Zénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) Ragozin.

Assyria : from the rise of the empire to the fall of Nineveh ; continued from the story of Chaldea online

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aggressive character, and finding its military training
in petty but constant conflicts with the surrounding
roving tribes of the hill and the plain.

3. Accordingly, it is this small district of a few
square miles, — with its three great cities, Kalah,
Nineveh, and Arbela, and a fourth, Dur-SharI
RUKIN, added much later, — which has been known
to the ancients as Aturia or Assyria proper, and to
which the passage in the tenth chapter of Genesis
(n-12) alludes. At the period of its greatest ex-
pansion, however, the name of *' Assyria " — "■ land of
Asshur " — covered a far greater territory, more than
filling the space between the two rivers, from the
mountains of Armenia to the alluvial line. This
gives a length of 350 miles by a breadth, between
the Euphrates and the Zagros, varying from above
3CX) to 170 miles. " The area was probably not less
than 75,000 square miles, which is beyond that of


the German provinces of Prussia or Austria, more
than double that of Portugal, and not much below
that of Great Britain. Assyria would thus, from her
mere size, be calculated to play an important part in
history ; and the more so, as, during the period of
her greatness, scarcely any nation with which she
came in contact possessed nearly so extensive a ter-

4. That the nation of Asshur, which the biblical
table of nations (Gen. x. 22) places second among
Shem's own children, was of purely Semitic race,
has never been doubted. The striking likeness of
the Assyrian to the Hebrew type of face would
almost alone have sufficed to establish the relation-
ship, even were not the two languages so very nearly
akin. But the kinship goes deeper than that, and
asserts itself in certain spiritual tendencies, which
find their expression in the national religion, or,
more correctly, in the one essential modification
introduced by the Assyrians into the Babylonian
religion, which they otherwise adopted wholesale,
just as they brought it from their Southern home.
Like their Hebrew brethren, they arrived at the
perception of the Divine Unity ; but while the wise
men of the Hebrews took their stand uncomprom-
isingly on monotheism and imposed it on their re-
luctant followers with a fervor and energy that no
resistance or backsliding could abate, the Assyrian
priests thought to reconcile the truth, which they but
imperfectly grasped, with the old traditions and the

* G. Rawlinson, *' Five Ancient Monarchies," Vol. I. p. 227 (edit.


established religious system. They retained the en-
tire Babylonian pantheon, with all its theory of suc-
cessive emanations, its two great triads, its five plan-
etary deities, and the host of inferior divinities, but,
at the head of them all, and above them all, they
placed the one God and Master whom they recog-
nized as supreme. They did not leave him wrapped
in uncertainty and lost in misty remoteness, but
gave him a very distinct individuality and a personal
name: they called him AsSHUR; and whether the
city were named after the god or the god after the
city, and then the land and people after both, — a
matter of dispute among scholars, — one fact remains,
and that the all-important one : that the Assyrians
identified themselves with their own national god,
called themselves '* his people," believed themselves
to be under his especial protection and leadership in
peace and war. His name almost always heads
the lists of ^' great gods" who are usually invoked,
sometimes alone, sometimes with their "great" or
** exalted consorts" at the beginning of long inscrip-
tions. Here is such an invocation, the opening of
a very famous inscription, in which Tiglath-Pileser
I., a mighty king and Assyria's first great conqueror,
narrates some of his campaigns: '^ Ass/mr, the great
lord, who rules the host of the gods, who endows with
sceptre and crown, establishes royalty, — Bel, the lord,
the king of all the Anunnaki,* father of gods, lord
of countries, — Sin, the wise, lord of the crown, the
exalted in luminous brilliancy, — Shamash, the judge

* See the " Story of Chaldea," p. 250; "Five Monarchies," Vol.
I. p. 300.


of heaven and earth, who sees the evil deeds of the

enemies Raman, the mighty, who floods the

countries of the enemies, their lands and their
houses, — Nineb, the strong, who destroys evil-doers
and enemies and lets men find what their heart de-
sires, — Ishtar, the first-born of the gods, who makes
battles fierce ; — -Ye great gods, the governors of
heaven and earth, whose onslaught is battle and de-
struction, who have exalted the royalty of Tiglath-
Pileser, the great one, the beloved of your hearts,"
etc., etc. We shall have to return to this inscrip-
tion, for many reasons one of the most important.
But this extract is sufficient to show the precedence
and supremacy to which Asshur is considered as un-
questionably entitled.

5. Quite as often he is mentioned alone. Indeed,
when a king tells of an expedition, undertaking, or
public act of his of any importance he generally
refers it in some way to Asshur as the distinctive
and representative national and supreme God, — to
his service, or law> or direct command or inspiration.
And herein again, as Mr. G. Rawlinson justly re-
marks, the Assyrian spirit shows itself nearly akin
to that of the Hebrews, who, in the same manner,
refer all their public acts, from a raid on a neighbor-
ing tribe to a wholesale slaughter of prisoners, to the
service and command of Yahveh (Jehovah). The
Assyrian kings never fail to attribute their victories
and conquests to Asshur, whose emblem precedes
them in battle, borne aloft on their standards.
(See No. i.) Indeed, there are two or three stand-
ing expressions used to record such events; they are


these : ** The majesty of Asshur, my lord, over-
whelmed them ; they came and kissed my feet ; "
or, ** The fear of Asshur overwhelmed the inhabit-
ants : my feet they took ; " or, *' Exceeding fear of
Asshur my lord overwhelmed them : they came and
took my feet." These extracts are taken from in-
scriptions of different kings and centuries widely re-
moved from each other, and might be multiplied
without end. They answer exactly to the biblical
phrase, ''Yahveh delivered them into their hands;"
or this: ** The fame of David went out into all the
lands, and Yahveh brought the fear of him on all
nations." An expedition to conquer a neighboring
territory or to punish rebels is undertaken at the
express command of Asshur, or of '* Asshur and the
great gods " ; and in order to propagate their laws,
or to chastise those who " did not keep their oaths
to the great gods," or "■ hardened their hearts and
disregarded the will of Asshur, the god, my crea-
tor." Thus Tiglath-Pileser I. says, in the inscrip-
tion already mentioned : '' Asshur, and the great
gods who have exalted my royalty, who have en-
dowed me with strength and power, commanded me to
enlarge the boundaries of their land, and gave into my
hand their mighty weapons, the whirlwind of battle :
countries, mountains, cities, and kings, /<9^^ to As-
shur^ I overthrew, and conquered their territories."
Another king, who reigns five hundred years later,
represents Asshur and the gods as speaking to him
by a direct message : *' Then to Asshur, to Sin,
Shamash, Bel, Nebo, Nergal, Ishtar of Nineveh,
and Ishtar of Arbela I lifted my hands. They ac-
cepted my prayer. In their gracious favor an en-


couraging message they sent to me : ' Go ! fear not-.
We march at thy side ! We aid thy expedition.' "
All this forcibly recalls to the mind such biblical
passages as the following: ''And the Lord said
unto Joshua, Stretch the spear that is in thine hand
toward it, for I will give it into thine hand " (Joshua,
viii. 18) ; or still more this one, to which, moreover,
many parallel ones might be found with little
searching: "And David inquired of God, Shall I
go up against the Philistines? And wilt thou de-
liver them into mine hand? And the Lord said to
him, Go up, for I will deliver them into thine
hand. . . . David, therefore, did as God commanded
him, and they smote the host of the Philistines "
(i Chronicles, xiv. 10, ff.).

6. Further, the Assyrian kings, when they inflict
more than usually cruel treatment on their captives,
be they individuals or nations, are wont to justify it
by their religious zeal, nay, to glory in the thorough-
ness with which they fulfil what they represent as
the direct commands of Asshur and the gods of
Assyria. ''They revolted against me," says the
often-quoted Asshurbanipal of the people of Accad,
Aram, and others, " and by command of Asshur
and Belit, and the great gods, my protectors, on the
whole of them I trampled." Immediately after
this he mentions that he had, in a former expedi-
tion, cut off the head of his captive enemy, the king
of Elam, " by command of Asshur." As to the
rebels in Accad, he boasts that " those men who ut-
tered curses against Asshur, my god, and devised
evil against me, the prince, his worshipper, their
tongues I pulled out " (a common form of torture


repeatedly represented on the sculptures) ; of the
rest of the rebels, he threw a large number alive
into a deep pit or ditch, dug in the midst of the
city, among the stone lions and bulls of the palace
gates, after cutting off their limbs and causing these
" to be eaten by dogs, bears, eagles, vultures, birds of
heaven, and fishes of the deep." '' By these things
which were done," he concludes with religious com-
placency, *' I satisfied the hearts of the great gods,
my lords." And when he further relates how he
bound another captive chief in chains with dogs and
thus kept him '' in the great gate in the midst of
Nineveh," he calls this treatment a '^ judgment on
him to satisfy the law of Asshur and the great gods,
my lords." We see the exact parallel to this in the
annals of the Jews' wars and conquests. They are
continually enjoined, in the name of the Lord, by
their leaders and priests, to put to the sword the
vanquished populations, as a preservative against
the contagion of their idolatrous religions. *' Then
you shall rise up from the ambush," says Joshua to
the Israelite warriors, " and seize upon the city, for
the Lord your God will deliver it into your hand.
And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that
ye shall set the city on fire : according to the com-
mandment of the Lord shall ye do'\] oshudij viii. 7-8).
Perhaps the most memorable occasion is that on
which King Saul is declared to have forfeited the
crown and the favor of God for having saved one
life and reserved some cattle. These are the instruc-
tions which the prophet Samuel delivers to Saul as
he sends him on an expedition against the Amale-


kites, prefacing his words with the usual solemn
** Thus saith Yahveh Shebaoth(the Lord of hosts),"
which stamps them as divine orders: ''Now go
and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they
have, and spare them not ; but slay both man and
woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel
and ass." Saul did smite the Amalekites, and " ut-
terly destroyed all the people with the edge of the
sword," but spared Agag their king, who had been
taken alive, and the best of the herds. For this
disobedience Samuel declared to Saul: "Thou hast
rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath
rejected thee from being king over Israel," then
calling for Agag to be brought to him, '■'Samuel
hewed Agag in pieces before Yahveh'' (i Samuel, xv.).
7. But if both the Hebrews and Assyrians referred
their military acts to direct divine command and
guidance, the immense power thus created was
very differently distributed in both. With the
Hebrews it was all in the hands of the priesthood
and prophets, and scarcely any of it rested with the
kings when royalty was established. The kings were
but instruments, one might almost say servants, of
the priests and prophets, elected, anointed by them,
and by them deposed if not found sufficiently sub-
missive. Even to offer a sacrifice before the people
was not lawful for the king ; it was the priest's privi-
lege, and Samuel sternly reproves Saul for his pre-
sumption in taking the office on himself on one occa-
sion (i Samuel, xv.). Things were very different in
Assyria. The king was also the priest — still the
patesi of old times. He sometimes expressly calk


himself " High-priest of Asshur." But only of As-
shur, the one supreme god. Royalty on earth is
the representative of the ruler in heaven. The na-
tional god and the national leader together are the
greatness and safeguard of the state ; they are in
direct communion with each other, and nothing can
come between them. The monuments give the
amplest and most conclusive proof of this relation-

8. In the sculptured scenes representing inci-
dents from the career ,,„,. ^^/,/, ,^.^
of a monarch — whose Ai'J^^^l^M^P^^^SS*^^ .'•


person is always ;f!|v,#^^^^^^f^^^^B|j^»


known by his rich

robes, high head-tire, - ^ . . ..,n«=^ svv^a^-isaiwmv^NN/ "■myr'/z^-.i. vv

and his beardless at- \3\&^/\'^^^m^^M^M

tendants — we often )'r.^f}'/:^r.^<^ji^^^^

see hovering above "'^"^v

his head, or just in i. — emblem of the god asshur.

front of him, a peCU- (Perrotand Chipiez.)

liar object : mostly a human figure, ending in a feath-
ered appendage like a bird's tail — a dove's, it is
thought — from the waist downwards, and framed in,
or passed through, a circle or wheel furnished with
wings. It is the emblem of Asshur, and it is seen, if
not above that of the sacred tree or an altar on which
sacrifice is being offered, accompanying only the
king, never any one else. Its attitude also answers
to the character of the scene in the midst of which
the god appears to protect and consecrate the royal
presence. If a battle, he is represented as drawing
a bow before the king; the arrow which he is send-



ing into the midst of the enemies plainly symbolizes
the destruction and fear which the inscriptions de-
scribe him as bringing on all his foes. If a peaceful
solemnity — for instance, a triumphal procession, a
religious ceremony — the bow is lowered and one
hand uplifted unarmed, an attitude in which the king
himself is frequently represented on similar occa-
sions (see Nos. i and 2); or there is no bow at



■ r'Vi


*m^\\\\\r.,i,:, . ;\v ■ -' '\^\



(Perrot and Chipiez.)

all, and one hand holds out a wreath, probably an
emblem of peace and prosperity. Sometimes the
human figure is absent, and the simplified emblem
consists only of a winged circle or disk, with the
bird's tail, which is never omitted. In this form it
strikingly resembles the Egyptian symbol of the su-
preme deity, which is also a winged disk, but with-
out the tail, while the wings are those of the spar-
row-hawk, which was the sacred bird of the Egyp-

The rise Of asshur.


tians, just as the dove was that of the Assyrians,
and of several other Semitic and Canaanitic nations.
The two peoples were known to each other, and
came in contact at an earlier date than the earliest
to which any sculptures can be referred, and it is
not impossible that the Assyrian priests, wishing to
embody with the rest of their religious system a
conception which they did not inherit from the old
Chaldean home, borrowed the emblem from the
Egyptians, whose fame for wisdom in such things
was of long standing. It may perhaps not be too
bold to conjecture that the Asshur-emblem may in
reality have been a compound one, intended to con-
vey the idea of the universe embodied in its ruling
powers — its gods, to speak the language of anti-
quity - being contained in the one supreme God-
head. The disk, we must remember, symbolizes
the sun in all mythologies ; the dove is the bird of
Ishtar, the goddess of earthly productive nature —
Heaven and Earth, the eternal couple ! And when
we see the sacred emblem hovering over the
mystic tree of life (as in Nos. 3 and 4), the inten-
tion seems more obvious still and the presenta-
tion of it complete. Within the disk we some-
times see five smaller balls : — the suggestion of the
five planets, strikingly emphasizing the conception
of heaven, is almost irresistible ; and the unique form
— a small head on each wing — in which the emblem
appears on the cylinder seal of King Sennacherib
(No. 3) could scarcely be explained at all on any
other grounds ; while, if we see in it a personation
embracing the Supreme Triad and the feminine



form of Nature — /. e., of the entire universe in its
twofold essence, masculine and feminine — it explains
itself, and almost seems to correspond in deep sig-
nificance to the Hebrew plural " Elohim," as a name
for the one indivisible God.* A no less remarkable
instance of the compound nature of the Asshur em-
blem is a cylinder of, it is thought, the ninth century
B.C. The king, (represented, for symmetry's sake, in
double), attended by one of those eagle-headed
winged-protecting genii so familiar to students of the

sculptures, worships be-
fore the sacred tree,
above which hovers the
emblem of Asshur in
its completest form ;
from the circle depends
a sort of string in a
wavy line, and as it ends
in a well-drawn fork —
the undoubted emblem
of Raman, the god of the atmosphere — it may be
reasonably supposed to represent the lightning.
That the king holds it in his hand unharmed only
expresses the sacredness of his person and his in-
timate connection with the national god. This
supposition would by no means contradict the ex-
planation^commonly given of the strings as sym-
bolizing the bond between the god and king cre-
ated by prayer. Both explanations are perfectly
compatible. It is the fork which so strongly sug-

(Perrot and Chipiez.)

* See •' Sto^y of Chaldea," p. 354.



gests Raman. The sacredness of the symbol is
impressed on us even by the robes he wears on
the sculptures, and which have as much a priestly
as a royal character, since not only the embroi-
dery on his breast reproduces the winged disk
and sacred tree, but even accessory details of his
costume are ornamented with symbolical designs
of the same religious nature (see No. 4), which
supply much of the decorations also of his dwell-
ing, at least of the
public apartments
therein. It would
almost seem that
the king was him-
self ranked with the
gods, as subject to
Asshur alone, or at
least held worthy
to associate with
them, if we judge
from a cylinder on
which a royal wor-
shipper is faced on the other side of the sacred tree
by no less a personage than Ea-Oannes, that ancient
and much revered divine being who, like him, does
homage to the holy emblem. Officiating and sacri-
ficing priests are frequently encountered on sculpt-
ures and cylinders, but never in the presence of the
sovereign, or then only as following and attending on
him : nothing and no one could ever come between
the king and " Asshur, his lord." Yet the other
" great gods " were also called upon to protect and

(Perrot and Chipiez.)


consecrate the royal persons ; we see kings wearing,
as a necklace, the five secondary divine emblems,
probably in gold. These were : a sun, a moon-
crescent, a star, Raman's lightning-fork, and Bel's
horned cap — the headdress adorned with bull's horns,
which is not only associated with Bel, but gener-
ally symbolizes divine lordliness and power, and as
such is worn by Asshur himself, by the winged bulls
and lions, the mighty guardians of the palace gates,
and by the winged good genii (see No. 35). The
same emblems we see encircling the head of kings
on their sculptured images (see No. 46). One
such royal slab or " stele,'' as such representations
are technically called, is of additional interest from
the altar which was found in front of and just below
it, and which seems to suggest that the monarch,
either in his lifetime or after his death, received
divine honors, or at least was considered as presid-
ing over religious ceremonies in effigy when not
present in person. There would be nothing improb-
able in either supposition after all the indications
we have of the royal sacredness ; and, truly, Shakes-
peare might have had the Assyrian monarchs in his
mind when he spoke of the divinity that doth hedge
a king.

9. After dwelling so long and amply on the most
important and distinctive feature of the Assyrian re-
ligion, — the conception and worship of Asshur,— the
rest of the pantheon can be considered in very few
words, since it is mainly unchanged from the Baby-
lonian, and only a few deviations have to be pointed
out. In the first place, Gibil, the Fire-god, is heard


of no more. Then Bel-Marduk, transformed from
the benevolently busy Meridug, so dear to old Shu-
mir, — Bel-Marduk, the chief and tutelary deity of
the later Chaldean empire and of the great Babylon,
where his temple was reckoned and long remem-
bered as one of the wonders of the world, — had to be
content in the sister kingdom with a very secondary
position, that of ruler of the planet Jupiter. Very
early Assyrian kings include him in their opening
invocations, and sometimes even make separate
mention of him in their inscriptions ; but it is only
from old associations, and the habit dies out as the
national Asshur increases in importance. Marduk
does not receive the compliment of a single temple
in Assyria, and though the latest kings once more
make his name prominent in their documents, they
pay him this respect on account of their renewed
close connection with Babylon and partly to concili-
ate the Babylonians. His father, Ea, fares even
worse. Though he retains his place in the great triad
— Anu, Ea, Bel — he practically is consigned to obliv.
ion, and the very rare and cold, if respectful, mention
which is made of him only makes the fact more ap-
parent. He also cannot boast a single temple in As-
syria, while Anu, who in a great measure shares this
neglect, had one at least. True, that one was not in
either Nineveh or Kalah, the modern capitals, but in
Asshur, the old-empire city, and pointed to a time
when the connection with the mother country and
its traditions had scarcely as yet been loosened.
" There is, however, reason to believe," according to
some writers, " that Anu was occasionally honored



with a shrine in a temple dedicated to another
deity."* Ishtar, on the other hand, was as great a
favorite with the Assyrians as with the empire of
the South. Her two principal temples were in
Nineveh and Arbela (Arba-ILU, " the city of fo^ir
gods "). In the latter she was worshipped pre-em-
inently in her martial character as the goddess of
war and battle, the inspirer of heroic deeds, and the
giver of victory; while in Nineveh, it was her fem-
inine, voluptuous aspect which predominated, and
she was essentially the goddess of love, of nature,
and all delights. So marked became this division,
that she, so to speak, split herself into two distinct
deities, and the mention of her in the invocations is
generally twofold, — as " Ishtar of Nineveh " and
" Ishtar of Arbela," — and the two fortnights of the
month are alternately consecrated to her. This dis-
tinction must have been assisted by the difference
of the goddess's garb and attributes in the two
characters, and thus have slipped into pure idola-
try. As she was, in the astronomical-religious sys-
tem, the ruler of the planet we call Venus, the star
among the five divine emblems (see above) must
have been specially intended for her. It is the more
probable, that her name originally means " the god-
dess "/^r ^;ir^^//^;/^r, and that in the Assyro-Baby-
lonian writing (the same for both countries, like the
language) the sign of a star stands for the idea and
the word " deity," whether "god" or ''goddess."
When the real, visible stars are meant, the sign is

* G. Rawlinson, " Five Monarchies," Vol. II. p. 241.

tHE RISE OF Assiiuk. 19

repeated three times in a peculiar group, a very

Online LibraryZénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) RagozinAssyria : from the rise of the empire to the fall of Nineveh ; continued from the story of Chaldea → online text (page 2 of 28)