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Title: Mesopotamian Archaeology
       An introduction to the archaeology of Mesopotamia and Assyria

Author: Percy S. P. Handcock

Release Date: March 26, 2014 [EBook #45229]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Delphine Lettau, Turgut Dincer and the Online
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Transcriber's Note:

Some names with different spellings have not been corrected as these spellings are possibly alternate spellings for the same person or location.

The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.












IN every department of science the theories of yesterday are perpetually being displaced by the empirical facts of to-day, though the ascertainment of these facts is frequently the indirect outcome of the theories which the facts themselves dissipate. Hence it is that the works of the greatest scholars and experts have no finality, they are but stepping-stones towards the goal of perfect knowledge. Since the publications of Layard, Rawlinson, Botta and Place much new material has been made accessible for the reconstruction of the historic past of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and we are consequently able to fill in many gaps in the picture so admirably, and as far as it went, so faithfully drawn by the pioneers in the field of excavation and research. This work, which owes its origin to a suggestion made by Dr. Wallis Budge, represents an endeavour on the part of the writer to give a brief account of the civilization of ancient Babylonia and Assyria in the light of this new material.

It is hoped that the infinitude of activities and pursuits which go to make up the civilization of any country will justify the writer’s treatment of so many subjects in a single volume. It will be observed that space allotted to the consideration of the different arts and crafts varies on the one hand according to the relative importance of the part each played in the life of the people, and on the other hand according to the amount of material available for the study of the particular subject.

No effort has been spared to make the chapters on Architecture, Sculpture and Metallurgy as comprehensive as the limitations of the volume permit, while forPg viiithe sake of those who desire to pursue the study of any of the subjects dealt with in this book, and to work up the sketch into a picture, a short bibliography is given at the end.

It has not been thought desirable to amass a vast number of references in the footnotes, and the writer is thereby debarred from acknowledging his indebtedness to the works of other writers on all occasions as he would like to have done.

In addition to the chapters which deal expressly with the cultural evolution of the dwellers in Mesopotamia, two chapters are devoted to the consideration of the Cuneiform writing—its pictorial origin, the history of its decipherment, and the literature of which it is the vehicle, while another chapter is occupied with a historical review of the excavations. The short chronological summary at the end obviously makes not the slightest pretension to even being a comprehensive summary; it merely purports to give the general chronological order of some of the better known rulers and kings of Babylonia and Assyria to whom allusion is made in this volume, together with a notice of some of the more significant land-marks in the history of the two countries.

The writer’s thanks are due to the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to photograph some of the objects in the Babylonian and Assyrian Collections, and to Dr. Wallis Budge for facilities and encouragement in carrying out the work; to the University of Chicago Press for allowing him to reproduce illustrations from the American Journal of Semitic Languages and also diagrams from Harper’s Memorial Volumes; to M. Ernest Leroux for permitting him to make use of some of the plates contained in the monumental works of De Sarzec and Heuzey, and to M. Ch. Eggimann of the “Libraire Centrale d’art et d’architecture ancienne maison Morel,” for his very kind permission to reproduce two of the plates contained in Dieulafoy, L’ArtPg ix Antique de la Perse. He is similarly indebted to the Deutsche-Orient Gesellschaft for allowing him to make an autotype copy of one of the plates in Andrae’s Der Anu-Adad Tempel. He further desires to acknowledge the generosity of Prof. H. V. Hilprecht in allowing him to make use of many of the illustrations contained in his numerous publications, and also of Dr. Fisher for permitting him to reproduce some of the photographs contained in his magnificently illustrated work on the excavations at Nippur. He is very sensible of his indebtedness to these two gentlemen, as also to M. Leroux and the Deutsche-Orient Gesellschaft, for the photographs of excavations in progress are obviously of a unique character and admit of no repetition; he further desires to express his obligations to Dr. W. Hayes Ward for his most kind permission to copy a number of seal-impressions and other illustrations contained in his recently published work—Cylinder-Seals of Western Asia. Lastly, he welcomes the opportunity of acknowledging the kindness of Mr. Mansell for allowing him to publish many photographs of objects in the British Museum and the Louvre contained in his incomparable collection, and for in other ways facilitating the illustration of this volume. Most of the plans and drawings used for this volume are the work of Miss E. K. Reader, who has performed her task with her usual skill.

P. S. P. H.

March, 1912.



p. 6, l. 3,for 2500 b.c. read 2400 b.c.
p. 6, l. 18,for 2500 b.c. read 2400 b.c.
p. 43, l. 7from foot,read both French and English explorers
p. 62, l. 2,for considerable read much
p. 89, l. 5,for ± read —
p. 110, l. 2,for 2500 b.c. read 2400 b.c.
p. 125, l. 7from foot, for or read and
p. 130, l. 23,for 2400 b.c. read 2350 b.c.
p. 155, l. 31,for having read have
p. 235, l. 9from foot, for Sumu-la-ilu read Sumu-ilu
p. 247, l. 1,for 2500 b.c. read 2400 b.c.
p. 249, l. 35,after crudeness read these heads

The reference numbers as printed on Plates VII to XI are inaccurate, and should be altered as follows, in agreement with the List of Illustrations and the references in the text:—

Present number
and position
Correct number
and position
Ziggurat of Ashur-naṣir-palVII Facing p. 64VIII Facing p. 78
Inscriptions on ClayVIII”78IX”106
Ruined Mounds and Court of MenIX”106X”132
Water Conduit, NippurX”132XI”138
Excavations in Temple CourtXI”138VII”64

Pg xi


(a) Land and People1
(b) Sketch of Babylonian and Assyrian History28
III.Decipherment of the Cuneiform Inscriptions85
IV.Cuneiform Inscriptions95
X.Shell-Engraving and Ivory-work309
XI.Terra-cotta Figures and Reliefs317
XII.Stoneware and Pottery325
XIII.Dress, Military Accoutrements, etc.337
XIV.Life, Manners, Customs, Law, Religion364
Short Bibliography406

List of the more important Kings and Rulers and a Brief Chronological Summary


Pg xxii

Pg xiii


I.Coloured Lion at KhorsabadFrontispiece
II.Kouyunjik and Nebi Yûnus (two views)42
Nimrûd (Calah)42

Excavations at Nimrûd (Calah) in Ashur-naṣir-pal’s Palace

IV.“Fish-God,” and Entrance Passage, Kouyunjik48
V.Doorway at Tellô, erected by Gudea54

South-eastern façade of Ur-Ninâ’s building at Tellô


Remains of a Stele in a building under that of Ur-Ninâ

The Well of Eannatum58
VII.Excavations In the Temple Court: Nippur64
VIII.The Ziggurat and Palace of Ashur-naṣir-pal, Ashur78

Inscriptions on clay illustrating the sizes and shapes of the Tablets, etc., used by the Babylonians and Assyrians

X.The Ruined Mounds of Nippur132
Court of the Men from the North-East, Nippur132
XI.Water Conduit of Ur-Engur, Nippur138

Portion of the “Vulture Stele” of Eannatum, Patesi of Lagash

XIII.Stele of Victory of Narâm-Sin192

Stele engraved with Khammurabi’s Code of Laws

The Sun-God Tablet198
XV.Bas-relief of Ashur-naṣir-pal202
Pg xivXVI.Bas-reliefs of Ashur-naṣir-pal (four subjects)204
XVII.Siege of a City by battering-ram and archers206

Ashur-bani-pal’s Hunting Scenes: Lion and lioness in a garden

XIX.Ashur-bani-pal’s Hunting Scenes (two subjects)218

Ashur-bani-pal’s Hunting Scenes: Hunting wild asses with dogs


Ashur-bani-pal pouring out a libation over dead lions

XXI.Ashur-bani-pal reclining at meat222
Musicians and Attendants222
XXII.Limestone figure of an early Sumerian224
Three archaic stone heads224

Head and two diorite statues of Gudea; upper part of female statuette


Statues of Nebo and Ashur-naṣir-pal; torso of a woman

XXV.Winged man-headed genii236
XXVI.Stone lion of Ashur-naṣir-pal238
XXVII.The Kasr lion240

Miscellaneous objects of bronze, from Nimrûd

XXIX.Bronze bowl, from Nimrûd256
XXX.Decorated arch at Khorsabad278
XXXI.Glazed bricks282
XXXII.Ivory panels, from Nimrûd314
XXXIII.Pottery, from Nimrûd and Nineveh334


1. Pictographs97
2. Pictographs99
3. Late Babylonian “squeeze” of an early inscription117
4. Brick-stamp of Narâm-Sin117
5. Clay covering of the “Sun-Tablet”117
6. Restoration of the temple at Nippur137
7. Restoration of the Anu-Adad temple at Ashur144
Pg xv8. Restoration of Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad151
9. Domed roofs in Assyria155
10, 11. Terra-cotta drains159
12. Columnar piers at Tellô161
13. Large column capital; small column capital165
14. Columns (various)166
15. Early arch at Nippur170
16. Early arch at Tellô170
17. Corbelled arch at Nippur173
18. Round arch at Babylon173
19-22. Arched drains at Khorsabad174
23. Burial-vault at Ashur176
24. Burial-vault at Ur (Muḳeyyer)176
24a. Ziggurat on Assyrian bas-relief180
24b. Ziggurat at Khorsabad180
25. Six early bas-reliefs182
26. Stele of Ur-Ninâ and mace-head of Mesilim185

27. Two fragments of the “Vulture Stele”; little sculptured block (Entemena’s reign)

28. Five bas-reliefs, including one of Narâm-Sin194
29. Bas-relief of Sargon, king of Assyria209
30. Bas-relief of Sennacherib; removal of stone bull213
31. Sennacherib at Lachish215
32. Statue of Esar, king of Adab223
33. Early stone statue of a woman224

34. Statue of Manishtusu; seated figure of a woman; head of a woman

35. Seated figure of Shalmaneser II231

36. Stone lion-head; figure of a dog; stone figure of a human-headed bull inlaid with shell

37. Copper spear-head; hollow copper tube243
38. Early copper figures245

39. Copper figures of Basket-bearers; copper figure of Gudea

40. Figures and heads of animals in copper and bronze250
41. Two Assyrian swords; an Assyrian axe254
42. Bronze dish257
Pg xvi43, 44. Bronze gate-bands259260
45. Silver vase of Entemena265
46. Coloured clay relief lion from Babylon274

47. Coloured bull at Babylon; coloured bull at Nimrûd (Calah)


48. Three cylinder seals; clay tablet bearing a seal-impression

49-77. Impressions from cylinder-seals289-307
78-83. Engravings on shells310-312
84. Carved ivory panel from Nimrûd314
85. Early terra-cotta figures318
86. Terra-cotta figures of later date320
87. Terra-cotta figure of a dog323
88. Terra-cotta plaque showing dog with attendant323
89. Stone vase of Narâm-Sin328
90. Decorated stone vase of Gudea328

91. Three stone vessels, one of which bears an inscription of Sennacherib, and another the name of Xerxes; small glass vessel of Sargon

92, 93. Two early clay pots from Nippur332
94. Boomerang-shaped weapons342
95. Assyrian jewellery348
96, 97. Combs349

98, 99. Foot-spearman and Foot-archers of the first Assyrian period

100-102. Archers in the reign of Sargon351
103-105. Archers in the reign of Sennacherib352
106, 107. Assyrian cavalry354355
108. Assyrian chariotry356
109. Assyrian helmets and head-gears357
110. Assyrian weapons of offence358
111. Battering-rams and shields360
112. Naval equipment of the Assyrians362
113-115. Babylonian emblems396-398
(1) Mesopotamia, (2) BabyloniaFolder at end

Pg 1

Mesopotamian Archæology



THE Mesopotamian civilization shares with the Egyptian civilization the honour of being one of the two earliest civilizations in the world, and although M. J. de Morgan’s excavations at Susa the ruined capital of ancient Elam, have brought to light the elements of an advanced civilization which perhaps even antedates that of Mesopotamia, it must be remembered that the Sumerians who, so far as our present knowledge goes, were the first to introduce the arts of life and all that they bring with them, into the low-lying valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, probably themselves emigrated from the Elamite plateau on the east of the Tigris; at all events the Sumerians expressed both “mountain” and “country” by the same writing-sign, the two apparently being synonymous from their point of view; in support of this theory of a mountain-home for the Sumerians, we may perhaps further explain the temple-towers, the characteristic feature of most of the religious edifices in Mesopotamia, as a conscious or unconscious imitation in bricks and mortar of the hills and ridges of their native-land, due to an innate aversion to the dead-level monotony of the Babylonian plain, while it is also a significant fact that in the earliest period Shamash the Sun-god is represented with one foot resting on a mountain, Pg 2or else standing between two mountains. However this may be, the history of the Elamites was intimately wrapped up with that of the dwellers on the other side of the Tigris, from the earliest times down to the sack of Susa by Ashur-bani-pal, king of Assyria, in the seventh century. Both peoples adopted the cuneiform system of writing, so-called owing to the wedge-shaped formation of the characters, the wedges being due to the material used in later times for all writing purposes—the clay of their native soil—: both spoke an agglutinative, as opposed to an inflexional language like our own, and both inherited a similar culture.

A further, and in its way a more convincing argument in support of the mountain-origin theory is afforded by the early art of the Sumerians. On the most primitive seal cylinders1 we find trees and animals whose home is in the mountains, and which certainly were not native to the low-lying plain of Babylonia. The cypress and the cedar-tree are only found in mountainous districts, but a tree which must be identified with one or the other of them is represented on the early seal cylinders; it is of course true that ancient Sumerian rulers fetched cedar wood from the mountains for their building operations, and therefore the presence of such a tree on cylinder seals merely argues a certain acquaintance with the tree, but Ceteris paribus it is more reasonable to suppose that the material earthly objects depicted, were those with which the people were entirely familiar and not those with which they were merely casually acquainted. Again, on the early cylinders the mountain bull, known as the Bison bonasus, assumes the rôle played in later times by the lowland water-buffalo. This occurs with such persistent regularity that the inference that the home of the Sumerians in those days was in the mountains is almost inevitable. Again, as Ward points out, the composite man-bull Ea-bani, the Pg 3companion of Gilgamesh, has always the body of a bison, never that of a buffalo. So too the frequent occurrence of the ibex, the oryx, and the deer with branching horns, all argues in the same direction, for the natural home of all these animals lay in the mountains.

The Mesopotamian valley may, for the immediate purpose of this book, be divided into two halves, a dividing-line being roughly drawn between the two rivers just above Abû Habba (Sippar); the northern half embraces the land occupied by the Assyrians, and the southern half that occupied by the Babylonians. The precise date at which Assyria was colonized by Babylonia is not known, but to the first known native2 king of Assyria, Irishum, we may assign an approximate date of 2000 b.c. Babylonia proper is an alluvial plain the limits of which on the east and west are the mountains of Persia and the table-land of Arabia respectively. This valley has been gradually formed at the expense of the sea’s domain, for in the remote past the Persian Gulf swept over the whole plain at least as far northward as the city of Babylon where sea-shells have been found, and probably a good deal further. It owes its formation to the silt brought down by the two rivers and deposited at the mouth of the Gulf: the amount of land thus yearly reclaimed from the sea in early times is not known, but as Spasinus Chorax the modern Mohammerah, which is now some forty-seven miles inland, was situated on the sea-coast in the time of Alexander, we know that the conquest of the land over the sea has been progressing since his time at the rate of 115 feet yearly.

Thus the physical characteristics of the country in which Babylonian civilization was developed, if it was not actually the place of its origin, form a close parallel to those of Lower Egypt; in Egypt however Pg 4such evidence as there is, would indicate the South, or Upper Egypt as the earliest scene of civilization, the North being conquered by the Mesniu (Metal-users) of the South, not only in the battle-field but also in culture and civilization. Both countries have but a small sea-board where their rivers find an outlet, the Nile into the Mediterranean, and the Tigris and Euphrates into the Persian Gulf; both countries had emerged and were yearly emerging out of the sea, for it is certain that at one time the Mediterranean penetrated as far south as Esneh, while as already mentioned, the Persian Gulf extended at least as far as Babylon; we are accordingly not surprised to find in both the Babylonian and Egyptian cosmologies a tradition which told of the creation of the world out of a primæval mass of water, though this idea looms less conspicuously in the Egyptian than in the Babylonian and Hebrew cosmologies. Both countries also were visited by a yearly inundation which, while it brought no small amount of devastation in its train, at the same time deposited the mud so essential to the enrichment of the soil, the desolation being checked or at least mitigated in either country by an elaborate system of irrigation canals, which same canals were in the summer-time the means of conveying the life-giving water to the dry and thirsty land. Both Babylonia and Egypt enjoy a warm climate, though Egypt is much more dry and therefore healthier, and the corresponding dryness of its soil has preserved the tangible evidences of its ancient history in a far more perfect condition than the marsh-country of Lower Mesopotamia; and lastly the climate of Egypt is not subject to the same violent changes of temperature incidental to the seasons in the Valley of the Euphrates.

The evidence of any racial connection between the earliest known inhabitants of the two countries is very precarious; as regards their art, their customs and their language, the Sumerians on the one hand, and the pre-dynastic Pg 5and early dynastic Egyptians on the other, show a complete independence of each other; both countries were probably invaded at an early period of their histories by the Semites, who in the case of Mesopotamia completely supplanted their predecessors of different stock, but who were at the same time themselves absorbed by the higher civilization of the Sumerians to which they were the destined heirs, and to the further development of which they themselves were to contribute so largely; but at what period or periods the Semites swept over Egypt and the north coast of Africa, impressing their indelible and unmistakable stamp upon the foundation-structure of the Egyptian and Libyan languages is not known; whenever it was, we can safely assume that their advent took place in prehistoric days, for the hieroglyphs and probably also the language of the dynastic Egyptians were the natural development of the language and crude picture-signs of their predecessors, and the theory of a violent break in the continuity of early Egyptian civilization at the commencement of the first dynasty is daily becoming more untenable. We are similarly unable to assign any definite date to the arrival of the Semites in the Mesopotamian Valley, though the Neo-Babylonian King Nabonidus gives us a traditional date for Shar-Gâni-sharri3 (Sargon) and his son Narâm-Sin, kings of Agade, who, so far as we know, established the first Semitic empire in the country. There were indeed Semitic Kings of Kish before the time of Shar-Gâni-sharri, but the extent of their sway was clearly very limited compared with the far-reaching empire of the rulers of Agade. But there are reasons for doubting the accuracy of the traditional date of 3750 b.c. which Nabonidus assigns to Narâm-Sin, the chief reason being the extraordinary gap in the yieldings of Babylonian excavations between Pg 6the time of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin, and that of Gudea, the priest-king of Lagash in Southern Babylonia, who reigned about 2400 b.c.; that is to say, concerning a period of about 1300 years the excavations have afforded us practically no information whatever, while both at the beginning and at the close of that period, we have abundant evidence of the civilization and history of the inhabitants of Babylonia; secondly, the style of art characteristic of the time of Gudea and the kings of Ur, as also the style of writing found in their inscriptions, presuppose no such long interval between the time of Sargon and their own day. But there are yet other considerations which are even more potent, and which deserve greater attention than has been up to the present accorded to them, depending as they do upon the stratification of the ruined mounds themselves. Now it is a very significant fact that the architectural remains of Ur-Engur (circ. 2400 b.c.) at Nippur, are found immediately above those of Narâm-Sin, for such an arrangement is hardly conceivable if a period of some thirteen hundred years separated these two rulers. Again, the excavations carried on by Dr. Banks for the University of Chicago at Bismâya have been productive of similar evidence, for immediately below the ruined ziggurat of Dungi, Ur-Engur’s successor on the throne of Ur, large square bricks of the size and shape characteristic of the time of Shar-Gâni-sharri were discovered, while among the bricks a strip of gold inscribed with the name of Narâm-Sin was also brought to light. The evidence afforded by the excavations on these two sites would thus appear to be exceedingly strong against the traditional date recorded by Nabonidus.4

It is therefore tempting to reason that that long silent period, the silence of which cannot be adequately accounted for, had no existence at all, that Nabonidus’ statement is therefore to be discredited, and that Shar-Gâni-sharri Pg 7and Narâm-Sin probably lived and reigned more than a thousand years later, i.e. about 2650 b.c. On the other hand it is important to remember that the Babylonians were astronomers and mathematicians of no mean order, and that they exercised the greatest possible care in calculating dates, that moreover Nabonidus was a king of Babylonia, and therefore “a priori” likely to be in possession of reliable traditions, if any existed, and further, that he lived 2500 years nearer to the time than we do. The inscription of Nabonidus in question was found in the mound of Sippar near Agade. It says:—“The foundation corner-stone of the temple E-ulba in the town of the eternal fire (Agade) had not been seen since the times before Sargon King of Babylonia and his son Narâm-Sin.... The cylinder of Narâm-Sin, son of Sargon, whom for 3200 years, no king among his predecessors had seen, Shamash the great lord of Sippara hath revealed to him.” Thus according to Nabonidus, Narâm-Sin lived about 3750 b.c. The archæological evidence is however so strong in this particular case, both negatively in regard to the absence of any tangible evidence of the long interval in question, and positively in regard to the stratification of the mounds containing the relics of these two kings and also in regard to the similarity between the earlier sculptures and inscriptions of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin and those belonging to the latter half of the third millennium b.c., that we are no longer able to maintain the implicit confidence in the historical accuracy of Nabonidus which early scholars once had.

From the inscriptions of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin that have been brought to light, we gather that the authors of these inscriptions were Semites, in other words we learn that the empire of Agade was a Semitic Empire, and since they extended their empire over all Western Asia, the Sumerian power located more in the south must have proportionately dwindled. But Pg 8their Sumerian predecessors had established their influence and power in Mesopotamia for a long and indefinite time before this date, for Sumerian inscriptions which are almost certainly to be assigned to the pre-Sargonic period give us the names of a large number of early kings and rulers of Babylonia; their early date is shown by the writing of these inscriptions which bear a more archaic stamp than those of Shar-Gâni-sharri and Narâm-Sin. For just as uninscribed sculptures are relatively dateable by the style of art to which they conform, so that it is possible to provisionally say that this sculpture or cylinder-seal is older than that, because it presents a more archaic and less finished style of art, so is it possible to approximately date un-named and un-dated inscriptions by the style of writing adopted in those inscriptions. We thus have two means at our disposal by which we can assign uninscribed monuments of an early period to their relatively correct places in the evolution of art and culture; on the one hand the stratum of the ruined mound in which the object in question has been found can often itself be relatively dated by actually inscribed monuments found either in the stratum itself, or in the stratum immediately above or below; or failing these, by the depth at which the stratum lies below the top of the mound, though this latter alone is a poor criterion owing to the fact that such accumulation will obviously vary in different places. The value of all such evidence however depends on whether or not the strata have been disturbed, as is often unfortunately the case.

The reason why the ruins of Mesopotamian cities have assumed the form of mounds lies in the fact that a conquering chief demolished the clay walls and buildings of his vanquished foe, but instead of clearing the débris away, he built on the top of it; for his new building operations the new-comer often utilized part of the old material, hence the uncertainty of a date assigned to an object, based on the mere assumption that such object Pg 9belongs to the stratum in which it has ultimately found itself, without other corroborative evidence. On the other hand we are in these days always able to apply the purely archæological test, which depends upon a close examination of the style of art or the mode of writing.

Some of these pre-Sargonic rulers already alluded to can be arranged in strictly chronological order, i.e. the rulers of the city of Lagash, one of the earliest centres of Sumerian civilization in Babylonia. Lagash lies fifteen hours’ journey north of Ur and two hours’ east of Warka (the ancient Erech), and it is Lagash which has provided us with more material for our study of early Sumerian life and culture than any other city in the Euphrates valley.

The order of the early pre-Sargonic rulers of Lagash is as follows: Ur-Ninâ, apparently the founder of the dynasty, inasmuch as he bestows no royal title on his father or grandfather, and his successors traced themselves back to him; Akurgal, Eannatum, Enannatum I, Entemena, Enannatum II, Enetarzi, Enlitarzi, Lugal-anda, and Urukagina. But though their chronological order is certain, the length of their reigns is unknown, and their dates can only be approximately ascertained, and even these approximate and relative dates depend entirely on the date of Shar-Gâni-sharri. Assuming the latter’s date to have been about 2650 b.c., Ur-Ninâ’s date would be roughly about 3000 b.c. Ur-Ninâ the first member of the dynasty has left us a number of his sculptures and stelæ, but there are other nameless works of art discovered either in the neighbourhood or actually in Lagash itself which present a less developed form of art, and where inscriptions are concerned, a more archaic style of writing, while in certain cases the monuments in question were actually discovered in the strata underneath the building of Ur-Ninâ, and with these the history of Mesopotamian art and of the civilization to which it bears such eloquent testimony commences.

Pg 10


The race to which the Sumerians belonged is not known, but the fact that their language being agglutinative and not inflexional, was therefore neither Aryan nor Semitic, but at least and in this respect akin to the Mongolian languages, of which Turkish, Finnish, Chinese and Japanese are the most illustrious examples to-day, has led certain scholars to seek a connection between some of the Sumerian roots and certain Chinese words, it must however be admitted that this supposed connection is rather hypothetical at present. Further efforts have also been made by Lacouperie and others to establish parallels between Chinese art and culture and those of the Sumerians, but the evidence is not very convincing.


As the surface-soil of Babylonia did not originate there, but was brought down by the rivers and deposited by them as their currents lost impetus in approaching the sea, and were thus unable to carry their burden further, it is well to trace this soil to its original source. Both the Euphrates and the Tigris rise in the mountains of Armenia,5 the geological formation of which is chiefly granite, gneiss and other feldspathic rocks. These rocks were gradually decomposed by the rains, their detritus being hurried rapidly down-stream; the rivers in the course of their career travel through a variety of geological formations including limestone, sandstone and quartz, all of which contribute something to the silt which is destined to form part of the delta’s soil; the latter being composed mainly of chalk, sand, and clay, is extremely fertile, which won for it a reputation testified to even by the classical writers: thus Herodotus who Pg 11flourished in the seventh century b.c. tells us (I, 293) that “of all the countries that we know, there is none which is so fruitful in grain. It makes no pretension indeed, of growing the olive, the vine, or any other trees of the kind; but in grain it is so fruitful as to yield commonly two hundredfold, and when the production is greatest even three hundredfold. The blade of the wheat-plant and barley is often four fingers in breadth. As for millet and the sesame, I shall not say to what height they grow, though within my own knowledge, for I am not ignorant that what I have already written concerning the fruitfulness of Babylonia, must seem incredible to those who have never visited the country.... Palm trees grow in great numbers over the whole of the flat country, mostly of the kind that bears fruit, and this fruit supplies them with bread, wine and honey.” However exaggerated this account may be, all ancient writers agree in ascribing to Babylonian soil a fertility and productivity surpassing that of any other country with which they were acquainted.

But the present state of the country is very different from what it was, neglect of cultivation having reduced it once more to a desert waste, or, in the immediate neighbourhood of the rivers, to a pestiferous marsh. The rivers have furthermore varied their courses time and again, though this remark applies more to the sluggish stream of the Euphrates with its low banks, than to the more swiftly flowing Tigris whose current is confined by higher banks, and whose course has consequently undergone less change. At the present time, great efforts are being made to make amends for the neglect to which the once fertile plain of Babylonia has so long been subject, and in the early part of last year (1911) the firm of Sir John Jackson (Limited), contractors and engineers, secured the contract for the building of a great dam at the head of the Hindiyah Canal: this latter is a channel for which the Euphrates has forsaken its own Pg 12bed, and consequently the Euphrates’ bed upon whose banks the city of Babylon lies, is in summer-time perfectly dry, all the water flowing down the Hindiyah Canal except at the time of the inundation. Thus it is that the population have practically ceased to attempt the cultivation of the Euphrates’ banks, and have for the most part migrated across country to this canal. The latter however, being quite inadequate for the burden thus thrust upon it by the undivided waters of the Euphrates, has become badly water-logged, and much good land has become swamp. The Turks have been endeavouring for a long time to erect a dam which would drive back part of the water into the bed of the river, and thus at the same time make the regulation of the flow in the canal a possibility, but they have not attained their object. The engineers of Sir William Willcocks were successful in filling up the space between the two arms of the barrage, but the dam was almost immediately breached at another point. When however the scheme now in hand is duly realized, the banks of the Euphrates will once again be dotted with the fertility of bygone days, while the district dependent for its prosperity upon the conditions of the Hindiyah Canal will be similarly improved.

By the side of these rivers flourished the acacia, the pomegranate and the poplar, but the tree which stood the Babylonians in best stead, was the date-palm, from the sap of which they made sugar and also a fermented liquor, while its fibrous barks served for ropes, and its wood, being at the same time light and strong, was extensively used as a building material. So many and so divers were the uses which the date-palm served, that the Babylonians had a popular song6in which they celebrated the three hundred and sixty benefits of this invaluable tree. The important part which it played in the life of the early Pg 13Sumerian population is indicated by the epithet applied by Entemena to the goddess Ninâ, whom he addresses as the lady “who makes the dates grow,” while various amphora-shaped vats, and also a kind of oval basin evidently used in the manufacture or preservation of date-wine were discovered by De Sarzec at Tellô.

The date-tree finds a place on the Assyrian bas-reliefs, but it must be confessed that the artistic products of the Babylonians and Assyrians do not afford us so much information as might be expected regarding the flora and fauna of the country. Vines and palms are of frequent occurrence on the later bas-reliefs, while oaks and terebinths were also known, for Esarhaddon uses them as material in his building operations at Babylon, and cedar trees were regularly procured for the same purpose.

Of the various trees represented on early seals, hardly any can be identified with any degree of certainty, the date-palm perhaps being excepted: the reed of the marshes appears fairly soon, but the fig-tree on the other hand occurs only in later times, which accords with Herodotus’ intimation that they were not grown in Mesopotamia in his day; this notwithstanding, they must have been known and presumably cultivated sufficiently early, for amongst the offerings made by Gudea (2450 b.c.) to the goddess Bau, figs are enumerated, while the olive-tree must also have been known at an early date, for objects in cl

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