صور الصفحة
[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

Botta, in the narrative of his researches at Nineveh, which has been published in five handsome folio volumes through the liberality of the French government, after summing up the amount, or rather the deficiency, of our knowledge of the great Assyrian cities before the period of the recent excavations, prefaces his adventures at Khorsabad by an account of the circumstances that led him to the neighbourhood of that place.

The French government having come to the conclusion that it was advisable to send a consular agent to Mosul, chose Botta to fulfil that office,—a selection that reflected the highest credit on its judgment. Botta, the nephew of the celebrated historian of Italy, was himself entirely devoted to science. His long residence in Egypt, Sennaar, El Yemen, and Syria, undertaken regardless of difficulties, or of the dangers of climate, solely to further his scientific pursuits, had eminently adapted him for an appointment in the East. He could assimilate himself to the habits of the people; was conversant with their language; possessed energy of character; and was besides an


intelligent and practised observer: with such qualifications it was obvious that his residence in the vicinity of a spot that history and tradition agreed in pointing out as the site of Nineveh could not but be productive of important results. Accordingly upon his departure for Mosul, in the beginning of the year 1842, his friend Monsieur J. Mohl, the accomplished translator of "Firdousi," called his attention to the archaeological interest of the place, and strongly pressed him to make excavations in the neighbourhood.

Botta promised that he would not forget this good advice, but he felt that before being enabled to keep his promise, the definitive establishment of the consulship at Mosul must place at his disposal both more considerable pecuniary resources, and more powerful means of action than he then possessed. In the meanwhile he employed himself in collecting every small object of antiquity which appeared to be at all interesting, and made the necessary inquiries for pitching upon a favourable spot for really serious researches.

Botta was not so fortunato in his acquisition of antiquities as he could have hoped from the report of Rich, who had had the good fortune to purchase in the neighbourhood of Mosul several objects of interest. Botta had, in consequence, pictured to himself the locality as a most fruitful mine, but a residence of several )-ears caused him to entertain a different opinion. Mr. Rich, being the first to enter upon the still virgin ground, had at once collected all that chance had amassed in the hands of the inhabitants during a long series of years, and no conclusion, therefore, as to the real abundance of objects of antiquity to be found in the neighbourhood of Mosul could properly be drawn from this fact. With the exception of a few fragments of bricks and pottery, Botta had never been able to collect anything in the way of antiquities which he could be sure were indigenous (so to speak); and as he spared neither time nor expense to procure them, he had good reason to believe that they were not common; the cylinders in particular, those relics of Assyria so curious on account of the emblems with which they are covered, were very rare at Mosul, and out of all those which fell into his hands, there was not one that he knew of, which had been found upon the territory of Nineveh. All those which he could trace—and this was the case with the greater number—had been brought from


Baghdad, and consequently from Babylon and its neighbourhood. The source of the others was unknown. The same held good with the Assyrian seals; almost all of them came from Baghdad; and in the following pages the reader will find that this rare occurrence of small objects of antiquity was confirmed by the researches made by Botta at Kouyunjik and Khorsabad; for during the whole period of the excavations not a single cylinder was discovered. Our antiquary draws attention to this fact, because it is one that was scarcely expected, and which will perhaps modify the received opinions regarding the real source of these engraved mythological stones. The success of Botta's inquiries with a view to find a fitting spot for his researches was not more encouraging; and the reports of the inhabitants furnished him with nothing certain on this head. The spot which appeared to offer the greatest chance of success, and to which he naturally first directed his attention, was the mound on which is built the village of Niniouah, then believed to be the last remnant of the immense city of which it preserves the name; for it was there that Mr. Rich had observed subterranean walls covered with cuneiform inscriptions—too valuable a sign to be overlooked. The number and importance, however, of the houses with which the mound was covered did not allow of Botta making any researches. Every attempt of the kind was repelled by the religious prejudices of the inhabitants, for it is there that the mosque of Nebbi Younis is built. He was thus obliged to look for some other spot; but in the vast space covered with the traces of ancient edifices which surrounds the village of Niniouah, there was nothing that could guide him with any degree of certainty. A great many erroneous opinions (according to Botta) have been disseminated with regard to the actual condition of the ruins of Nineveh: they have been represented as a mine in constant requisition for supplying bricks and stones for the erection of the houses of Mosul, and thus assimilated to the ruins of Babylon, which have for ages furnished the necessary building materials for the surrounding towns. "Such, however," says Botta, "can scarcely have been the case at Nineveh at any period, and very certainly it is not so in the present day. The reason is plain: all that exists of the ruins of the ancient city, boundary walls, and mounds, is formed of bricks which were merely baked in the sun: these bricks have been reduced by


age into an earthy state, and consequently cannot be used again." Botta goes on to say: "There can be no doubt but that in the construction of these ancient buildings more solid materials, such as stones and kiln-burnt bricks, were sometimes employed, and this accounts for their being accidentally discovered; but they were merely employed as accessories—the mass of the walls was composed of unburnt bricks. Thus, in this particular, there is not the least similarity between Nineveh and Babylon: the ruins of the latter city offer an immense quantity of excellent bricks; they have, consequently, been capable of being used as quarries, but the masses of earth, which are the only remains of Nineveh, could not be employed for a like purpose. It would, besides, be difficult to understand why people should trust to chance for obtaining a few raw materials, when quarries of gypsum, which are far less expensive to work than a series of uncertain excavations would be, are situated at the gates of Mosul."

This is the case now; but formerly, when those mounds of crude brick were incrusted with limestone and slabs of gypsum, it was otherwise, as the fact of the almost entire disappearance of this crust, or casing, abundantly testifies.

Botta further tells us that it was only in the immediate vicinity of Mosul, and very often within the city itself, that the inhabitants had sometimes looked for materials. They had found there, at the depth of a few feet, the remains of ancient buildings; but, in spite of all his researches, he could not observe a single sign which would allow of his assigning these remains to a period anterior to the foundation of the present town. Never, to his knowledge, had these operations brought to light ancient bricks or stones with cuneiform inscriptions, with both of which the inhabitants are at present well acquainted, and of which they would certainly have brought him the smallest remnant, had they found any; he was therefore convinced that the walls existing under the ground in the interior of Mosul, or near the city gates, were comparatively modern—either the foundations or the subterranean apartments1 of the housea which were ruined at a time

1 la the houses of M6sul, as well aa in those of Baghdad, there is always a subterranean apartment, called in those parts, SerdSb; the inhabitants retreat thither, in summer, to pass the hottest hours of the day. In order to be rendered inhabitable, these apartments have to be coated with


when the city, as was the case but a few years ago, occupied a much more considerable space than it does at the present day.

As regarded the ruins situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris, Botta says he never heard, in the course of a residence of several years, that any excavations were made there for the purpose of obtaining building materials; nor had he ever seen in the houses at Mosul the least trace of antique remains, although he took particular pains to discover them. The walls were not, as had been reported, built of brick and coated with gypsum, and he did not find a single instance where such was the case. The walls of all the houses are formed of gypseous or calcareous stone, rudely joined with plaster, and the same plan prevails in the vaults of the largest edifices. A few old mosques only are constructed of bricks, but their form, their size, and the absence of any cuneiform inscription, prove that those bricks do not come from the buildings of Nineveh. He mentions another fact, in order to show how little the inhabitants of Mosul are accustomed to look among the neighbouring ruins for the materials they may require. The Pasha of Mosul, being desirous of constructing ovens for the use of the garrison of that town, hasteped to Botta for the bricks which the works undertaken at Khorsabad had brought to light. It is very certain, argues the French antiquary, that if, as has been reported, the Pasha had possessed an abundant supply at the gates of the town, or if it had been easy to obtain them, he would not have sent a distance of four leagues for them.

Not having, therefore, any precedent to guide him in his researches, and not daring, he says, to open the mound of Nebbi Younis, Botta selected the mound of Kouyunjik as the spot for commencing operations. This mound is situated to the north of the village of Niniouah, to which it is joined by the remains of an ancient wall of unburnt bricks. It was evidently an artificial mass, and, to all appearance, formerly supported the principal palace of the kings of Assyria. On the western side, near the southern extremity of this hill, a few bricks of a large size, joined with bitumen, seemed to be

thin slabs of M6sul gypsum, and the walls are, besides, constructed with the greatest solidity, since they have to support the whole weight of the superincumbent buildings. This fact may explain their preservation underground.

« السابقةمتابعة »