestine. Fortified stations procelebrating one of their great festivals,

tected the merchant from the wanand even the guards were intoxicated. dering tribes of Arabia,, walled cities The Babylonian king, ignorant of the approaching fate of his capital, and sur

served as resting - places and storerounded by one thousand of his princes

houses,—and wells at regular interand nobles, and by his wives and concu- vals gave an abundant supply of water bines, drank out of the golden vessels during the hottest season of the year. that had been carried away from the One of those highways was carried through the centre of Mesopotamia, der Nebuchadnezzar she succeeded to and, crossing the Euphrates near the the proud position so long held by town of Anthemusia, led into Central her rival. The bounds of the city Asia ;-a second appears to have left were extended ; buildings of extraBabylon by the western quarter of ordinary size and magnificence were the city, and entered Idumea, after erected, and her victorious armies passing through the country of the conquered Syria and Palestine, and Nabathæans;—while others branched penetrated into Egypt. But her greatoff to Tadmor, and to other cities ness as an independent State was built in the Desert almost solely for short-lived. The Medians and Perpurposes of trade. To the east of sians, who had been the principal Babylon was the celebrated military agents in the overthrow of the Assyand commercial road described by rian empire, now united under one Herodotus, leading from Sardis to king, turned their warlike strength Susa in ninety days' journey, and fur- against their former ally Babylon; nished at intervals of about fifteen and scarcely half a century had miles with stations and public hostel- elapsed from the fall of Nineveh, when ries, probably resembling the modern “ Belshazzar, the king of the Chalcaravanserais of Persia. A very con- deans, was slain, and Darius the siderable trade was likewise carried Median took the kingdom." on with India, through Media, Hyr- From that time Babylonia sank into cania, and the centre of Asia,—by a province of Persia-still retaining, which route it was, probably, that the however, much of its former power greater part of the precious stones and and trade; and, as we learn from the gold were supplied to Babylon. A rock-inscriptions of Bisutun, as well as coasting-trade existed along the shores from ancient authors, struggling more of the Persian Gulf eastwards. The than once to regain its independence. prophet Isaiah alludes to the ships of When Alexander the Great overthrew the Chaldeans; and we learn from the the Persian empire, Babylon opened Kouyunjik inscriptions that the inba- its gates to him, and he deemed the bitants of the country at the mouth of city worthy to become the capital of the Euphrates possessed vessels in his mighty empire. The early death which, when defeated by the Assy of the conqueror, however, without rians, they took refuge on the sea. leaving a successor, prevented his It is difficult to determine to how splendid projects being carried into far the Babylonians may have navi- execution ; and the last blow to the gated the Indian Ocean ; but of the prosperity of Babylon was given by merchandise in which they traded, Seleucus, when he laid the foundations the pearls, cotton, spices, precious of his new capital (Seleucia) on the stones, ivory, ebony, silks, and dyes, banks of the Tigris (B.C. 322.) Nevera large portion, if not the whole, must theless, a considerable population have been obtained from the southern seems to have lingered in the fastcoasts of Arabia, and from the Indian decaying city; for, five centuries peninsula. Their exports consisted afterwards, we find the Parthian king both of manufactures and of the natu- Evemerus sending numerous families ral produce of the country. Corn was from Babylon into Media, to be sold cultivated to a great extent, and sent as slaves, and burning many great and to distant provinces; and the Baby- beautiful edifices which still remained lonian carpets, silks, and woollen standing. At the time of the Arab fabrics, woven or embroidered with invasion, in the beginning of the figures of mythic animals, and with seventh century, the ancient cities of exquisite designs, were not less Babylon were a desolation, a dry famous for the beauty of their tex- land, and a wilderness." Amidst the ture and workmanship, than for heaps that marked the site of Babylon the richness and variety of their herself, there rose the small town of colours.

Hillah, wbich, with its falling gateBabylon reached her zenith of power way, mean bazaar, and a few halfand magnificence immediately after ruined mosques, still exists, as if in the final destruction of Nineveh. Un- mockery of the power and splendour

course

which in long-departed ages had nermost parts of Mesopotamia, dethere its abode.

pended not only the harvests, the Moral corruption was the ruin of gardens, and the palm-groves, but the Babylon, as of all the great empires very existence of the numerous towns of the old world. Her vast trade, and villages far removed from the which rendered Babylon the gather- river-banks.” Built of unbaked bricks, ing-place of men from all parts of the “they soon turned to mere heaps of known world, which poured wealth earth and rubbish. Vegetation ceased; into her coffers, and furnished her with and the plains, parched by the burnluxuries of all kinds, bad the effect of ing heat of the sun, were ere long once producing an effeminacy and general more a vast arid waste.” profligacy, which mainly contributed So flourished and so fell Nineveh to her fall. There is no necessary and Babylon. For fourteen centuries connection between prosperity and the Assyrian empire, of which they corruption; nevertheless, in nations as formed the pillars, was the leading in individuals, it is generally found Power in Western Asia,-overlapping that a long lease of prosperity—espe. to the south with that of Egypt, with cially if conjoined with much wealth, wbich it was sometimes at peace, which at once allows of indolence and sometimes at war, at first a depeninvites to self-indulgence-dwarfs the dent and latterly victorious. We generous and lofty feelings of our na- think the character of these two old ture, and renders both men and nations empires may be symbolised by their selfish in feeling, and absorbed in the different styles of architecture,— Egypt material comforts and pleasures of life. built with granite, and Assyria with In Babylon this tendency was aggra- alabaster and painted brick. It was vated, at least in later times, by the not to geographical position that the corruptions of its religion, promoted difference was owing. The valley of by a hierarchy which, in

the Nile and that of the Euphrates of time, became at once too rich are much alike. Both are alluvial in and too powerful for its own purity, their character, and possess but little and too profligate not to insure the stone ; and with both nations, accorruption of the people. The de- cordingly, brick was the ordinary mascription given by Herodotus of the terial employed in building. In both manners of the people, when under countries quarries of granite and other the dominion of the Persian kings, stone existed in the mountains which is sufficient to explain the cause of bordered the valley-land, with rivers Babylon's speedy fall and ultimate upon which the stone might be floated ruin ; and his account tallies perfectly down on rafts. But the one nation with the denunciations of the city's used this material, and the other did wickedness by the prophets of Israel. not. The Egyptians, indomitable in Her inbabitants, as generally hap- science, and animated by grander pens, along with their moral integrity views than their Asiatic rivals, sent lost their warlike character. When several bundred miles for intractable the Persians broke into the city, they but everlasting granite, whereon to were revelling in debauchery and lust; design their sculptures and inscripand when the Macedonian conqueror tions, and with which to rear those vast appeared at their gates, they received and countless edifices which seem with indifference the yoke of a new destined to perpetuate the fame and master.

history of their founders to the end “ It is not difficult,” says Mr Lay- of time. The Assyrians, fonder of ard, “to account for the rapid decay luxury than of fame, more desirous of the country around Babylon. As of display than of enduring strength, the inhabitants deserted the city,” contented themselves with materials and a foreign yoke pressed heavily which they could get without trouble, upon them, “ the canals were neglect- but ornamenting the brick with coled; and when once those great sources ours, or coating it with slabs of soft of fertility were choked up, the plains alabaster, which they found protrud. became a wilderness. Upon the waters ing from the ground beneath their conveyed by their channels to the in- feet. The architecture of Egypt was grand and strong—that of Assyria its loins proceeded the empire of Perwas vast and showy. Egyptian sculp- sia,—which was, in fact, in all respects ture was angular, and strove to be only a modification of the empire which correct, -that of Assyria was round it supplanted; while these two, by and florid. Although we know as their great influence over all westera yet but little of the arts and customs Asia, including the Greek settlements of life among the Assyrians, we may of Ionia, must have affected in no slight confidently conjecture that they were degree the Hellenic mind -- especially left comparatively unshackled by rule, from the period when Alexander by and at the sway of individual impulse; his conquests drew Greece bodily into whereas in Egypt rule and system Asia. As yet, as we have said, the pervaded everything, alike in art and book of Assyrian history and civilisain society.

tion is only beginning to be unrolled; Of all the empires of the first period but there are already in the possesof the world, the Assyrian is the one sion of the literati of Europe written whose history and civilisation most cylinders and inscriptions which, when closely connect themselves with the deciphered, will cast important light subsequent destinies of mankind. In- upon matters as yet in the dark. dia and China were isolated empires, Doubtless many more will be found each developing a civilisation for it- even in the ruins already opened, self, independent of and wholly un- only one of which, let it be noted, influencing the rest of the world. has been thoroughly searched. Above Egypt was less so; but it also, se- all, ruins upon ruins are to be seen cluded in position and unprosclytising scattered over the plains of Mesopoin spirit, stands apart from the com- tamia, which Mr Layard himself demunity of nations, and may be studied scribes as the evident remains of like an isolated statue placed in a ancient cities, and which offer ample niche. With Assyria, however, the scope for the labours of more than one case is far otherwise. Its influence, generation of investigators. We shall extending for centuries over Western get at the truth at last. Years may and Southern Asia—from the frontiers roll by, and still see but little proof Affghanistan to the Levant, from gress made in the search ;-but there, the Persian Gulf to the shores of the underneath, lie the records of the past Ægean Sea-was potent in modifying for which we seek, and earth will a vast population, destined to give keep them safe until we are ready to birth to many civilised States. From dig for them in earnest.

« AnteriorContinuar »