Chapter 10 - Babylonia and Assyria (Part II)
The "Footsteps" of Seven Great Kings of
During the three hundred years when Assyria was at the height of its
greatness about fifteen kings ruled one after the other at Nineveh. Of
these there are seven well represented in the Museum, and most of the
seven appear in the Bible story of the Jewish Monarchy.
The previous chapter ended with the sketch of the Babylonian king
worshipping in the shrine of the Sun god in the city of Sippar. This
was near the beginning of the ninth century B.C. Ashur-nazir-pal II.
was king of Assyria about this time.
His son and successor was Shalmaneser III., about the middle of the
A hundred years later arose the powerful king, Tiglath Pileser III.,
while in the last quarter of the eighth century, Sargon II., "the son
of no one," usurped the throne.
His son, Sennacherib, followed at the end of the eighth century, and
his reign, and that of his son, [pg 159] Esar-haddon, and of his
grandson, Ashur-bani-pal, covered the seventh century.
Just inside the Nimrud Gallery
is a relief showing a religious ceremony which was performed each year
by the king in person, connected with the fertilizing of the date palm.
Above the king, presenting a sort of cone, is a small figure in a
winged circle; the small figure is that of a man finished off with
feather from the waist. This is the emblem of the god Ashur, after whom
the country was named, as well as so many of its kings.
Ashur-nazir-pal means "Ashur is the protector of the heir"; Esar-haddon
means "Ashur has given a brother," implying that he was not the eldest
son; Ashur-bani-pal means "Ashur creates a son." This god Ashur was
looked upon as the father and chief of the gods, and is often
represented as hovering over the kings in battle, as giving them the
victory, and as demanding the punishment of the vanquished.
All round us in the Nimrud Gallery
are the remains brought from the palace of Ashur-nazir-pal II. and the
temple to the war god, Adar. They were dug out of the mound of Nimrud,
the grave of the ancient city of Calah, twenty miles south of Nineveh.
Look first at the statue of Ashur-nazir-pal II., with his fine curled
beard, his fringed robe hanging to his feet, of which only the toes
show straight to the front. You can distinguish an inscription on his
breast; it gives particulars of his names and titles. This is the only
perfect royal Assyrian statue in the Museum.
There are many other portraits in relief of this son [pg 160] of Ashur.
Some are standing at ease, as on the slab that relates his most
important conquests; others show him on the march in mountainous
country, or passing over rivers with his army, or receiving tribute. Do
not miss the vivid picture of the soldiers swimming on inflated
skins--there is a relief on which they are shown blowing them out ready
to start, as one does with an air-ball--the king's chariot is ferried
over on a boat and the sensible horses are swimming behind.
Like most of the Assyrian kings, Ashur-nazir-pal found his chief
recreation in hunting, and we see him on the reliefs pouring libations
to the gods over dead bulls and lions. The fish gods and eagle-headed
divinities are fearsome objects, and must have looked more remarkable
still in the days of Ashur-nazir-pal and his attendants, if we are
right in believing that the reliefs were all blazing with colour when
they were new and fresh. It makes on think of our own blue dragons and
Imagine the stately procession as the great king passed by the
guardians of his footsteps. He could not have moved quickly in such
stiff garments. Besides, as the umbrella and fly-slappers remind us, it
was often hot. The musicians with the stringed instruments--sounding
perhaps like zithers?--heralded the arrival in the court lined with
these slabs before us.
Some idea of the details of the palace may be gathered from the cases
in the Assyrian Room. The
bronze and iron objects are very interesting, such as the bells, the
ornamental feet of a throne, the head of the ugly demon of the
south-west wind, which, in Assyria, [pg 161] was the hot dry wind that
destroyed the crops, and was trying to health.
Many of the ivory objects in a case in the Assyrian Room show relations with
Egypt; especially the sceptre we have seen so often in the hands of
Osiris; the cartouche of the "Rising Sun:; the Egyptian ladies' heads
amongst those that illustrate the fashions in Assyrian hairdressing.
Amongst the beautiful bronze repoussé bowls, also in the Assyrian Room, are some with very
fine designs, and especially interesting is the one with hawk-headed
lions wearing Egyptian crowns. Those of later date remind us that the
palace of Ashur-nazir-pal was not the only one at Calah.
His son, Shalmaneser III., about the middle of the ninth century also
built a palace there, close to his father's. One wonders how he found
time for building, for he was always at war, till at last he was master
of nearly all Western Asia.
Let us first look at his famous black obelisk, in the Nimrud Central Saloon, close to the
bull and lion from his father's palace. The pictures and writing
inscribed by Shalmaneser on his obelisk give an account of the
expeditions he made during thirty-one years of his reign.
There are exciting pictures of the tribute brought by the conquered
peoples in five rows of sculptures. Dromedaries, buffaloes, elephants,
apes, horses figure amongst the animals; gold, silver, lead, copper,
ivory, and fine garments amongst the treasures. It is the second row
that interests us most, for here is shown the [pg 162] tribute of Jehu,
king of Israel--bowls, dishes, cups, and other vessels of gold.
On the stele of Shalmaneser III. close by, Ahab, another king of
Israel, is mentioned as one of the allies of a king of Hamath, who had
rebelled against Assyria. On this is a figure of the king in relief.
To find another most important work of Shalmaneser III. we must go down
to the Assyrian Saloon in the
basement where the famous metal coverings of the gates, made in cedar
or some other wood, are shown in a case by themselves. The bands are
eight feet long by one foot wide, and record the battles and conquests
of the king who set them up. Amongst the most interesting are the
pictures showing the march to the source of the Tigris, and the carving
of the image of a king upon a rock. There are also scenes in the
Assyrian camp, in one of which the soldiers seem to be amusing
themselves with some game.
About a century later than Shalmaneser III. lived the Tiglath Pileser
III., who is known in the Bible by his Babylonian name of Pul. He was
one of the most warlike of the Assyrian kings, and recovered some of
the ground lost by those who reigned just before him.
There is an inscription inside the doorway leading to the basement
recording his conquests in what may be called cuneiform large hand;
these characters are the largest known, and are very easy to examine.
Following on are slabs showing the king standing with one foot on the
neck of a prostrate foe; also his assault on a city, the gods of which
are being borne off in procession.
Near the black obelisk of Shalmaneser III. is a picturesque wall slab
from the palace of Tiglath Pileser, showing the flocks and herds being
driven off by the conquerors, and the women and children being taken
away from the city in a cart.
You may remember that when Ahaz of Judah asked the Assyrian king to
help him against his enemies, it ended in the Israelite tribes of
Rueben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, being carried away into
captivity by the Assyrians.
At the end of this eighth century the Assyrian king, Sargon II., came
into actual conflict with the Egyptians, whom he defeated, after taking
Samaria, and sending its inhabitants to settle another part of his
empire. Torn from their country and all their belongings, whole bodies
of exiles were settled in foreign lands amongst strangers. Many, no
doubt, during the long and wearisome journey were grieving for dear
ones killed in terrible fighting, such as we shudder to look at on the
The siege of Samaria lasted three years; think what that must have
meant in the way of starvation and misery, followed by the fatigues of
travel, lonely exile, and the bitter though that strangers, sent from
other parts of the empire, were living in their old homes, and
cultivating their fields. The Israelites felt it perhaps more keenly
than others, because they loved their own country so passionately, and
most of them hated to be mixed up with people who worshipped many false
gods instead of the one great Jehovah.
"By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, [pg 164] when we
remembered thee, O Zion." The wailing dirge still echoes across the
Sargon II. was a great builder as well as warrior. His chief palace was
at Khorsabad, a few miles north-west of Nineveh. Most of the sculptures
of this king are at the Louvre, because the French explorers were first
in the field at this place. The great man-headed bulls in the Assyrian Transept come from the
gateways of Sargon's palace. You will notice the clearly-cut
inscriptions upon them, which tell of his great deeds. His portrait on
a slab close by shows him talking to his officials.
In the Assyrian Room, on the
upper floor, is a large cylinder inscribed with the history of Sargon's
reign; it stands between the records of his predecessor,
Ashur-nazir-pal II., and those of his own famous son, Sennacherib, so
well known to us in Bible story.
We must remember that Sennacherib lived at the end of the eighth
century. For more than twenty strenuous years he fought in many
campaigns, and not only built the grandest palace ever seen at Nineveh,
but repaired the works of the kings who had gone before him.
The remains of the great palace of Sennacherib were dug out of the
group of mounds, called by modern Arab name, Kouyunjik--probably from
the number of sheep feeding upon them. If you study the plan of the
excavations in the Nimrud Gallery you will see where Kouyunjik lies,
also the shape of the city of Nineveh within its ancient walls, and how
a tributary of the Tigris runs through it.
You will notice another mound called Nebi Yunus, where the prophet
Jonah is said to have been buried; there is a mosque built on the mound
now. One of the palaces of Sennacherib lies buried in this mound, the
other, as we have seen, in Kouyunjik.
We can examine many of the slabs from this palace in the Nineveh Gallery. On one side are the
reliefs which show Sennacherib's work as a builder, and here we can see
for ourselves how the great palaces were set up.
Notice first the making of the mound, used as a platform. There are
files of men mounting with loads of stones, bricks, earth, which they
fling down, and then hasten back with empty baskets to refill and bring
up again. Taskmasters with sticks stand over every gang. As in Egypt
the cry ever is, "The stick is in my hand, be ye not idle!"
Next disentangle from the crowds of works the long ropes by which a
sledge is pulled along over rollers, with wedges of stone and a
powerful lever, worked by pulleys, to ease its passage. What is that on
the sledge? Nothing less that one of the great winged bulls being
dragged towards the doorway it was henceforth to guard and adorn. He is
only in rough at present, having been so far shaped in the quarry from
whence he has come by boat, just as the great blocks of marble and
stone were brought down the Nile for the buildings on its banks. What a
scene of hard labour, bustle, heat, oppression it all bring before us!
There are pictures of the marshy country (how do [pg 166] we know it is
marshy? Look out for the eels!) where the great blocks of stone are
shown no rafts formed of the trunks of trees lashed together. There is
the maze of workmen carrying saws and hatchets, rollers, coils of rope,
all sorts of materials.
You can imagine the strain and desperate tugging at the ropes by the
captives and slaves under the lash of the overseers. There are numbers
of soldiers, too, at hand to keep order, and to act as a guard to the
king, himself superintending from his car.
Over his head runs the inscription: "I, Sennacherib, king of
multitudes, king of Assyria, had the colossi male and female, the gods
which had been made in the land of Balat, dragged to the lordly palace,
which is within Nineveh, with exultation."
Notice the king's patterned cap, his tunic adorned with rosettes: also
the pompous state in which his grand car is drawn along, and the fine
umbrella with its trimmed draperies, the feathered fly-flaps, and the
maces; what a brilliant patch of colour the gorgeous chariot and bright
clothing of the king and his surrounding courtiers must have been in
The want of perspective in the drawing of all these slabs make them as
difficult to understand as Chinese pictures; but persevere: try to make
out the rivers and the marshes, with the disturbed animals amongst the
reeds, such as the nine little pigs, answering to their mother's
Look, too, at the rafts and boats, some like British coracles of wicker
covered with skins; the men fishing, and drawing up water in pails. Try
as you gaze to [pg 167] imagine the babel of sound, the rumbling of the
heavy sledge, the shouting of orders, the trampling of the weary
workers all in the dust and heat. You can distinguish the man clapping
his hands, and another blowing his horn as signals to "heave-ho" all
When Sir Henry Layard removed the great bulls from Nineveh some
twenty-six centuries later, he found that three hundred men were needed
to pull the cart on which one was placed. Many and great were the
difficulties to be overcome in bringing the monsters from the Tigris to
Other slabs in the Nineveh Gallery
show Sennacherib at war; storming fortresses, taking captives,
receiving tribute. It is a relief to turn from these crowded pictures
to those at the end of the gallery in which we watch a procession of
beautifully kept horses, most likely on the road between the river and
royal stables. Look at their cropped manes, with tuft in front, their
tails tied up in a loop. Many of them are unshod, the prancing one is
full of life, and all look thoroughly intelligent, and as if kindly
There are some more sculptures of Sennacherib's time in the Assyrian Saloon, besides those of
Tiglath Pileser III. or Pul, which show the siege, assault, and capture
of the city of Lachish. (Look this up in 2 Kings xix.) The kind is
there on his throne receiving the account of the siege from his
officers. Above his head run the lines--"Sennacherib, king of hosts,
king of Assyria, sat upon his throne of state, and the spoil of the
city of Lachish passed before him."
It was after this success that Sennacherib sent a threatening message
to Hezekiah, king of Judah, by his officers, his Tartan and Rabshakeh,
chief generals, such as stand before him at Lachish. Two years before,
the Assyrian king had laid siege to Jerusalem, after taking many cities
and captives, and Hezekia was thankful to give him all the gold and
silver he could take from the temple to purchase safety. Later,
encouraged by Egypt, Hezekiah refused the promised tribute, so
Sennacherib had two to punish--Tirhakah of Egypt and the king of Judah.
You know the story of what followed. Sennacherib with his army flushed
with victory at Lachish, was resting near the frontiers of Egypt. He
was on the eve of a great battle with the Egyptians, after which he
hoped utterly to crush Hezekiah.
The battle was never fought, for a great disaster overtook the
Assyrians in the night, and some think it was a sudden attack of
plague. The Bible says "the Angel of the Lord went out and smote in the
camp of the Assyrians 185,000 men." The remnant crept miserably home.
The famous six-sided cylinder in the Assyrian
Room tells of many of Sennacherib's expeditions. It is worth
while to read the long description on the label; it gives an insight
into the style of the court historians. Although many particulars of
victories are given, and of splendid tribute, even of shutting up
Hezekian like a caged bird in Jerusalem, the mysterious loss of a fine
army on the brink of further conquests is not mentioned.
There are several other cylinders that give the account of
Sennacherib's wars and buildings.
Close to them are the cylinders of his son, Esar--or Ashur-haddon,
describing conquests, expeditions, subjugations, and other details of
war, also the building of a new palace at Nineveh, and the rebuilding
of the great temple and the two walls of Babylon. You will remember
that it was Esar-haddon who took Manasseh prisoner to Babylon, which at
this time was well under the power of the Assyrians. One is glad to
know that Esar-haddon let his prisoner go home again.
For the portrait of Esar-haddon we must return to the Nineveh Gallery where there is a
cast from a bas-relief cut in the rock, in Syria, in the valley of the
Dogs River, near Beyrout, on the ancient highway of the nations.
Rameses II. left three tablets on this rock in the thirteenth century,
when he passed that way; Tiglath Pileser III., Shalmaneser V.,
Sennacherib also "cut their names" there to tell of their presence so
far from home. You will notice on Esar-haddon's relief the royal cap,
and the group of sacred symbols on a level with his head, amongst them
the circle of Ashur, without the feathered man.
Esar-haddon was the third of the kings whose palaces were found buried
in the ruins of Calah, in the mound Nimrud. You will remember that the
others were Ashur-nazir-pal and Shalmaneser III. Another splendid
palace built by Esar-haddon was buried at Nineveh, under the mound
called after the prophet Jonah.
The two great nations--the one on the banks of the Nile, and the other
on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates--came to very close quarters
in this reign. Esar-haddon conquered the Delta lands, and later, when
Tirhakah revolted, one of the first things his son and successor had to
do was to restore the Assyrian power in Egypt.
It is sad to think of the industrious and prosperous valley of the Nile
brought so low. Cities and temples were plundered, the crops trampled
down, and the people lived in misery and want as the terrors of war
ranged round them.
Ashur-bani-pal reigned for over thirty years in the latter half of the
seventh century, during which time Assyria rose to its greatest height
of power. All round the compass the generals pushed their conquests.
The slabs in the Nineveh Gallery
show the terrible methods of warfare in the case of the Elamites.
Ashur-bani-pal winds up the account of the victory with these words:
"With the cut-off head of Te-umman (the leader of the Elamites) the
road to Arbela I took with joy."
In perhaps the only domestic scene in all the sculptures in the Assyrian Saloon, Ashur-bani-pal is
shown reclining on a couch in Eastern fashion, in the palace garden,
drinking wine with his queen, who sits on a high throne-chair with a
footstool. The head of Te-umman hangs on one of the trees close by!
There are many other slabs in the Assyrian
Saloon that illustrate the life of the last of the great kings
of Assyria. Look at those showing wars against [pg 171] the Arabians,
Egyptians, Babylonians. The camp scenes are very lifelike, especially
that one of the horses drinking. Children do not often come into
pictures on the slabs, but you can find one drinking from a skin of
water, another riding on a man's shoulder, others led by the hand.
Ashur-bani-pal seems to have been even fonder of hunting than of war,
and the slabs that show him at his favourite sport of killing are in
the finest style of Assyrian art that has come down to us.
"I, Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king of Assyria, whom Ashur and
Belit have endowed with might, slew four lions. The powerful bow of
Ishtar, the lady of battle, over them I held, and I poured out a
libation over them." So had Ashur-nazir-pal some two hundred years
before, as we saw in the Nimrud
But Ashur-bani-pal went beyond lions and bulls. Wild horses and asses,
harmless deer and goats all gave him the excitement of pursuit. See the
processions of beaters, and men carrying nets and stakes; you see the
great powerful dogs straining against the leash, and the heavy dead
lion carried by six or more men.
Do not miss the cages in which the lions were brought to the field and
then let out by a man raising the bars from the top. Lions in the
seventh century B.C. seem to have become more scarce than when
Amen-hetep III. killed his hundred and two lions in about the
fourteenth century B.C.
If you try to picture Ashur-bani-pal passing over the pavement from his
palace with the beautiful lotus [pg 172] flower and bud border, you
must think of him as tall and strong, with a broad face, wide-awake
eyes, a straight nose, long and wavy hair.
He was certainly always well and carefully groomed, with hair and beard
perfumed and curled. One of his state costumes is thus described: a
high mitre of white wool striped with blue. A wide band, ornamented
with rosettes in golden thread, holds it in place upon the forehead;
the two ends, being tied behind, fall upon the neck. The short sleeved
dress is of very deep blue, embroidered with rosettes in red cotton; it
is fastened round the waist by a wide sash, edged at the ends by a
fringe decorated with glass beads. The designs on the heavily
embroidered vest which completes the gorgeous array are minute copies
of those we saw in the Nimrud Gallery
of the king adoring the sacred trees, and struggling with lions. We
must add the necklet and armlets of solid gold, and the umbrella with
wide ends like a pugaree, to make the sketch complete.
But Ahsur-bani-pal was more than a great warrior, sportsman, and dandy;
he was a great lover and collector of books. So had been his father,
Esar-haddon; his grandfather, Sennacherib; his great-grandfather,
Sargon; and, during the hundred years that this powerful family had
ruled Assyria, they had founded and enriched libraries in the palaces
In the Assyrian Room
wall-cases are shown some of the most precious and wonderful books from
the Royal library at Nineveh. They are of the same shape and kind as
some of the documents we have already looked at in the upper room,
being cakes of prepared clay, [pg 173] written upon with a specially
shaped stylus when moist, and then baked hard in an oven.
Listen to the words which nearly every important tablet in this library
bears upon it: "From the Palace of Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king
of Assyria, who putteth his trust in the gods who have bestowed upon
him ears which hear, and eyes which see. I have inscribed upon tablets
the noble products of the work of the scribe--and have arranged them in
classes; I have revised them, and I have placed them in my palace, that
I, even I, the ruler who knoweth the light of Ashur, the king of the
gods, may read them." He finishes with the Assyrian equivalent for
"Steal not this book for fear of shame, for in it is the owner's
The ancient cities of Babylonia and Assyria had long possessed
libraries, and the king sent scribes to make copies for him; he also
had lists of words and signs drawn up, together with copies of the old
Accadian classics, with translations in the Assyrian of his day.
You can trace the marks of fire which has scorched but not destroyed
the books, and can see how often they are broken, most likely by
falling from the shelves of wood, on which they were arranged, when the
fire consumed the library in which they were stored.
We must dip into the books and find out what they are about.
In one of the cases we have the famous creation tablets, believed to be
copied from far more ancient ones. They give an account of the creation
of the world, in many respects like that given in the Book of [pg 174]
Genesis. If you read the labels you will learn of the great water-deep
when the heavens and the earth were not, and there were no plants. You
will learn, too, of the creation of the stars and the appointment of
the moon to determine the days, and so on, up to the crowning creation
Here are the instructions which Marduk, the champion of the gods, gave
to the first man:
"Thy heart shall be pure before they God, for that is what is due to
him; thou shalt pray, thou shalt make supplication, and bow low to the
earth, early in the morning. Speak no evil against thy friend and
In this case, too, is the thrilling fairy story or legend, perhaps, one
of the oldest in the world, of the exploits of a hero named Gilgamish,
which somewhat remind one of those of Heracles.
On his way to the mountain of the sunset, Gilgamish passes trees laden
with precious stones instead of fruit, and a scorpion man and his wife.
A sailor (it reminds you of another story perhaps) comes to the rescue
and helps him and his friend to cross the sea, and then he hears the
story of the Flood and the Ark, the swallow and the raven, from the man
who was saved when all the rest of the world were drowned.
Next, we come to some of the history books of the collection, and
familiar names such as those of Sargon, Tiglath Pileser, Sennacherib,
meet our eyes.
Numerous letters about public and private affairs follow.
One is called the will of Sennacherib; another is a [pg 175] letter to
Ashur-bani-pal respecting the transport of some colossi on boats.
Many relate to the treatment of the sick and the calling in of doctors.
In one a lady is spoken of as grievously ill and unable to eat. The
treatment of those times sounds very extraordinary to us. In one case
the priest casts into the fire various objects, including a pod of
garlic, a date, a palm frond. The idea seems to have been that illness
was caused by being bewitched, and so all sorts of means are employed
to get rid of the danger by charms and prayers.
Some of the prayers to the gods are very beautiful; especially so is
the Accadian hymn to the Moon god. It ends up with these words:
"Among the gods, they brethren, there is none who is like unto thee, O
though king of kings, whose judgments are inscrutable, and whose
divinity is unsurpassed."
Amongst the bricks from the buildings of the kings of Assyria, in the
upper galleries, are many belonging to Ashur-bani-pal; there are also
some fine cylinders of this king--one, a ten-sided one, gives an
account of his birth and education, his campaigns, and buildings. The
stone stele sculptured with the figure of his twin brother, whom he
made viceroy of Babylon, opens up a tragic story of the middle of the
seventh century B.C. It ended in a palace in flames, in which the owner
perished rather than surrender to the brother against who he had
How little Ashur-bani-pal, in his magnificence, could have imagined,
that within thirty years of his death, near the end of this seventh
century, his great [pg 176] kingdom which stretched from the Sea of the
Rising to the Sea of the Setting Sun--the Persian Gulf to the
Mediterranean--would all fall apart, and his splendid palace and
library be burnt in the destruction of his capital, Nineveh, after a
siege of two years.
(Chapter 10 typed by Janel Folden)