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On the morrow I started early with Abd'rubbou and his horsemen. We struck directly across the desert, leaving my servants and baggage to follow leisurely along the banks of the river, by a more circuitous but safer road. When we were within four or five miles of that part of the Tigris at which the raft was waiting for me, I requested the Sheikh to return, as there appeared to be no further need of an escort. Mr. Hormuzd Rassam and myself galloped over the plain. We disturbed, as we rode along, a few herds of gazelles, and a solitary wolf or jackal; but we saw no human beings. Abd'rubbou and his Arabs, however, had scarcely left us when they observed a party of horsemen in the distance, whom they mistook for men of their own tribe returning from Mosul. It was not until they drew nigh that they discovered their mistake. The horsemen were plunderers from the Aneyza. The numbers were pretty equal. A fight ensued, in which two men on the side of the enemy, and one of the Jebours, were killed; but the Aneyza were defeated, and Abd'rubbou carried off in triumph a couple of mares.
A few days after my return to Nimroud, the Jebours were compelled, by want of pasturage, to leave the neighbourhood of Kalah Sherghat. The whole desert, as well as the jungle on the banks of the river, which generally supplied, even in the driest seasons, a little grass to the flocks, having been completely dried up, Abd'rubbou, with his tribe, moved to the north. A few of his people came to Nimroud to cultivate millet; but the Sheihk himself, with the greater part of his followers, left the district of Mosul altogether, migrating to the sources of the Khabour and to the Nisibin branch of that river — the ancient Mygdonius. The desert to the south of the town was now only frequented by wandering parties of plunderers, and the position of my workmen at Kalah Sherghat became daily more insecure. After they had been once or twice exposed to molestation from the Aneyza and the Obeid, I found it necessary to withdraw them — had I not, they would probably have run away of themselves. I renounced the further examination of these ruins with regret, as they had not been properly explored; and I have little doubt, from the fragments discovered, that many objects of interest, if not sculptured slabs, exist in the mound.
ARTIFICIAL IRRIGATION OF ASSYRIA. — WANT OF RAIN. — PREPARATIONS
FOR THE REMOVAL OF A WINGED BULL AND LION. — THE CART.
LOWERING THE WINGED BULL. — ITS REMOVAL FROM THE RUINS.
EXCITEMENT OF THE ARABS. REMOVAL OF THE LION. — RAFTS FOR
THE TRANSPORT OF THE SCULPTURES TO BUSRAH. — EMBARCATION OF THE LION AND BULL. — GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE RUINS.
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 ensure the most plentiful 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 ensure a good harvest.
Herodotus * describes the extreme fertility of Assyria, and its abundant harvests of corn, the seed producing two and three hundredfold. 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 skilful 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." f
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 Pasha, 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
* Lib. i. c. 192 and 193.
f 2 Kings, xviii. 32. On a black stone in the possession of Lord Aberdeen, a plough is represented, nearly resembling that now in use in the country.
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 Pasha 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 for 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 Pasha, he at once ordered the stores to be opened, and their contents to be offered for sale in the market at moderate prices.