Mesopotamian Archæology
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Mesopotamian Archæology, An Introduction to the Archæology of Babylonia and Assyria, is a 1912 book by Percy S. P. Handcock, M.A.

Mesopotamian Archæology

An Introduction to the Archæology of Babylonia and Assyria

Percy S. P. Handcock, M.A.

Plate I

Coloured Lion at KhorsabadColoured Lion at Khorsabad

Dedicated to
A. M. Lord
In Recognition
Of Many Acts of Friendship


In every department of science the theories of yesterday are perpetually being displaced by the empirical facts of to-day, though the ascertainment of these facts is frequently the indirect outcome of the theories which the facts themselves dissipate. Hence it is that the works of the greatest scholars and experts have no finality, they are but stepping-stones towards the goal of perfect knowledge. Since the publications of Layard, Rawlinson, Botta and Place much new material has been made accessible for the reconstruction of the historic past of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and we are consequently able to fill in many gaps in the picture so admirably, and as far as it went, so faithfully drawn by the pioneers in the field of excavation and research. This work, which owes its origin to a suggestion made by Dr. Wallis Budge, represents an endeavour on the part of the writer to give a brief account of the civilization of ancient Babylonia and Assyria in the light of this new material.

It is hoped that the infinitude of activities and pursuits which go to make up the civilization of any country will justify the writer’s treatment of so many subjects in a single volume. It will be observed that space allotted to the consideration of the different arts and crafts varies on the one hand according to the relative importance of the part each played in the life of the people, and on the other hand according to the amount of material available for the study of the particular subject.

No effort has been spared to make the chapters on Architecture, Sculpture and Metallurgy as comprehensive as the limitations of the volume permit, while for the sake of those who desire to pursue the study of any of the subjects dealt with in this book, and to work up the sketch into a picture, a short bibliography is given at the end.

It has not been thought desirable to amass a vast number of references in the footnotes, and the writer is thereby debarred from acknowledging his indebtedness to the works of other writers on all occasions as he would like to have done.

In addition to the chapters which deal expressly with the cultural evolution of the dwellers in Mesopotamia, two chapters are devoted to the consideration of the Cuneiform writing—its pictorial origin, the history of its decipherment, and the literature of which it is the vehicle, while another chapter is occupied with a historical review of the excavations. The short chronological summary at the end obviously makes not the slightest pretension to even being a comprehensive summary; it merely purports to give the general chronological order of some of the better known rulers and kings of Babylonia and Assyria to whom allusion is made in this volume, together with a notice of some of the more significant land-marks in the history of the two countries.

The writer’s thanks are due to the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to photograph some of the objects in the Babylonian and Assyrian Collections, and to Dr. Wallis Budge for facilities and encouragement in carrying out the work; to the University of Chicago Press for allowing him to reproduce illustrations from the American Journal of Semitic Languages and also diagrams from Harper’s Memorial Volumes; to M. Ernest Leroux for permitting him to make use of some of the plates contained in the monumental works of De Sarzec and Heuzey, and to M. Ch. Eggimann of the “Libraire Centrale d’art et d’architecture ancienne maison Morel,” for his very kind permission to reproduce two of the plates contained in Dieulafoy, L’Art Antique de la Perse. He is similarly indebted to the Deutsche-Orient Gesellschaft for allowing him to make an autotype copy of one of the plates in Andrae’s Der Anu-Adad Tempel. He further desires to acknowledge the generosity of Prof. H. V. Hilprecht in allowing him to make use of many of the illustrations contained in his numerous publications, and also of Dr. Fisher for permitting him to reproduce some of the photographs contained in his magnificently illustrated work on the excavations at Nippur. He is very sensible of his indebtedness to these two gentlemen, as also to M. Leroux and the Deutsche-Orient Gesellschaft, for the photographs of excavations in progress are obviously of a unique character and admit of no repetition; he further desires to express his obligations to Dr. W. Hayes Ward for his most kind permission to copy a number of seal-impressions and other illustrations contained in his recently published work—Cylinder-Seals of Western Asia. Lastly, he welcomes the opportunity of acknowledging the kindness of Mr. Mansell for allowing him to publish many photographs of objects in the British Museum and the Louvre contained in his incomparable collection, and for in other ways facilitating the illustration of this volume. Most of the plans and drawings used for this volume are the work of Miss E. K. Reader, who has performed her task with her usual skill.

P. S. P. H.

March, 1912.

Chapter I.

(a) Land and People

The Mesopotamian civilization shares with the Egyptian civilization the honour of being one of the two earliest civilizations in the world, and although M. J. de Morgan’s excavations at Susa the ruined capital of ancient Elam, have brought to light the elements of an advanced civilization which perhaps even antedates that of Mesopotamia, it must be remembered that the Sumerians who, so far as our present knowledge goes, were the first to introduce the arts of life and all that they bring with them, into the low-lying valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, probably themselves emigrated from the Elamite plateau on the east of the Tigris; at all events the Sumerians expressed both “mountain” and “country” by the same writing-sign, the two apparently being synonymous from their point of view; in support of this theory of a mountain-home for the Sumerians, we may perhaps further explain the temple-towers, the characteristic feature of most of the religious edifices in Mesopotamia, as a conscious or unconscious imitation in bricks and mortar of the hills and ridges of their native-land, due to an innate aversion to the dead-level monotony of the Babylonian plain, while it is also a significant fact that in the earliest period Shamash the Sun-god is represented with one foot resting on a mountain, or else standing between two mountains. However this may be, the history of the Elamites was intimately wrapped up with that of the dwellers on the other side of the Tigris, from the earliest times down to the sack of Susa by Ashur-bani-pal, king of Assyria, in the seventh century. Both peoples adopted the cuneiform system of writing, so-called owing to the wedge-shaped formation of the characters, the wedges being due to the material used in later times for all writing purposes—the clay of their native soil—: both spoke an agglutinative, as opposed to an inflexional language like our own, and both inherited a similar culture.

A further, and in its way a more convincing argument in support of the mountain-origin theory is afforded by the early art of the Sumerians. On the most primitive seal cylinders we find trees and animals whose home is in the mountains, and which certainly were not native to the low-lying plain of Babylonia. The cypress and the cedar-tree are only found in mountainous districts, but a tree which must be identified with one or the other of them is represented on the early seal cylinders; it is of course true that ancient Sumerian rulers fetched cedar wood from the mountains for their building operations, and therefore the presence of such a tree on cylinder seals merely argues a certain acquaintance with the tree, but Ceteris paribus it is more reasonable to suppose that the material earthly objects depicted, were those with which the people were entirely familiar and not those with which they were merely casually acquainted. Again, on the early cylinders the mountain bull, known as the Bison bonasus, assumes the rôle played in later times by the lowland water-buffalo. This occurs with such persistent regularity that the inference that the home of the Sumerians in those days was in the mountains is almost inevitable. Again, as Ward points out, the composite man-bull Ea-bani, the companion of Gilgamesh, has always the body of a bison, never that of a buffalo. So too the frequent occurrence of the ibex, the oryx, and the deer with branching horns, all argues in the same direction, for the natural home of all these animals lay in the mountains.

The Mesopotamian valley may, for the immediate purpose of this book, be divided into two halves, a dividing-line being roughly drawn between the two rivers just above Abû Habba (Sippar); the northern half embraces the land occupied by the Assyrians, and the southern half that occupied by the Babylonians. The precise date at which Assyria was colonized by Babylonia is not known, but to the first known native king of Assyria, Irishum, we may assign an approximate date of 2000 B.C. Babylonia proper is an alluvial plain the limits of which on the east and west are the mountains of Persia and the table-land of Arabia respectively. This valley has been gradually formed at the expense of the sea’s domain, for in the remote past the Persian Gulf swept over the whole plain at least as far northward as the city of Babylon where sea-shells have been found, and probably a good deal further. It owes its formation to the silt brought down by the two rivers and deposited at the mouth of the Gulf: the amount of land thus yearly reclaimed from the sea in early times is not known, but as Spasinus Chorax the modern Mohammerah, which is now some forty-seven miles inland, was situated on the sea-coast in the time of Alexander, we know that the conquest of the land over the sea has been progressing since his time at the rate of 115 feet yearly.

Thus the physical characteristics of the country in which Babylonian civilization was developed, if it was not actually the place of its origin, form a close parallel to those of Lower Egypt; in Egypt however such evidence as there is, would indicate the South, or Upper Egypt as the earliest scene of civilization, the North being conquered by the Mesniu (Metal-users) of the South, not only in the battle-field but also in culture and civilization. Both countries have but a small sea-board where their rivers find an outlet, the Nile into the Mediterranean, and the Tigris and Euphrates into the Persian Gulf; both countries had emerged and were yearly emerging out of the sea, for it is certain that at one time the Mediterranean penetrated as far south as Esneh, while as already mentioned, the Persian Gulf extended at least as far as Babylon; we are accordingly not surprised to find in both the Babylonian and Egyptian cosmologies a tradition which told of the creation of the world out of a primæval mass of water, though this idea looms less conspicuously in the Egyptian than in the Babylonian and Hebrew cosmologies. Both countries also were visited by a yearly inundation which, while it brought no small amount of devastation in its train, at the same time deposited the mud so essential to the enrichment of the soil, the desolation being checked or at least mitigated in either country by an elaborate system of irrigation canals, which same canals were in the summer-time the means of conveying the life-giving water to the dry and thirsty land. Both Babylonia and Egypt enjoy a warm climate, though Egypt is much more dry and therefore healthier, and the corresponding dryness of its soil has preserved the tangible evidences of its ancient history in a far more perfect condition than the marsh-country of Lower Mesopotamia; and lastly the climate of Egypt is not subject to the same violent changes of temperature incidental to the seasons in the Valley of the Euphrates.

The evidence of any racial connection between the earliest known inhabitants of the two countries is very precarious; as regards their art, their customs and their language, the Sumerians on the one hand, and the pre-dynastic and early dynastic Egyptians on the other, show a complete independence of each other; both countries were probably invaded at an early period of their histories by the Semites, who in the case of Mesopotamia completely supplanted their predecessors of different stock, but who were at the same time themselves absorbed by the higher civilization of the Sumerians to which they were the destined heirs, and to the further development of which they themselves were to contribute so largely; but at what period or periods the Semites swept over Egypt and the north coast of Africa, impressing their indelible and unmistakable stamp upon the foundation-structure of the Egyptian and Libyan languages is not known; whenever it was, we can safely assume that their advent took place in prehistoric days, for the hieroglyphs and probably also the language of the dynastic Egyptians were the natural development of the language and crude picture-signs of their predecessors, and the theory of a violent break in the continuity of early Egyptian civilization at the commencement of the first dynasty is daily becoming more untenable. We are similarly unable to assign any definite date to the arrival of the Semites in the Mesopotamian Valley, though the Neo-Babylonian King Nabonidus gives us a traditional date for Shar-Gâni-sharri (Sargon) and his son Narâm-Sin, kings of Agade, who, so far as we know, established the first Semitic empire in the country. There were indeed Semitic Kings of Kish before the time of Shar-Gâni-sharri, but the extent of their sway was clearly very limited compared with the far-reaching empire of the rulers of Agade. But there are reasons for doubting the accuracy of the traditional date of 3750 B.C. which Nabonidus assigns to Narâm-Sin, the chief reason being the extraordinary gap in the yieldings of Babylonian excavations between the time of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin, and that of Gudea, the priest-king of Lagash in Southern Babylonia, who reigned about 2400 B.C.; that is to say, concerning a period of about 1300 years the excavations have afforded us practically no information whatever, while both at the beginning and at the close of that period, we have abundant evidence of the civilization and history of the inhabitants of Babylonia; secondly, the style of art characteristic of the time of Gudea and the kings of Ur, as also the style of writing found in their inscriptions, presuppose no such long interval between the time of Sargon and their own day. But there are yet other considerations which are even more potent, and which deserve greater attention than has been up to the present accorded to them, depending as they do upon the stratification of the ruined mounds themselves. Now it is a very significant fact that the architectural remains of Ur-Engur (circ. 2400 B.C.) at Nippur, are found immediately above those of Narâm-Sin, for such an arrangement is hardly conceivable if a period of some thirteen hundred years separated these two rulers. Again, the excavations carried on by Dr. Banks for the University of Chicago at Bismâya have been productive of similar evidence, for immediately below the ruined ziggurat of Dungi, Ur-Engur’s successor on the throne of Ur, large square bricks of the size and shape characteristic of the time of Shar-Gâni-sharri were discovered, while among the bricks a strip of gold inscribed with the name of Narâm-Sin was also brought to light. The evidence afforded by the excavations on these two sites would thus appear to be exceedingly strong against the traditional date recorded by Nabonidus.

It is therefore tempting to reason that that long silent period, the silence of which cannot be adequately accounted for, had no existence at all, that Nabonidus’ statement is therefore to be discredited, and that Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin probably lived and reigned more than a thousand years later, i.e. about 2650 B.C. On the other hand it is important to remember that the Babylonians were astronomers and mathematicians of no mean order, and that they exercised the greatest possible care in calculating dates, that moreover Nabonidus was a king of Babylonia, and therefore “a priori” likely to be in possession of reliable traditions, if any existed, and further, that he lived 2500 years nearer to the time than we do. The inscription of Nabonidus in question was found in the mound of Sippar near Agade. It says:—“The foundation corner-stone of the temple E-ulba in the town of the eternal fire (Agade) had not been seen since the times before Sargon King of Babylonia and his son Narâm-Sin…. The cylinder of Narâm-Sin, son of Sargon, whom for 3200 years, no king among his predecessors had seen, Shamash the great lord of Sippara hath revealed to him.” Thus according to Nabonidus, Narâm-Sin lived about 3750 B.C. The archæological evidence is however so strong in this particular case, both negatively in regard to the absence of any tangible evidence of the long interval in question, and positively in regard to the stratification of the mounds containing the relics of these two kings and also in regard to the similarity between the earlier sculptures and inscriptions of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin and those belonging to the latter half of the third millennium B.C., that we are no longer able to maintain the implicit confidence in the historical accuracy of Nabonidus which early scholars once had.

From the inscriptions of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin that have been brought to light, we gather that the authors of these inscriptions were Semites, in other words we learn that the empire of Agade was a Semitic Empire, and since they extended their empire over all Western Asia, the Sumerian power located more in the south must have proportionately dwindled. But their Sumerian predecessors had established their influence and power in Mesopotamia for a long and indefinite time before this date, for Sumerian inscriptions which are almost certainly to be assigned to the pre-Sargonic period give us the names of a large number of early kings and rulers of Babylonia; their early date is shown by the writing of these inscriptions which bear a more archaic stamp than those of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin. For just as uninscribed sculptures are relatively dateable by the style of art to which they conform, so that it is possible to provisionally say that this sculpture or cylinder-seal is older than that, because it presents a more archaic and less finished style of art, so is it possible to approximately date un-named and un-dated inscriptions by the style of writing adopted in those inscriptions. We thus have two means at our disposal by which we can assign uninscribed monuments of an early period to their relatively correct places in the evolution of art and culture; on the one hand the stratum of the ruined mound in which the object in question has been found can often itself be relatively dated by actually inscribed monuments found either in the stratum itself, or in the stratum immediately above or below; or failing these, by the depth at which the stratum lies below the top of the mound, though this latter alone is a poor criterion owing to the fact that such accumulation will obviously vary in different places. The value of all such evidence however depends on whether or not the strata have been disturbed, as is often unfortunately the case.

The reason why the ruins of Mesopotamian cities have assumed the form of mounds lies in the fact that a conquering chief demolished the clay walls and buildings of his vanquished foe, but instead of clearing the débris away, he built on the top of it; for his new building operations the new-comer often utilized part of the old material, hence the uncertainty of a date assigned to an object, based on the mere assumption that such object belongs to the stratum in which it has ultimately found itself, without other corroborative evidence. On the other hand we are in these days always able to apply the purely archæological test, which depends upon a close examination of the style of art or the mode of writing.

Some of these pre-Sargonic rulers already alluded to can be arranged in strictly chronological order, i.e. the rulers of the city of Lagash, one of the earliest centres of Sumerian civilization in Babylonia. Lagash lies fifteen hours’ journey north of Ur and two hours’ east of Warka (the ancient Erech), and it is Lagash which has provided us with more material for our study of early Sumerian life and culture than any other city in the Euphrates valley.

The order of the early pre-Sargonic rulers of Lagash is as follows: Ur-Ninâ, apparently the founder of the dynasty, inasmuch as he bestows no royal title on his father or grandfather, and his successors traced themselves back to him; Akurgal, Eannatum, Enannatum I, Entemena, Enannatum II, Enetarzi, Enlitarzi, Lugal-anda, and Urukagina. But though their chronological order is certain, the length of their reigns is unknown, and their dates can only be approximately ascertained, and even these approximate and relative dates depend entirely on the date of Shar-Gâni-sharri. Assuming the latter’s date to have been about 2650 B.C., Ur-Ninâ’s date would be roughly about 3000 B.C. Ur-Ninâ the first member of the dynasty has left us a number of his sculptures and stelæ, but there are other nameless works of art discovered either in the neighbourhood or actually in Lagash itself which present a less developed form of art, and where inscriptions are concerned, a more archaic style of writing, while in certain cases the monuments in question were actually discovered in the strata underneath the building of Ur-Ninâ, and with these the history of Mesopotamian art and of the civilization to which it bears such eloquent testimony commences.


The race to which the Sumerians belonged is not known, but the fact that their language being agglutinative and not inflexional, was therefore neither Aryan nor Semitic, but at least and in this respect akin to the Mongolian languages, of which Turkish, Finnish, Chinese and Japanese are the most illustrious examples to-day, has led certain scholars to seek a connection between some of the Sumerian roots and certain Chinese words, it must however be admitted that this supposed connection is rather hypothetical at present. Further efforts have also been made by Lacouperie and others to establish parallels between Chinese art and culture and those of the Sumerians, but the evidence is not very convincing.


As the surface-soil of Babylonia did not originate there, but was brought down by the rivers and deposited by them as their currents lost impetus in approaching the sea, and were thus unable to carry their burden further, it is well to trace this soil to its original source. Both the Euphrates and the Tigris rise in the mountains of Armenia, the geological formation of which is chiefly granite, gneiss and other feldspathic rocks. These rocks were gradually decomposed by the rains, their detritus being hurried rapidly down-stream; the rivers in the course of their career travel through a variety of geological formations including limestone, sandstone and quartz, all of which contribute something to the silt which is destined to form part of the delta’s soil; the latter being composed mainly of chalk, sand, and clay, is extremely fertile, which won for it a reputation testified to even by the classical writers: thus Herodotus who flourished in the seventh century B.C. tells us (I, 293) that “of all the countries that we know, there is none which is so fruitful in grain. It makes no pretension indeed, of growing the olive, the vine, or any other trees of the kind; but in grain it is so fruitful as to yield commonly two hundredfold, and when the production is greatest even three hundredfold. The blade of the wheat-plant and barley is often four fingers in breadth. As for millet and the sesame, I shall not say to what height they grow, though within my own knowledge, for I am not ignorant that what I have already written concerning the fruitfulness of Babylonia, must seem incredible to those who have never visited the country…. Palm trees grow in great numbers over the whole of the flat country, mostly of the kind that bears fruit, and this fruit supplies them with bread, wine and honey.” However exaggerated this account may be, all ancient writers agree in ascribing to Babylonian soil a fertility and productivity surpassing that of any other country with which they were acquainted.

But the present state of the country is very different from what it was, neglect of cultivation having reduced it once more to a desert waste, or, in the immediate neighbourhood of the rivers, to a pestiferous marsh. The rivers have furthermore varied their courses time and again, though this remark applies more to the sluggish stream of the Euphrates with its low banks, than to the more swiftly flowing Tigris whose current is confined by higher banks, and whose course has consequently undergone less change. At the present time, great efforts are being made to make amends for the neglect to which the once fertile plain of Babylonia has so long been subject, and in the early part of last year (1911) the firm of Sir John Jackson (Limited), contractors and engineers, secured the contract for the building of a great dam at the head of the Hindiyah Canal: this latter is a channel for which the Euphrates has forsaken its own bed, and consequently the Euphrates’ bed upon whose banks the city of Babylon lies, is in summer-time perfectly dry, all the water flowing down the Hindiyah Canal except at the time of the inundation. Thus it is that the population have practically ceased to attempt the cultivation of the Euphrates’ banks, and have for the most part migrated across country to this canal. The latter however, being quite inadequate for the burden thus thrust upon it by the undivided waters of the Euphrates, has become badly water-logged, and much good land has become swamp. The Turks have been endeavouring for a long time to erect a dam which would drive back part of the water into the bed of the river, and thus at the same time make the regulation of the flow in the canal a possibility, but they have not attained their object. The engineers of Sir William Willcocks were successful in filling up the space between the two arms of the barrage, but the dam was almost immediately breached at another point. When however the scheme now in hand is duly realized, the banks of the Euphrates will once again be dotted with the fertility of bygone days, while the district dependent for its prosperity upon the conditions of the Hindiyah Canal will be similarly improved.

By the side of these rivers flourished the acacia, the pomegranate and the poplar, but the tree which stood the Babylonians in best stead, was the date-palm, from the sap of which they made sugar and also a fermented liquor, while its fibrous barks served for ropes, and its wood, being at the same time light and strong, was extensively used as a building material. So many and so divers were the uses which the date-palm served, that the Babylonians had a popular song in which they celebrated the three hundred and sixty benefits of this invaluable tree. The important part which it played in the life of the early Sumerian population is indicated by the epithet applied by Entemena to the goddess Ninâ, whom he addresses as the lady “who makes the dates grow,” while various amphora-shaped vats, and also a kind of oval basin evidently used in the manufacture or preservation of date-wine were discovered by De Sarzec at Tellô.

The date-tree finds a place on the Assyrian bas-reliefs, but it must be confessed that the artistic products of the Babylonians and Assyrians do not afford us so much information as might be expected regarding the flora and fauna of the country. Vines and palms are of frequent occurrence on the later bas-reliefs, while oaks and terebinths were also known, for Esarhaddon uses them as material in his building operations at Babylon, and cedar trees were regularly procured for the same purpose.

Of the various trees represented on early seals, hardly any can be identified with any degree of certainty, the date-palm perhaps being excepted: the reed of the marshes appears fairly soon, but the fig-tree on the other hand occurs only in later times, which accords with Herodotus’ intimation that they were not grown in Mesopotamia in his day; this notwithstanding, they must have been known and presumably cultivated sufficiently early, for amongst the offerings made by Gudea (2450 B.C.) to the goddess Bau, figs are enumerated, while the olive-tree must also have been known at an early date, for objects in clay in the form of an olive belonging to the time of Urukagina are still extant.

The Lotus is sometimes engraved on a seal, always in the hand of a god, and with other Egyptian elements it is frequently found on the ivories and bronze dishes from Nimrûd.

Millet and other cereals have been the subject of artistic delineation; flowers of a nondescript character appear in later times, though the conventional designs of the rosettes, so familiar in Assyrian art, an example of which is to be found in Pl. XXX, without doubt owed its origin to an actual attempt to reproduce a living flower, while ivy only occurs on a late Græco-Egyptian cylinder, and on a Syro-Hittite cylinder we find a representation of the thistle.

Reeds are found more often than any other tree or plant, alike on cylinder-seals and bas-reliefs. They were in great demand for the construction of huts and light boats, but the clay of their native soil furnished an all-availing and all-abundant material for the building operations of their palaces, temples and houses; its possibilities were recognized at a very early date, and were made use of accordingly. Stone is practically unknown in the low-lying plain of Babylonia,and when required, it had to be quarried far away in the mountains and transported at great cost and labour, hence it was comparatively seldom used for artistic or decorative effects pure and simple, but was rather employed where the desire for durability rendered it necessary; for this reason the stone used in Babylonia is generally basalt, diorite, dolerite or some other hard stone of volcanic origin. In Assyria on the other hand, both alabaster and various kinds of limestone were easily procurable, and were used largely for building purposes, while they both, also, adapted themselves readily to the chisel of the sculptor whose duty it was to record the chief events of the king’s reign in pictorial form upon the walls of his palace.

Of the cereals, wheat, barley, vetches and millet were the most important, and they all grew in large quantities, while as regards domestic animals—horses, oxen, sheep, pigs, goats, asses and dogs were the most familiar; upon the bas-reliefs from Kouyunjik, one of the mounds representing the ancient Nineveh (the other being Nebi Yûnus (“Prophet Jonah”), so-called by the natives, owing to their belief that the prophet Jonah was buried there), camels are to be found, while they also form part of the tribute brought by tributary princes to Shalmaneser II King of Assyria 860-825 B.C., and are represented accordingly on the bronze gates from Balâwât and on the so-called Black Obelisk, principally famous for its representation of Jehu and his tribute-bearers. The camels represented here belong to the double-humped Bactrian breed, which have less staying-power than the single-humped dromedaries of Arabia and Africa. In Babylonia at the present day, these last-named are a most important means of locomotion, but in the hilly country of Assyria, they are of less use, owing to their tendency to slip on any but the flattest of grounds. There is apparently only one isolated occurrence of a camel on a cylinder-seal, and that belongs to the Persian period. The Assyrian word used for “camel” is probably of Arabic origin, and Arabia was doubtless the home of the camel. As for horses, oxen, sheep, goats and dogs, they are constantly represented in Assyrian art. The horse being native to Asia, was in all probability domesticated in Mesopotamia earlier than in Egypt; very early evidence of its existence in Mesopotamia was thought to be afforded by an archaic seal-cylinder, now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, in which a god is represented driving a four-wheeled chariot, in contrast to the Assyrian war-chariots which were two-wheeled; the chariot is drawn by an animal of uncertain character, which Ward originally regarded as a horse, but in view of a representation of a bull drawing a chariot, found on an early Assyrian seal which he dates about 2000 B.C., it is clear that the bull was used to draw chariots in early times, and Ward accordingly regards the ambiguous animal alluded to, as also a bull. The Sumerian name for the horse was “the ass of the mountains,” an indication that the animal was first known to them in its wild state: we find it figured on one of Nebuchadnezzar I’s boundary stone (circ. 1120 B.C.), but it was certainly known in the valley much earlier. The Hyksos, or shepherd-kings from Asia introduced the horse into Egypt about 1700 B.C., while mention is made of horses in a letter from Burraburiash the king of Babylon to Amenḥetep, king of Egypt about 1400 B.C.

An extremely early fragment from Nippur (cf. Fig. 25, E) published by Hilprecht and quoted and reproduced by Ward, shows us a horned animal dragging a plough, which Ward thinks may be a gazelle or an antelope; if the latter be the case, we may perhaps infer that an animal of that species was used for draft purposes before the bull, and certainly before the horse. However that may be, in later days the horse seems to have been reserved for the battle-field and the chase. The Assyrian soldiers both rode them and harnessed them to their war-chariots, and it is worth noticing how much more successful the Assyrian sculptors were in their representations of the horse than the Egyptians. The horses on the bas-reliefs apparently belong to a smaller, shorter and more thick-set breed than Arabs, and the breed is still supposed to be extant in Kurdistan. The Assyrians do not seem to have been in the habit of endowing the horse with wings or with a human head, as they sometimes did the bull and the lion, though some of the Pehlevi seals and rings of later days (A.D. 226-632) show figures of winged horses.

The Ox with “long upright and bent horns” seems to have been domesticated from the very earliest period, and it is represented on cylinder-seals which by their inscriptions show that they belong to the early period when the line-writing had not as yet been supplanted by its later off-shoot cuneiform, while on one of these early seals (cf. Fig. 63) the god himself is depicted riding on one of these bulls; it is however to be observed that the bull plays a less conspicuous part in the artistic representations of Mesopotamia than in those of Egypt, where the tombs so often exhibit the daily scenes of agricultural life. Only very rarely is the bull represented on cylinder-seals or sculptures as a sacrificial victim, the best example being afforded by a fragment of the Vulture Stele of Eannatum; the same king informs us elsewhere that he sacrificed bulls to the sun-god in Larsa, and a bull-calf to En-lil, the lord of Nippur, who is better known under the Semitic name of Bêl, a name which however he never bore; if however the bull were used but seldom in sacrificial worship, there is no doubt that he was regarded throughout Mesopotamian history as the embodiment of, and therefore the natural symbol for strength and fertility, while the winged bulls of Sargon (cf. Pl. XXV) are the most familiar and perhaps the most characteristic monuments of Assyrian art.

The Mule was used as a beast of burden; carts were drawn by mules, and women and children were borne by them, while they were used for carrying merchandise, and for menial work of every kind; they are occasionally seen on Assyrian bas-reliefs and form one of the subjects of Ashur-bani-pal’s famous Hunting Scenes, where they are in charge of the king’s servants.

The Sheep was domesticated from the earliest times, but representations of the goat are more common; in Fig. 62 we have an extremely archaic seal on which a man is seen driving a goat followed by two sheep. A further example of the goat and sheep is found on the early stone relief seen in Fig. 25, F.

The Goat is of frequent occurrence both on seals and also in bas-reliefs. The goat was, as far as we can tell, the most commonly used sacrificial victim, the worshipper often being represented as bringing a goat in his arms. (For an early example of a goat in Babylonian art, cf. the copper goat’s head from Fâra, 40, B.) Fig. The beard is sometimes clearly delineated, thereby showing it to be a goat and not an antelope, while both the sheep and goat are well represented on the bronze gate-sheaths from Balâwât. Though the sheep however does not appear to have assumed so important a part as the goat in sacrificial worship, it played a far more conspicuous rôle in augury, and innumerable omens were deduced from an inspection of the various parts of its liver.

The Ass was known from the earliest period, both the wild ass, which Ashur-bani-pal seems to have been so fond of hunting (cf. Pl. XX), and also the domesticated ass. Ward has only found one example of its early representation on cylinder-seals, but the god Nin-girsu’s chariot on the famous Vulture Stele is drawn by an ass, and the fact that Urukagina, one of the kings of the First Dynasty of Lagash, enacted that if a good ass was foaled in the stable of one of the king’s subjects, the king could only purchase it by offering a fair price, and that even then he could not compel the owner to part with it, shows that the ass was in common use in his day.

The Dog finds a place on some of the earliest seals from Babylonia, and is especially common on those representing the legend of Etana and the Eagle (cf. Fig. 62): he also appears on the later Babylonian seals, and is of very frequent occurrence in the Assyrian bas-reliefs.

Here they are seen employed in the chase (cf. Pl. XX). The Assyrian hounds apparently resembled mastiffs, and according to Layard the breed is still extant in Tibet though not in Mesopotamia. We have another good reproduction of a dog on a terra-cotta plaque found by Sir H. Rawlinson at Birs-Nimrûd (cf. Fig. 88), while Ashur-bani-pal has left us a number of clay models of his dogs, made in one piece like the colossal bulls, but rather crude in workmanship. Though we thus know little about the breeds of dogs with which the Assyrians and Babylonians were familiar, we at all events know, that they were acquainted with dogs of various colours, for they derived omens from piebald dogs, yellow dogs, black dogs, white dogs and the rest.

The Gazelle was known in Mesopotamia from an early day, and he sometimes appears to take the place of the goat as a victim for sacrifice.

The Antelope is often found represented on early cylinder-seals, and apparently it was occasionally yoked to the plough, as may be seen from an early stone relief from Nippur, but it is not always easy to distinguish between the antelope and the goat in Babylonian art.

The Ibex is similarly liable to be confused with the mountain sheep, owing to the shape of their horns, but where correctly depicted, it has a beard. A good and very early example of the Ibex is to be found engraved on a fragment of shell belonging to the earliest Sumerian period (cf. Louvre Cat. No. 222).

The Boar was not often figured, but was without doubt sufficiently common as it is to-day; it is found on an extremely archaic seal (cf. Fig. 54), and numbers of little swine are repeated in four registers on a later cylinder-seal, while on other seals, the huntsman is seen spearing a boar, and lastly a sow with her young are represented on one of the wall-reliefs from Sennacherib’s palace at Kouyunjik. It is interesting to note that as early as the time of Khammurabi pork was a highly valued food, so much so that it frequently formed part of the temple offerings, and Ungnad calls attention to one case where a certain maleficent person stole one of the temple-pigs and paid a heavy penalty for so doing, while in the official lists of the provisions for the temple, various parts of the pig are specifically enumerated, while from the inspection of pigs favourable and unfavourable omens were derived.

The Rabbit or Hare is rarely found in early sculptures or engravings, but it occurs on the later so-called Syro-Hittite cylinders, and is occasionally portrayed on the Assyrian bas-reliefs.

The Oryx, the Mountain-Sheep, the Stag, the Tortoise, the Porcupine, the Monkey, all occur occasionally on the cylinders, while as regards the monkey, he forms part of the tribute brought by subject peoples to Shalmaneser II on the Black Obelisk, and is also similarly depicted on the bas-reliefs which adorned the walls of Ashur-naṣir-pal’s palace at Nimrûd, in both of which latter, the monkeys represented appear to belong to an Indian species, and were clearly novelties in the eyes of the Assyrians, who no doubt valued them accordingly.

There are solitary instances of the Fox, the Frog and the Bear, but none of the foregoing play what may be called an important part in the history of the country’s art. The Lion and the Serpent occupy a prominent position in artistic representations, and were undoubtedly familiar and formidable entities in real life, while the majesty of the former and the subtlety of the latter were alone sufficient to obtain for them a place in the mythological and heraldic symbolism of the dwellers of Mesopotamia. The lion was known everywhere, in highlands and lowlands alike, while he still haunts the low marsh country of Babylonia. On the cylinder-seals he generally appears engaged in deadly combat with Gilgamesh, the hero of Babylonian folk-lore, or his friend Ea-bani who of course on all occasions worsts him; he is figured in clay and stone from the earliest (cf. Fig. 26, B) to the latest times, he is embroidered on garments, and decorates scabbards, while he plays an all-important part in the heraldic device of the ancient city of Lagash, which is composed of an eagle with outspread wings, clutching two lions facing in opposite directions (cf. Fig. 27), doubtless emblematic of the dominion exercised by the king of Lagash over the peoples of the East and West respectively. He enjoys the doubtful honour of being the peculiar object of the Assyrian King’s attention in later days, and afforded him the sport which he loved above all others (cf. Pl. XIX); individual kings slew great numbers, and Tukulti-Ninib I (1275 B.C.), to take a single example, places it on record that he slew some 920 lions, just as Amenḥetep III king of Egypt similarly boasts that he killed 102 lions in the first ten years of his reign. Originally no doubt lions were sufficiently plentiful, but as their numbers were thinned, it became necessary to capture and preserve them in cages till they were required for the royal hunt (cf. Pl. XXVII). The lion is sometimes reproduced in colossal size, and endowed with wings and the head of a man, in which capacity, stationed at the portals of the King’s palace, his vocation is to ward off the advances of malevolent and maleficent demons, while at other times, he is less fully equipped, and is provided only with a head, bust and hands of a man. Always a creature of weight in more ways than one, his body is not unfittingly adapted to the requirements of the scales; a considerable number of bronze lion-weights have come down to us, the workmanship of which was probably Phœnician (as was also the ivory work of the Assyrian empire), while the weight represented by each lion was inscribed in Phœnician characters. Sometimes again the hollow bronze head of a lion formed the ornate fitting of the end of a chariot-pole. As a general rule, the lion emblematized the King’s enemies, hence it is that, whenever he is seen engaged in conflict, he is always overpowered either by sheer bodily strength as in the case of Gilgamesh, or transfixed by an arrow, speared, or stabbed as we see him so frequently on the bas-reliefs of Assyrian palaces. But lions were probably domesticated now and again as they are to-day. On Sir Henry Layard’s first visit to Hillah, he was presented with two lions by Osman Pasha; one of these, he tells us, was a well-known frequenter of the bazaars, the butcher-shops of which he was in the habit of regularly looting, but apart from this amiable little vagary, he appears to have been fairly well-behaved. In his description of the animal, Layard says that he was “taller and larger than a St. Bernard dog, and like the lion generally found on the banks of the rivers of Mesopotamia was without the dark and shaggy mane of the African species.” He further informs us that he had however, seen lions with a long black mane on the river Karûn, which river flows into the Gulf not far from Moḥammerah in the extreme south of Babylonia; but lions of either class are very rarely seen in Mesopotamia to-day, and these as a rule, only at a distance.

The serpent played a smaller part in Mesopotamian art than the lion, but at least from some points of view, a not less significant one. Two serpents entwined round a pole form the centre of the device engraved on the famous cup (cf. Fig. 90) dedicated by Gudea, patesi or priest-king of Lagash about 2450 B.C., to his god Nin-gish-zi-da, who was apparently emblematized by serpents, and on either side of the entwined reptiles, are two winged and serpent-headed monsters, while in a few cylinder-seals of the older period, we find a bearded god whose body consists of a serpent’s coil. In this connection we may compare the device on a cylinder-seal of the same Gudea (cf. Fig. 64), where the intermediary god who is introducing the patesi to a seated deity, whom Ward believes with some reason to be Ea, is characterized by serpents rising from his shoulders.

But the most familiar example of the serpent in Babylonian mythological representation is that of the seal on which two beings, perhaps divine, perhaps human, are seated on either side of a tree, and behind one of the two an erect serpent is figured; this seal owes its fame to the opinion held by earlier scholars that this scene represents the pictorial counterpart in Babylonia of the Hebrew tradition of the Fall.

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