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so ambitious of great works, dwelt in a country as rich in stone and costly granites and marbles as Egypt or India, it can scarcely be doubted that they would have equalled, if not excelled, the inhabitants of those countries in the magnitude of their pyramids, and in the magnificence of their rock temples and palaces. But their principal settlements were in the alluvial plains watered by the Tigris and Euphrates. On the banks of those great rivers, which spread fertility through the land, and afford the means of easy and expeditious intercourse between distant provinces, they founded their first cities. On all sides they had vast plains, unbroken by a single eminence until they approached the foot of the Armenian hills. The earliest habitations, constructed when little progress had been made in the art of building, were probably but one story in height. In this respect the dwelling of the ruler scarcely differed from the meanest hut. It soon became necessary, however, that the temples of the gods, and the palaces of the kings, depositories at the same time of the national records, should be rendered more conspicuous than the humble edifices by which they were surrounded. The nature of the country also required that the castle, the place of refuge in times of danger, or the permanent residence of the garrison, should be raised above the city so as to afford the best means of resistance to an enemy. As there were no natural eminences in the country, the inhabitants were compelled to construct artificial mounds. Hence the origin of those vast, solid, structures which have defied the hand of time; and, with their grass-covered summits and furrowed sides, rise like natural hills in the Assyrian plains. Let us picture to ourselves the migration of one of the primitive families of the human race, seeking for some spot favorable to a permanent settlement, where water abounded, and where the land, already productive without cultivation, promised an ample return to the labor of the husbandman. They may have followed him who went out of the land of Shinar, to found new Z 3
habitations in the north *; or they may have descended from the mountains of Armenia ; whence came, according to the Chaldaean historian, the builders of the cities of Assyria.f. It was not until they reached the banks of the great rivers, if they came from the high lands, or only whilst they followed their course, if they journeyed from the south, that they could find a supply of water adequate to the permanent wants of a large community. The plain, bounded to the west and south by the Tigris and Zab, from its fertility, and from the ready means of irrigation afforded by two noble streams, may have been first chosen as a resting place; and there were laid the foundations of a city, destined to be the capital of the eastern world. The materials for building were at hand, and in their preparation required neither much labor nor ingenuity. The soil, an alluvial deposit, was rich and tenacious. The builders moistened it with water, and, adding a little chopped straw that it might be more firmly bound together, they formed it into squares, which, when dried by the heat of the sun, served them as bricks. In that climate the process required but two or three days. Such were the earliest building materials; and they are used to this day almost exclusively in the same country. In Egypt, too, they were employed at the remotest period; and the Egyptians, to harass their Jewish captives, withheld the straw without which their bricks could not preserve their form and consistency. Huts for the people were speedily raised, and roofed with the branches and boughs of trees from the banks of the river. The inhabitants of the new settlement now sought to build a place of refuge in case of attack, or a dwelling place for their leader, or a temple to their gods. In order to raise the edifice above the plain, and to render it conspicuous among the surrounding habitations, it was erected on an artificial mound
* Genesis, x. 11. f Xithurus and his followers: Berosus, apud Euseb. The similarity between the history of this Chaldaean hero and that of the Noah of Scripture is
constructed for the purpose of earth and rubbish, or of sun-dried bricks.” The palaces and temples appear to have been at the same time public monuments, in which were preserved the records or archives of the nation, carved on stone. In them were represented in sculpture the exploits of the kings, and the forms of the divinities; whilst the history of the people, and invocations to their gods, were inscribed in written characters upon the walls. It was necessary, therefore, to use in the building, some material upon which figures and inscriptions could be carved. The plains of Mesopotamia, as well as the low lands between the Tigris and the hill-country, abound in a kind of coarse alabaster or gypsum. Large masses of it everywhere protrude in low ridges from the alluvial soil, or are exposed in the gullies formed by winter torrents. It yields readily to the chisel, and its color and transparent appearance are agreeable to the eye. Thus whilst offering few difficulties to the sculptor, it was an ornament to the edifice in which it was placed. This alabaster cut into slabs, from eight to ten feet high, four to six wide, and about one foot thick, served as a kind of panelling to the walls of sun-dried bricks. On the back of all the slabs, was carved an inscription recording the name, title, and genealogy of the royal founder of the edifice, and they were kept in their places and held together by iron, copper, or wooden cramps in the form of double dovetails, fitting into corresponding grooves in two adjoining slabs. The corners of the chambers were generally formed by one angular stone; and all the walls were either at right angles, or parallel to each
* Such is the custom still existing amongst the inhabitants of Assyria. When some families of a nomad tribe wish to settle in a village, they choose an ancient mound; it being no longer necessary to form a new platform, for the old abound in the plains. On its summit they erect a rude castle, and the huts are built at the foot. The same plan appears to have been followed since the Arab invasion, and perhaps long previous during the Persian occupation. There are few ancient mounds containing Assyrian ruins upon which castles, cities, or villages have not at some period been built. Such are Arbela, Tel Afer, Nebbi Yunus, &c. &c.
other. Upon the slabs were sculptured the bas-reliefs and inscriptions. At the principal entrances to the chambers were placed gigantic winged bulls and lions with human heads. The smaller doorways were guarded by colossal figures of divinities, or priests. There were no remains of doors or gates; but metal hinges have been discovered and holes for bolts exist in many of the slabs. The priests of Babylon “made fast their temples with doors, with locks and bars, lest their gods be spoiled by robbers,” and the gates of brass of Babylon are continually mentioned by ancient authors. On all the slabs forming entrances, in the oldest palace of Nimroud, were marks of a black fluid, resembling blood, which appeared to have been daubed on the stone. I have not been able to ascertain the nature of this fluid; but its appearance cannot fail to call to mind the Jewish ceremony, of placing the blood of the sacrifice on the lintel of the doorway. Under the pavement slabs, at the entrances, were deposited small figures of the gods, probably as a protection to the building.f Sometimes, as in the N.W. palace at Nimroud, tablets on which were inscribed the name and title of the king, with a short notice of his principal conquests, as a record of the time of the erection of the building, were embedded in the walls. The upper part of the walls of the chambers, above the alabaster slabs, was built either of baked bricks, richly colored, or of sun-dried bricks covered by a thin coat of plaster, on which were painted figures and ornamental friezes. It is to these upper walls that the complete covering up of the building, and the consequent preservation of the bas-reliefs, may be attributed; for when once the edifice had been deserted they fell in, and the unbaked bricks, again becoming earth, encased the sculptured slabs. Many chambers at Nimroud were entirely constructed of sun-dried bricks, the walls having been painted with figures and ornaments. The mode of roofing the palaces and lighting the chambers, many of which were in the very centre of the building with no other inlet for light but the door, is one of the most difficult questions in Assyrian architecture. I am inclined, on the whole, to concur with Mr. Fergusson in thinking that light was admitted through galleries or open rows of low pilasters above the alabaster slabs, and that wooden columns were sometimes used to support the roof in the larger halls.” It is, however, remarkable that no remains whatever of columns have been discovered, nor are there any traces of them. Unless they were employed, the chambers exceeding a certain width must have been left open to the sky. There is no proof whatever of any of the rooms having been vaulted, although the Assyrians were well acquainted with the principle of the arch. The chambers were paved with alabaster slabs, covered with inscriptions recording the name and genealogy of the king, and the chief events of his reign, or with baked bricks, or rather tiles, each also bearing a short inscription. The alabaster slabs were laid upon bitumen. The bricks or tiles were generally in two layers, one above the other, with sand between and beneath them probably to exclude damp. Between the lions and bulls forming the entrances, was usually one large inscribed or ornamented slab. The drains discovered beneath almost every chamber in the older palace of Nimroud joined a large drain, probably running from under the great hall into the river, which originally flowed at the foot of the mound. ** The interior of the Assyrian palaces must have been as magnificent as imposing. I have led the reader through their ruins, and he may judge of the impression their halls were calculated to * The subject is very fully treated and very ably illustrated in his work entitled “the Palaces of Nineveh and Persepolis restored,” which contains, at the same time, many valuable suggestions on the arts and architecture of
* Epistle of Jeremy, Baruch, vi. 18.
f It has already been mentioned, that these small figures in unbaked clay, were found beneath the pavement in all the entrances at Khorsabad. They were only discovered at Nimroud under the most recent palace, in the S.W. corner of the mound.