John Lord.

Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents online

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passed on to see the famous forty columns of Chilminar, old Persian
Persepolis, and to penetrate the mountain fastnesses where the
Bakhtiyari maintained a perilous freedom. Never was man better trained
by enthusiasm and experience for his task, and the late discoveries of
M. Botta had inflamed his desire to surpass what his French friend
had done.

His plan was not to begin excavations at Nineveh, opposite Mosul, but
twenty miles south, at the great mound of Nimroud, which bore the name
of the mighty hunter Nimrod. Xenophon and his Ten Thousand had seen and
wondered at its pyramid. There he would be free from the army of
mischievous spectators that would swarm from Mosul, had he selected the
site of Nineveh, and from the constant interference of the Turkish
governor. The Pasha at Mosul was a cruel scoundrel, who was robbing and
killing the people as his whim or greed prompted, and had reduced the
tribes of the neighborhood to a state of terror. Accordingly, Mr.
Layard, who was armed with protecting letters from the British
Ambassador and the Porte, thought it wise to conceal his purpose, let it
be reported that he was going on a hunting expedition; and with a few
tools and a supply of guns and spears, on the 8th of November, 1845,
accompanied only by his cawass, the soldier attendant detailed for the
protection of travellers, a servant, and one laborer, he floated down
the Tigris, and in four hours reached the bourne of his long hopes. He
had the mound, he had the money, and now he would dig.

The Arabs have strange stories of this ruin. The palace, they say, was
built by Athur, the vizier of Nimrod. There Abraham brake in pieces the
idols worshipped by the unbelievers. Nimrod was angry and waged war on
the holy patriarch. Abraham prayed to God: "Deliver me, O God, from this
man who worships stones, and boasts himself to be lord of all kings;"
and God said to him, "How shall I punish him?" and the prophet answered,
"To thee armies are as nothing, and the strength and power of men
likewise. Before the smallest of thy creatures will they perish." And
God was pleased at the faith of his servant, and he sent a gnat that
vexed Nimrod day and night, so that he built himself a room of glass in
that palace that he might dwell therein and shut out the insect. But the
gnat entered also, and passed by his ear into his brain, upon which it
fed, and increased day by day, so that the servants of Nimrod beat his
head continually with a mallet that he might have some ease from his
pain; but he died after suffering these torments four hundred years. And
after him the mound was named Nimroud.

It was dark when Layard and his little company reached the place. They
found near by a few huts occupied by poor Arabs, who had been harried by
the Turkish Pasha. There they slept, or tried to sleep. But the
explorer could not sleep. Hear him: -

"Hopes, long cherished, were now to be realized, or were to end in
disappointment. Visions of palaces under ground, of gigantic monsters,
of sculptured figures, and endless inscriptions, floated before me.
After forming plan after plan for removing the earth and extricating
these treasures, I fancied myself wandering in a maze of chambers from
which I could find no outlet. Then, again, all was reburied, and I was
standing on the grass-covered mound. Exhausted, I was at length sinking
into sleep, when, hearing the voice of Awad, I rose from my carpet and
joined him outside the tent. The day already dawned. The lofty cone and
broad mound of Nimroud broke like a distant mountain on the
morning sky."

Awad, his host, was a little chief among the Arabs, and was engaged to
take charge of the diggers. The first morning he had six Arabs at work,
and found alabaster slabs with cuneiform inscriptions. He was now sure
he would succeed.

It is not necessary to give the diary of his work. To be sure, the
villanous Pasha forbade him to continue, and recalled him to Mosul, but
a new governor was sent from Constantinople, under whom he had no
difficulty. A great palace had been found, and chamber after chamber was
excavated, the walls covered with bas-reliefs and inscriptions. Then
came strange, gigantic lions with human heads, that had been placed by
the old Assyrian king to guard the entrances to his court. What was the
amazement of the Arabs and Turks cannot be told. First, the head was
uncovered. It stood out from the earth, placid and vast. Hear Layard
tell the story. He had been away to visit a neighboring chief: -

"I was returning to the mound, when I saw two Arabs urging their mares
to the top of their speed. 'Hasten, O Bey,' exclaimed one of them,
'hasten to the diggers, for they have found Nimrod himself. By Allah! it
is wonderful, but it is true! We have seen him with our eyes! There is
no God but God!' And both joining in this pious exclamation, they
galloped back to the tent."

Layard hastened to the trench, and there saw what he knew to be the head
of a gigantic lion or bull, such as Botta had uncovered at Khorsabad. It
was in admirable preservation. The expression was calm, yet majestic,
and the outline of the features showed a freedom and knowledge of art
that was scarcely to be looked for at so early a period. Says the
explorer: -

"I was not surprised that the Arabs had been amazed and terrified at
this apparition. It required no stretch of imagination to conjure up the
most strange fancies. This gigantic head, blanched with age, thus rising
from the bowels of the earth, might well have belonged to one of those
fearful beings which are pictured in the traditions of the country as
appearing to mortals, slowly ascending from the regions below. 'This is
not the work of men's hands,' exclaimed Sheikh Abdurrahman, who had
galloped to the mound on the first news, 'but of those infidel giants of
whom the Prophet, peace be with him! has said that they were higher than
the tallest date-tree; this is one of the idols which Noah, peace be
with him! cursed before the flood!' In this opinion all the bystanders
concurred."

The Arabs have a ready explanation for every fresh discovery. When some
years later Mr. Layard's assistant and successor in the work of
excavation, Mr. Rassam, uncovered, at Abu-habba, a remarkable bas-relief
with the figure of the seated Sun-god and three approaching worshippers,
the Arab diggers rushed to him, declaring that they had found Noah and
his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and demanded a sheep to make
a feast.

The report of the wonderful discovery of a royal palace, evidently older
than those of Nineveh, with magnificent decorations in alabaster and
cuneiform inscriptions, reached beyond Mosul to Constantinople. Sir
Stratford Canning was delighted with the result of his expedition. He
had a passion for discovery as well as diplomacy, and it is to him that
the British Museum is indebted for the priceless marbles of
Halicarnassus. He now obtained for Mr. Layard a firman, permitting him
to make what excavations he wished. Then the news reached London, and
the British Museum made a grant to support the work. All difficulties
were now removed. Conditions were even more favorable for him than they
are now. There was then no Imperial Museum in Constantinople to which
all objects found must be taken, but those that dug had the right to
carry off their prizes to London or Paris.

To tell the story of the further excavations is unnecessary. It is all
given in Layard's two splendid volumes, "Nineveh and its Remains," and
"Babylon and Nineveh;" and the bas-reliefs, statues, bronzes, ivories,
and inscriptions are magnificently reproduced in great folio volumes.
From Nimroud he went back to Mosul, and there opened the two mounds
opposite of Kuyunjik and Neby-Yunus, the site of old Nineveh. There more
palaces and friezes were found of other kings. Then he went back to
London, closing his successful campaign, more profitable if not more
glorious than those of war, and published the story of his work. Its
effect was marvellous. No such popular book of travels had ever
appeared; for it was a story of adventure, and also of strange
discovery. Mr. Layard had not suspected that he had the literary gift,
but he had it in rare measure. He had gained an inner view of the heart
of tribes, Moslem and Christian and semi-pagan, by his sympathy with
them and his knowledge of their tongues. He had lived in their tents and
huts. He had saved them from persecution by Turkish governors. Their
gratitude to him was beyond words, and he told their story with
affection and enthusiasm. Then his discoveries were in the lands made
historic not only by the campaigns of Xenophon and Alexander, but made
almost sacred by the Bible history. These were the lands whence came the
armies that fought with Israel. These were the kings whose wars are told
in the Jewish records; and the annals of these kings were found in their
palaces, and they gave full accounts of wars of which the Bible had
given the outline. Piety and learning joined to give extraordinary
interest to these discoveries and to this report of them. Mr. Layard
found himself famous, and the monuments he was bringing to the British
Museum were, and still are, the most extraordinary and fascinating in
all its corridors.

Of course, a new grant was made in behalf of the British Museum, and of
course he went back to continue and extend his researches. Now he wished
to go further south, beyond Nimroud to Kalah Shergat, the yet earlier
capital of Assyria; and yet further to Babylon, that he might see and
test the multitude of mounds of ancient Chaldea, the real land of
Nimrod, the seat of Eden, and the Tower of Babel, far more ancient than
any one of the three capitals of Assyria. While he did scarce more than
to visit and report on the Babylonian mounds, his diggings in Nineveh
itself were of vast importance, for there he found the library of
Asshurbanabal, on clay tablets, which has given us our chief knowledge
of the literature and learning of the ancient East. In 1852 he returned
to England to publish his "Monuments of Nineveh," and left the further
exploration to his able lieutenant, Mr. Rassam, and to a noble
succession of explorers who should follow, and to a no less noble line
of scholars who should interpret the inscriptions and recover the
history of the nations; so that we now know more exactly the history of
Babylonian and Assyrian kings, and from more authentic records, and more
completely the social condition and business life of the countries, than
we do the history of Greece, or the life of the Greeks even of the time
of Pericles, and that, too, for a period of three thousand years.

To illustrate this fact, let us take the black obelisk of Shalmaneser
II., found by Layard at Nimroud. It is a column of basalt seven feet
high and about two feet wide at the base, from which it narrows
slightly, until near the top it is reduced by three steps. On the four
sides is engraved in five rows of bas-reliefs, twenty in all, the
pictured history of the royal conquests, the submission of kings, and
the presentation of tribute. Above and below, and between, in two
hundred and ten lines, was cut an inscription which explained the
figures, and gave a full historical and, of course, contemporary and
official account of the glorious events of the royal reign. Not a line
was defaced; at the British Museum it can be seen to-day as perfect as
when engraved twenty-seven centuries ago. Other monuments of Shalmaneser
have been found. One is a great monolith with a portrait of the king in
all his fine array, and with one hundred and fifty-six lines of text.
Another is a series of splendid bronze plates that covered great wooden
gates, on which, in repoussé work, were pictures of the royal victories,
and inscriptions explaining them. The Bible tells us of the rivalries
and jealousies of Ahab and Jehu, kings of Israel, and Benhadad and
Hazael, kings of Damascus. How surprising it is to find here not only
the story of the successive campaigns of Shalmaneser against these same
kings, the number of their chariots and soldiers, but to see pictured
before us the tribute sent by Jehu. We learn that Shalmaneser reigned
from 859 to 825 B.C., and we have the record of all his successive
campaigns, the first twenty-six of which he led in person. There is not
another country of which, before the invention of printing, we have so
minute a history; and all had been lost, except the mention of a name or
two, whether historical or legendary we hardly knew, until Layard and
his fellow-explorers opened the mounds of Assyria.

But enough for Layard. He is only one, though the principal one, of all
the explorers of the buried records of the empires of the Tigris and
Euphrates. And Babylonia and Assyria are not the only countries that
history required us to explore. Greece and its neighboring states and
islands have not even yet been fairly investigated. Much of Asia Minor
is still a virgin field. Syria and Palestine have hardly been scratched
with the spade. More has been done in Egypt, but more yet is to be done.
And when we go into the further east of Persia and Old Elam, not to
speak of the yet farther east of Central Asia, now just beginning to
yield strange treasures to daring travellers, and ancient India and
China, - how ancient we know not at all, - there is field for centuries of
further research. For we must go back past empires and kingdoms and
tribal conditions to the very beginning of the human race on the earth,
even if so it be, to the first _Pithecanthropus_ which men of science
tell us was the link which connected _Homo sapiens_ with the race of
primitive simians. And all this, it may well be, is preserved in
undecaying records just a few feet under the ground, if one only knew
where to dig for it; nay, we now know where to dig for the most and best
of it, and we only await the Stratford Cannings, who will give the
money, and the Austen Layards, who have the enthusiasm for the work.

After Layard and Rassam, after Rawlinson and Botta, George Smith took
flying trips to the site of Nineveh twice that he might gather the
remaining fragments of the great library of Asshurbanabal, and he died
in the field far from home. It was he that found among Layard's tablets
the Babylonian account of the Deluge, so much like that in the Bible. He
was the first of a second generation who, following Rawlinson and
Oppert, decipherers as well as explorers, were able to read as they
found. I can only mention the names of the Englishmen Taylor and Loftus;
of the Frenchmen, Place and De Sarzec; and, later, the Americans,
Peters, Hilprecht, and Haynes, who have so faithfully explored the
extremely archaic mound of Niffer, which I had the honor to recommend
for excavation after I had visited the mounds of Southern Babylonia in
the winter of 1884-85. And now the Germans, with scientific as well as
commercial and political purpose, with their railroad to pass down the
valley through Baghdad to the Persian Gulf, which gives them predominant
influence, have sent expeditions well equipped with scholars and
engineers to the choicest sites in Babylonia, to Warka, the ancient
Erech, and to Babylon itself; and with Teuton thoroughness they are
excavating the most famous of ancient ruins and gathering fresh
treasures of archaeological research. Nor have they left the land of the
Hittites unexplored, for Germany claims the first rights, politically,
in all Anatolia, the right of succession and possession when the Turk is
expelled, and German archaeological science is bound to be first on
that field.

And now what have we found as the fruit of all this labor of
exploration? Is it worth the labor and the expense?

Let us look first - it can be only a glance - at Egypt, for Egypt was the
land first and most persistently explored. The French Government for
scores of years has been at work there. Germans and Italians have
explored the ruins; two English societies have for years kept
expeditions in the field; and just now a Californian university sends an
American Egyptologist to uncover the tombs and read the hieroglyphs of
the kings. Not only are the figured monuments of Egypt published in
princely folios, but its records have been translated and its lost
history recovered to the world's knowledge. Instead of the bare
"Pharaoh" of the Bible, a common designation for all the kings, and in
place of a bare list of names and dynasties copied from Manetho, and so
altered and corrupted in the copying as to be neither Greek nor
Egyptian, we have, on scarab, or gravestone, or pyramid, or
rock-sepulchre wall, in his own spelling, the name of almost every king
from the latest time of the Ptolemies back to the first king of the
first dynasty, five thousand - or was it six thousand? - years before
Christ. And not their names only, but the very pictures of their wars.
We see how they went up the Nile and fought the blacks of Abyssinia, and
brought back the spoils of Punt We see them sending their squadrons
into Syrian Asia, and waging a dubious battle with the Hittites before
the walls of Hamath, where Rameses in his lion-guarded chariot performs
prodigies of valor, and from which he returns not only to paint on
sacred walls the picture of his victory, but also to inscribe a copy of
the treaty of peace with the Hittite king, the earliest treaty in the
preserved annals of diplomacy. Well wrought that Rameses the Great for
eternal fame in the sixty years of his reign, fifteen centuries before
the birth of our Lord. But what fame had been his, had not explorers and
excavators and scholars dug and found and copied and translated what the
sands had covered for centuries? And to-day the curious traveller stops
in sight of the pyramids on the banks of the Nile, and enters the Bulaq
Museum, and there he sees set up before him the very mummy of Rameses
himself and of a dozen other royal personages, rifled from their tombs
and displayed for your amazement and mine. There is the very
Pharaoh - you can see his features, you can touch his coffin - who chased
the Children of Israel out of Egypt. There are the household implements,
the furniture of their homes, the jewelry their queens wore, - queens who
were also sisters of the kings, as Sarah was the sister of Abraham.

Or would you know of some great revolution in Egypt? These decipherers
of the inscriptions will tell you how the Shepherd Kings overthrew the
native dynasty, coming with their armies from Asia long before Rameses,
and changed religion and customs; under whom Jacob and his sons found
hospitable welcome, until their hated race was expelled by a stronger
native dynasty that knew not Joseph. Or they will tell you of the royal
reformer Khuenaten, son of a famous Eastern mother, a queen from the
banks of the Euphrates. Taught by her, perhaps, a purer religion, he
attempted to replace the worship of Egypt's bestial gods by the worship
of the one only great God, whose symbol was the sun. But the priestly
clan was too strong for him, and the succeeding Pharaohs destroyed his
records and chiselled out his name where it had been cut in stone that
no memory of his sacrilege might be preserved. A royal Moses there could
not be. The worshipper of one God, whether king or son of Pharaoh's
daughter, could bring no reformation to Egypt.

Or would you learn how Egypt ruled its subject territory? You can read
the correspondence of a dozen local Egyptian governors in Palestine and
Syria in the century before Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt.
There is the letter of the King of Jerusalem, where Melchizedek reigned
in the times of Abraham; and they tell of rebellions against the fading
power of Egypt, and of the fear of the advancing Hittites. The earliest
kings, those that built the pyramids, appear before us real in their
personality, emerging out of misty legend or myth, and, earlier still,
even the prehistoric races that antedated the very beginning of
civilization. Whence came that first dynasty? Who invented writing? Were
they autochthons? Hardly. These are questions left for further explorers
to answer. Probably those first messengers of civilization came from the
East, perhaps from Arabia, perhaps from Babylonia, or perhaps the first
Babylonians and Egyptians formed a common stock somewhere near the mouth
of the Euphrates. Perhaps the Bible is right in saying that the first
seat of civilized man was in Eden, and that the Euphrates was the chief
river of Paradise. Or was it from Arabia, the immemorial home of the
Semitic tribes, that land of sand and mountain and fertile valley, land
of changeless culture and tradition, so near the centres of
civilization, and yet still the most inaccessible, the least known
portion of the inhabited earth, - was it from Arabia that the wiser,
stronger multitude came that first overran the valleys of both the Nile
and the Euphrates, bringing to Egypt and Chaldea arts and letters? We do
not know. Some future explorer must teach us. But the German Glaser has
within these few years brought back from hazardous journeys a multitude
of inscriptions that tell of kingdoms that fringed its southern coast
and extended we know not how far into the interior in those early days
when one of the queens of Sheba brought presents to Solomon, and when,
earlier still, we are told there were dukes of Edom before there was any
king in Israel. They say that a railroad is to be built to Mecca; Arabia
is not to be always a closed land, neighbor as it is to Egypt. We shall
know one of these days whether, as scholars suspect, out of Arabia and
across the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, where, at the southern end of the
Red Sea, Africa almost touches Asia, there came that mighty flood of
more forceful men, bred in the deserts and hills, who, passing down the
Nile, first brought history to Egypt; and whether it was this same
Semitic people, as scholars suspect again, that spread resistlessly
eastward to the Euphrates valley, and did an equal service in conquering
and assimilating the black aborigines of these swamps and lagoons. The
spade will tell us.

Or was it still further east, in the highlands of Persia, that men first
learned how to write and record history? We cannot go back so far in the
history of Babylonia - Professor Hilprecht dares to carry us seven
thousand years before Christ - that we do not find its kings fighting
against Elam. And only in the last decade of the Nineteenth century the
Frenchman De Morgan has made marvellous discoveries in the Elamite
lands. What a noble passion those Frenchmen have for discovery! For
Egypt did not Napoleon provide the most elephantine books of monuments
and records that printing-presses have yet issued? And from that time to
this have not Frenchmen held the primacy in excavations until, even
while England holds and rules Egypt, she leaves, by special convention,
the care of its monuments and their exploration to French savants? And
before Layard removed a basketful of the earth that covered the palace
of Shalmaneser at Nimroud, had not the Frenchman Botta disclosed the
friezes and sphinxes of Sargon at Khorsabad; and in these late years is
it not the Frenchman De Sarzec who has brought from Telloh to the Louvre
the statues of Chaldean kings that lived almost five thousand years ago?
And so to France was given the right, for the honor and enrichment of
the Louvre, to explore Persia; and De Morgan went to Susa, to Shushan,
the palace of Xerxes and Darius, of Ahasuerus and Esther, in search of
what was far earlier than they, for another Frenchman and his wife, M.
and Mme. Dieulafoy, had already excavated the noble palace of these
Persian kings. Far below the palace of Xerxes he has found vastly
earlier remains. There is the column set up, if we can believe the
Assyriologists who trust the chronology of Nabonidus, the last king of
Babylon, - and it is not incredible, - three thousand eight hundred years
before Christ, by Naram-Sin, a Babylonian king, to commemorate one of
his raids into the land of what were perhaps his stronger enemies. It
is a noble composition, with archaic writing, and a stately figure of
the king climbing the mountains and slaying his enemies; it shows an art
that might well have developed into the best that Greece has produced.
But De Morgan has only begun to scratch the surface of the mounds of
Elam, and a multitude of scholars believe that out of Elam came the
first civilization of Chaldea. We shall find out yet; for the record is
in the earth, and only waits the man who will dig it out, and then the
man who will read it.

We are tempted to go further east and recall that in India, the land


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Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 20 of 26)