Text source: A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. Austen Henry Layard. J. C. Derby. New York. 1854.
(Page 282) Assyria proper, like Babylonia, owed its ancient fertility as much to artificial irrigation, as to the rains which fall during the winter and early spring. The Tigris and Euphrates, unlike the Nile, do not overflow their banks and deposit a rich manure on the face of the land. They rise sufficiently at the time of the melting of the snows in the Armenian hills, to fill the numerous canals led from them into the adjacent country; but these are generally so deep, or their banks so high, that when the stream returns to its usual level, water can only be raised by artificial means.
The great canals dug in the most prosperous period of the Assyrian Empire, and used for many centuries by the inhabitants of the country - even after the Arab invasion - have long since been choked up and are now useless. When the waters of the rivers are high, it is still only by the labor of man that they can be led into the fields. I have already described the rude wheels constructed for the purpose along the banks of the Tigris. Even these are scarce. The government, or rather the local authorities, levy a considerable tax upon machines for irrigation, and the simple buckets of the Arabs become in many cases the source of exaction and oppression. Few being, consequently, bold enough to make use of them, the land near the rivers, as well as the interior of the country, is entirely dependent for its fertility upon the winter rains, which are amply sufficient to insure the most plentiful (Page 283) crops; such being the richness of the soil, that even a few heavy showers in the course of the year, at the time of sowing the seed, and when the corn is about a foot above the ground, are sufficient to insure a good harvest.
Herodotus[12.1] describes the extreme fertility of Assyria, and its abundant harvests of corn, the seed producing two and three hundred-fold. The blades of wheat and barley, he declares grew to full four fingers in breadth; and such was the general richness of Babylonia, that it supplied the Persian king and his vast army with subsistence for four months in the year, while the rest of the Persian dominions furnished provisions for the other eight. But in his day the Assyrians depended as much upon artificial irrigation, as upon the winter rains. They were skillful in constructing machines for raising water, and their system of canals was as remarkable for its ingenuity as for the knowledge of hydraulics it displayed. In the hills, the vine, olive, and fig tree were cultivated anciently as they are now; and Rabshakeh, to tempt the Jews, describes Assyria as "a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive-oil and of honey."[12.2]
It sometimes happens that the season passes without rain. Such was the case this year. During the winter and spring no water fell. The inhabitants of the villages, who had been induced to return by the improved administration and conciliatory measures of the late pashaw, had put their whole stock of wheat and barley into the ground. They now looked in despair upon the cloudless sky. I watched the young grass as it struggled to break through the parched earth; but it was burnt up almost at its birth. Sometimes a distant cloud hanging over the solitary hill of Arbela, or rising from the desert in the far west, led to hopes, and a few drops of rain gave rise to general rejoicings. The Arabs would then form a dance, and raise (Page 284) songs and shouts, the women joining with the shrill tahlehl. But disappointment always ensued. The clouds passed over, and the same pure blue sky was above us. To me the total absence of verdure in spring was very painful. For months my eye had not rested upon a green thing; and that unchanging yellow, barren waste, has a depressing effect upon the spirits. The jaif, which the year before had been a flower garden and had teemed with life, was now as naked and bare as a desert in the midst of summer. I had been looking forward to the return of the grass to encamp outside the village, and had meditated many excursions to ancient ruins in the desert and the mountains; but I was doomed to disappointment like the rest.
The pashaw issued orders that Christians, as well as Mussulmans, should join in a general fast and in prayers. Supplications were offered up in the churches and mosques. The Mohammedans held a kind of three days' Ramazan, starving themselves during the day, and feasting during the night. The Christians abstained from meat during the same length of time. If a cloud were seen on the horizon, the inhabitants of the villages, headed by their mullahs, would immediately walk into the open country to chant prayers and verses from the Koran. Sheikhs - crazy ascetics who wandered over the country, either half clothed in the skins of lions or gazelles, or stark naked - burnt themselves with hot irons, and ran shouting about the streets of Mosul. Even a kind of necromancy was not neglected, and the cadi and the Turkish authorities had recourse to all manner of mysterious incantations, which were pronounced to have been successful in other parts of the sultan's dominions on similar occasions.
Still there was no rain, and a famine appeared to be inevitable. It was known, however, that there were abundant supplies of corn in the granaries of the principal families of Mosul; and the fact having been brought to the notice of the pashaw, he at once ordered the stores to be opened, and their contents to be offered for sale in the market at moderate prices. (Page 285) As usual, the orders were given to the very persons who were speculating upon the miseries of the poor and needy - to the cadi, the mufti, and the head people of the town. They proceeded to obey them with great zeal and punctuality, but somehow or another overlooked their own stores and those of their friends, and ransacked the houses of the rest of the inhabitants. In a few days, consequently, those who had saved up a little grain for their own immediate wants, were added to the number of the starving; and the necessities and misery of the town were increased.
The Bedouins, who are dependent upon the village for supplies, now also began to feel the effects of the failure of the crops; and were preparing to make up for their sufferings by plundering the caravans of merchants, and the peaceable inhabitants of the districts within reach of the desert. Although the spring had already commenced, the Shammar and other formidable tribes had not yet encamped in the vicinity of Mosul; still casual plundering parties had made their appearance among the villages, and it was predicted that as soon as their tents were pitched nearer the town, the country without the walls would be not only very unsafe, but almost uninhabitable.
These circumstances induced me to undertake the removal of the larger sculptures as early as possible. I determined to embark them for Busrah in the month of March or April, foreseeing that as soon as the Bedouins had moved northward from Babylonia, and had commenced their plundering expeditions in the vicinity of Mosul, I should be compelled to leave Nimroud.
The Trustees of the British Museum had not contemplated the removal of either a winged bull or lion, and I had at first believed that, with the means at my disposal, it would have been useless to attempt it. I was directed to leave them, where discovered, until some favorable opportunity of moving them entire might occur; and to heap earth over them, after the excavations had been brought to an end. Being loth, however, (Page 286) to abandon all these fine specimens of Assyrian sculpture, I resolved upon attempting the removal and embarkation of two of the smallest and best preserved, and fixed upon a lion and a bull from the great central hall. Thirteen pairs of these gigantic sculptures, and several fragments of others, had been discovered; but many of them were too much injured to be worth sending to England. I had wished to secure the lions forming the great entrance to the principal chamber of the N. W. palace; the finest specimens of Assyrian sculpture discovered in the ruins. But after some deliberation I determined to leave them for the present; as, from their size, the expense attending their conveyance to the river would have been very considerable.
I formed various plans for lowering the lion and bull, dragging them to the river, and placing them upon rafts. Each step had its difficulties, and a variety of original suggestions were made by my workmen, and by the good people of Mosul. At last I resolved upon constructing a cart sufficiently strong to bear the sculptures. As no wood but poplar could be procured in the town, a carpenter was sent to the mountains with directions to fell the largest mulberry tree, or any tree of equally compact grain, he could find; and to bring back with him beams of it, and thick slices from the trunk.
By the month of March this wood was ready. I purchased from the dragoman of the French consulate a pair of strong iron axles, formerly used by M. Botta in moving sculptures from Khorsabad. Each wheel was formed of three solid pieces, nearly a foot thick, bound together by iron hoops. Across the axles were laid three beams, and above them several crossbeams. A pole was fixed to one axle, to which were also attached iron rings for ropes, to enable men, as well as buffaloes, to draw the cart. The wheels were provided with movable hooks for the same purpose.
Simple as this cart was, it became an object of wonder in the town. Crowds came to look at it, as it stood in the yard of the vice consul's khan; and the pashaw's topjis, or artillery men, (Page 287) who, from their acquaintance with the mysteries of gun carriages, were looked up to as authorities on such matters, daily declaimed on the properties and use of this vehicle, and of carts in general, to a large circle of curious and attentive listeners. As long as the cart was in Mosul, it was examined by every stranger who visited the town. But when the news spread that it was about to leave the gates, and to be drawn over the bridge, the business of the place was completely suspended. The secretaries and scribes from the palace left their divans; the guards their posts; the bazars were deserted; and half the population assembled on the banks of the river to witness the manoeuvers of the cart, which was forced over the rotten bridge of boats by a pair of buffaloes, and a crowd of Chaldeans and shouting Arabs.[12.3]
To lessen the weight of the lion and bull, without in any way interfering with the sculpture, I reduced the thickness and considerably diminished the bulk of the slabs, by cutting away as much as possible from the back, which, being placed against the wall of sun-dried bricks, was never meant to be seen. As, in order to move these figures at all, I had to choose between this plan and that of sawing them into several pieces, I did not hesitate to adopt it.
To enable me to move the bull from the ruins, and to place it on the cart in the plain below, a trench or road nearly two hundred feet long, about fifteen feet wide, and, in some places, twenty feet deep, was cut from the entrance, in which stood the bull, to the edge of the mound. As I had not sufficient mechanical power at command to raise the sculpture out of the trenches, like the smaller bas-reliefs, this road was necessary. It was a tedious undertaking, as a very large accumulation of (Page 289) earth had to be removed. About fifty Arabs and Nestorians were employed in the work.
On digging this trench it was found that a chamber had once existed to the west of the great hall. The sculptured slabs had been destroyed or carried away; but part of the walls of unbaked bricks could still be traced. The only bas relief discovered was lying flat on the pavement, where it had evidently been left when the adjoining slabs were removed. It was the small relief of the lion-hunt now in the British Museum, and remarkable for its finish, the elegance of the ornaments, and the spirit of the design. It resembles, in the general treatment, the battle-scene first discovered in the S. W. palace, and I am inclined to believe that they both belonged to this ruined chamber; in which, perhaps, the sculptures were more elaborate and more highly finished than in any other part of the building. The work of different artists may be plainly traced in the Assyrian edifices. Frequently when the outline is spirited and correct, and the ornaments designed with considerable taste, the execution is defective or coarse; evidently showing, that while the subject was drawn by a master, the carving of the stone had been intrusted to an inferior workman. In many bas-reliefs some parts are more highly finished than others, as if they had been retouched by an experienced sculptor. The figures of the enemy are generally rudely executed and left unfinished, to show probably that, being those of the conquered or captive race, they were unworthy the care of the artist. It is rare to find an entire bas-relief equally well executed in all its parts. The most perfect hitherto discovered in Assyria, are probably, the lion-hunt from the principal chamber, the lion-hunt just described, and the large group of the king sitting on his throne, in the midst of his attendants and winged figures, all now placed in the British Museum.
While making this trench, I also discovered, about three feet beneath the pavement, a drain, which appeared to communicate with others previously opened in different parts of the (Page 290) building. It was probably the main sewer, through which all the minor water-courses were discharged. It was built of baked bricks, and covered in with large slabs and tiles.
As the bull was to be lowered on its back, the unsculptured side of the slab having to be placed on rollers, I removed the walls behind it to form a clear space large enough to receive the sculpture when prostrate, and to leave room for the workmen to pass on all sides of it. The principal difficulty was of course to lower the mass: when once on the ground, or on rollers, it could be dragged forward by the united force of a number of men; but, during its descent, it could only be sustained by ropes. If these ropes, not strong enough to bear the weight, chanced to give way, the sculpture would be precipitated to the ground, and would, probably, be broken in the fall. The few ropes I possessed had been sent to me, across the desert, from Aleppo; but they were small and weak. From Baghdad I had obtained a thick hawser, made of the fibers of the palm. In addition I had been furnished with two pairs of blocks, and a pair of jack-screws belonging to the steamers of the Euphrates expedition. These were all the means at my command for moving the bull and lion. The sculptures were wrapped in mats and felts, to preserve them, as far as possible, from injury in case of a fall, and to prevent the ropes chipping or rubbing the alabaster.
The bull was ready to be moved by the 18th of March. The earth had been taken from under it, and it was now only supported by beams resting against the opposite wall. With the wood obtained from the mountains were several thick rollers. These were placed upon sleepers or half-beams, formed out of the trunks of poplar-trees, well greased and laid on the ground parallel to the sculpture. The bull was to be lowered upon these rollers. A deep trench had been cut behind the second bull, completely across the wall, and, consequently, extending from chamber to chamber. A bundle of ropes coiled round this isolated mass of earth served to hold two blocks, two others being attached to ropes wound round the bull to be (Page 291) moved. The ropes, by which the sculpture was to be lowered, were passed through these blocks; the ends, or falls of the tackle, as they are technically called, being led from the blocks above the second bull, and held by the Arabs. The cable which was first passed through the trench, and then round the sculpture, was held by two bodies of men. Several of the strongest Chaldeans placed thick beams against the back of the bull, and were directed to withdraw them gradually, supporting the weight of the slab, and checking it in its descent.
My own people were reinforced by a large number of the Abou-Salman. I had invited Sheikh Abd-ur-rahman to be present, and he came attended by a body of horsemen. The inhabitants of Naifa and Nimroud, having volunteered to assist on the occasion, were placed among my Arabs. The workmen, except the Chaldeans who supported the beams, were divided into four parties, two of which were stationed in front of the bull, and held the ropes passed through the blocks, while the rest clung to the ends of the cable, and were directed to slack off gradually as the sculpture descended.
The men being ready, and all my preparations complete, I stationed myself on the top of the high bank of earth over the second bull, and ordered the wedges to be struck out from under the sculpture to be moved. Still, however, it remained firmly in its place. A rope having been passed round it, six or seven men easily tilted it over. The thick, ill-made cable stretched with the strain, and almost buried itself in the earth round which it was coiled. The ropes held well. The mass descended gradually, the Chaldeans propping it up with the beams. It was a moment of great anxiety. The drums and shrill pipes of the Kurdish musicians increased the din and confusion caused by the war cry of the Arabs, who were half frantic with excitement. They had thrown off nearly all their garments; their long hair floated in the wind; and they indulged in the wildest postures and gesticulations as they clung to the ropes. The women had congregated on the sides of the trenches, and by their incessant screams, and by the (Page 292) ear-piercing tahlehl, added to the enthusiasm of the men. The bull once in motion, it was no longer possible to obtain a hearing. The loudest cries I could produce were lost in the crash of discordant sounds. Neither the hippopotamus-hide whips of the cawasses, nor the bricks and clods of earth with which I endeavored to draw attention from some of the most noisy of the group, were of any avail. Away went the bull, steady enough as long as supported by the props behind; but as it came nearer to the rollers, the beams could no longer be used. The cable and ropes stretched more and more. Dry from the climate, as they felt the strain, they creaked and threw out dust. Water was thrown over them, but in vain, for they all broke together when the sculpture was within four or five feet of the rollers. The bull was precipitated to the ground. Those who held the ropes, thus suddenly released, followed its example, and were rolling one over the other, in the dust. A sudden silence succeeded to the clamor. I rushed into the trenches, prepared to find the bull in many pieces. It would be difficult to describe my satisfaction, when I saw it lying precisely where I had wished to place it, and uninjured! The Arabs no sooner got on their legs again, than, seeing the result of the accident, they darted out of the trenches, and, seizing by the hands the women who were looking on, formed a large circle, and, yelling their war cry with redoubled energy, commenced a most mad dance. The musicians exerted themselves to the utmost; but their music was drowned by the cries of the dancers. Even Abd-ur-rahman shared in the excitement, and, throwing his cloak to one of his attendants, insisted upon leading off the debke. It would have been useless to endeavor to put any check upon these proceedings. I preferred allowing the men to wear themselves out, - a result which, considering the amount of exertion and energy displayed by limbs and throat, was not long in taking place.
I now prepared, with the aid of Behnan, the bairakdar, and the Tiyari, to move the bull into the long trench which led to the edge of the mound. The rollers were in good order; and (Page 293) as soon as the excitement of the Arabs had sufficiently abated to enable them to resume work, the sculpture was dragged out of its place by ropes.
Sleepers were laid to the end of the trench, and fresh rollers were placed under the bull as it was pulled forward by cables, to which were fixed the tackles held by logs buried in the earth, on the edge of the mound. The sun was going down as these preparations were completed. I deferred any further labor to the morrow. The Arabs dressed themselves; and, placing the musicians at their head, marched toward the village, singing their war-songs, occasionally raising a wild yell, throwing their lances into the air, and flourishing their swords and shields over their heads.
I rode back with Abd-ur-rahman. Schloss and his horsemen galloped round us, playing the jerrid, and bringing the ends of their lances into a proximity with my head and body which was far from comfortable; for it was evident enough that had the mares refused to fall almost instantaneously back on their haunches, or had they stumbled, I should have been transfixed on the spot. As the exhibition, however, was meant as a compliment, and enabled the young warriors to exhibit their prowess, and the admirable training of their horses, I declared myself highly delighted, and bestowed equal commendations on all parties.
The Arab sheikh, his enthusiasm once cooled down, gave way to moral reflections. "Wonderful! Wonderful! There is surely no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet," exclaimed he, after a long pause. "In the name of the Most High, tell me, O Bey, what you are going to do with those stones. So many thousands of purses spent upon such things! Can it be, as you say, that your people learn wisdom from them; or is it, as his reverence the cadi declares, that they are to go to the palace of your Queen, who, with the rest of the unbelievers, worships these idols? As for wisdom, these figures will not teach you to make any better knives, or scissors, or chintzes; and it is in the making of those things that the (Page 294) English show their wisdom. But God is great! God is great! Here are stones which have been buried ever since the time of the holy Noah, - peace be with him! Perhaps they were under ground before the deluge. I have lived on these lands for years. My father, and the father of my father, pitched their tents here before me; but they never heard of these figures. For twelve hundred years have the true believers (and, praise be to God! all true wisdom is with them alone) been settled in this country, and none of them ever heard of a palace under ground. Neither did they who went before them. But lo! here comes a Frank from many days' journey off, and he walks up to the very place, and he takes a stick (illustrating the description at the same time with the point of his spear), and makes a line here, and makes a line there. Here, says he, is the palace; there, says he, is the gate; and he shows us what has been all our lives beneath our feet, without our having known any thing about it. Wonderful! Wonderful! Is it by books, is it by magic, is it by your prophets, that you have learned these things? Speak, O Bey; tell me the secret of wisdom."
The wonder of Abd-ur-rahman was certainly not without cause, and his reflections were natural enough. While riding by his side I had been indulging in a reverie, not unlike his own, which he suddenly interrupted by these exclamations. Such thoughts crowded upon me day by day, as I looked upon every newly discovered sculpture. A stranger laying open monuments buried for more than twenty centuries, and thus proving to those who dwelt around them, that much of the civilization and knowledge of which we now boast, existed among their forefathers when our "ancestors were yet unborn," was, in a manner, an acknowledgment of the debt which the West owes to the East. It is, indeed, no small matter of wonder, that far distant, and comparatively new, nations should have preserved the only records of a people once ruling over nearly half the globe; and should now be able to teach the descendants of that people, or those who have taken (Page 295) their place, where their cities and monuments once stood. There was more than enough to excite the astonishment of Abd-ur-rahman, and I seized this opportunity to give him a short lecture upon the advantages of civilization and of knowledge. I will not pledge myself, however, that my endeavors were attended with as much success as those of some may be who boast of their missions to the East. All I could accomplish was, to give the Arab shiekh an exalted idea of the wisdom and power of the Franks; which was so far useful to me, that through his means the impression was spread about the country, and was not one of the least effective guarantees for the safety of my property and person.
This night was, of course, looked upon as one of rejoicing. Abd-ur-rahman and his brother dined with me; although, had it not been for the honor and distinction conferred by the privilege of using knives and forks, they would rather have exercised their fingers with the crowds gathered round the wooden platters in the court-yard. Sheep were as usual killed, and boiled or roasted whole; - they formed the essence of all entertainments and public festivities. They had scarcely been devoured before dancing was commenced. There were fortunately relays of musicians; for no human lungs could have furnished the requisite amount of breath. When some were nearly falling from exhaustion, the ranks were recruited by others. And so the Arabs went on until dawn. It was useless to preach moderation, or to entreat for quiet. Advice and remonstrances were received with deafening shouts of the war cry, and outrageous antics as proofs of gratitude for the entertainment and of ability to resist fatigue.
After passing the night in this fashion, these extraordinary beings, still singing and capering, started for the mound. Every thing had been prepared on the previous day for moving the bull, and the men had now only to haul on the ropes. As the sculpture advanced, the rollers left behind were removed to the front, and thus in a short time it reached the end of the trench. There was little difficulty in dragging it down the precipitous (Page 296) side of the mound. When it was within three or four feet of the bottom, sufficient earth was removed from beneath it to admit the cart, upon which the bull itself was then lowered by still further digging away the soil. It was soon ready to be dragged to the river. Buffaloes were first harnessed to the yoke; but, although the men pulled with ropes fastened to the rings attached to the wheels, and to other parts of the cart, the animals, feeling the weight behind them, refused to move. We were compelled, therefore, to take them out; and the Tiyari, in parties of eight, lifted the pole by turns, while the Arabs, assisted by the people of Naifa and Nimroud, dragged the cart. The procession was thus formed. I rode first, with the bairakdar, to point out the road. Then came the musicians, with their drums and fifes, drumming and fifing with might and main. The cart followed, dragged by about three hundred men, all screeching at the top of their voices, and urged on by the cawasses and superintendents. The procession was closed by the women, who kept up the enthusiasm of the Arabs by their shrill cries. Abd-ur-rahman's horsemen performed divers feats round the group dashing backward and forward, and charging with their spears.
We advanced well enough, although the ground was very heavy, until we reach the ruins of the former village of Nimroud.[12.4] The villagers of Assyria dig deep pits to store their corn, barley, and straw for the autumn and winter. These pits generally surround the villages. Being only covered by a light framework of boughs and stakes, plastered over with mud, they become, particularly when half empty, a snare, and a trap to the horseman, who, unless guided by some one acquainted with the localities, is pretty certain to find the hind legs of his horse on a level with its ears, and himself suddenly sprawling in front. The corn-pits around Nimroud had long since been emptied of their stores, and had been concealed by the light (Page 297) sand and dust, which, blown over the plain during summer, soon fill up every hole and crevice. Although I had carefully examined the ground before starting, one of-these holes had escaped my notice, and into it two wheels of the cart completely sank. The Arabs pulled and yelled in vain. The ropes broke, but the wheels refused to move. We tried every means to release them, but unsuccessfully. After working until dusk, we were obliged to give up the attempt. I left a party of Arabs to guard the cart and its contents, suspecting that some adventurous Bedouins, attracted by the ropes, and by the mats and felts, with which the sculpture was enveloped, might turn their steps toward the spot during the night. My suspicions did not prove unfounded; for I had scarcely got into bed before the whole village was thrown into commotion by the reports of fire-arms and the war-cry of the Jebours. Hastening to the scene of action, I found that a party of Arabs had fallen upon my workmen. They were beaten off, leaving behind them, however, their mark; for a ball struck and indented the side of the bull. I was anxious to learn who the authors of this wanton attack were, and had organized a scheme for taking summary vengeance. But they were discovered too late; for, anticipating punishment, they had struck their tents, and had moved off into the desert.
Next morning we succeeded in clearing away the earth, and in placing thick planks beneath the buried wheels. After a few efforts the cart moved forward amid the shouts of the Arabs; who, as was invariably their custom on such occasions, indulged, while pulling at the ropes, in the most outrageous antics. The procession was formed as on the previous day, and we dragged the bull triumphantly down to within a few hundred yards of the river. Here the wheels buried themselves in the sand, and it was night before we contrived, with the aid of planks and by increased exertions, to place the sculpture on the platform prepared to receive it, and from which it was to slide down on the raft. The tents of the Arabs, who encamped near the river, were pitched round the bull, until its (Page 298) companion, the lion, should be brought down; and the two embarked together for Baghdad. The night was passed in renewed rejoicings, to celebrate the successful termination of our labors. On the following morning I rode to Mosul, to enjoy a few days' rest after my exertions.
The bull having thus been successfully transported to the banks of the river, preparations were made, on my return to Nimroud, for the removal of the second sculpture; and I ordered the trench, already opened for the passage of the bull to be continued to the entrance formed by the lions, or about eighty feet to the north.
My arrangements were completed by the middle of April. I determined to lower the lion at once on the cart, and not to drag it out of the mound over the rollers. This sculpture, during its descent, was supported in the same manner as the bull had been; but, to avoid a second accident, I doubled the number of ropes and the coils of the cable. Enough earth was removed to bring the top of the cart to a level with the bottom of the lion. While clearing away the wall of unbaked bricks, I discovered two alabaster tablets, similar to those already described.[12.5] They bore the standard inscription, and had evidently been placed in the foundations of the palace: probably, as coins and similar tablets are now buried under edifices, to commemorate the period and object of their erection.
As the lion was cracked in more than one place, considerable care was required in lowering, and moving it. Both, however, were effected without accident. The Arabs assembled as they had done at the removal of the bull. Abd-ur-rahman and his horsemen rode over to the mound. We had the same shouting and the same festivities. The lion descended into the place I had prepared for it on the cart, and was easily dragged out of the ruins. It was two days in reaching the river, as the wheels sank more than once into the loose soil, and were with difficulty extricated. It was, however, at length placed by the side of (Page 299) the bull, on the banks of the Tigris, ready to proceed to Busrah, as soon as I could make the necessary arrangements for their embarkation.
The sculptures, which I had hitherto sent to Busrah, had been floated down the river on rafts, as far only as Baghdad, where they had been transferred to boats built by the natives for the lower part of the Tigris and Euphrates. These vessels were much too small and weak to carry either the lion or the bull; and, indeed, had they been large enough, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of proper machinery, to lift such heavy masses into them. I resolved, therefore, to attempt the navigation of the lower, as well as of the upper, part of the river with rafts; and to embark the lion and bull at once for Busrah. The raftmen of Mosul, who are accustomed to descend the Tigris to Baghdad, but never venture further, declared the scheme to be impracticable, and refused to attempt it. Even my friends at Baghdad doubted of my success; principally, however, on the ground that the prejudices and customs of the natives were against me, - and every one knows how difficult it is to prevail upon Easterns to undertake any thing in opposition to their established habits. Such has been their nature for ages. As their fathers have done, so have they done after them, forgetting or omitting many things, but never adding or improving. As rafts meet with no insurmountable difficulties in descending, even from the mountainous districts of Diarbekir, to Baghdad, there was no good reason why they should not continue their voyage to Busrah. Obstructions might occur in the upper part of the river, which abounds in rapids, rocks, and shallows; but not in the lower, where there is depth of water, and nothing to impede the passage of large boats. The stream below Baghdad is sluggish, and the tide ascends nearly sixty miles above Busrah: these were the only objections, and they merely affected the time to be employed in the descent, and not its practicability.
It was impossible by the most convincing arguments, even though supported by the exhibition of a heap of coins, to (Page 300) prevail upon the raftmen of Mosul to construct such rafts as I required, or to undertake the voyage. I applied, therefore, to Mr. Hector, and through him found a man at Baghdad, who declared himself willing to make the great sacrifice generally believed to be involved in the attempt. He was indebted in a considerable sum of money, and being the owner of a large number of skins, now lying useless, he preferred a desperate undertaking to the prospect of a debtor's prison.
Mullah Ali - for such was the name of my raft contractor - at length made his appearance at Nimroud. He was followed by a dirty half-naked Arab, his assistant in the construction of rafts; and, like those who carried on his trade some two thousand years before, by a couple of donkeys laden with skins ready for use. Like a genuine native of Baghdad, he had exhausted his ingenuity in the choice of materials for the composition of his garments. There could not have been a more dextrous mixture of colors than that displayed by his antari, cloak, and voluminous turban. He began, of course, with a long speech, protesting, by the Prophet, that he would undertake for no one else in the world what he was going to do for me; that he was my slave and my sacrifice, and that the man who was not was worse than an infidel. I cut him short in this complimentary discourse. He then, as is usual in such transactions, began to make excuses, to increase his demands, and throw difficulties in the way. On these points I declined all discussion, directing Ibrahim Agha to give him an insight into my way of doing business, to recommend him to resign himself to his fate, as the contract had been signed, and to hint that he was now in the power of an authority from which there was no appeal.
Mullah Ali made many vain efforts to amend his condition, and to induce on my part a fuller appreciation of his merits. He expected that these endeavors might, at least, lead to an additional amount of bakshish. At last he resigned himself to his fate, and slowly worked, with his assistant, at the binding together of beams and logs of wood with willow twigs to form a (Page 301) framework of a raft. There were still some difficulties and obstacles to be surmounted. The man of Baghdad had his own opinions on the building of rafts in general, founded upon immemorial customs, and the traditions of the country. I had my theories, which could not be supported by equally substantial arguments. Consequently, he, who had all the proof on his side, may not have been wrong in declaring against any method, in favor of which I could produce no better evidence than my own will. But, like many other injured men, he fell a victim to the "droit du plus fort," and had to sacrifice at once prejudice and habit.
I did not doubt that the skins, once blown up, would support the sculptures without difficulty as far as Baghdad, a voyage of eight or ten days, under favorable circumstances. But there they would require to be opened and refilled, or they would scarcely sustain so heavy a weight during the longer voyage to Busrah. However carefully the skins are filled, the air gradually escapes, and rafts, bearing merchandise, are generally detained several times during their descent, to enable the raftmen to examine and refill the skins.
It may interest the reader to know how these rafts, which have probably been for ages the only means of traffic on the upper parts of the rivers of Mesopotamia, are constructed. The skins of full-grown sheep and goats, taken off with as few incisions as possible, are dried and prepared, one aperture being left, through which the air is forced by the lungs. A framework of poplar beams, branches of trees, and reeds, having been constructed of the size of the intended raft, the inflated skins are tied to it by osier twigs. The raft is then complete, and is moved to the water and launched. Care is taken to place the skins with their mouths upward, that, in case any should burst or require refilling, they can be easily reached. Upon the framework of wood are piled bales of goods, and property belonging to merchants and travelers. When persons of rank or wealth descend the river, small huts are constructed for them on the raft by covering a common (Page 302) wooden takht, or bedstead of the country, with a hood formed of reeds and lined with felt. The poorer passengers seek shade or warmth by burying themselves among the bales and other cargo, and sit patiently, almost in one position, until they reach their destination. They carry with them an earthen mangal or chafing-dish, containing a charcoal fire, which serves to light their pipes, and to cook their coffee and food. The only real danger to be apprehended on the river is from the Arabs; who, when the country is in a disturbed state, invariably attack and pillage the rafts.
The raftmen impel and guide these rude vessels by long poles, to the ends of which are fastened a few pieces of split cane. They skillfully avoid the rapids; and, seated on the bales, row continually, even in the hottest sun. They will seldom travel after dark before reaching Tekrit, on account of the rocks and shoals, which occur in the upper part of the river; but when they have passed that place, they resign themselves, night and day, to the sluggish stream. During the floods in the spring, or after heavy rains, small rafts may float from Mosul to Baghdad in about eighty-four hours; but the larger are generally six or seven days in performing the voyage. In summer, and when the river is low, they are frequently nearly a month in reaching their destination. When they have been unloaded, they are broken up, and the beams, wood, and twigs, sold at a considerable profit. The skins are washed, and afterward rubbed with a preparation of pounded pomegranate skins, to keep them from cracking and rotting. They are then brought back, either upon the shoulders of the raftmen or upon donkeys, to Mosul and Tekrit, where the men engaged in the navigation of the Tigris usually reside.
On the 20th of April, there being fortunately a slight rise in the river, and my arrangements being complete, I determined to attempt the embarkation of the lion and bull. The two sculptures had been so placed on beams of poplar wood that, by withdrawing wedges from under them, they would slide nearly into the center of the rafts. The high bank of the river had (Page 303) been cut away into a rapid slope to the water's edge. The beams having first been well greased, a raft of six hundred skins was brought opposite the bull, which, on the wedges being removed, immediately descended into its place. To prevent its moving too rapidly, and bursting the skins by the sudden pressure, the Arabs checked it by ropes, and it was placed without accident. The lion was then embarked, with equal success, upon a second raft of the same size; in a few hours the two sculptures, with several large bas-reliefs from the same ruins, were properly secured, and before night they were ready to float down the river to Busrah.
After the labors of the day were over, sheep were slaughtered for the entertainment of Abd-ur-rahman's Arabs, who had assisted on the occasion, and for the workmen. The Abou-Salman returned to their tents after dark. Abd-ur-rahman took leave of me, and we did not meet again: the next day he moved toward the district of Jezirah in search of pasture. I heard of him on my journey to Constantinople; the Kurds by the road complaining, that his tribe were making up the number of their flocks, by appropriating the stray sheep of their neighbors. I had seen much of the sheikh during my residence at Nimroud; and although, like all Arabs, he was not averse to ask for what he thought there might be a remote chance of getting by a little importunity, he was, on the whole, a very friendly and useful ally.
On the morning of the 22d, the rafts being ready, I gave two sheep to the raftmen to be slain on the banks of the river, as a sacrifice to insure the success of their voyage. The carcasses were distributed, as is proper on such occasions, among the poor. A third sheep was reserved for a propitiatory offering, to be immolated at the tomb of Sultan Abd-Allah, - a saint who appears to interfere considerably with the navigation of the Tigris, and who closed the further ascent of the river against the infidel crew of the Frank steamer the "Euphrates," because they had neglected to make the customary sacrifice. All ceremonies having been duly performed, Mullah Ali kissed (Page 304) my hand, placed himself on one of the rafts, and slowly floated, with the cargo under his charge, down the stream.[12.6]
As I watched the rafts, until they disappeared behind a projecting bank forming a distant reach of the river, I could not forbear musing upon the strange destiny of their burdens; which, after adorning the palaces of the Assyrian kings, the objects of the wonder, and may be the worship of thousands, had been buried unknown for centuries beneath a soil trodden by Persians under Cyrus, by Greeks under Alexander, and by Arabs under the first successors of their prophet. They were now to visit India, to cross the most distant seas of the southern hemisphere, and to be finally placed in a British Museum. Who can venture to foretell how their strange career will end?
After the departure of the Abou-Salman, the plain of Nimroud was a complete desert. The visits of armed parties of Arabs became daily more frequent, and we often watched them from the mound, as they rode toward the hills in search of pillage, or returned from their expeditions driving the plundered flocks and cattle before them. We were still too strong to fear the Bedouins; but I was compelled to put my house into a complete state of defense, and to keep patrols round my premises during the night to avoid surprise. The Jebours (Page 305) were exposed to constant losses, in the way of donkeys or tent furniture, as the country was infested by petty thieves, who issued from their hiding-places, and wandered to and fro, like jackals, after dark. Nothing was too small or worthless to escape their notice. I was roused almost nightly by shoutings and the discharge of fire-arms, when the whole encampment was thrown into commotion at the disappearance of a copper pot or an old grain sack. I was fortunate enough to escape their depredations.
The fears of my Jebours increased with the number of the plundering parties, and at last, when a small Arab settlement, within sight of Nimroud, was attacked by a band of Aneyza horsemen, who murdered several of the inhabitants, and drove away the sheep and cattle, the workmen protested in a body against any further residence in so dangerous a vicinity. I found that it would not be much longer possible to keep them together, and I determined, therefore, to bring the excavations to an end.
I therefore commenced covering with earth those parts of the ruins which still remained exposed, according to the instructions I had received from the Trustees of the British Museum. Had the numerous sculptures been left, without any precaution having been taken to preserve them, they would have suffered, not only from the effects of the atmosphere, but from the spears and clubs of the Arabs, who are always ready to knock out the eyes, and to otherwise disfigure, the idols of the unbelievers. The rubbish and earth removed on opening the building, was accordingly brought back in baskets, thrown into the chambers, and heaped over the slabs until the whole was again covered over.
But before leaving Nimroud and reburying its palaces, I would wish to lead the reader once more through the ruins of the principal edifice, and to convey as distinct an idea as I am able of the excavated halls and chambers. Let us imagine ourselves issuing from my tent near the village in the plain. (Page 306) On approaching the mound, not a trace of building can be perceived, except a small mud-hut covered with reeds, erected for the accommodation of my Chaldean workmen. We ascend this artificial hill, but still see no ruins, not a stone protruding from the soil. There is only a broad level platform before us, perhaps covered with a luxuriant crop of barley, or may be yellow and parched, without a blade of vegetation, except a scanty tuft of camel-thorn. Low black heaps, surrounded by brushwood and dried grass, a thin column of smoke rising from the midst of them, are scattered here and there. These are the tents of the Arabs; and a few miserable old women are groping about them, picking up camel's-dung or dry twigs. One or two girls, with firm step and erect carriage, are just reaching the top of the mound, with the water-jar on their shoulders, or a bundle of brushwood on their heads. On all sides of us, issuing from underground, are long lines of wild-looking beings, with disheveled hair, their limbs only half concealed by a short loose shirt, some jumping and capering, and all hurrying to and fro shouting like madmen. Each one carries a basket, and as he reaches the edge of the mound, or some convenient spot near, empties its contents, raising a cloud of dust. He then returns at the top of his speed, dancing and yelling as before, and flourishing his basket over his head; again he suddenly disappears in the bowels of the earth, from whence he emerged. These are the workmen employed in removing the rubbish from the ruins.
We will descend into the principal trench, by a flight of steps rudely cut in the earth, near the western face of the mound. As we approach it, we find a party of Arabs bending on their knees, and intently gazing at something beneath them. Each holds his long spear, tufted with ostrich feathers, in one hand; and in the other the halter of his mare, which stands patiently behind him. The party consists of a Bedouin sheikh from the desert, and his followers; who, having heard strange reports of the wonders of Nimroud, have made several days' journey to remove their doubts and satisfy their curiosity. He (Page 307) rises as he hears us approach, and if we wish to escape the embrace of a very dirty stranger we had better at once hurry into the trenches.
We descend about twenty feet, and suddenly find ourselves between a pair of colossal lions, winged and human-headed, forming a portal. I have already described my feelings when gazing for the first time on these majestic figures. Those of the reader would probably be the same, particularly if caused by the reflection, that before those wonderful forms Ezekiel, Jonah, and others of the prophets stood, and Sennacherib bowed; that even the patriarch Abraham himself may possibly have looked upon them.
In the subterraneous labyrinth which we have reached, all is bustle and confusion. Arabs are running to and fro; some bearing baskets filled with earth, others carrying water-jars to their companions. The Chaldeans or Tiyari, in their striped dresses and conical felt caps, are digging with picks into the tenacious earth, raising a dense cloud of fine dust at every stroke. The wild strains of Kurdish music may be occasionally heard issuing from some distant part of the ruins, and if they are caught by the parties at work, the Arabs join their voices in chorus, raise the war-cry, and labor with renewed energy. Leaving behind us a small chamber, in which the sculptures are distinguished by a want of finish in the execution, and considerable rudeness in the design of the ornaments, we issue from between the winged lions, and enter the remains of the principal hall. On both sides of us are colossal winged figures: some with the heads of eagles, others entirely human, and carrying mysterious symbols in their hands. To the left is another portal, also formed by winged lions. One of them has, however, fallen across the entrance, and there is just room to creep beneath it. Beyond this portal is a winged figure, and two slabs with bas-reliefs; but they have been so much injured that we can scarcely trace the subject upon them. Further on there are no traces of wall, although a deep trench has been opened. The opposite side of the hall has also (Page 308) disappeared, and we only see a high wall of earth. On examining it attentively, we can detect the marks of masonry; and we soon find that it is a solid structure built of bricks of unbaked clay, now of the same color as the surrounding soil, and scarcely to be distinguished from it.
The slabs of alabaster, fallen from their original position, have, however, been raised; and we tread in the midst of a maze of small bas-reliefs, representing chariots, horsemen, battles, and sieges. Perhaps the workmen are about to raise a slab for the first time; and we watch, with eager curiosity, what new event of Assyrian history, or what unknown custom or religious ceremony, may be illustrated by the sculpture beneath.
Having walked about one hundred feet among these scattered monuments of ancient history and art, we reach another doorway, formed by colossal winged bulls in yellow limestone. One is still entire; but its companion has fallen, and is broken into several pieces - the great human head is at our feet.
We pass on without turning into the part of the building to which this portal leads. Beyond it we see another winged figure, holding a graceful flower in its hand, and apparently presenting it as an offering to the winged bull. Adjoining this sculpture we find a perfect series of highly-finished bas-reliefs. There is the king, slaying the lion and wild bull, engaged in battles and in sieges, and receiving as captives the chiefs of the conquered people. We have now reached the end of the hall, and find before us an elaborate and beautiful sculpture, representing two kings, standing beneath the emblem of the supreme deity, and attended by winged figures. Between them is the sacred tree. In front of this bas-relief is the great stone platform, upon which, in days of old, may have been placed the throne of the Assyrian monarch, when he received his captive enemies, or his courtiers.
As we gaze upon these singular sculptures the description of Ezekiel is brought vividly to our minds. The prophet, in typifying the corruptions which had crept into the religious (Page 309) system of the Jews, and the idolatrous practices they had borrowed from the strange nations with which they had been brought into contact, thus illustrates the influence of the Assyrians. "She saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to, after the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, the land of their nativity."[12.7] The prophet is prophesying on the banks of the Chebar, or Khabour, in the immediate vicinity of Nineveh, previous to the destruction of the Assyrian capital, an event which he most probably witnessed. He points out the rich and highly ornamented head-dress of the sculptured kings, and evidently alludes to the prevalence of that red color, remains of which are so frequent in the ruins of Nimroud and Khorsabad. Nor can the resemblance between the symbolical figures pictured on the walls and those seen by Ezekiel in his vision fail to strike us. As the prophet had beheld the Assyrian palaces, with their mysterious images and gorgeous decorations, it is highly probable that, when seeking to typify certain divine attributes, and to describe the divine glory, he chose forms that were not only familiar to him, but to the people whom he addressed, captives like himself in the land of Assyria. He chose the four living creatures, with four faces, four wings, and the hands of a man under their wings on the four sides, the faces being those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, - the four creatures continually introduced on the sculptured walls, - and by them was a wheel, the appearance of which "was as a wheel in the middle of a wheel."[12.8] May not this wheel have been the winged circle, or globe, which, hovering above the (Page 310) head of the kings, typifies the Supreme Deity of the Assyrian nation?
To the left of the great bas-relief at the eastern end of the hall is a fourth outlet formed by another pair of lions. We pass between them, and find ourselves on the edge of a deep ravine, to the north of which rises, high above us, the lofty pyramid. Figures of captives bearing objects of tribute, - ear-rings, bracelets, and monkeys, - are sculptured on the walls; and two enormous bulls, with two winged figures above fourteen feet high, are lying prostrate on the ground.
As the ravine bounds the ruins on this side, we must return to the yellow bulls. The entrance formed by them, leads us into a large chamber surrounded by eagle-headed figures: at one end of it is a doorway guarded by two priests or divinities, and in the center another portal with winged bulls. Whichever way we turn, we find ourselves in the midst of a nest of rooms; and without an acquaintance with the intricacies of the place, we should soon lose ourselves in this labyrinth. The accumulated rubbish being generally left in the center of the chambers, the whole excavation consists of a number of narrow passages, paneled on one side with slabs of alabaster; and shut in on the other by a high wall of earth, half buried in which may here and there be seen a broken vase, or a brick painted with brilliant colors. We may wander through these galleries for an hour or two, examining the marvelous sculptures, or the numerous inscriptions that surround us. (Page 311) Here we meet long rows of kings, attended by their eunuchs and priests, - there lines of winged figures, carrying fir-cones and religious emblems, and seemingly in adoration before the mystic tree. Other entrances formed by winged lions and bulls, lead us into new chambers. In every one of them are fresh objects of curiosity and surprise. At length, wearied, we issue from the buried edifice by a passage on the side opposite to that by which we entered, and find ourselves again upon the naked platform. We look around in vain for any traces of the wonderful remains we have just seen, and are half inclined to believe that we have dreamed a dream, or have been listening to some tale of Eastern romance.
Some, who may hereafter tread on the spot when the grass again grows over the ruins of the Assyrian palaces, may indeed suspect that I have been relating a vision.
[12.1] Lib. i. c. 192 and 193.
[12.2] 2 Kings 18:32. On a black stone in the possession of Lord Aberdeen, a plow is represented, nearly resembling that now in use in the country.
[12.3] The bridge of Mosul consists of a number of rude boats bound together by iron chains. Planks are laid from boat to boat, and the whole is covered with earth. During the spring floods this frail bridge would be unable to resist the force of the stream; the chains holding it on one side of the river are then loosened, and it swings round. All communication between the two banks of the river is thus cut off, and a ferry is established until the waters subside, and the bridge can be replaced.
[12.4] The village was moved to its present site after the river had gradually receded to the westward, as the inhabitants had been left at a very inconvenient distance from water.
[12.5] Page 76
[12.6] It is not improbable that the great obelisk which, according to Diodorus Siculus (lib. ii. c. 1), was brought to Babylon from Armenia by Semiramis was floated down on rafts supported by skins, in the same way that I transported the sculptures of Nineveh to Busrah. It was 130 feet in height and 25 feet square at the base; and being cut out of the solid rock, if the account be not a little exaggerated, must have been of prodigious weight. The principal difficulty might probably appear to have been to place it on the raft; but this could have been accomplished by a simple method - by putting the beams forming the framework of wood, and fastening the skins under the obelisk, in some dry place, which would be overflowed during the periodical floods. When the water began to rise, by gradually removing the earth from beneath the skins, they could easily be filled with air and when the stream had reached the raft they would lift up the obelisk, which could then be floated into the center of the river. I should have adopted this method of moving the larger lions and bulls, had I been required to send them to Busrah without being provided with any mechanical contrivance sufficiently powerful to embark such large weights by a simpler process.
[12.7] Ezekiel 23:14, 15. The literal translation of this remarkable passage is, "she saw men of sculptured (or painted) workmanship upon the wall, likenesses of the Chaldeans, pictured (or sculptured) in shashar (red ochre or vermilion); girded with girdles on their loins, with colored flowing head-dresses upon their heads, with the aspect of princes all of them, the likeness of the sons of Babel-Chaldea, the land of their nativity."
[12.8] Ezekiel 1:16.
Copyright (c) 1997 by Bruce J. Butterfield
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