1840: Discovery of the Black Obelisk of King Shalmaneser of Assyria
(Page 207) On my return to Mosul, I received letters from England, informing me that Sir Stratford Canning had made over his share in the discoveries in Assyria to the British nation; and that the British Museum had received a grant of funds for the continuation of the researches commenced at Nimroud, and elsewhere. The grant was small, and scarcely adequate to the objects in view. There were many difficulties to contend with, and I was doubtful whether, with the means placed at my disposal, I should be able to fulfill the expectations which appeared to have been formed as to the results of the undertaking. The sum given to M. Botta for the excavations at Khorsabad alone, greatly exceeded the whole grant to the Museum, which was to include private expenses, those of carriage, and many extraordinary outlays inevitable in the East, when works of this nature are to be carried on. I determined, however, to accept the charge of superintending the excavations, to make every exertion, and to economize as far as it was in my power - that the nation might possess as extensive and complete a collection of Assyrian antiquities as, considering the smallness of the means, it was possible to collect.
It was, in the first place, necessary to organize a band of work. men best fit to carry on the work. A general scarcity of corn had (Page 208) driven the Arab tribes to the neighborhood of the town, where they sought to gain a livelihood by engaging in labors not very palatable to a Bedouin. I had no difficulty in finding workmen among them. There was, at the same time, this advantage in employing these wandering Arabs - they brought their tents and families with them, and, encamping round the ruins and the village, formed a very efficient guard against their brethren of the Desert, who looked to plunder, rather than to work, to supply their wants. To increase my numbers I chose only one man from each family; and, as his male relations accompanied him, I had the use of their services, as far as regarded the protection of my sculptures. Being well acquainted with the sheikhs of the Jebours, I selected my workmen chiefly from that tribe. The chiefs promised every protection; and I knew enough of the Arab character not to despair of bringing the men under proper control. The Arabs were selected to remove the earth - they were unable to dig; this part of the labor required stronger and more active men; and I chose for it about fifty Nestorian Chaldeans, who had sought work for the winter in Mosul, and many of whom, having already been employed, had acquired some experience in excavating. They went to Nimroud with their wives and families. I engaged at the same time one Bainan, a Jacobite or Syrian Christian, who was a skillful marble-cutter, and a very intelligent man. I also made a valuable addition to my establishment in a standard-bearer of the irregular troops, of whose courage I had seen such convincing proofs during the expedition to the Sinjar, that I induced his commander to place him in my service. His name was Mohammed Agha; but he was generally called, from the office he held in his troop, the "Bairakdar, or standard bearer." He was a native of Scio, and had been carried off at the time of the massacre, when a child, by an irregular, who had brought him up as a Mussulman. In his religious opinions and observances, however, he was as lax, as men of his profession usually are. He served me faithfully and honestly, and was of great use during the excavations. Awad still continued in (Page 209) my employ; my cawass, Ibrahim Agha, returned with me to Nimroud; and I hired a carpenter and two or three men of Mosul as superintendents.
I was again among the ruins by the end of October. The winter season was fast approaching, and it was necessary to build a proper house for the shelter of myself and servants. I marked out a plan on the ground, in the village of Nimroud, and in a few days our habitations were complete. My workmen formed the walls of mud bricks dried in the sun, and roofed the rooms with beams and branches of trees. A thick coat of mud was laid over the whole, to exclude the rain. Two rooms for my own accommodation were divided by an iwan, or open apartment, the whole being surrounded by a wall. In a second court yard were huts for my cawass, Arab guests, and servants, and stables for my horses. Ibrahim Agha displayed his ingenuity by making equidistant loopholes, of a most warlike appearance, in the outer walls; which I immediately ordered to be filled up, to avoid any suspicion of being the constructor of forts and castles, with the intention of making a permanent Frank settlement in the country. We did not neglect precautions, however, in case of an attack from the Bedouins, of whom Ibrahim Agha was in constant dread. Unfortunately the only shower of rain, that I saw during the remainder of my residence in Assyria, fell before my walls were covered in, and so saturated the bricks that they did not dry again before the following spring. The consequence was that the only verdure, on which my eyes were permitted to feast before my return to Europe, was furnished by my own property - the walls in the interior of the rooms being continually clothed with a crop of grass.
On the mound itself, and immediately above the great winged lions first discovered, were built a house for my Nestorian workmen and their families, and a hut to which any small objects discovered among the ruins could at once be removed for safety. I divided my Arabs into three parties, according to the branches of the tribe to which they belonged. About forty tents were pitched on different parts of the mound, at the entrances to the (Page 210) principal trenches. Forty more were placed round my dwelling, and the rest on the bank of the river, where the sculptures were deposited previous to their embarkation on the rafts. The men were all armed. I thus provided for the defense of my establishment.
Mr. Hormuzd Rassam lived with me; and to him I confided the payment of the wages, and the accounts. He soon obtained an extraordinary influence among the Arabs, and his fame spread through the desert.
The workmen were divided into bands. In each set were generally eight or ten Arabs, who carried away the earth in baskets; and two, or four, Nestorian diggers, according to the nature of the soil and rubbish which had to be excavated. They were overlooked by a superintendent, whose duty it was to keep them to their work, and to give me notice when the diggers approached any slab, or exposed any small object to view, that I might myself assist in its uncovering or removal. I scattered a few Arabs of a hostile tribe among the rest, and by that means I was always made acquainted with what was going on, could easily learn if there were plots brewing, and could detect those who might attempt to appropriate any relics discovered during the excavations. The smallness of the sum placed at my disposal, compelled me to follow the same plan in the excavations that I had hitherto adopted, - digging trenches along the walls of the chambers, and exposing the whole of the slabs, without removing the earth from the center. Thus, few chambers were fully explored; and many small objects of great interest may have been left undiscovered. As I was directed to bury the buildings with earth after they had been examined, I filled up the trenches, to avoid unnecessary expense, with the rubbish taken from those subsequently opened, having first copied the inscriptions, and drawn the sculptures.
The excavations were recommenced, on a large scale, by the 1st of November. My working parties were distributed over the mound - in the ruins of the N. W. and S. W. palaces; near the gigantic bulls in the center; and in the (Page 211) southeast corner, where no traces of buildings had as yet been discovered.
It will be remembered that the greater number of slabs forming the southern side of the large hall in the N.W. palace had fallen with their faces to the ground. I was, in the first place, anxious to raise these bas-reliefs, and to pack them for transport to Busrah. To accomplish this, it was necessary to remove a large accumulation of earth and rubbish - to empty, indeed, nearly the whole chamber, for the fallen slabs extended almost half-way across it. The sculptures on nine slabs were found to be in admirable preservation, although broken by the fall. The slabs were divided, as those already described, into two compartments, by inscriptions which were precisely similar.
The sculptures were of the highest interest. They represented the wars of the king, and his victories over foreign nations. The upper bas-reliefs, on the first two slabs, formed one subject - the king, with his warriors, in battle under the walls of a hostile castle. He stood, gorgeously attired, in a chariot drawn by three horses richly caparisoned, and was discharging an arrow either against those who defended the walls; or against a warrior, who, already wounded, was falling from his chariot. An attendant protected the person of the king with a shield, and a charioteer held the reins, and urged on the horses. Above the king was the emblem of the supreme Deity, represented as at Persepolis by a winged figure within a circle, wearing a horned cap resembling that of the human headed lions. Like the king, he was shooting an arrow, the head of which was in the form of a trident.
Behind the king were three chariots; the first drawn by three horses - one of which was rearing and another falling - (Page 212) and occupied by a wounded warrior demanding quarter of his pursuers. In the others were two warriors, one discharging an arrow, the other guiding the horses, which were at full speed. In each Assyrian chariot was a standard - the devices, which were inclosed in a circle ornamented with tassels and streamers, being an archer, with the horned cap but without wings, standing on a bull; and two bulls, back to back. At the bottom of the first bas relief were wavy lines, to indicate water or a river, and trees were scattered over both. Assyrian footmen, fighting or slaying the enemy, were introduced in several places; and three headless bodies above the principal figures in the second bas-relief represented the dead in the background.[9.1]
On the upper part of the two slabs following the battle-scene was the triumphal return after victory. In front of the procession were warriors throwing the heads of the slain at the feet of the conquerors. Two musicians, playing on stringed instruments, preceded the charioteers, who were represented unarmed, and bearing their standards; above them was an eagle with a human head in its talons. The king came next in his chariot, carrying in one hand his bow, and in the other two arrows - the attitude in which he is so frequently represented on Assyrian monuments, and probably denoting triumph over his enemies. Above the horses was the presiding divinity; also holding a bow. The attendant, who in war bore the shield, was now replaced by an eunuch, raising the open parasol - the Eastern emblem of royalty. The horses were led by grooms, although the charioteer still held the reins. Behind the king's chariot was a horseman leading a second horse, gayly caparisoned.
(Page 213) After the procession, was the castle and pavilion of the victorious king - the former represented by a circle, divided into four equal compartments, and surrounded by towers and battlements. In each compartment were figures evidently engaged in preparing the feast: one was slaying a sheep; another appeared to be baking bread; and others stood before bowls and utensils placed on tables. The pavilion was supported by three columns; one surmounted by a fir-cone - the emblem so frequently seen in the Assyrian sculptures; the others by figures of the ibex or mountain goat. It was probably of silk or woolen stuff, richly ornamented and edged with a fringe of fir-cones and tulip shaped ornaments. Beneath the canopy was a groom cleaning one horse; while others, picketed by their halters, were feeding at a trough. An eunuch stood at the entrance of the tent, to receive four prisoners, who, with their hands bound behind, were brought to him by an Assyrian warrior. Above this group were two singular lion-headed figures, one holding a whip or thong in the right hand, and grasping his under jaw with the left, the other raising his hands. They were clothed in tunics descending to the knees, and skins falling from the head, over the shoulders, to the ankles, and were accompanied by a man raising a stick.
The four following bas-reliefs recorded a battle, in which were represented the king, two warriors with their standards, (Page 215) and an eunuch in chariots, and four warriors, among whom was also an eunuch, on horses. The enemy were on foot, and discharged their arrows against the pursuers. Eagles hovered above the victors, and were feeding on the slain. The winged divinity in the circle was again seen above the king.
These bas-reliefs in many respects illustrate the manners and civilization of the Assyrians. We here find the eunuch commanding in war and engaging with the enemy in combat, as we have before seen him ministering to the king during religious ceremonies, or waiting upon him as his arms-bearer during peace. That eunuchs rose to the highest rank among the Assyrians, and were even generals over their armies, we learn from Scripture, where the rabsaris, or chief of the eunuchs, is mentioned as one of the three principal officers of Sennacherib, and as one of the princes of Nebuchadrezzar.[9.2] They appear, indeed, to have held the same important posts, and to have exercised the same influence in the Assyrian court, as they have since enjoyed in Turkey and Persia, where they have frequently attained to the post of vizier or prime minister.
The horses of the archers were led by mounted warriors, wearing circular skull caps, probably of iron. Horsemen are frequently mentioned in the Bible as forming an important part of the Assyrian armies. Ezekiel (23:6) describes "the Assyrians clothed in blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses;" and Holofernes had no less than 12,000 archers on horseback. The rider is seated on the naked back of the horse, which is only adorned with a cloth when led behind the chariot of the king, probably for his use in case of accident to the chariot.
The horses represented in the sculptures appear to be of noble breed. Assyria, and particularly that part of the empire which was watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, was celebrated at the earliest period for its horses, as the same plains are to (Page 216) this day for the noblest races of Arabia. The Jews probably obtained horses for their cavalry from this country; and horses were offered to them by the general of the Assyrian king, as an acceptable present.[9.3] On Egyptian monuments horses from Mesopotamia are continually mentioned among the spoil or tribute. The horse of the Assyrian bas-reliefs was evidently drawn from the finest model. The head is small and well shaped, the nostrils large and high, the neck arched, the body long, and the legs slender and sinewy. The prophet exclaims of the horses of the Chaldeans, "They are swifter than the leopards, and more fierce than the evening wolves ;"[9.4] and the (Page 217) magnificent description of the war-horse in the book of Job is familiar to every reader.[9.5] At a later period the plains of Babylonia furnished horses to the Persians, both for the private use of the king and for his troops. The rich pasture-grounds of Mesopotamia must have always afforded them ample sustenance, while those vast plains, exposed to the heats of summer and cold of winter, inured them to hardships and fatigue.
The lower series of bas-reliefs contained three subjects - the siege of a castle, the king receiving prisoners, and the king, with his army, crossing a river. The first occupied the under compartments of three slabs. The castle had three towers, and apparently several walls, one behind the other, all surmounted by angular battlements. The besiegers having brought a battering ram to the outer wall, one of the besieged was endeavoring to catch the engine, and to break the blows, by a chain lowered from the walls; while two warriors of the assailing party were holding the ram in its place by hooks. This part of the bas-relief illustrates the account in Chronicles and Josephus, of the machines for battering walls, instruments to cast stones, and grappling irons made by Uzziah.[9.6] Another warrior was throwing fire (traces of the red paint being still visible in the sculpture) from above upon the battering-ram: while the besiegers endeavored to quench the flames, by pouring water upon them from the movable tower. Two figures, in full armor, were undermining the walls with instruments like blunt spears; while two others appeared to have found a secret passage into the castle. Wounded men were falling from the walls; and upon one of the towers were women tearing their hair and extending their hands to ask for quarter. The enemy were mounting to the assault, by scaling ladders placed against the walls. The king, discharging an arrow, and protected by a shield held by a warrior in complete armor, stood on one side of the castle. He was attended by two eunuchs, one holding the open umbrella, the other his quiver and mace. (Page 218) Behind them was an Assyrian warrior leading three women and a child, and driving three bullocks, as part of the spoil. It was thus that the Assyrians carried away captive the people of Samaria, replacing the population of the conquered country by colonies of their own.[9.7] The women were represented as tearing their hair and throwing dust upon their heads, the usual signs of grief in the East.
On the other side of the castle were two kneeling figures, one discharging an arrow, the other holding a shield for his companion's defense. Behind them was the vizier, also shooting an arrow, and protected by the shield of a second warrior. He was followed by three warriors, the first an archer kneeling, the others an archer and his shield-bearer in complete armor, erect. They had left their chariot, in which the charioteer was still standing, the horses being held by a groom. Behind the chariot were two warriors, each carrying a bow and a mace. The shields represented in this bas-relief were probably of wicker work, and were chiefly used during a siege. They covered the whole person of the archer, who was thus able to discharge his arrows in comparative security. Such were probably the bucklers which Herodotus describes as forming a complete fence before the Persian archers at the battle of Platea.[9.8]
The three following bas-reliefs represented the king receiving captives, apparently of the same nation as those portrayed in the upper part of the hall, and already described. Behind the chariot of the king were two other chariots, each containing a charioteer alone; passing under the wall of a castle, on which were women, apparently viewing the procession, and discussing the results of the expedition.
In these bas-reliefs the harness and trappings of the horses and chariots are remarkable for their richness and elegance. Above the heads of the horses rise gracefully plumed and fanciful crests, ornamented with long ribbons or streamers, which were probably of many colors. Like the Arabs and Persians of the present day, the Assyrians appear to have been lavish of tassels (Page 219) of silk and wool, which were attached to all parts of the harness. The bridle consisted of a headstall, a strap divided into three parts joining the bit, and straps over the forehead, under the cheeks, and behind the ears. We find sacred emblems used as ornaments in the trappings of horses, as on the robes of figures; the winged bull, the sun, moon, stars, and horned cap being frequently introduced.
Three richly embroidered straps, passing round the body of the horse, kept the harness and chariot-pole in their places, and were attached to a highly decorated breast-band. To the yoke was suspended an elegant ornament, formed by the head of an animal and a circle, into which was generally introduced a winged bull, a star, or some other sacred device.
Embroidered trappings, such as are described by Ezekiel[9.9] as the precious clothes for chariots, coming from Dedan, covered the backs of the horses. Their bits, as well as the metal used in the harness, may have been of gold and other precious materials, like those of the ancient Persians.[9.10] Their manes were either allowed to fall loosely on the neck or were plaited, and their tails were bound in the center with ribbons adorned with tassels.
In the Bible frequent mention is made of the use of chariots and horsemen both in sieges and battles. "The choicest valleys shall be full of chariots, and the horsemen shall set themselves in array against the gate."[9.11] Among the tributaries of the Assyrians, the Elamites were celebrated for their chariots carrying archers.[9.12] The Jewish kings appear to have granted certain privileges to cities equipping chariots, hence called "chariot cities," which in the time of Solomon supplied no less than one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen.[9.13] Chariots of iron were used in Palestine from the earliest period, and appear to have been so formidable in war, that the Israelites were long unable to contend with them.[9.14]
(Page 220) The three remaining bas-reliefs - the passage of the river - were highly interesting and curious. In the first was a boat containing a chariot, in which stood the king. In one hand he held two arrows, in the other a bow. An eunuch, standing in front of the chariot, appeared to point to some object in the distance, perhaps the stronghold of the enemy. Behind the chariot was a second eunuch, holding a bow and mace. The boat was towed by two naked men; four men sat at the oars, and one oar with a broad flat end, attached to a thick wooden pin at the stern, served both for steering and propelling. It is singular that this is precisely the kind of vessel used by the natives of Mosul to this day; and such probably were the Babylonian boats described by Herodotus, constructed of willow boughs and covered with skins. A man, standing in the vessel, held the halters of four horses, swimming over the stream, in which was a naked figure on an inflated skin. This bas relief, with the exception of the king and the chariot, might represent a scene daily witnessed on the banks of the Tigris - probably the river here represented. On the next slab were two smaller boats; one carrying the couch of the king and a jar or large vessel; the other an empty chariot: they were impelled by two rowers, seated face to face. Five men, two leading horses by their halters, were swimming on skins. On the third slab was represented men embarking the chariots and preparing to cross the river. The proceedings were (Page 221) superintended by officers, one of whom, an eunuch, held a whip, which was probably used - as in the army of Xerxes - to keep the soldiers to their duty, and prevent them flying from the enemy.[9.15]
On the opposite side of the hall, between the entrances, only one slab was discovered in its original position. The upper compartment was almost completely defaced; in the lower was represented a battle between Assyrian warriors, in chariots, and (Page 222) the cavalry of the enemy. The conquered people wore high boots, turned up at the toes, and conical caps, probably of felt or linen. One of the horsemen turned back, while his horse was at full speed, to discharge an arrow against his pursuers. This mode of fighting is described by ancient authors as peculiar to the Parthian and Persian tribes, and is still practiced by the irregular cavalry of Persia.[9.16]
The Arabs employed in removing the rubbish from the chamber with the kneeling winged figures,[9.17] discovered a quantity of iron, in which I soon recognized the scales of the armor represented on the sculptures. These scales were from two to three inches in length, rounded at one end, and square at the other, with a raised or embossed line in the center, and had probably been fastened to a vest of linen or felt. The iron was so eaten by rust, that I had much difficulty in detaching it from the soil. Two or three baskets were filled with these relics.
As the earth was removed, other portions of armor were found. At length a perfect helmet of iron inlaid with copper bands, resembling in shape and in the ornaments the pointed helmet represented in the bas-reliefs, was discovered.
Several helmets of other shapes, some with the arched crest, were also dug out; but they fell to pieces as soon as exposed to the air; and I was only able to collect a few of the fragments.
Several slabs in this chamber had fallen from their places, and were broken. Beneath them were the fragments of a number of alabaster vases, and of several vessels of baked clay. The name and title of the Khorsabad king, accompanied by the figure of a lion, were still preserved on some of the fragments. Upon the pottery were painted characters (Page 223) resembling the rounded letters of Babylonia and Phoenicia, probably a cursive writing in common use, while the cuneiform was reserved for monuments. The earthen vases were of a light yellow color, ornamented with bars, zigzag lines, and simple designs in black.
While I was collecting and examining these curious relics, a workman found a perfect vase; but unfortunately broke the upper part by striking it with his pick. I took the instrument, and, working cautiously myself, was rewarded by the discovery of two perfect vases, one in alabaster, the other in glass. Each bore the name and title of the Khorsabad king, in cuneiform characters, with the figure of a lion.
A kind of exfoliation had taken place on the surface of the glass vase, which was incrusted with thin, semi-transparent lamina, glowing with the brilliant colors of the opal. This beautiful appearance is a well known result of age, and is found on glass from Egyptian, Greek, and other early tombs. It is remarkable that this vase has been turned from a block and not blown, the marks left by the instrument being perfectly preserved in the interior. Both these interesting relics are now in the British Museum.
In the lower compartment of a slab in the same chamber, were two beardless figures, which from a certain feminine character in the features, and from a cluster of long curls falling down their backs, appeared to be women. They wore the usual horned cap and had wings. They faced one another, and between them was the sacred tree. In one hand they held a garland or chaplet; and wore round their necks a necklace, with seven stars.[9.18]
(Page 224) The adjoining chamber was paneled with unsculptured slabs, and contained no object of particular interest.
One of the most remarkable discoveries was made in the center of the mound, where, as I have already mentioned,(Page 32) a pair of gigantic winged bulls appeared to form the entrance to a building. The inscriptions upon them contained a name, differing from that of the king of the N. W. palace. On digging further I found a brick, on which was a genealogy, the new name occurring first, as that of the son of the founder of the earlier edifice.
I dug round these sculptures, expecting to find the remains of walls, but there were no other traces of building. As the backs of the slabs were completely covered with inscriptions, in large and well formed characters, it was possible that these bulls might originally have stood alone. Suspecting that there must have been other sculptures near them, I directed a deep trench to be opened, at right angles, behind the northern bull. After digging about ten feet, the workmen came upon a colossal winged figure in low relief, lying flat on the brick pavement. Beyond was a similar figure, still more gigantic in its proportions, being about fourteen feet high. The beard and part of the legs of a winged bull, in yellow limestone, were next found. The trench was carried in the same direction to the distance of fifty feet, but without any other result. I had business in Mosul, and was giving directions to the workmen to guide them during my absence. Standing on the edge of the hitherto unprofitable trench, I doubted whether I should carry it any further; but made up my mind at last not to abandon it until my return, which would be on the following day. I mounted my horse; but had scarcely left the mound when the corner of a monument in black marble was uncovered, which proved to be an obelisk, about six feet six inches in height, lying on its side, ten feet below the surface.
An Arab was sent after me without delay, to announce the discovery; and on my return I found, completely exposed to (Page 225) view, an obelisk terminated by three steps or gradines and flat at the top. I descended eagerly into the trench, and was immediately struck by the singular appearance, and evident antiquity, of the remarkable monument before me. We raised it and speedily dragged it out of the ruins. On each side were five small bas-reliefs, and above, below, and between them was carved an inscription 2l0 lines in length. The whole was in the best preservation. The king was twice represented followed (Page 226) by his attendants; a prisoner was at his feet, and his vizier and eunuchs were introducing captives and tributaries carrying vases, shawls, bundles of rare wood, elephant's tusks, and other objects of tribute, and leading various animals, among which were the elephant, the rhinoceros, the Bactrian or two humped camel, the wild bull, and several kinds of monkeys. In one bas-relief were two lions hunting a stag in a wood, probably to denote the nature of one of the countries conquered by the king. From the animals portrayed, particularly the double-humped (Page 227) camel,[9.19] and the elephant, which is of the Indian and not of the African species, it is natural to conjecture that the obelisk was sculptured to commemorate the conquest of nations far to the east of Assyria, on the confines of the Indian peninsula. The name of the king, whose deeds it records, was the same as that on the center bulls.
(Page 228) In the S. W. corner, discoveries of scarcely less interest and importance were made almost at the same time. The southern entrance to the palace was formed by a pair of winged lions, of which the upper part, including the head, had been almost entirely destroyed.[9.20] They differed in many respects from those in the N.W. palace. They had but four legs; the material in which they were sculptured was a coarse limestone, and not alabaster; and behind the body of the lion, and in front above the wings, were several figures, which were unfortunately greatly injured, and could with difficulty be traced. The figures behind were a dragon with the head of an eagle and the claws of a bird, followed by a man carrying the usual square vessel, standing above a priest bearing a pole surmounted by a fir cone, and a human figure, the upper part of which was destroyed in all the sculptures; those in front were (Page 229) a human figure, and a monster with the head of a lion, the body of a man, and the feet of a bird, raising a sword.
Between the two lions, forming this entrance, were a pair of crouching sphinxes, not in relief, but entire. The human head was beardless; and the horned cap square, and highly ornamented at the top, like that of the winged bulls of Khorsabad. The body was that of a winged lion. These sphinxes may have been altars for sacrifice or offerings.
The whole entrance was buried in charcoal, and the sphinxes were almost reduced to lime. One had been nearly destroyed; but the other, although cracked into a thousand pieces, was still standing when uncovered. I endeavored to secure it with rods of iron and wooden planks; but the alabaster was too much calcined to resist exposure to the atmosphere. I had scarcely time to make a careful drawing, before the whole fell into fragments, too small to admit of their being collected with (Page 230) a view to future restoration. The sphinxes, when entire, were about five feet in height, and the same in length.
Buried in the charcoal, was found a small head in alabaster, with the high horned cap, precisely similar to that of the large sphinx; and subsequently the body was dug out, giving thus a complete model of the larger sculptures.[9.21] In the same place I discovered the bodies of two lions, united and forming a platform or pedestal, like the one crouching sphinx; but the human heads were wanting, and the rest of the sculpture had been so much injured by fire, that I was unable to preserve it.
The plan of the edifice in which these discoveries were made could not yet be determined. All the slabs uncovered had evidently been brought from another building; chiefly from the N. W. palace. The entrance I have just described, proved this beyond a doubt; as it enabled me to distinguish between the back and front of the walls. I was now convinced that the sculptures hitherto found, were not meant to be exposed to view; but had been placed against the wall of (Page 231) sun dried bricks; the backs of the slabs, smoothed preparatory to being re-sculptured, having been turned toward the interior of the chambers.
There were no inscriptions between the legs of the lions just described, as in other buildings at Nimroud and Khorsabad. I had not before found sculptures unaccompanied by the name and genealogy of the founder of the edifice in which they had been placed. When no inscription was on the face, it was invariably on the back of the slab. I dug, therefore, at the back of the lions, and was not disappointed in my search; a few lines in the cuneiform character were discovered, containing the names of three kings in genealogical series. The name of the first king nearly resembled that of the builder of the N. W. palace; that of his father was identical with the name on the bricks found in the ruins opposite Mosul; and that of his grandfather with the name of the founder of Khorsabad. This fortunate discovery served to connect the latest palace at Nimroud with two other Assyrian edifices.
While excavations were thus successfully carried on among the center ruins, and those of the two palaces first opened, discoveries of a different nature were made in the S. E. corner, which was much higher than any other part of the mound. I dug to a considerable depth, without meeting with any other remains than fragments of inscribed bricks and pottery, and a few entire earthen vessels. At length an imperfect slab bearing a royal name similar to that on the bull in the center of the mound, was found at some depth beneath the surface. On raising it to copy the inscription, I found to my surprise that it had been used as a lid to an earthen sarcophagus, which, with its contents, was still entire beneath. The sarcophagus was about five feet in length, and very narrow. The skeleton was well preserved, but fell to pieces almost immediately when exposed to the air; by its sides were two jars in baked clay of a red color, and a small alabaster bottle, precisely resembling in shape similar vessels discovered in Egyptian tombs. There was no other clew to the date, or origin of the sepulcher.
(Page 232) The sarcophagus was too small to contain a man of ordinary size if stretched at full length; and it was evident, from the position of the skeleton, that the body had been doubled up. A second earthen case was soon found, resembling a dish cover in shape, and scarcely four feet long. In it were also vases of baked clay, and it was closed by an inscribed slab like the sarcophagus first discovered. Although the skulls were entire when first exposed to view, they crumbled into dust as soon as an attempt was made to move them.
The six weeks following the commencement of excavations upon a large scale were among the most prosperous, and fruitful in events, during my researches in Assyria. Every day produced some new discovery. The Arabs entered with zeal into the work, and felt almost as much interested in its results as I did myself. They were now well organized, and I had no difficulty in managing them. Even their private disputes and domestic quarrels were referred to me. They found this a cheaper fashion of settling their differences than litigation; and I have reason to hope that they received an ampler measure of justice than they could have expected at the hands of his reverence the cadi. The tents had greatly increased in numbers, as the relatives of those who were engaged in the excavations came to Nimroud and swelled the encampment; for although they received no pay, they managed to live upon the gains of their friends. They were, moreover, preparing to glean, - in the event of there being any crops in the spring, - and to take possession of little strips of land along the banks of the river, for the cultivation of millet during the summer. They already began to prepare water-courses, and machines for irrigation. The mode of raising water in Mesopotamia is very simple. In the first place a high bank, which is never completely deserted by the river, is chosen, and a broad recess is cut in it down to the water's edge. Over this recess are fixed three or four upright poles, according to the number of oxen to be employed, united at the top by rollers running on a swivel, and supporting a large framework of boughs and grass, which (Page 233) extends to some distance behind, and is intended as a shelter from the sun. Over each roller are passed two ropes, one fastened to the mouth, and the other to the opposite end, of a sack, formed out of an entire bullock skin. These ropes are attached to oxen, who throw all their weight upon them by descending an inclined plane. A trough formed of wood, and lined with bitumen, or shallow trench coated with matting, is constructed at the bottom of the poles, and leads to a canal running into the fields. When the sack is drawn up to the roller, the ox turns round at the bottom of the inclined plane. The rope attached to the lower part of the bucket being fastened to the back part of the animal, he raises, in turning, the bottom of the sack, and the contents are poured into the trough. As the ox ascends, the bucket is again lowered into the stream. Although this mode of irrigation is very toilsome, and requires the constant labor of several men and animals, it is generally adopted on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. In this way all the gardens of Baghdad and Busrah are watered; and by such means the wandering Arabs, who condescend to cultivate - when famine is staring them in the face - raise a little millet to supply their immediate wants.
The principal public quarrels, over which my jurisdiction extended, related to property abstracted, by the Arabs, from one another's tents. These I disposed of in a summary manner, as I had provided myself with handcuffs; and Ibrahim Agha and the bairakdar were always ready to act with energy and decision, to show how much they were devoted to my service. But the domestic dissensions were of a more serious nature, and their adjustment offered far greater difficulties. They related, of course, always to the women. As soon as the workmen saved a few piastres, their thoughts were turned to the purchase of a new wife, a striped cloak, and a spear. To accomplish this, their ingenuity was taxed to the utmost extent. The old wife naturally enough raised objections, and picked a quarrel with the intended bride, which generally ended in an appeal to physical force. Then the fathers and brothers were dragged (Page 234) into the affair; from them it extended to the various branches of the tribe, always anxious to fight for their own honor, and for the honor of their women. At other times, a man repented himself of his bargain, and refused to fulfill it; or a father, finding his future son-in-law increasing in wealth, demanded a higher price for his daughter - a breach of faith which would naturally lead to violent measures on the part of the disappointed lover. Then a workman, who had returned hungry from his work, and found his bread unbaked, or the water-skin still lying empty at the entrance of his tent, or the bundle of fagots for his evening fire yet ungathered, would, in a moment of passion, pronounce three times the awful sentence, and divorce his wife; or, avoiding such extremities, would content himself with inflicting summary punishment with a tent-pole. In the first case he probably repented himself of the act an hour or two afterward, and wished to be remarried; or endeavored to prove that, being an ignorant man, he had mispronounced the formula, or omitted some words both being good grounds to invalidate the divorce, and to obviate the necessity of any fresh ceremonies. But the mullah had to be summoned, witnesses called, and evidence produced. The beating was generally the most expeditious, and really, to the wife, the most satisfactory way of adjusting the quarrel. I had almost nightly to settle such questions as these. Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, who had obtained an immense influence over the Arabs, and was known among all the tribes, was directed to ascertain the merits of the story, and to collect the evidence. When this process had been completed, I summoned the elders, and gave judgment in their presence. The culprit was punished summarily, or, in case of a disputed bargain, was made to pay more, or to refund, as the case required.
When I first employed the Arabs, the women were sorely ill-treated, and subjected to great hardships. I endeavored to introduce some reform into their domestic arrangements, and punished severely those who inflicted corporal chastisement on their wives. In a short time the number of domestic quarrels (Page 235) was greatly reduced; and the women, who were at first afraid to complain of their husbands, now boldly appealed to me for protection. They had, however, some misgivings as to the future, which were thus expressed by a deputation sent to return thanks after an entertainment:- "O Bey! we are your sacrifice. May God reward you! Have we not eaten wheaten bread, and even meat and butter, since we have been under your shadow? Is there one of us that has not now a colored kerchief for her head, bracelets, and ankle rings, and a striped cloak! But what shall we do when you leave us, which God forbid you ever should do? Our husbands will then have their turn, and there will be nobody to help us."
These poor creatures, like all Arab women, were exposed to constant hardships. They were obliged to look after the children, to make the bread, to fetch water, and to cut wood, which they brought home from afar on their heads. Moreover they were intrusted with all the domestic duties, wove their wool and goats' hair into clothes, carpets, and tent-canvas; and were left to strike and raise the tents, and to load and unload the beasts of burden when they changed their encamping ground. If their husbands possessed sheep or cows, they had to drive them to the pastures, and to milk them at night. When moving, they carried their children at their backs during the march, and were even troubled with this burden when employed in their domestic occupations, if the children were too young to be left alone. The men sat indolently by, smoking their pipes, or listening to the gossip of some stray Arab of the desert. At first the women, whose husbands encamped on the mound, brought water from the river; but I relieved them from this labor by employing horses and donkeys. The weight of a large sheep or goat's skin filled with water, is not inconsiderable. It is hung on the back by cords strapped over the shoulders, and upon it is frequently seated the child, who cannot be left in the tent, or is unable to follow its mother on foot. The bundles of fire-wood, brought from a considerable distance, were enormous, completely concealing the head and shoulders of those who tottered beneath (Page 236) them. And yet the women worked cheerfully, and it was seldom that their husbands had to complain of their idleness. Some were more active than others. There was a young girl named Hadla, who particularly distinguished herself, and was consequently sought in marriage by all the men. Her features were handsome, and her form erect, and exceedingly graceful. She carried the largest burdens, was never unemployed, and was accustomed, when she had finished the work imposed upon her by her mother, to assist her neighbors in completing theirs.
The dinners or breakfasts (for the meal comprised both) of the Arab workmen, were brought to them at the mound, about eleven o'clock, by the younger children. Few had more than a loaf of millet bread, or millet made into a kind of paste, to satisfy their hunger; - wheaten bread was a luxury. Sometimes their wives had found time to gather a few herbs, which were boiled in water with a little salt, and sent in wooden bowls; and in spring, curds and sour milk occasionally accompanied their bread. The little children, who carried their father's or brother's portion, came merrily along, and sat smiling on the edge of the trenches, or stood gazing in wonder at the sculptures, until they were sent back with the empty platters and bowls. The working parties eat together in the trenches in which they had been employed. A little water, drank out of a large jar, was their only beverage. Yet they were happy and joyous. The joke went round; or, during the short time they had to rest, one told a story, which, if not concluded at a sitting, was resumed on the following day. Sometimes a pedler from Mosul, driving before him his donkey, laden with raisins or dried dates, would appear on the mound. Buying up his store, I would distribute it among the men. This largess created an immense deal of satisfaction and enthusiasm, which any one, not acquainted with the character of the Arab, might have thought almost more than equivalent to the consideration.
The Arabs are naturally hospitable and generous. If one of the workmen was wealthy enough to buy a handful of raisins, or a piece of camel's or sheep's flesh, or if he had a cow, which (Page 237) occasionally yielded him butter or sour milk, he would immediately call his friends together to partake of his feast. I was frequently invited to such entertainments; the whole dinner, perhaps, consisting of half a dozen dates or raisins spread out wide, to make the best show, upon a corn-sack; a pat of butter upon a corner of a flat loaf; and a few cakes of dough baked in the ashes. And yet the repast was ushered in with every solemnity; - the host turned his dirty keffiah, or head kerchief, and his cloak, in order to look clean and smart; appearing both proud of the honor conferred upon him, and of his means to meet it in a proper fashion.
I frequently feasted the workmen, and sometimes their wives and daughters were invited to separate entertainments, as they would not eat in public with the men. Generally of an evening, after the labors of the day were finished, some Kurdish musicians would stroll to the village with their instruments, and a dance would be commenced, which lasted through the greater part of the night. Sheikh Abd-ur-rahman, or some sheikh of a neighboring tribe, occasionally joined us; or an Arab from the Khabour, or from the more distant tribes of the desert, would pass through Nimroud, and entertain a large circle of curious and excited listeners with stories of recent fights, plundering expeditions, or the murder of a chief. I endeavored, as far as it was in my power, to create a good feeling among all, and to obtain their willing co-operation in my work. I believe that I was to some extent successful.
The Tiyari diggers resided chiefly on the mound, where I had built a large hut for them. A few only returned at night to the village. Many of them had brought their wives from the mountains. The women made bread, and cooked for all. Two of the men walked to the village of Tel Yakoub, or to Mosul, on Saturday evening, to fetch flour for the whole party, and returned before the work of the day began on Monday morning; for they would not journey on the Sabbath. They kept their holydays and festivals with as much rigor as they kept the Sunday. On these days they assembled (Page 238) on the mound or in the trenches; and one of the priests or deacons (for there were several among the workmen) repeated prayers, or led a hymn or chant. I often watched these poor creatures, as they reverentially knelt - their heads uncovered - under the great bulls, celebrating the praises of Him whose temples the worshipers of those frowning idols had destroyed, - whose power they had mocked. It was the triumph of truth over paganism. Never had triumph been more forcibly illustrated than by those who now bowed down in the crumbling halls of the Assyrian kings.
I experienced some difficulty in settling disputes between the Arabs and the Tiyari, which frequently threatened to finish in bloodshed. The Mussulmans were always ready, on the slightest provocation, to bestow upon the Chaldeans the abuse usually reserved in the East for Christians. But the hardy mountaineers took these things differently from the humble Rayahs of the plain, and retorted with epithets very harsh to a Mohammedan's ear. This, of course, led to the drawing of sabers and priming of matchlocks; and it was not until I had inflicted a few summary punishments, that some check was placed upon these disorders.
On Sunday, sheep were slain for the Tiyari workmen, and they feasted during the afternoon. When at night there were music and dances, they would sometimes join the Arabs; but generally performed a quiet dance with their own women, with more decorum, and less vehemence, than their more excitable companions.
As for myself I rose at daybreak, and, after a hasty breakfast, rode to the mound. Until night I was engaged in drawing the sculptures, copying and molding the inscriptions, and superintending the excavations; and the removal and packing of the bas-reliefs. On my return to the village, I was occupied till past midnight in comparing the inscriptions with the paper impressions, in finishing drawings, and in preparing for the work of the following day. Such was our manner of life during the excavations at Nimroud; and I owe an apology to (Page 239) the reader for entering into such details. They may, however, be interesting as illustrative of the character of the genuine Arab, with whom the traveler is seldom brought so much into contact as I have been.
Early in December a sufficient number of bas-reliefs were collected for another raft, and I consequently rode into Mosul to make preparations for sending a second cargo to Baghdad. I had soon procured all that was necessary for the purpose; and loading a small raft with spars and skins for the construction of a larger, and with mats and felts for packing the sculptures, I returned to Nimroud.
The raft men having left Mosul late in the day, and not reaching the awai until after nightfall, were afraid to cross the dam in the dark; they therefore tied the raft to the shore, and went to sleep. They were attacked during the night, and plundered. I appealed to the authorities, but in vain. The Arabs of the desert, they said, were beyond their reach. If this robbery passed unnoticed, the remainder of my property, and even my person, might run some risk. Besides, I did not relish the reflection, that the mats and felts destined for my sculptures were now furnishing the tents of some Arab sheikh. Three or four days elapsed before I ascertained who were the robbers. They belonged to a small tribe encamped at some distance from Nimroud - notorious in the country for their thieving propensities, and the dread of my Jebours, whose cattle were continually disappearing in a very mysterious fashion. Having learned the position of their tents, I started off one morning at dawn, accompanied by Ibrahim Agha, the bairakdar, and a horseman, who was in my service. We reached the encampment after a long ride, and found the number of the Arabs to be greater than I had expected. The arrival of strangers drew together a crowd, which gathered round the tent of the sheikh, where I seated myself. A slight bustle was apparent in the women's department. I soon perceived that attempts were being made to hide various ropes and felts, the ends of which, protruding from under the canvas, I (Page 240) had little difficulty in recognizing. "Peace be with you!" said I, addressing the sheikh, who showed by his countenance that he was not altogether ignorant of the object of my visit. "Your health and spirits are, please God, good. We have long been friends, although it has never yet been my good fortune to see you. I know the laws of friendship; that which is my property is your property, and the contrary. But there are a few things, such as mats, felts, and ropes, which come from afar, and are very necessary to me, while they can be of little use to you; otherwise God forbid that I should ask for them. You will greatly oblige me by giving these things to me." "As I am your sacrifice, O Bey," answered he,. "no such things as mats, felts, or ropes were ever in my tents (I observed a new rope supporting the principal pole). Search, and if such things be found, we give them to you willingly." "Wallah! the sheikh has spoken the truth," exclaimed all the by-standers." That is exactly what I want to ascertain; and as this is a matter of doubt, the pashaw must decide between us," replied I, making a sign to the bairakdar, who had been duly instructed how to act. In a moment he had handcuffed the sheikh, and, jumping on his horse, dragged the Arab, at an uncomfortable pace, out of the encampment. "Now, my sons," said I, mounting leisurely, "I have found a part of that which I wanted; you must search for the rest." They looked at one another in amazement. One man, more bold than the rest, was about to seize the bridle of my horse; but the weight of Ibrahim Agha's courbatch across his back, drew his attention to another object. Although the Arabs were well armed, they were too much surprised to make any attempt at resistance; or perhaps they feared too much for their sheikh, still jolting away at an uneasy pace in the iron grasp of the bairakdar, who had put his horse to a brisk trot, and held his pistol cocked in one hand. The women, swarming out of the tents, now took part in the matter. Gathering round my horse, they kissed the tails of my coat and my shoes, making the most dolorous supplications. I was not to be moved, however; and (Page 241) extricating myself with difficulty from the crowd, I rejoined the bairakdar, who was hurrying on his prisoner with evident good-will.
The sheikh had already made himself well known to the authorities by his dealings with the villages, and there was scarcely a man in the country who could not bring forward a specious claim against him - either for a donkey, a horse, a sheep, or a copper kettle. He was consequently most averse to an interview with the pashaw, and looked with evident horror on the prospect of a journey to Mosul. I added considerably to his alarm, by dropping a few friendly hints on the advantage of the dreary subterraneous lock up house under the governor's palace, and of the pillory and sticks. By the time he reached Nimroud, he was fully alive to his fate, and deemed it prudent to make a full confession. He sent an Arab to his tents; and next morning an ass appeared in my court-yard bearing the missing property, with the addition of a lamb and a kid, by way of a conciliatory offering. I dismissed the sheikh with a lecture, and had afterward no reason to complain of him or of his tribe, - nor indeed of any tribes in the neighborhood; for the story got abroad, and was invested with several horrible facts in addition, which could only be traced to the imagination of the Arabs, but which served to produce the effect I desired - a proper respect for my property.
During the winter Mr. Longworth, and two other English travelers, visited me at Nimroud. They were the only Europeans (except Mr. Ross), who saw the ruins when uncovered.[9.22]
I was riding home from the ruins one evening with Mr. Longworth. The Arabs returning from their day's work were following a flock of sheep belonging to the people of the village, shouting their war-cry, flourishing their swords, and indulging in the most extravagant gesticulations. My friend, less acquainted with the excitable temperament of the children of the desert than myself, was somewhat amazed at these (Page 242) violent proceedings, and desired to learn their cause. I asked one of the most active of the party. "O Bey," they exclaimed almost all together, "God be praised, we have eaten butter and wheaten bread under your shadow, and are content - but an Arab is an Arab. It is not for a man to carry about dirt in baskets, and to use a spade all his life; he should be with his sword and his mare in the desert. We are sad as we think of the days when we plundered the Aneyza, and we must have excitement, or our hearts would break. Let us then believe that these are the sheep we have taken from the enemy, and that we are driving them to our tents!" And off they ran, raising their wild cry and flourishing their swords, to the no small alarm of the shepherd, who, seeing his sheep scampering in all directions, did not seem inclined to enter into the joke.
By the middle of December, a second cargo of sculptures was ready to be sent to Baghdad. I was again obliged to have recourse to the buffalo-carts of the pashaw; and as none of the bas-reliefs and objects to be moved were of great weight, these rotten and unwieldy vehicles could be patched up for the occasion. On Christmas-day I had the satisfaction of seeing a raft, bearing twenty-three cases, in one of which was the obelisk, floating down the river. I watched them until they were out of sight, and then galloped into Mosul to celebrate the festivities of the season, with the few Europeans whom duty or business had collected in this remote corner of the globe.
[9.1] These bas-reliefs are in the British Museum.
[9.2] 2 Kings 18:17; Jeremiah 39:3
[9.3] "Now, therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them." 2 Kings 18:23.
[9.4] Habakkuk 1:8.
[9.5] Job 39:19.
[9.6] 2 Chron. 26:15, and Josephus lib. ix. c. 10.
[9.7] 2 Kings 17:6.
[9.8] Lib. ix. c. 61.
[9.9] Ezekiel 27:20.
[9.10] 1 Esdras 3:6; Xenophon, Cyrop. lib. i. c. 3.
[9.11] Isaiah 22:7
[9.12] Isaiah 22:6.
[9.13] 2 Chron. 1:14; Isaiah 22
[9.14] Judges 1:19, and 4:3.
[9.15] Herod. lib. vii. ch. 56, in which Xerxes is described as seeing his troops driven by blows over the bridge across the Hellespont; it was also the custom for the officers to carry whips to urge the soldiers to the combat: lib. vii. ch. 223.
[9.16] Anab. lib iii ch 8. "Fidentemque fuga Parthum, versisque sagittis." Virg. Georg. 3. and Hor. Carm. lib. i. ode xix.
[9.17] Chamber I, plan 3.
[9.18] This bas-relief is in the British Museum.
[9.19] This animal is a native of the great steppes inhabited by the Tatar tribes. It is almost unknown to the Arabs, and is rarely seen to the west of Persia, except among a few isolated families of Turcomans who now pitch their tents in the north of Syria, and probably brought this camel with them on their first migration.
[9.20] This monument is now in the British Museum.
[9.21] Now in the British Museum.
[9.22] Mr. Seymour was also with me at Nimroud, but before the excavations were in an advanced stage.
1800-1899 A.D. Assyrian History Archives