« AnteriorContinuar »
not in old paper books or parchment scrolls, but on tables of stone, engraved by the contemporaries of the heroes whose achievements they relate. Nineveh, just now, is like Mont Blanc, revealing itself through the rent veil of vapour.
Continually is the mist diminishing. Bright patches of artistic, antiquarian, historical scenery are left bare in succession, fixing upon them the intelligent inquisitiveness of a multitude of eager students. As mound after mound is opened,
“ Earth reveals her store; The gorgeous secret, ages keep no more; Assyria's homes and temples on us gleam,
And her dread pomp no longer is a dream." It is our purpose in this tract to tell, in brief, the story of Nineveh, so far as we know it—of course a very imperfect story at present, but a deeply interesting one.
We shall begin by looking at our subject as it presented itself to the minds of scholars before the recent discoveries were made. As Herodotus, in his great historical work, makes but few allusions to Assyria, and none which throw light upon its early history, but little assistance has been afforded by him. If he ever wrote a book expressly on Assyrian affairs--of which he expresses an intention in such portion of his writings as we possessthat book has perished. The main authorities, then, for what was until of late known on the subject before us, were Berosus and Ctesias. The former was a Babylonian, living at Athens in the time of Alexander the Great ; and being a priest of Belus, he possessed a large amount of Chaldean lore. He wrote a history of the Chaldees, of which, unfortunately, we have only a few fragments; in these, however, are found some scanty notices relating to the condition of the Assyrian power and people. The second ancient author was Ctesias, perhaps a contemporary of Herodotus, who flourished in the fourth century before Christ. He is called, by Strabo, the historian of Assyria and Persia. He wrote a large work, of which the first six books were devoted to the former subject. The work in its entireness no longer exists, but, happily, an abridgment of it is preserved, so far as Persia is conc
ncerned, in the works of Photius. Of the part referring to Assyrian matters, there is no abridgment in Photius, but very large ase of it is made by Diodorus Siculus, who may be regarded, in his account of Assyria, as giving the substance of his predecessor's labours.
** Of later writers," says. Dr. Layard, “who have touched upon Assyrian history, Diodorus Siculus, a mere compiler, is the principal. Eusebius, and the Armenian historians, such as Moses of Chorene, have preserved a few valuable details and hints ; they also obtained their information from elsewhere, but in some instances from original sources not altogether devoid of authenticity. Many other authors could be cited who, in their works, have casually alluded to events in Assyrian history, or have introduced brief notices concerning the Assyrian empire ; but any particular account of them, or any analysis of the information they afford, would only weary the reader. It is remarkable that none of the authors alluded to, do more than mention by name any of the Assyrian kings, with the exception of the three great monarchs, Ninus, Semiramis, and Sardanapalus, whom traditions have made celebrated, and whose deeds, like those of all prominent characters in an epoch before sober history commenced, have been invested with superhuman features, or have been mixed up with fables.”
To weave together these materials into anything like a consistent history is no easy task; and a difficulty, perhaps the greatest of all, is presented in the vast difference between the brief statement of Herodotus, with regard to the duration of the Assyrian power, and the chronology of other authors. Dr. Layard, and other accomplished scholars in this branch of learning, can find no satisfaction in the attempts that have been made to reconcile the discrepancies which meet us in this inquiry. “ From such contradictory materials, it is not surprising that each writer should have formed a system of his own, and we may, without incurring the charge of scepticism, treat all their efforts as little better than ingenious speculations.”
From all this it will appear that the certain knowledge possessed respecting Assyria, until very lately, was small in the extreme. It is very true that Holy Scripture afforded some clear and distinct intimations of the state of Assyria and of certain incidents in its history; but these were chiefly such as related to that connection into which the chosen people of God were brought with this military power which so often invaded and oppressed them.
A great change has now come over our knowledge of Nineveh and Assyria, through the wonderful discoveries of recent ex: plorers, and revelations of the mighty and teeming past are still in the course of progress. The mist is being rolled away; fresh points of interest are ever coming into view; and it is not improbable that, in a few years our acquaintance with the Assyrian empire will be as full as hitherto it has been defective. The inscriptions upon which Colonel Rawlinson, Dr. Hincks and others, are laboriously employed, are of surprising value. They are, in fact, historical records full of particular and minute information. The sculptures and paintings, too, are of the greatest importance in reference to Assyrian history, because they afford abundant pictorial illustrations of the whole life of this wonderful people, from the sovereign down to the slave. Names and dates, the exact order and relation of events, may still puzzle the student; but broad glimpses of what the nation was -how the people ate and drank and dressed, built and hunted, fought and worshipped, and did a thousand things in the everyday acts of human life—these we have as clear as noon-light.
It is not our intention, in this elementary sketch, either to lead our readers into the bewildering mazes of chronological controversy, or to pass over in silence the wonderful stories derived from Ctesias—the only authority, as we have before remarked, who affords any fulness of information respecting the history of Nineveh and the Assyrians. We are extremely cautious when we come in the way of learned myth-theorists-men who resolve into pure fable—into mere imagination-almost all the glowing stories of the olden time. We never can believe that these are entirely fabrications—that from beginning to end they ar no better than dreams. Such inventions would be unaccountable, and no satisfactory reason could be assigned for men's general belief in them. We are, of course, perfectly satisfied that very much of them must be exaggeration ; nor are we able to distinguish correctly, at present, between the true and the false ; but still we believe that there is a real historical element blended with the mass of fables; and in the case of Nineveh, possibly, some day, such new light may be obtained from the discoveries going on, as may give the critical historian the
power of separating what is authentic from what is spurious. In the mean time, the best course to be pursued, perhaps, is to set down ancient tradition as we find it; giving, along with it, the distinct caution that it must not be altogether received as genuine history.
Ctesias was a Greek physician ; and being taken prisoner in the rebellion of the younger Cyrus against his brother, was kept in captivity at the Persian court for seventeen years, where he enjoyed the favour of Artaxerxes Mnemon, in consequence of the surgical skill he had displayed in healing a dangerous wound which that monarch had received. It was in Persia that he collected the information respecting the Assyrians which has been handed down to us from him, and therefore it has this historical value at least, that it shows the notions of Assyria and of its early state entertained by the people who established their own power upon its ruins. Moreover, it indicates the ideas on the subject which possessed the minds of some of the Greeks.
Here, then, followeth the old story of Ctesias, concerning Nineveh and its kings.
Once on a time, in very distant ages, there was a king called Ninus, who ruled over the Assyrians, and was a man of great power, courage, and ambition. He was at the same time very wise and prudent, and carefully trained up the young men in his dominion to the use of arms, and to the practice of all warlike exercises. Finding the Arabians to be a powerful people, he cultivated their friendship, and entered into alliance with Ariæus their prince. Uniting their forces together, these two warriors marched into Babylonia ; but at that time the great city of Babylon was not built, though there were many towns in existence with numerous inhabitants. These, however, not being well fortified, easily fell a prey to Ninus and Ariæus, and the two invaders conquered the country, and exacted tribute of the people; they also led away captive the king and his family, and afterwards put them to death. Next they went to war with Armenia, whose king, Barzanes, they forced to wait upon them with costly gifts, and allowed him to remain on his throne only upon condition of being the vassal of Ninus. Media was then subdued; and, according to an almost invariable rule, the thirst of conquest increasing the more it was gratified, the insatiable monarch set his heart upon being master of the whole of Asia. Very many, accordingly, were his successful campaigns, extending from the Tigris to the Hellespont, and from the Nile to the Caspian sea. The Bactrians were the only people who successfully resisted this mighty hero ; and they were indebted
for their temporary safety to the formidable nature of their mountain fastnesses.
Ninus, having sent away the king of Arabia, began to build for himself, on the banks of the Euphrates (so Ctesias says by an odd mistake, instead of the Tigris), a great city, with high walls and very lofty towers; the former 100 feet, the latter 200 feet in height, and altogether 1500 in number. The city measured 74 miles in circumference; and so broad were the fortifications, that it is said, three chariots could drive along them abreast. The builder called the city Nineveh, after his own
and after its completion he returned to war with the troublesome Bactrians, whom, in spite of their mountain strongholds, he was determined to subjugate.
Now, in connection with this enterprise, there occurred a remarkable event. Among the officers of Ninus, engaged in it, was one who had married a woman of extraordinary beauty and wisdom, called Semiramis. Her birth, it was alleged, was more than mortal, for she was supposed to have sprung from a goddess, and to have been miraculously nourished in her infancy by a flock of doves. She had come to Nineveh, where she had smitten the heart of Menon; and now that his services were required against the Bactrians, he had brought his charming and heroic wife along with him to the camp. There had been wondrous preparations made for reducing the capital of Bactria. Soldiers and chariots without end had been brought before it, but still the place held out against the invaders. Semiramis watched what was going on in the Assyrian army, and also detected certain points in the Bactrian fortifications which the soldiers had negligently left defenceless; and being a very brave and intrepid woman, she induced certain of the Assyrian troops to follow her up the sides of the rock on which the city stood, by which piece of strategy she managed to take possession of the citadel. When this became known to king Ninus, he, of course, was curious to see so marvellous a woman, and she was accordingly introduced into his presence. As might have been anticipated, the monarch fell in love with this brave beauty ; poor Menon hung himself in despair; and the monarch speedily married the widow. It was thus that Semiramis became queen of Nineveh. Ninus died soon after his marriage with her, and left her the occupant of his throne. Semiramis was as ambitious as her royal husband; and, as he had built a very great city,