« ElőzőTovább »
the same comparative discrepancy. The Bactrian and Indian expeditions of Ninus, the wonderful works of Semiramis, and the effeminacy of Sardanapalus, have been described over and over again, and form the standard ingredients of the Assyrian history of modern authors. The narratives framed upon them convey useful lessons, and are, moreover, full of romantic events to excite the imagination. As such they have been repeated, with a warning that their authenticity rests upon a slender basis, and that it is doubtful whether they are to be regarded as history, or to be classed amongst fables. Although the names of Nineveh and Assyria have been familiar to us from childhood, and are connected with the earliest impressions we derive from the Inspired Writings, it is only when we ask ourselves what we really know concerning them, that we discover our ignorance of all that relates to their history, and even to their geographical position.
It is indeed one of the most remarkable facts in history, that the records of an empire, so renowned for its power and civilisation, should have been entirely lost; and that the site of a city as eminent for its extent as its splendour, should for ages have been a matter of doubt: it is not perhaps less curious that an accidental discovery should suddenly lead us to hope that these records may be recovered, and this site satisfactorily identified.
The ruins in Assyria and Babylonia, chiefly huge mounds, apparently of mere earth and rubbish, had long excited curiosity from their size and evident antiquity. They were the only remains of an unknown period, - of a period antecedent to the Macedonian conquest. Consequently they alone could be identified with Nineveh and Babylon, and could afford a clue to the site and nature of those cities. There is, at the same time, a vague mystery
attaching to remains like these, which induces travellers to examine them with more than ordinary interest, and even with some degree of awe. A great vitrified mass of brick-work, surrounded by the accumulated rubbish of ages, was believed to represent the identical tower, which called down the divine vengeance, and was overthrown, according to an universal tradition, by the fires of heaven. The mystery and dread, which attached to the place, were kept up by exaggerated accounts of wild beasts, who haunted the subterraneous passages, and of the no less savage tribes who wandered amongst the ruins. Other mounds in the vicinity were identified with the hanging gardens, and those marvellous structures which tradition has attributed to two queens, Semiramis and Nitocris. The difficulty of reaching these remains, increased the curiosity and interest with which they were regarded ; and a fragment from Babylon was esteemed a precious relic, not altogether devoid of a sacred character. The ruins which might be presumed to occupy the site of the Assyrian capital, were even less known, and less visited, than those in Babylonia. Several travellers had noticed the great mounds of earth opposite the modern city of Mosul, and when the inhabitants of the neighbourhood pointed out the tomb of Jonah upon the summit of one of them, it was natural to conclude, at once, that it marked the site of Nineveh. *
* It need scarcely be observed, that the tomb of Jonah could not stand on the ruins of a palace, and that the tradition placing it there is not authenticated by any passage in the Scriptures. It is, however, received by Christians and Mussulmans, and probably originated in the spot having been once occupied by a Christian church or convent, dedicated to the prophet. The building, which is supposed to cover the tomb, is very much venerated, and few Christians have been allowed to enter it. The Jews, in the time of St. Jerome, pointed out the sepulchre of Jonah at Gath-hepher, in the tribe of Zabulon.
The first to engage in a serious examination of the ruins within the limits of ancient Assyria was Mr. Rich, many years the political Resident of the East India Company at Baghdad, - a man, whom enterprise, industry, extensive and varied learning, and rare influence over the inhabitants of the country, acquired as much by character as position, eminently qualified for such a task. The remains near Hillah, being in the immediate vicinity of Baghdad, first attracted his attention; and he commenced his labors by carefully examining their position, and by opening trenches into the various mounds. It is unnecessary to enter into a detailed account of his discoveries. They were of considerable interest, consisting chiefly of fragments of inscriptions, bricks, engraved stones, and a coffin of wood; but the careful account which he drew up of the site of the ruins was of greater value, and has formed the ground-work of all subsequent inquiries into the topography of Babylon.
In the year 1820 Mr. Rich, having been induced to visit Kurdistan for the benefit of his health, returned to Baghdad by way of Mosul. Remaining some days in this city, his curiosity was naturally excited by the great mounds on the opposite bank of the river, and he entered upon an examination of them. He learnt from the inhabitants of Mosul that, some time previous to his visit, a sculpture, representing various forms of men and animals, had been dug up in a mound forming part of the great enclosure. This strange object had been the cause of general wonder, and the whole population had issued from the walls to gaze upon it. The ulema having at length pronounced that these figures were the idols of the infidels, the Mohammedans, like .obedient disciples, so completely destroyed them, that Mr. Rich was unable to obtain even a fragment.
His first step was to visit the village containing the tomb of Jonah. In the houses he met with a few stones bearing inscriptions, which had probably been discovered in digging the foundations; and under the mosque containing the tomb he was shown three very narrow and apparently ancient passages, one within the other, with several doors or apertures.
He next examined the largest mound of the group, called Kouyunjik by the Turks, and Armousheeah by the Arabs; the circumference of which he ascertained to be 7690 feet. Amongst the rubbish he found a few fragments of pottery, bricks with cuneiform characters, and some remains of building in the ravines. On a subsequent occasion he made a general survey of the ruins, which is published in the collection of his journals, edited by his widow.
With the exception of a small stone chair, and a few remains of inscriptions, Mr. Rich obtained no other Assyrian relics from the site of Nineveh ; and he left Mosul, little suspecting that in the mounds were buried the palaces of the Assyrian Kings. As he floated down the Tigris to Baghdad, he visited Nimroud, and was struck by its evident antiquity. The tales of the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages connected the ruins with Nimrod's own city, and better authenticated traditions with those of Al Athur, or Ashur, from which the whole country anciently received its name. He collected a few bricks bearing cuneiform characters, and proceeded with his journey.
The fragments obtained by Mr. Rich were subsequently placed in the British Museum, and formed the principal,
and indeed almost only, collection of Assyrian antiquities in Europe. A case scarcely three feet square enclosed all that remained, not only of the great city, Nineveh, but of Babylon itself!
Other museums in Europe contained a few cylinders and gems, which came from Assyria and Babylonia ; but they were not classified, nor could it be determined to what exact epoch they belonged. Of Assyrian art nothing was known. The architecture of Nineveh and Babylon was a matter of speculation, and the poet or painter restored their palaces and temples, as best suited his theme or his subject. A description of the temple of Belus by Herodotus, led to an imaginary representation of the tower of Babel. Its spiral ascent, its galleries gradually decreasing in circumference and supported by innumerable columns, are familiar to us from the illustrations, adorning almost the opening page of that Book, which is associated with our earliest recollections.
Such was our acquaintance four years ago with Nineveh -its history, its site, and its arts. The reader will judge from the following pages, how far recent discoveries are likely to extend our knowledge.
As inscriptions in the cuneiform character will be so frequently mentioned in the following pages, a few words on the nature of this very ancient mode of writing may not be unacceptable to the reader. The epithets of cuneiform, cuneatic, arrow-headed, and wedge-shaped - têteà-clou in French, and keilförmig in German — have been assigned to it according as the fancy of the describer saw in its component parts a resemblance to a wedge, the barb of an arrow, or a nail. The term “cuneiform ” is now most generally used in England, and probably best expresses the peculiar form of the character,