A History of Babylonia and Assyria, Book I: Prolegomena
Robert William Rogers author
EXPLORATIONS IN ASSYRIA AND BABYLONIA, 1734-1820
THE man who began the new age of exploration was not himself an explorer, nor were several of his immediate successors. He was, however, a man of scientific spirit, and in that differed from the men who had gone before him. He was not seeking marvels, nor anxiously inquiring for evidences of strange dealings in dark days. He was a student of geography and history, and went into the Orient specially charged to study them. Jean Otter, member of the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, and afterward professor of Arabic at the College de France, spent ten years in western Asia, being sent thither for the purpose of study by the Comte de Maurepas. His notice of the city of Nineveh is very different indeed from all that preceded it. Its tone of criticism, of sifting out the false from the true, is the tone of the new age that had now begun "Abulfeda [the Arabian Geographer] says that Nineveh was on the eastern bank of the Tigris, opposite the modern Mosul; either he must have been mistaken, or the inhabitants of the district are greatly in error, for the latter place Nineveh on the western bank of the Tigris, on the spot which they call Eski-Mosul. If we attempt to conciliate the two opinions by supposing that Nineveh was built on both sides of the river, nothing is gained, for Eski-Mosul is seven or eight leagues higher up the stream. One point seems to favor the belief of Abulfeda, and that is, that opposite Mosul there is a place called Tell-i-Toubah--that is to say, the Hill of Repentance- where, they say, the Ninevites put on sackcloth and ashes to turn away the wrath of God."65 Otter also visited the mounds at Hillah, and, with a better knowledge of the Arabian geographers than any of his predecessors, located the ancient city of Babylon near Hillah. The true location of the city even he did not make out, but the site was almost determined. A scientifically trained scholar, as Otter was, had not found it, but the thoughts of men were at least pointed away from the identification with Baghdad. After Otter the land of Babylonia was visited by a Carmelite missionary, Father Emmanuel de Saint Albert. He saw the ruins at Hillah and made a very important report upon them to the Duke of Orleans. His account was not published, but in manuscript form came into the hands of D’Anville, who presented to the Academy of Inscriptions at Paris a paper on the site of Babylon. This paper was based, in its conclusive portions, upon the description of southern Babylonia given by Pietro della Valle, and especially that now offered by the Carmelite missionary. The words of the latter differ in important respects from the descriptions of any travelers who had preceded him. He says: "Before reaching Hillah a hill is visible which has been formed by the ruins of some great building. It may be between two and three miles in circumference. I brought away from it some square bricks, on which were writing in certain unknown characters. Opposite this hill, and distant two leagues, another similar hill is visible, between two reaches of the river at an equal distance.... We went to the opposite hill, which I have already mentioned; this one is in Arabia, about an hour’s distance from the Euphrates, and the other is in Mesopotamia, at the same distance from the Euphrates, and both exactly opposite to each other. I found it very like the other, and I brought away some square bricks, which had the same impressions as the first-mentioned ones. I remarked upon this hill a fragment of thick wall, still standing on the summit, which, from a distance, looked like a large tower. A similar mass was lying overturned beside it; and the cement was so solid that it was quite impossible to detach one brick whole. Both masses seemed as if they had been vitrified, which made me conclude that these ruins were of the highest antiquity. Many people insist that this latter hill is the remains of the real Babylon; but I know not what they will make of the other, which is opposite and exactly like this one. The people of the country related to me a thousand foolish stories about these two mounds; and the Jews call the latter the prison of Nebuchadnezzar."66 Unlike the travelers who had preceded him, this missionary cared nothing for the marvelous, and would have none of the stories of the natives. He had, however, so completely and accurately described these ruins that the work of D’Anville was comparatively easy. He decided that this was really Babylon, and that Baghdad was not its modern representative. The final word of D’Anville is interesting, and opens up the new era of study of this part of the Orient The written characters which, as Father Emmanuel says in his report, are impressed upon the bricks which remain of buildings so ancient that they may have formed part of the original Babylon would be for scholars who wish to penetrate into the most remote antiquity an entirely new matter of meditation and study."67 These words were written in 1755, in the very middle of the eighteenth century. They show how the study of the city of Babylon lagged behind the investigation of the cities of Persia. At this very time, as we have already seen, Europe was stirring with interest in the great Achaemenian dynasty, and not only was the site of Persepolis well known, its inscriptions had been several times copied, and men were eagerly trying to decipher them. It was not yet
time to turn from the study of Persepolis to the study of Babylon, but the hour was rapidly hastening on. Father Emmanuel and his skillful interpreter before the Academy had done much to bring the hour nearer. In December, 1765, Carsten Niebuhr, whose name has already filled a large place in this story in connection with the ruins of Persepolis, visited Hillah. He was absolutely certain in his own mind that these ruins belonged to the city of Babylon.68 He was deeply impressed by their vast size, but still more by the evidences of a high state of civilization which they indicated. He found lying upon the ground and about the great mounds numerous bricks covered with inscriptions. Niebuhr could not read a line upon them, and no man living could have done so; but that they existed, and that the writing was the writing of the ancient Babylonians, was now well known in Europe. Europe had, however, entirely failed to grasp the meaning of these important facts. Europe believed that a people who could only write upon clay must have been a people in a low state of civilization indeed, and must have possessed but a small literature. Niebuhr quotes from Bryant these words, and they were fairly representative of the general opinion entertained in Europe: .I cannot help forming a judgment of the learning of a people from the. materials with which it is expedited and carried on, and I should think that literature must have been very scanty, or none at all, where the means above mentioned were applied." To Niebuhr such reasoning appeared to be folly. To his mind the presence of these inscribed bricks was evidence of a very high state of civilization.69 He lamented that he could not remain longer at the site, the more thoroughly to study its ruins, and calls earnestly for others to continue the work which he had to leave unfinished. Niebuhr also visited the mounds near the Tigris and opposite the city of Mosul. Here also he was as clear and cogent in his reasoning as he had been at Hillah. The site of Nineveh he identified without difficulty,70 but it appears to have impressed him much less than the more ancient, and the greater, mother city of Babylon. The hope and wish of Niebuhr that others would soon follow him to carry on researches at Babylon were soon gratified. In 1781, on July 6, M. de Beauchamp sailed away from Marseilles to carry on astronomical observations at Baghdad and to make historical and geographical studies in the neighborhood. He visited Hillah, and contributed further to its exact localization. His knowledge of the languages and the archeology both of the past and the present of the Orient was not equal to that of Niebuhr, and he therefore made curious mistakes concerning the names which the Arabs had given to certain portions of the mounds, but withal he marks a fresh step of progress. The mound which had now long been known to travelers as the mound of Babel he now designates under the name of Makloube. For the first time he directs attention to a second mound close by the first, which he considers the site of Babylon; it is the mound called El-Kasr by the Arabs. Of the mound at Hillah he says: .Here are found those large and thick bricks, imprinted with unknown characters, specimens of which I have presented to Abbe Bartholomy.71 ... I was informed by the master mason employed to dig for bricks that the places from which he procured them were large, thick walls, and sometimes chambers. He has frequently found earthen vessels, engraved marbles, and, about eight years ago, a statue as large as life, which he threw amongst the rubbish. On one wall of a chamber he found the figures of a cow and of the sun and moon formed of varnished bricks. Some idols of clay are found representing human figures. I found one brick on which was a lion, and on others a half moon in relief. The bricks are cemented with bitumen, except in one place, which is well preserved, where they are united by a very thin stratum of white cement, which appears to be made of lime and sand." "Most of the bricks found at Makloube have writing on them; but it does not appear that it was meant to be read, for it is as common on bricks buried in the walls as on those on the outside.... .The master mason led me along a valley which he dug out a long while ago to get at the bricks of a wall, that, from the marks he showed me, I guess to have been sixty feet thick. It ran perpendicularly to the bed of the river, and was probably the wall of the city. I found in it a subterranean canal, which, instead of being arched over, is covered with pieces of sandstone six or seven feet long by three feet wide. These ruins extend several leagues to the north of Hella, and incontestably mark the situation of ancient Babylon.... "Besides the bricks with inscriptions, which I have mentioned, there are solid cylinders, three inches in diameter, of a white substance, covered with very small writing, resembling the inscriptions of Persepolis mentioned by Chardin. Four years ago I saw one; but I was not eager to procure it, as I was assured that they were very common. I mentioned them to the master mason, who, told me that he sometimes found such, but left them among the rubbish as useless. Black stones which have inscriptions engraved on them are also met with."72 In these descriptions and narratives of the learned and inquiring abbe are found the first notices of ex. cavations and the first accounts of the finding of inscriptions beyond the mere building bricks stamped with names and titles of kings. These had been seen often before and several had been taken to Europe. The period of description of mounds has now come to an end and the period of excavation has fully come. These little inscriptions which at first awakened so slight an interest in Abbe Beauchamp would soon be eagerly sought with pick and shovel. Then would come the effort to read them, and later the full knowledge of the past history of the great valley. One observation of the abbe is of great importance in this story. The cylinders, he says, were "covered with very small writing, resembling the inscriptions of Persepolis mentioned by Chardin." That showed, as by prophetic instinct, the very line which would be pursued for the decipherment of the literature of Babylon. As definite knowledge of the site of Nineveh, as Abbd Beauchamp had achieved of the site of Babylon, was now soon secured by a French physician, Guillaume A. Olivier, who was sent into the East for the purpose chiefly of scientific study. He had no such knowledge of the ancient world as the abb6, and therefore failed to make any independent contribution to the progress of knowledge respecting Nineveh. His references to the city are scanty enough, and he does not appear to have seen any inscriptions.73 At this time the knowledge of ancient Babylon very far exceeded the knowledge of Nineveh. It is, however, proper to say that both sites had been found, and excavations on a very small scale had been begun at Babylon. These excavations, it is true, were primarily made to obtain building material which was to be used in the construction of dwellings for the people about the neighboring country. Incidentally, however, inscriptions were found, and these were recognized as being pieces of writing from the ancient people of Babylon. The words of Beauchamp produced an uncommon impression in Europe, and were the subject of much discussion. In England especially were men aroused by them to a sense of eager thirst for a sight of these inscriptions-the books of the Babylonians-and for an effort to read them. So soon as this desire should crystallize it was certain to result in an attempt to secure some of them for an English museum. The first move in this direction was made by the East India Company of London, which forwarded, on October 18, 1797, a letter to the governor of Bombay instructing him to give orders to the company’s resident at Bussorah to have search made for some of these inscribed bricks. He was then to have them. carefully packed and sent as soon as possible to London. Early in 1801 the first case arrived at the East India House in London. These inscriptions were the first that had reached London. It was true, indeed, that no man could read them. They stood, however, as silent monuments of the past, and their very position in London called upon men to attempt their decipherment. Their resemblance to the inscriptions of Persepolis had also been pointed out, and of that there was now no doubt. At this time the work was in progress which resulted in the reading of ancient Persian. Here were now inscriptions in ancient Babylonian, and they must also be read. There were at last enthusiasm and real interest in Babylon. This general interest was focused by a remarkable book by Joseph Hager,74 which was the direct result of his inspection of the Babylonian inscriptions that were now in the East India House. Hager’s small book was epoch-making both in its suggestions and in its conclusions. In a few pages he reviewed the history of the observations made at Babylon, and then connected the inscribed stones there found with the Persepolitan inscriptions. His statements on these points well deserve repetition: "It is well known that for more than a century past, about which time the Persepolitan inscriptions were first discovered by European travellers, the opinions have been much divided respecting these characters. Some have believed them to be talismans, and others the characters of the Guebres, or antient inhabitants of Persia; others held them for mere hieroglyphics, and others for alphabetic characters, like ours. KAEMPFER supposed them to express whole ideas, like the Chinese characters, but that they had been appropriated solely for the palace of Istakhar.... "By the Babylonian bricks here exhibited, the whole difficulty in regard to their origin is removed; as it is evident that Babylon, in point of cultivation, was much earlier than Persepolis, and that the Chalckans were a celebrated people, when the name of the Persians was scarcely known."75 It must be remembered that this little book of Hager was written before the Persepolis inscriptions had been deciphered at all, and this makes all the more remarkable the generalizations of this gifted man, who seemed to foresee the very conclusions to which men would come when both the inscriptions of Persepolis and these new texts were finally deciphered. Even beyond these deductions was Hager led to go, when he summed up his conclusions at the end of his volume,76 for there he claimed that even the Assyrians must have used the same method of writing-and this before he had even so much as seen an Assyrian inscription of any kind. Hager’s little book had an influence out of all proportion to its size. The great tomes of many travelers had utterly failed to excite more than a passing interest. His book was soon translated into German and made a distinct impression upon Grotefend, then deeply absorbed in his efforts to decipher the records of the Achaemenian kings. In its English form it became known in France, there to inspire the archaeologist, A. L. Millin, to publish in facsimile77 a small inscribed stone brought several years before from the neighbor. hood of Baghdad to Paris by the botanist Michaux. The article of Millin called this little inscription a .Persepolitan monument," though his own statements show that it came not from Persepolis, but from Babylonia. His copy of this beautiful little inscription was another added to the increasing list of objects which awakened in men the belief that beneath the mounds at and about Hillah must lie buried great stores of monuments of the past of Babylonia. While these publications were appearing, and while men were still curiously examining the East India House inscriptions, a man was preparing for a work which would demonstrate the truth of these hopes and astonish the world with unsuspected discoveries. Claudius James Rich, who had been born at Dijon, France, in 1787, but spent his childhood at Bristol, England, and there secured his earliest education, went early in life to Bombay in the service of the East India Company. Gifted extraordinarily with a love for languages and with a readiness in their acquiring, he there made himself acquainted with Latin and Greek, and especially with Hebrew, Aramaean, Persian, Arabic, and even somewhat with Chinese. Later, by fortunate accidents, he had found opportunity to continue his oriental studies at Constantinople and at Smyrna, and then in Egypt; while a sojourn in Italy put the language of that people at his service. Before he was twenty-four years of age he had been appointed the resident of the East India Company at Baghdad. Though he had not probably been consciously preparing for this particular post, all that he had learned and much that he had experienced now became of the greatest service to him. In the beginning of his residence at Baghdad be appears to have been most interested by the city itself and its immediately surrounding country, and began the collection of materials for a history of its Pashalic. In 1811, however, he was in some way led to visit the ruins of ancient Babylon, and at once there was awakened in him a new passion. On December 10, 1811, he saw for the first time the great mounds, to which he was now to devote so much energy and enthusiasm. His first impressions were distinctly disappointing. When he could secure the first opportunity to write them down he said: "From the accounts of modern travelers I had expected to have found on the site of Babylon more, and less, than I actually did. Less, because I could have formed no conception of the prodigious extent of the whole ruins, or of the size, solidity, and perfect state of some of the particular parts of them; and more, because I thought that I should have distinguished some traces, however imperfect, of many of the principal structures of Babylon. I imagined, I should have said: .Here were the walls, and such must have been the extent of the area. There stood the palace, and this most assuredly was the tower of Belus.’ I was completely deceived; instead of a few insulated mounds, I found the whole face of the country covered with the vestiges of building; in some places consisting of brick walls surprisingly fresh, in others merely of a vast succession of mounds of rubbish of such indeterminate figures, variety, and extent as to involve the person who should have formed any theory in inextricable confusion and contradiction."78 This first visit of Rich to Babylon was brief, for he was back again in Baghdad on December 21. In that short time, however, he had planned all the mounds, and had correctly located them by astronomical observations. He also tested the mounds by digging into them in several places, of which the following words may serve as a sufficient description: .I went with ten men with pickaxes and shovels to make experiments on the Mujelibe; they dug into the heaps on the top, and found layers of burnt bricks, with inscriptions laid in mortar. A kind of parapet of unburnt bricks appears to have surrounded the whole. On the western face the mud bricks were not only laid on reeds, but mixed up with them. In the northern face, where a part is also still standing, the bricks are not mixed up with reeds, but only laid on layers of them; here I found some beams of the date tree, specimens of which I brought away. The part of the mud wall standing on the west front is not thick; that on the northern side is more so, but none of them are of any considerable thickness. On the north front the height of the whole pile to the top of the parapet is 132 feet. The southeast angle is higher."79 From these walls he took specimens of the inscribed building bricks, and likewise, when possible, purchased from the inhabitants various smaller inscriptions, which were later to form a part of the treasures of the British Museum. Rich’s work at that time seemed small in amount, but it was the first serious survey of all the mounds, and has formed from that day to this the basis for every subsequent examination of them. So carefully had his work been done that he required, upon later acquaintance, to change his conclusions but slightly. His first account was, strangely enough, published in Vienna, but it was eagerly read and discussed in London. Free as it had been from theorizing, it, nevertheless, called forth a review and criticism from Major Rennell, who argued that Rich had not properly considered the allusions of classical historians and geographers, and had therefore improperly identified some ruins. Rennell’s paper determined Rich to visit the ruins again, to verify or to correct his first statements. In his second visit he did find some things to correct, but in the main confirmed and established his former conclusions. The results of this visit were written out at Baghdad in the month of July, 1817, and, like the first publication of Rich, carried forward very distinctly the investigation of the ancient city. Rich had already achieved enough to gain fame, but he was to do still more for oriental study, not, indeed, at Babylon, but at the other chief center, the city of Nineveh. In April, 1820, he set out from Baghdad to escape its heat by a journey in Kurdistan, and this was productive of valuable results in the geography of a land then but little visited by Europeans. In this journey Mr. Rich reached Mosul on October 31, 1820, and there spent four months. The experience which had been gained in his work at Babylon was now splendidly used. He visited and sketched with plans every one of the great mounds which might be considered as forming a part of the ancient city of Nineveh. The first of these mounds to be explored was that known among the natives as Neby Yunus, because it was supposed to contain the tomb of the prophet Jonah. Here he learned that even a cursory examination by means of the spade would uncover inscriptions, and some that had been found b3-the natives were shown to him. They were written in cuneiform characters, which Rich of course could not read, but some were secured for the British Museum, where their influence would soon be felt. From Neby Yunus Rich transferred his investigations to Kuyunjik, where he surveyed the mound, drafted a plan of it, and conversed with the natives, learning from them little more than that most of the inscriptions were found at Neby Yunus. After the investigations at these two mounds Rich went down the river and studied the mound of Nimroud, where, as the natives said, Nimrod is buried. In every Arab village which he visited Rich found inscriptions in the cuneiform character. Some which were small enough to be easily transported he purchased for his collection. Many were, however, monumental in character, being cut into stones, which the Arabs had used in the erection of their miserable hovels. Rich appears to have found no opposition among the natives to his study of the mounds, but he did find various suspicions of himself and of his motives among the more ignorant of them. In one of his tours about Mosul the remark was overheard that he was probably seeking a suitable place to plant guns and take the city. The cupidity and fear which rendered miserable the lives of later explorers did not trouble him, partly because he knew by long association the temper of the natives, and so did not unnecessarily wound their sensibilities, and partly because he did not dig up the ground, as was necessary in the work of his successors. The inscriptions which Rich had secured soon came to London, and there formed the nucleus of the great Assyrian and Babylonian collections of the British Museum. They showed at the very first glance that the daring guess of Hager was correct. They were indeed written in the same kind of characters as those which had been sent home to London from the ruins of Babylon. That fact alone was of so great moment as to make distinguished all the work of Rich at Nineveh. He had laid the basis for all future work in that city, as he had previously done in Babylon. His plans and drawings must be used by whoever should next take up the work. To all this work at Babylon and at Nineveh Rich was to add useful labor at Persepolis, which he visited in August, 1821. His approach to the city was graphically described in these words: "It was dark when we left the bridge of the Araxes. My expectation was greatly excited. Chardin, when I was a mere child, had inspired me with a great desire to see these ruins, and the desires excited in us in childhood are too vivid ever to be effaced. Their gratification has a relish which motives suggested by reason and judgment are unable afterward to equal. My late antiquarian researches had, however, also added their interest to my other inducements; and as I rode over the plain by the beautiful starlight, reflections innumerable on the great events that had happened there crowded on my memory. I was in the moment of enjoying what I had long waited for; and what a delightful moment that is! At last the pointed summit began to detach itself from the line of the mountains to which we were advancing. Mr. Tod pointed it out: ‘Under that lie the ruins.’ At that moment the moon rose with uncommon beauty behind it. Ages seemed at once to present themselves to my fancy."80 Here at Persepolis he made more exact copies of the inscriptions to which already so much discussion had been given in Europe, and his copies proved to be of great value to those who were to engage in the criticism and the perfecting of the work of Grotefend. On the way back to Baghdad from this visit to Persepolis Rich died of cholera, at Shiraz, while bravely serving others who were suffering from the disease. The man who had wrought so wonderfully for the study of the ancient world now died a hero in the humblest service for the poorest of humanity. The impulse which Claudius James Rich gave to Babylonian and Assyrian study has never yet lost its effect. Others had done much, indeed, in awakening interest, and Rich’s own testimony, quoted above, shows that Chardin had done this for him; still others had made observations of lasting value, while a very few bad accurately determined ancient sites, and so had made possible his work. All these things, and more, Rich had accomplished. None who preceded him had excelled him in inspirational power, for even his Journal, intended only as the basis of future careful writing, possessed it, and none had equaled him in the collecting of definite information concerning the ruins both of Nineveh and of Babylon. His quickening and informing influence worked wonders in his immediate successors. While Rich was still living in Baghdad, surrounded by a great retinue of servants and soldiers, in the almost regal state which was then deemed necessary in order to overawe the impressible natives, he received a visit from a fellow countrymen, Sir Robert Ker Porter. This was October 14, 1818, and Rich had, as we have seen, made his investigations at Babylon, and published them in Europe. It was natural that be should discuss them with this newcomer. Porter had already visited Persepolis, and by the copying of inscriptions had added his name to the long and worthy line of those who had made the work of Grotefend possible. Of all those who had yet been in Babylonia none were endowed in the same manner as this new visitor. Others had possessed greater experience in travel, though even in this his experience was not small. Others bad had better scientific equipment in knowledge of surveying and in acquaintance with oriental languages. In these matters Porter was far behind Rich and the former wanderers. But Porter was an artist, an artist who had made his name famous in England by many a canvas depicting the glory of England in war, and the history of her people in Church and State. To this he added the unique distinction of having been court painter at St. Petersburg. A man of talent, if not even a man of genius, a man of great social following in Great Britain and in Russia, where he had entered the highest circles and even married a Russian princess-such was Sir Robert Ker Porter. His skill as a painter qualified him admirably to sketch the ruins of Babylon, and his trained eye was ready to observe the lay of land and the external conditions of the modern surroundings of ancient sites. He had had experience in the copying of texts at Persepolis, and could now copy at Babylon with additional sureness. He had a gift for striking description in words, and his brush added vividness to his pen. Rich gave him willing assistance, and Rich’s admirably trained secretary, Bellino, accompanied him to the ruins at Hillab. Though Porter was lacking in many things, his observations were useful and served well in directing later workers bent on definite work. Upon his return the account of his travels was published in sumptuous style,81 beautifully illustrated by his own brush. The big book was received with acclaim in England, and apparently also on the continent. A man with greater scientific equipment but with less social following might have written a work more valuable scientifically, which would, nevertheless, have completely failed in influence on the age. Porter’s work, however, offered the needed supplement to the work of Rich. Rich had written very little indeed, and that was concerned with details, and at times was very dry indeed. It was, besides this, not published in a complete form until after the author’s death. Porter saw his own book published, and heard the popular plaudits. Here was at last a description of Babylon as it now was, duly intermingled with quotations from previous observers, and fortified by the word of Mr. Rich and Mr. Bellino. Here were pictures of mounds and ruined walls and inscribed bricks, and here was the expressed opinion that they had not yet been fully explored. What better thing could have been done for the recovery of Babylon at this time than the publication of just such a book as this of Sir Robert Ker Porter! It was impossible that its publication should not be followed by a rekindling of zeal in the pursuit of oriental learning; or that its glowing and pictured pages should fail to excite the wonder of even the ordinary reader, who may to-morrow become an explorer himself or a patron of such pursuits in others. Just as the book of Chardin had roused the boyish enthusiasm of Rich and sent him in his early manhood to the scenes which it described, so would this new book exert a similar influence upon others. Though its scientific contributions are not to be named with those of Rich, its popular influence was great, and it is to be ranked with the greatest of all the influences which contributed to the recovery of Nineveh and Babylon.