Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Outline of the Mounds at Nimrûd. From a drawing made on the spot by Sir Henry Layard.
In 1851 Rawlinson was entrusted by the British Government with the excavations in Assyria and Babylonia. He had the invaluable assistance of Rassam as 'chief practical excavator.' Stationing his workmen at as many sites as possible, he unearthed the annals of Tiglath-pileser I at Qal'at Sherqat, discovered E-zide, the temple of Nebo at Nimrûd, and a 'stele' of Samsi-Adad IV (825-812 B.C.). At Kouyunjik he came upon the palace of Assur-bani-pal. A beautiful bas-relief was recovered representing Assur-bani-pal in his chariot on a hunting expedition. The 'lion-room,' the walls of which represented a lion-hunt, was also unearthed, and was shown to have been used both as a library and a picture-gallery, many thousands of clay book-tablets being found therein.
Abandoning excavation for a political appointment, Mr Rassam was followed by William Kennet Loftus,[Pg 347] who did good work at the ruins of Warkâ in Babylonia. Meanwhile the French expedition under Fresnel, Oppert, and Thomes was excavating at Babylon, coming upon the remains of the Nebuchadrezzar period and excavating the mound of Bâbil.
One who was to perform yeoman service for Assyriology now entered the field. This was George Smith, whose name is so unalterably associated with the romantic side of that science he loved so well. Writing of himself he says: "Everyone has some bent or inclination which, if fostered by favourable circumstances, will colour the rest of his life. My own taste has always been for Oriental studies, and from my youth I have taken a great interest in Eastern explorations and discoveries, particularly in the great work in which Layard and Rawlinson were engaged. For some years I did little or nothing, but in 1866, seeing the unsatisfactory state of our knowledge of those parts of Assyrian history which bore upon the history of the Bible, I felt anxious to do something towards settling the questions involved."
The Palaces of Nimrûd (Restored). From a sketch by James Ferguson for Sir Henry Layard.
Smith then instituted systematic excavations in the south-east palace, and made some interesting discoveries. On examining this part of the mound he saw a considerable tunnel in the south face, commencing on the sloping part of the mound. This tunnel appeared to go along the middle of a chamber, the floor having been cut through and appearing in a line on each side of the tunnel. Further on, the tunnel reached the wall at the end of the chamber, and the face of this had been cleared for some little distance; then, descending below the foundation of this wall, the passage ran for some distance into the base of the mound. He commenced on the two sides of this cutting, and cleared away to the level of the pavement, soon coming to[Pg 349] the wall on each side. The southern wall of the chamber had fallen over into the plain, as it was here close to the edge of the platform, and the chamber commenced with two parallel walls running north and south. The right-hand wall, in a place near the edge where it was much broken down, showed three steps of an ascent which had gone apparently to some upper chambers. Further on it showed two recesses, each ornamented on both sides with three square pilasters. The left hand showed an entrance into a second chamber running east to west, and from this turned a third, running parallel with the first. Altogether in this place he opened six chambers, all of the same character, the entrances ornamented by clusters of square pilasters and recesses in the rooms in the same style. The walls were coloured in horizontal bands of red, green, and yellow on plaster; and where the lower parts of the chambers were panelled with small stone slabs, the plaster and colours were continued over these. In one of these rooms there appeared a brick receptacle let into the floor, and on lifting the brick which covered this Smith found six terra-cotta winged figures, closely packed in the receptacle. Each figure was full-faced, having a head like a lion, four wings, with one hand across the breast, holding a basket in the other, and clothed in a long dress to the feet. These figures were probably intended to preserve the building against the power of evil spirits.