Discoveries At Nineveh
by
Austen Henry Layard, Esq., D.C.L.

Text source: A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. Austen Henry Layard. J. C. Derby. New York. 1854.


Chapter 5

(Page 76) On my return to Mosul I hastened back to Nimroud. During my absence little progress had been made, as only two men had been employed in removing the rubbish from the upper part of the chamber to which the great human-headed lions formed an entrance. The lions to the east of them[5.1] had, however, been completely uncovered; that to the right had fallen from its place, and was sustained by the opposite sculpture. Between them was a large pavement slab covered with cuneiform characters.

In clearing the earth from this entrance, and from behind the fallen lion, many ornaments in copper, two small ducks in baked clay, and tablets of alabaster inscribed on both sides were discovered.[5.2] Among the remains in copper were the head of a ram or bull,[5.3] several hands (the fingers closed and slightly bent), and a few flowers. The hands may have served as a casing to similar objects in baked clay, frequently found among the ruins, and having an inscription, containing the names, titles, and genealogy of the king, graved upon the fingers. The heads of the ducks are turned and rest upon the back, which bears an inscription in cuneiform characters. Objects (Page 77) somewhat similar have been found in Egypt. The inscribed tablets appear to have been built into the walls of sun-dried bricks, to record the foundation of the edifice. The inscription upon them resembled that on all the slabs in the N. W. palace.

It is remarkable that while such parts of the great hall as had been uncovered were paved with baked bricks, and the smaller entrance to it with a large slab of alabaster, between the two great lions there were only sun-dried bricks. In the middle of this entrance, near the fore-part of the lions, were a few square stones carefully placed. I expected to find under them small figures in clay, similar to those discovered by M. Botta in the doorways at Khorsabad; but nothing of the kind existed.

As several of the principal Christian families of Mosul were anxious to see the sculptures, whose fame had spread over the town and province, I was desirous of gratifying their curiosity before the heat of summer had rendered the plain of Nimroud almost uninhabitable. An opportunity, at the same time, presented itself of securing the good-will of the Arab tribes encamped near the ruins, by preparing an entertainment which might gratify all parties. The Christian ladies, who had never before been out of sight of the walls of their houses, were eager to see the wonders of Nimroud, and availed themselves joyfully of the permission, with difficulty extracted from their husbands to leave their homes. The French consul and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Rassam, joined the party. On the day after their arrival I issued a general invitation to all the Arabs of the district, men and women.

White pavilions, borrowed from the pashaw, had been pitched near the river, on a broad lawn still carpeted with flowers. These were for the ladies, and for the reception of the sheikhs. Black tents were provided for some of the guests, for the attendants, and for the kitchen. A few Arabs encamped around us to watch the horses, which were picketed on all sides. An open space was left in the center of the group of tents for dancing, (Page 78) and for various exhibitions provided for the entertainment of the company.

Early in the morning came Abd-ur-rahman, mounted on a tall white mare. He had adorned himself with all the finery he possessed. Over his keffiah or head-kerchief, was folded a white turban, edged with long fringes which fell over his shoulders, and almost concealed his handsome features. He wore a long robe of red silk and bright yellow boots, an article of dress much prized by Arabs. He was surrounded by horsemen carrying spears tipped with tufts of ostrich feathers.

As the sheikh of the Abou-Salman approached the tents, I rode out to meet him. A band of Kurdish musicians advanced at the same time to do honor to the Arab chief. As he drew near to the encampment, the horsemen, led by Schloss, his nephew, urged their mares to the utmost of their speed, and engaging in mimic war, filled the air with their wild war-cry. Their shoutings were, however, almost drowned by the Kurds, who belabored their drums, and blew into their pipes with redoubled energy. Sheikh Abd-ur-rahman, having dismounted, seated himself with becoming gravity on the sofa prepared for guests of his rank; while his Arabs picketed their mares, fastening the halters to spears driven into the ground.

The Abou-Salman were followed by the Shemutti and Jehesh, who came with their women and children, on foot, except the sheikhs, who rode on horseback. They also chanted their peculiar war-cry as they advanced. When they reached the tents, the chiefs placed themselves on the divan, while the others seated themselves in a circle on the greensward.

The wife and daughter of Abd-ur-rahman, mounted on mares, and surrounded by their slaves and hand-maidens, next appeared. They dismounted at the entrance of the ladies' tents, where an abundant repast of sweetmeats, halwa, parched peas, and lettuces had been prepared for them.

Fourteen sheep had been roasted and boiled to feast the crowd that had assembled. They were placed on large wooden platters, which, after the men had satisfied themselves, were (Page 79) passed on to the women. The dinner having been devoured to the last fragment, dancing succeeded. Some scruples had to be overcome before the women would join, as there were other tribes, besides their own, present; and when, at length, by the exertions of Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, this difficulty was overcome, they made up different sets. Those who did not take an active share in the amusements seated themselves on the grass, and formed a large circle round the dancers. The sheikhs remained on the sofas and divans. The dance of the Arabs, the Debke, as it is called, resembles in some respects that of the Albanians, and those who perform in it are scarcely less vehement in their gestures, or less extravagant in their excitement, than those wild mountaineers. They form a circle, holding one another by the hand, and, moving slowly round at first, go through a shuffling step with their feet, twisting their bodies into various attitudes. As the music quickens, their movements are more active; they stamp with their feet, yell their war cry, and jump as they hurry round the musicians. The motions of the women are not without grace; but as they insist on wrapping themselves in their coarse cloaks before they join in the dance, their forms, which the simple Arab shirt so well displays, are entirely concealed.

When those who formed the debke were completely exhausted by their exertions, they joined the lookers-on, and seated themselves on the ground. Two warriors of different tribes, furnished with shields and naked cimiters, then entered the circle, and went through the sword-dance. As the music quickened the excitement of the performers increased. The bystanders at length were obliged to interfere and to-deprive the combatants of their weapons, which were replaced by stout staves. With these they belabored one another unmercifully, to the great enjoyment of the crowd. On every successful hit, the tribe, to which the one who dealt it belonged, set up their war-cry and shouts of applause, while the women deafened us with the shrill tahlehl, a noise made by a combined motion of the tongue, throat, and hand vibrated rapidly over the (Page 80) mouth. When an Arab or a Kurd hears this tahlehl he almost loses his senses through excitement, and is ready to commit any desperate act.

A party of Kurdish jesters from the mountains entertained the Arabs with performances and imitations, more amusing than refined. They were received with shouts of laughter. The dances were kept up by the light of the moon, the greater part of the night.

On the following morning Abd-ur-rahman invited us to his tents, and we were entertained with renewed debkes and sword-dances. The women, undisturbed by the presence of another tribe, entered more fully into the amusement, and danced with greater animation. The sheikh insisted upon my joining with him in leading off a dance, in which we were followed by some five hundred warriors, and Arab women.

The festivities lasted three days, and made the impression I had anticipated. They earned me a great reputation and no small respect, the Arabs long afterward talking of their reception and entertainment. When there was occasion for their services, I found the value of the feeling toward me, which a little show of kindness to these ill-used people had served to produce.

Hafiz Pashaw, who had been appointed to succeed the last governor, having received a more lucrative post, the province was sold to Tahyar Pashaw, who made his public entry into Mosul early in May, followed by a large body of troops, and by the cadi, mufti, ulema, and principal inhabitants of the town. The Mosuleeans had not been deceived by the good report of his benevolence and justice which had preceded him. He was a perfect specimen of the Turkish gentleman of the old school. Of whom few are now left in Turkey: venerable in his appearance, bland and polished in his manners, courteous to Europeans, and well informed on subjects connected with the literature and history of his country. I had been furnished with serviceable letters of introduction to him; he received me with every mark of attention, and at once permitted me to (Page 81) continue the excavations. As a matter of form, he named a cawass, to superintend the work on his part. I willingly concurred in this arrangement, as it saved me from any further inconvenience on the score of treasure; for which, it was still believed, I was successfully searching. This officer's name was Ibrahim Agha. He had been many years with Tahyar Pashaw, and was a kind of favorite. He served me during my residence in Assyria, and on my subsequent journey to Constantinople, with great fidelity; and as is very rarely the case with his fraternity with great honesty.

The support of Tahyar Pashaw relieved me from some of my difficulties; for there was no longer cause to fear any interruption on the part of the authorities. But my means were very limited, and my own resources did not enable me to carry on the excavations as I wished. I returned, however, to Nimroud, and formed a small but effective body of workmen, choosing those who had already proved themselves equal to the work.

The heats of summer had now commenced, and it was no longer possible to live under a white tent. The huts were equally uninhabitable, and still swarmed with vermin. In this dilemma I ordered a recess to be cut into the bank of the river where it rose perpendicularly from the water's edge. By screening the front with reeds and boughs of trees, and covering the whole with similar materials, a small room was formed. I was much troubled, however, with scorpions and other reptiles, which issued from the earth forming the walls of my apartment; and later in the summer by the gnats and sandflies, which hovered on a calm night over the river. Similar rooms were made for my servants. They were the safest that could be invented, should the Arabs take to stealing after dark. My horses were picketed on the edge of the bank above, and the tents of my workmen were pitched in a semicircle behind them.

The change to summer had been as rapid as that which ushered in the spring. The verdure of the plain had perished almost in a day. Hot winds, coming from the desert, had (Page 82) burnt up and carried away the shrubs; flights of locusts, darkening the air, had destroyed the few patches of cultivation, and had completed the havoc commenced by the heat of the sun. The Abou-Salman Arabs, having struck their black tents, were now living in ozailis, or sheds constructed of reeds and grass, along the banks of the river. The Shemutti and Jehesh had returned to their villages, and the plain presented the same naked and desolate aspect that it wore in the month of November. The heat, however, was now almost intolerable. Violent whirlwinds occasionally swept over the face of the country. They could be seen as they advanced from the desert, carrying along with them clouds of sand and dust. Almost utter darkness prevailed during their passage, which lasted generally about an hour, and nothing could resist their fury. On returning home one afternoon after a tempest of this kind, I found no traces of my dwellings; they had been completely carried away. Ponderous wooden frame-works had been borne over the bank, and hurled some hundred yards distant; the tents had disappeared, and my furniture was scattered over the plain. When on the mound, my only secure place of refuge was beneath the fallen lion, where I could defy the fury of the whirlwind: the Arabs ceased from their work, and crouched in the trenches, almost suffocated and blinded by the dense cloud of fine dust and sand which nothing could exclude.[5.4]

Although the number of my workmen was small, the excavations were carried on as actively as possible. The two human-headed lions, at the small entrance to the great hall, already described, led into another chamber, or to sculptured walls, forming an outward facing to the building.[5.5] (Page 83) The slabs to the right and left, had fallen from their original position, and, with the exception of one, were broken. I had some difficulty in raising the pieces from the ground. As the face of the slabs was downward, the sculpture had been well preserved.

To the right was represented the king holding a bow in one hand and two arrows in the other. He was followed by his attendant eunuch, who bore a second bow and a quiver for his use, and a mace, with a head in the form of a rosette, which may have been one of the wooden clubs, topped with iron, mentioned by Herodotus as a weapon used by the Assyrians, or one of those staffs adorned with an apple, a rose, a lily, or an eagle, described by the same historian as carried by the Babylonians.[5.6] Standing before him were his vizier and an eunuch, their hands crossed before them, a posture still assumed in the East as one of respect and submission by inferiors in the presence of persons of rank. It is interesting thus to trace the observance of the same customs in the same countries, after the lapse of so many centuries. In the bas-relief representing a similar subject discovered in the S. W. ruins, the vizier raises his right hand before the king - an attitude, apparently denoting an oath or homage, in which dependents are seen on the later monuments of the Achaemenian and Sassanian dynasties. Dejoces, who was the successor of the Assyrian monarchs, permitted no one to see him, except certain privileged individuals; and the person of the Persian king, as we learn from the story of Esther, was considered so sacred, that even the queen, who ventured before him without being bidden, was punished with death, "except the king might hold out the golden scepter that she might live."[5.7] It might be expected, therefore, that in the Assyrian sculptures those who stand in the royal presence would be portrayed in the humblest posture of submission. These figures were about (Page 84) eight feet high; the relief very low, and the ornaments rich and elaborate. The bracelets, armlets, and weapons were all adorned with the heads of horses, bulls, and rams, the style of which would not have been unworthy of the exquisite chasing of the middle ages; color still remained on the hair, beard, and sandals.

The adjoining slab, forming a wall at right angles with these bas-reliefs, was of enormous dimensions, but had been broken in two: the upper part had fallen, the lower was still standing in its place. It was only after many ineffectual attempts that I succeeded in raising the fallen half sufficiently to see the sculpture upon it. It was a winged giant about sixteen and a half feet high in low relief, carrying the fir-cone and square utensil; in other respects similar to those already described, except that it had four wings, two rising from each shoulder, and almost completely encircling the figure.

On the opposite side of the entrance, were also a vizier and his attendant; but they were followed by figures, differing altogether in dress from those previously discovered, and apparently resembling people of another race; some carrying presents or offerings, consisting of armlets, bracelets and earrings on trays; others elevating their clenched hands, probably in token of submission. They were evidently captives and tribute-bearers from a conquered nation ushered into the presence of the monarch by his minister. Among the objects of tribute were two monkeys, held by ropes; one raising itself on its hind legs, the other sitting on the shoulders of its keeper.[5.8] The costume of these figures consisted of high boots (Page 85) turned up at the toes, resembling those still in use in Turkey and Persia; conical caps, apparently formed by bands, or folds of felt or linen; and loose shirts descending to the ankles, ornamented down the center and at the bottom with fringes. The figure with the monkey was clothed in a short tunic, scarcely reaching to the calf of the leg, and his hair was simply bound up by a fillet. There were traces of black paint on the face, but it is probable that it had been washed down from the hair, as no remains of color have been found on the face of any other figure, although it is possible that the Assyrians, like the Egyptians, may have denoted races, sexes, and the orders of the priesthood by various tints.

To the south of the colossal lions forming the principal entrance[5.9] to the great hall, the wall was continued by an eagle-headed figure resembling that on the opposite side. Adjoining it was a corner-stone bearing the sacred tree - beyond, the slabs ceased altogether; but I soon found that they had only fallen from their places, and that although broken, the sculptures upon them representing battles, sieges, and other historical subjects, were, as far as it could be ascertained by the examination of one or two, in admirable preservation. The wall of sun-dried bricks, against which they had stood, was still distinctly visible to the height of twelve or fourteen feet. This wall served as my guide in digging onward, to the distance of about one hundred feet.

The first sculpture discovered still standing in its original position, was a winged human-headed bull of yellow limestone. On the previous day we had found the detached human head now in the British Museum. The bull, to which it belonged, and which had formed one side of an entrance, had been broken into several pieces by falling against the opposite sculpture. I lifted the body with difficulty; and discovered under it sixteen copper lions, of admirable execution, forming a regular series, diminishing in size from the largest, which was above one foot (Page 86) in length, to the smallest, which scarcely exceeded an inch. A ring attached to the back of each, gave them the appearance of weights. In the same place were the fragments of an earthen vase, on which were represented two figures, with the wings and claws of a bird, the breasts of a woman, and the tail of a scorpion.[5.10]

(Page 87) Beyond the winged bulls the slabs were still upright and entire. On the first was sculptured a winged human figure carrying a branch with five flowers in the raised right hand, and the usual square vessel in the left. Around his temples was a fillet adorned with three rosettes. On each of the four following slabs were two bas-reliefs, divided by the usual inscription. The upper, on the first slab, represented a castle apparently built on an island in a river. One tower was defended by an armed man, on two others were females. Three warriors, probably escaping from the enemy, were swimming across the stream; two of them supporting themselves on inflated skins, in the mode practiced to this day by the Arabs inhabiting the banks of the rivers of Assyria and Mesopotamia; except that, in the bas relief, the swimmers were (Page 88) pictured as retaining in their mouths the aperture through which the skin is filled with air. The third, pierced by the arrows of two warriors kneeling on the shore, was struggling without any support against the current. Three rudely designed trees completed the background.

The upper compartment of the next slab represented the siege of a city, in which the king, followed by his shield bearer and attendants, was seen discharging an arrow against the enemy. A battering-ram of wicker work, on wheels, and attached to a movable tower, occupied by two warriors, had been drawn up to the walls, from which several stones had already been dislodged. The besieged, apparently anticipating the fall of their city, were asking for quarter.

Beneath the two bas-reliefs just described was one subject. The king, followed by his eunuchs and by his chariot, from which he had dismounted, was receiving a line of prisoners brought before him by his vizier. Some bore objects of spoil or tribute, such as vases, shawls, and elephants' tusks; others were bound together by ropes, and were driven forward by Assyrian warriors with drawn swords.

The upper compartments of the third and fourth slabs contained hunting scenes. The king was represented as discharging an arrow against a lion springing upon his chariot, while a second, already pierced by many shafts, had fallen beneath the feet of the horses. Two warriors with drawn swords appeared to be running to the assistance of the monarch. This bas-relief, from the knowledge of art displayed in the treatment and composition, the correct and effective delineation of the men and animals, and the spirit of the grouping, is one of the finest specimens yet discovered of Assyrian sculpture. The rage of the fallen animal, who is struggling to extricate the arrow from his neck, is admirably portrayed; while the majesty and power conveyed in the form of the springing lion is worthy of a very high order of art. In the other bas-relief the king in his chariot was seen piercing a wild bull with a short sword; a second bull wounded by arrows being beneath the (Page 89) horses. A horseman following the chariot led a second horse, apparently for the use of the king. The animal represented in this sculpture was probably a wild ox, once inhabiting the Assyrian plains, and long since extinct, as neither tradition nor history records its existence in this part of Asia. It may have roved through Assyria at a very early period, and may have been exterminated when an increasing population covered the face of the country with cities and villages.[5.11] It is distinguished from the domestic ox by a number of small marks covering the body, and apparently intended to denote long and shaggy hair, and is represented with one horn, as horses are frequently with only two legs or one ear, because the Assyrian sculptor did not attempt to give both in a side view of the animal. Beneath these bas-reliefs was represented the king on his return from the chase, pouring a libation or drinking out of the sacred cup above the fallen lion and bull. His attendants stood around him, and musicians celebrated, on stringed instruments, his victories over the wild beasts of the desert. [5.12]

The frequent representations of hunting scenes, in which the king is the principal actor, is a proof of the high estimation in which the chase was held by the primitive inhabitants of Assyria. A conqueror and the founder of an empire was, at the same time, a great hunter. His courage, wisdom, and dexterity were as much shown in encounters with wild animals as in martial exploits; he rendered equal services to his subjects, whether he cleared the country of beasts of prey, or repulsed an enemy. The scriptural Nimrod, who laid the foundation of the Assyrian (Page 90) monarchy was "a mighty hunter before the Lord ;" and the Ninus of history and tradition, the builder of Nineveh, and the greatest of the Assyrian kings, was as renowned for his encounters with the lion and the leopard, as for his triumphs over warlike nations. The Babylonians, as well as the Assyrians, ornamented the walls of their temples and palaces with pictures and sculptures representing the chase; and similar subjects were introduced even in the embroidery of garments. The Assyrians were probably also the inventors of the parks, or paradises, which were afterward maintained at so vast a cost by the Persian kings of the Achaemenian and Sassanian dynasties. In these spacious preserves wild animals of various kinds were continually kept for the diversion of the king and of those who were privileged to join with him in the chase. They contained lions, tigers, wild boars, antelopes, and many varieties of birds. The sculptures just described may represent the king hunting in one of those royal paradises.

The Assyrian, like the Persian youths, were probably trained to the chase at an early age. Xenophon gives an interesting account of the hunting expeditions of the Persians in the time of Cyrus. The king was accompanied by half his guard, each man being armed as if he were going to battle, with a bow, quiver, sword, shield, and two javelins, - hunting being, as Xenophon declares, the truest method of practicing all such things as relate to war.[5.13] Such it would appear from the bas-reliefs was also the practice among the Assyrians, for the king is represented as accompanied by warriors fully equipped for the fight.

On the flooring, below the sculptures, were discovered remains of painted plaster still adhering to the sun-dried bricks, which had formed the upper part of the wall above the sculptured slabs. The colors, particularly the blues and reds, were as brilliant and vivid when the earth was removed from them, as they could have originally been; but on exposure to the air (Page 91) they faded rapidly. The designs were elegant and elaborate. It was found almost impossible to preserve any portion of these ornaments, the earth crumbling to pieces when an attempt was made to raise them.

About this time I received from Sir Stratford Canning, the vizirial letter authorizing the continuation of the excavations and the removal of such objects as might be discovered. I was sleeping in the tent of Sheikh Abd-ur-rahman, who had invited me to hunt gazelles with him before dawn on the following morning, when an Arab awoke me. He was the bearer of letters from Mosul; and I read by the light of a small camel-dung fire, the document which secured to the British nation the records of Nineveh, and a collection of the earliest monuments of Assyrian art.

The vizirial order was as comprehensive as could be desired; and having been granted on the departure of the British embassador, was the highest testimony the Turkish government could give of their respect for the character of Sir Stratford Canning, and of their appreciation of the eminent services he had rendered them.

One of the difficulties, and not one of the least which had to be encountered, was now completely removed. Still, however, pecuniary resources were wanting, and in the absence of the necessary means, extensive excavations could not be carried on. I hastened, nevertheless, to communicate the letter of the Grand Vizier to the pashaw, and to make arrangements for pursuing the researches as effectually as possible.

Not having yet examined the great mound of Kouyunjik, believed by travelers to mark the true site of Nineveh, I determined to open trenches in it. I had not previously done so, as from the vicinity of the ruins to Mosul, the inhabitants of the town would have been able to watch my movements, and to cause me continual interruptions before the sanction of the authorities could be obtained to my proceedings. A small party of workmen having been organized, excavations were commenced on the southern face, where the mound was highest; (Page 92) as sculptures, if any still existed, would probably be found in the best state of preservation under the largest accumulation of rubbish. My researches, however, were not attended with much success. A few fragments of sculpture and inscriptions were discovered, which enabled me to assert with some confidence that the remains were those of a building contemporary or nearly so, with Khorsabad, and consequently of a more recent epoch than the most ancient palace of Nimroud. All the bricks dug out bore the name of the same king, but I could not find any traces of his geneaology. After excavating for about a month, I discontinued my researches until a better opportunity might offer.

On my return to Nimroud, about thirty men, chiefly Arabs, were employed to dig in the N. W. palace.

On excavating beyond the five sculptured slabs last described, a corner-stone with the sacred tree was discovered, which formed the eastern end of a great hall, 154 feet in length, and only 33 feet in breadth. These proportions, the length so far exceeding the width, are peculiar to Assyrian interior architecture, and may probably be attributed to the difficulty experienced in roofing over a larger span. Adjoining this corner-stone was a winged figure; beyond it a slab 14 feet in length cut into a recess, in which were four figures. Two kings stood face to face, their right hands raised in prayer or adoration. Between them was the oft-recurring sacred tree, above which hovered that emblem of the supreme deity - a human figure, with the wings and tail of a bird, inclosed in a circle, - which was adopted by the Persians, and is the type of Ormuzd, or the great God of the Zoroastian system, on the monuments of Persepolis. In the right hand of this figure was a ring. The kings, who were either different monarchs, or were but a double representation of the same person, appeared to be attired for the performance of some religious ceremony. Their waists were encircled by knotted zones, the ends of which fell almost to their feet. Around their necks were suspended certain mystic emblems, and in their hands they (Page 93) carried a kind of mace, terminating in a disk or globe. Each king was followed by a winged figure with the fir cone and basket.[5.14]

To the left of this slab was a winged figure similar to that on the right, and a second corner-stone, with the sacred tree, completed the eastern end of the hall. Part of both the winged figures adjoining the center slab, as well as the lower part of that slab, which advanced beyond the sculpture, had been purposely destroyed, and still bore the marks of the chisel.

Subsequent excavations disclosed in front of the large bas-relief of the two kings, a slab of alabaster, 10 feet by 8, and about 2 feet thick, cut into steps or gradines on the side facing the grand entrance, and covered on both sides with inscriptions. On raising it, a process of considerable difficulty from its great weight and size, I found beneath a few pieces of gold leaf and some fragments of bone, which crumbled into dust as soon as exposed to the air. In a corner of the same part of the chamber, were two square stones, slightly hollowed in the center, and round the large slab was a conduit in alabaster, apparently intended to carry off some fluid, perhaps the blood of the sacrifice.

On the first slab of the northern wall, adjoining the corner-stone, was a human figure with four wings; the right hand raised, and the left holding a mace. Beyond were two lions,[5.15] corresponding with those forming the other entrance on this side of the hall, from which, however, they differed somewhat in form, the hands being joined in front instead of bearing an animal. They, also, led to an outer wall, on which was sculptured a procession of figures, similarly clothed to those already described, bearing tribute or spoil. The corner was likewise formed by a colossal winged figure, which was connected with the corresponding sculpture by four or more winged bulls and lions, of enormous proportions. Two of these gigantic sculptures had fallen on their faces and were broken in several (Page 94) pieces. This assemblage of winged human-headed lions and bulls appears to have formed the grand entrance into the palace, and must have been truly magnificent.

As the edge of a ravine had now been reached, the workmen were directed to return to the yellow bulls, which formed the entrance into a further chamber,[5.16] paneled with bas-reliefs representing eagle-headed deities facing one another, and separated by the sacred tree, except on the east side, where a king stood between the same mythic figures. Around the monarch's neck were suspended the five sacred emblems. They consist of the sun, a star, a half moon, a bident, and a horned cap similar to that worn by the human-headed bulls.[5.17]

An entrance, formed by four slabs, two with bas-reliefs of human figures carrying a mystic flower,[5.18] led me into a new chamber, remarkable for the elaborate and careful finish of its sculptures. I uncovered the northern wall, and the eastern as far as a second entrance.[5.19]

The northern end of the chamber was occupied by one group, the principal figure in which was that of the king, seated on a throne or stool, holding in his right hand a cup, and resting his left upon his knee. In front of the monarch stood an eunuch, raising with one hand a fan, and holding in the other the cover or stand of the cup from which the king was drinking or pouring a libation. Over the; shoulder of this attendant was thrown an embroidered towel, resembling that still presented by servants in the East to one who has drunk, or performed his ablutions. He was followed by a winged figure with the fir cone and basket. Behind the king (Page 95) were two eunuchs bearing his arms, and a second winged figure similar to that in front of the throne. The whole group probably represented the celebration, after a great victory, of some religious ceremony, in which the presiding divinities of Assyria, or priests assuming their form, ministered to the king. This very fine bas-relief was remarkable for the extreme delicacy and beauty of the details. The robes of the monarch together with those of his attendants, were covered with the most elaborate designs. In the center of his breast were represented two kings in act of adoration before the emblem of the supreme God. Around were engraved figures of winged (Page 96) deities, and the king performing different religious ceremonies. Borders of similar groups, including various forms of animals and monsters, winged horses, gryphons and sphinxes, adorned the front, and were carried round the skirts of the dress. The embroideries on the garments of the priests and eunuchs were of the same nature and equally beautiful. They consisted chiefly of men struggling with winged monsters, ostriches, standing before the sacred tree, and numerous elegant devices, in which the seven-petaled flower was always the most conspicuous ornament.

These elaborate designs were probably intended to represent embroideries on silk, linen, or woolen stuffs, in the manufacture and dyeing of which the Assyrians had obtained so great a perfection that their garments were still a proverb many centuries after the fall of the empire. Among those who traded "in blue clothes and embroidered work" with Tyre were the merchants of Ashur, or Assyria; and Achan confessed to Joshua that "when he saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight," he coveted and took them.[5.20] Robes such as are seen in these sculptures may have been "the dyed attire and embroidered work" so frequently mentioned in the Bible as the garments of princes and the most costly gifts of kings. The ornaments and figures upon them may either have been dyed, wove in the loom, or embroidered with the needle like "the prey of divers colors of needlework, of divers colors of needlework on both sides."[5.21]

(Page 97) In the bas-relief I am describing, the dress of the king consisted of a long flowing garment, edged with fringes and tassels descending to his ankles, and confined at the waist by a girdle. Over this robe a second, similarly ornamented, and open in front, appears to have been thrown. From his shoulders fell a cape, or hood, also adorned with tassels, and to it were attached two long ribbons or lappets. He wore the conical miter, or tiara, which distinguishes the monarch in Assyrian bas-reliefs, and appears to have been reserved for him alone. It is impossible to determine from the sculptures the nature of the material of which it was made, but it may be conjectured that it consisted of bands or folds of linen or silk. It was adorned with flowers and other ornaments, and was surmounted by a small cone.[5.22] Around the neck of the king was a necklace. He wore ear-rings, and his arms, which were bare from a little above the elbow, were encircled by armlets and bracelets remarkable for the beauty of their forms. The clasps were formed by the heads of animals, and the center by stars and rosettes, probably inlaid with precious stones.[5.23] His beard was elaborately plaited, and his hair, which fell in ringlets on his shoulders, may have been partly artificial like that of the Persian monarchs, who, according to Xenophon,[5.24] wore a wig. Both the hair and beard were probably dyed, and the eyes (Page 98) blackened with some preparation, resembling the kohl or surma still used by persons of both sexes in the East. His sandals covered the back part of the foot, leaving the fore part exposed, and were fastened by bands crossing the instep and passing round the great toe. The soles appear to have been of wood or thick leather.

The eunuchs and winged figures wore robes and ornaments similar in most respects to those of the king. The eunuchs, however, had no other head-dress than the carefully curled ringlets.

The arms, carried by the eunuchs for their own use, as well as for that of the king, were richly ornamented with the heads of lions: the beaks of eagles held the strings of their bows, and their quivers were covered with groups of human figures and animals. The king's throne and his footstool were in keeping with the rest of the details. The throne or rather stool, for it had neither back nor arms, was tastefully carved, and (Page 99) adorned with the heads of rams; the legs of the footstool terminated in lions' paws. They may have been of wood or copper, inlaid with ivory and other precious materials, or of solid gold, like the tables and couches in the temple of Belus at Babylon.

The figures in these fine bas-reliefs were about eight feet high. They were in an extraordinary state of preservation, the most delicate chasings being still distinct, and the outline retaining all its original sharpness.[5.25] On the other slabs forming the walls of this chamber were alternate groups, representing the king holding his bow in one hand and two arrows in the other, standing between winged figures; and the king also erect, raising the sacred cup, and attended by eunuchs. The details in these sculptures were similar in character to those already described. They furnished, however, many new and interesting groups; such as the combats of winged figures with monsters of various forms, scenes of the chase, goats and bulls kneeling before the sacred tree, and the king performing certain religious ceremonies.

The Arabs marveled at these strange figures. As each head was uncovered they showed their amazement by extravagant gestures, or exclamations of surprise. If it were a bearded man, they concluded at once that it was an idol or a Jin, and cursed, or spat upon it. If an eunuch, they declared that it was the likeness of a beautiful female, and kissed or patted the cheek. They soon felt as much interest as I did in the discoveries, and worked with renewed ardor when their curiosity was excited by the appearance of a fresh sculpture. On such occasions stripping themselves almost naked, throwing the kerchief from their heads, and letting their matted hair stream in the wind, they would rush like madmen into the trenches to carry off the baskets of earth, shouting, at the same time, the war-cry of the tribe.

Passing through an entrance formed by the usual winged figures, I reached a chamber paneled by slabs, on which was (Page 100) sculptured the king, raising a richly ornamented cup and standing between two divinities wearing fillets adorned with rosettes round their temples.[5.26]

I quitted this chamber, after uncovering the upper part of four or five bas-reliefs; and returning to the western wall of that previously explored, discovered another pair of human-headed lions, similar to, but smaller than, those forming the grand entrance to the great hall. So perfect was the preservation of even the smallest details, that had not the slabs been slightly cracked, I could have fancied they had issued but the day before from the hand of the sculptor. The accumulation of earth and rubbish above this part of the ruins was very considerable, and it is not improbable that it was owing to this the sculptures had been so completely guarded from injury.

I was now anxious to send to Baghdad, or Busrah, for transport to Bombay, such sculptures as I could move with the means at my disposal. Major Rawlinson had obligingly proposed that, for this purpose, the small steamer navigating the lower part of the Tigris should be sent up to Nimroud, and I expected the most valuable assistance, both in removing the slabs and in forming plans for future excavations, from her able commander, Lieutenant Jones. The Euphrates, one of the two vessels originally constructed for the navigation of the rivers of Mesopotamia, had some years before succeeded in reaching the tomb of Sultan Abd-Allah, a few miles below Nimroud. Impediments, not more serious than those she had already surmounted, occurring in this part of the bed of the stream, she returned to Baghdad. A vessel even of her size, and with engines of the same power, could have reached, I have little doubt, the bund or dam of the Awai, which would probably have been a barrier to a further ascent of the Tigris. It was found, however, that the machinery of the Nitocris was either too much out of repair, or not sufficiently powerful to impel the vessel over the rapids, which occur in the river. (Page 101) After ascending some miles above Tekrit the attempt was given up, and she returned to her station.

Without proper materials it was impossible to move the colossal lions, or even any entire slab. The ropes of the country were so ill-made that they could not support any considerable weight. I determined, therefore, to saw the slabs containing double bas-reliefs into two pieces, and to lighten them as much as possible by cutting from the back. The inscriptions being a mere repetition of the same formula, I did not consider it necessary to preserve them, as they added to the weight. With the help of levers of wood, and by digging away the wall of sun-dried bricks, I was able to move the sculptures into the center of the trenches, where they were reduced to the requisite size. They were then packed and transported from the mound upon rude buffalo-carts belonging to the pashaw, to the river, where they were placed upon a raft, constructed of inflated skins and beams of poplar wood. They were floated down the Tigris as far as Baghdad, were there transferred to boats of the country, and reached Busrah in the month of August. The sculptures sent home on this occasion formed the first collection exhibited to the public in the British Museum .

While I was moving these bas-reliefs, Tahyar Pashaw visited me. He was accompanied, for his better security, by a large body of regular and irregular troops, and three guns. His Diwan Effendesi, seal-bearer, and all the dignitaries of his household, were also with him. I entertained this large company for two days. The pashaw's tents were pitched on an island in the river near my shed. He visited the ruins, and expressed no less wonder at the sculptures than the Arabs; nor were his conjectures as to their origin and the nature of the subjects represented much more rational than those of the sons of the desert. The colossal human-headed lions terrified, as well as amazed, his Osmanli followers. "La Illahi il Allah" (there is no God but God), was echoed from all sides. "These are the idols of the infidels," said one, more knowing than the (Page 102) rest. "I saw many such when I was in Italia with Reshid Pashaw, the embassador. Wallah! they have them in all the churches, and the papas (priests) kneel and burn candles before them." "No, my lamb," exclaimed a more aged and experienced Turk. "I have seen the images of the infidels in the churches of Beyoglu; they are dressed in many colors; and although some of them have wings, none have a dog's body and a tail; these are the works of the Jin, whom the holy Solomon, peace be upon him! reduced to obedience and imprisoned under his seal." "I have seen something like them in your apothecaries' and barbers' shops," said I, alluding to the well known figure, half woman and half lion, which is met with so frequently in the bazars of Constantinople. "Istafer Allah" (God forbid), piously ejaculated the pashaw; "that is a sacred emblem of which true believers speak with reverence, and not the handywork of infidels." "There is no infidel living," exclaimed the engineer, who was looked up to as an authority on these subjects, "either in Frangistan or in Yenghi Dunia (America), who could make any thing like that; they are the work of the Majus (Magi), and are to be sent to England to form a gateway to the palace of the queen." "May God curse all infidels and their works!" observed the cadi's deputy, who accompanied the pashaw; "what comes from their hands is of Satan: it has pleased the Almighty to let them be more powerful and ingenious than the true believers in this world, that their punishment and the reward of the faithful may be greater in the next."

The heat had now become so intense that my health began to suffer from continual exposure to the sun, and from the labor entailed upon me by the excavations. In the trenches, where I daily passed many hours, the thermometer generally ranged from 112 to 115 in the shade, and on one or two occasions even reached 117. Hot winds swept like blasts from a furnace over the desert during the day, and drove away sleep by night. I resolved, therefore, to take refuge for a week in the sardaubs or cellars of Mosul; and, in order not to lose time, to try further excavations in the Mound of Kouyunjik. (Page 103) Leaving a superintendent, and a few guards to watch over the uncovered sculptures, I rode to the town.

The houses of Baghdad and Mosul are provided with underground apartments, in which the inhabitants pass the day during the summer months. They are generally ill-lighted, and the air is close and frequently unwholesome; still they offer a welcome retreat during the hot weather, when it is impossible to sit in a room. At sunset the people emerge from these subterraneous chambers and congregate on the roofs, where they spread their carpets, eat their evening meal, and pass the night.

After many fruitless inquiries after the bas-relief, described by Rich[5.27] as having been discovered in one of the mounds forming the large quadrangle in which are included Nebbi Yunus and Kouyunjik, I met with an aged stone-cutter, who declared that he had not only been present when the sculpture was found, but that he had been employed to break it up. He pointed out the spot, in the northern line of ruins, and I at once commenced excavations. The workmen were not long in coming upon fragments of sculptured alabaster, and after two or three days' labor, an entrance was discovered, formed by two winged figures, which had been purposely destroyed. The legs and the lower part of the tunic were alone preserved. The proportions were colossal, and the relief higher than that of any sculpture hitherto discovered in Assyria. This entrance led into a chamber, the lower part of the walls of which was paneled with limestone slabs about five feet high and three broad. There were marks of the chisel upon them all as if something had been effaced; but from their size it appeared doubtful whether figures had ever been sculptured upon them. The upper part of the walls was of sun-dried bricks. In the rubbish filling up the chamber were discovered numerous baked bricks, bearing the name of the Kouyunjik king. The pavement was of limestone. After tracing the walls of one chamber, I renounced a further examination of the ruin, as no traces of (Page 104) sculpture were to be found, and the accumulation of rubbish was very considerable.

This mound appears to cover either an entrance to the city, or a small temple or tower forming part of the walls. From its height, it would seem that the building had two or more stories.

The comparative rest obtained in Mosul so far restored my strength, that I returned to Nimroud in the middle of August, and again attempted to renew the excavations. I uncovered the top of many of the slabs in the chamber last discovered, and found two chambers leading out of it.[5.28] The sculptures were similar to those already described; the king standing between two winged figures, and hold in one hand a cup, and in the other a bow. The only new feature was a recess cut out of the upper part of one of the slabs. I am at a loss to account for its use; from its position it might have been taken for a window, opening into the adjoining room, in which, however, there was no corresponding aperture. It may have been used as a place of deposit for sacred vessels and instruments, or as an altar for sacrifice, as a large square stone slightly hollowed in the center, probably to contain a fluid; was generally found in front of similar slabs.

The walls of the small chamber to the west were unsculptured. The pavement was formed by inscribed slabs of alabaster. The further entrance[5.29] led me into a long narrow room surrounded by double bas-reliefs separated by the usual inscription; the upper (similar on all the slabs) representing two winged human figures, kneeling before the mystic tree; the lower eagle-headed figures facing each other in pairs, and separated by the same symbol.

The state of my health again compelled me to renounce, for the time, my labors at Nimroud. As I required a cooler climate, I determined to visit the Tiyari mountains, inhabited by the Chaldean Christians, and to return to Mosul in September, when the violence of the heat had abated.


[5.1] Entrance d, plan 3.

[5.2] All these objects are now in the British Museum.

[5.3] This head probably belonged to a throne or seat

[5.4] Storms of this nature are frequent during the early part of summer throughout Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Susiana. It is difficult to convey an idea of their violence. They appear suddenly, and without any previous sign, and seldom last above an hour. It was during one of them that "the Tigris" steamer, under the command of Colonel Chesney, was wrecked in the Euphrates, and so darkened was the atmosphere that, although the vessel was within a short distance of the bank of the river, several persons who were in her are supposed to have lost their lives from not knowing in what direction to swim.

[5.5] Wall D, plan 3.

[5.6] Herod. lib. vii. c. 68, and lib. i. c. 195.

[5.7] Herod. lib. i. c. 99; Esther 4:11.

[5.8] This bas-relief is in the British Museum.

[5.9] Entrance a, chamber B, plan 3.

[5.10] All these remains are now in the British Museum.

[5.11] I have found no representation of this animal in any sculptures of a later date than those of the N. W. palace of Nimroud, the earliest Assyrian edifice with which we are acquainted. Had it inhabited the plains of Mesopotamia in the time of Xenophon, he would probably have described it when speaking of the wild animals of that province. The wild ox is mentioned in Deut. 14:5 among the animals whose flesh may be eaten by the Jews. The "wild bull in a net" is also alluded to in Isaiah 51:20. The Hebrew word is rendered "wild bull" in the Targums and "oryx" in the Vulgate; some, however, believe the animal meant to be a kind of antelope. (Gesenius, Lex. in voce.)

[5.12] All the bas-reliefs here described are now in the British Museum.

[5.13] Cyrop. lib. i. c. 2.

[5.14] This bas-relief is in the British Museum.

[5.15] Entrance c, chamber B, plan 3.

[5.16] Ch. F, plan 3.

[5.17] It is worthy of remark that, with the exception of the horned cap, these symbols are found on the sacred monuments of India, which, accompanied as they are by the sacred bull, bear a striking resemblance to the Assyrian.

[5.18] Entrance a, ch F. pl. 3.

[5.19] Entrance e, ch. G.

[5.20] Ezekiel 27:24; Joshua 7:21.

[5.21] Judges 5:30. We learn from Pliny (lib. viii. c. 48), that gold threads were introduced into the Assyrian woof of many hues.

[5.22] Such was the head-dress of the Persian monarchs, called the "cidaris," which appears to have resembled the Phrygian bonnet or the French cap of liberty. That worn by Darius was of blue and white, or purple and white. (Quint. Curt. lib. iii. ch. iii. and lib. vi. ch. 6.)

[5.23] The dress of the Assyrian king appears to have been similar to that of his successors in the empire of the East. Xenophon describes Astyages as clothed in a purple coat and rich habit, with necklaces round his neck and bracelets on his arms. (Cyrop. lib. i. ch. 3.) Darius wore a tunic of white and purple, embroidered robes, golden girdle, and sword adorned with jewels. (Quint. Curt. lib. iii. ch. 3.)

[5.24] Cyrop. lib. i. c. 3.

[5.25] They are now in the British Museum, but, unfortunately, owing to the extreme neglect shown in their transport to this country, they have been much injured.

[5.26] Ch. H. plan 3.

[5.27] Residence in Kurdistan and Nineveh, vol. ii. p. 39.

[5.28] Chambers I and R, plan 3.

[5.29] Entrance b, Ch. H.


Copyright (c) 1997 by Bruce J. Butterfield

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